Anderson Silva and the art of rolling with punches

Anderson Silva is the most well known roller of punches in MMA and his skill deserves appreciation. Today we look at the act of rolling with punches both by turning the head and by shoulder rolling. We will also see appearances from Muhammad Ali, Wilfredo Benitez and Niccolino Locche.

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To celebrate the release of my brand new ebook Elementary Striking, I wanted to take a look at what is undoubtedly the most important element of any striking game; defense. Without competent defense you can win a world title but you won't enjoy the rest of your life as your speech slurs and your reactions slow. Most brawlers who win titles rarely keep them for long. Instead it is the defensive geniuses who are remembered as the great champions of boxing - Joe Louis, Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali - all great rounded fighters but with the smarts to roll with punches, slip big bombs and tie up their opponent when they were in trouble. Ali himself took a lot of punches - but he was never afraid to make a fight boring if he was getting hurt (take a look at Ali - Frazier 2, through which Ali clinched every time Frazier came close).

Anderson Silva has often been credited with a granite chin - and it certainly is solid - but a great many of the shots he takes he turns his head with. It's an impressive skill and deserves some appreciation. Notice in the below video how Anderson always turns with a punch or pulls his head directly back.

There are a few instances where he gets caught clean - a left hook from Bader at 1:12, and much of the flurry in the corner at Wild Card - but the majority of punches he is able to roll with. You will notice that at 1:16 it is the three punches off of his sparring partner's right hand in rapid succession which throws Anderson's rolling. This alone should rid fans of the delusion that Anderson Silva versus Roy Jones is a good idea even at this late stage in Jones' career.

Rolling with punches is something that is considered to be the pinnacle of technical genius in the striking arts, but it is really not as difficult as it seems. The idea of rolling with punches is to move ones head in the same direction as the force of a blow as you receive it, thereby taking off much of the force. A straight punch generally reaches maximum velocity at around 80% extension - so most competent punchers aim to put their opponent on the end of their punches rather than muffling their strikes by starting from too close. Unfortunately at 100% extension the punch stops and becomes worthless. What men such as the great Muhammad Ali, Wilfredo Benitez and Niccolino Locche did so well was to know which range they were in even better than their opponent. If they were close enough to be hooked, they were too close to hit with powerful straights, so they knew what would more than likely come naturally to the opponent- if they were far back it was as easy as moving a little further back when the opponent jabbed.

Of course these men are rolling the punches of professional boxers - many of whom had real punching power. Anderson Silva meanwhile only really uses this sort of rolling with punches against weak punchers such as Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar or if he is too late to react in any other way - such as against Dan Henderson. Rolling with punches in this way - moving the same direction and letting the punch run out of steam as it's touching you - is more a defensive or showboating tactic. It's not especially hard to do - most people attack with the same predictable combinations dictated by their distance - if they step in after they jab they'll normally throw a right hand then a left hook - if they don't step in their only in range to jab and so on - the real reason you won't see it taught much in the average boxing gym is that not many realistic counters exist off of it.

Muhammad Ali's famous anchor punch was a form of Cross Counter thrown over the opponent as they reached at his head while he leaned away. If the opponent over commits some counters are there to be taken, but if you are taking punches to showboat as Locche did in the above video and as Anderson Silva did against Stephan Bonnar - there aren't really all that many direct counters you can land from the position.

A method of rolling with punches which has been studied and turned into a science is the shoulder roll - which you will see Silva use more commonly against competent opponents or when he wants to land counters. While the head is moved with the opponent's punch - it is not done by turning the head (as Silva does when he is sees an attack coming faster than expected such as when Dan Henderson tried to take his head off in an exchange) but rather by keeping the chin pressed against the lead shoulder and turning the upper body away.

While any punches that connect will do so on the hard top of the head while it is moving away, the most vulnerable area - the jawline - is protected by the lead shoulder. As the body is turned away the right knee is coiled so that a right hand may be thrown in counter. The more aggressive an opponent is when you are shoulder rolling, the more likely you can hurt him with a short counter right hand as his punches glance off your shoulder. While Floyd Mayweather is perhaps the most famous fighter using this old school technique at the moment, there have been many great shoulder rollers and one of the best to my mind was a young James Toney.

Notice that any time the opponent throws a right hand Toney takes it on his lead shoulder and is immediately in position to counter. Silva's use of his shoulders to protect his jawline is what I consider to be one of his greatest technical subtleties. Personally I have never found rolling with a weak punchers strikes all that impressive, but when Silva is doing anything when he is not in showboating mode - whether it be taking the Thai plumm or simply jabbing - he is always behind his shoulders. Few fighters in MMA have ever been all that good at this and it takes a lifetime to stay disciplined enough to do it automatically in the heat of an exchange.

One of my favourite examples of Anderson attempting to shoulder roll was against Yushin Okami.

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1. Silva jumps in with a jab.

2. Instead of pulling his hand back to his jawline (modern boxing form), Silva drops it to his side.

3. Silva's right arm protects his flank while his shoulder protects his jaw and his head is taken slightly offline and away from Okami's right hand.

4. Okami is reluctant to counter and Silva ducks to avoid staying in one position too long. From here Silva moved back and resumed attempting to get Okami to engage.

Another excellent example was Silva's evasions against Forest Griffin, during which Anderson hid behind his shoulder well even though Griffin is a noted non-puncher. (G) The key to successfully rolling punches is of course anticipation - even Silva gets hurt when he doesn't see shots coming and can't move in time - for instance Chael Sonnen was able to drop him yet Dan Henderson was not. In mixed martial arts, however, it is fairly certain that the majority of fighters will swing left - right - left over and over just as Bader, Bonnar and Griffin did, and this is simply too predictable for a great striker such as Anderson.

Learn the techniques and strategies of effective striking in Jack Slack's BRAND NEW 192 page ebook: Elementary Striking.

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5 of Anderson Silva's most spectacular strategies are covered in Jack's first ebook, Advanced Striking along with 70 strategies from 19 other fighters.

Jack can be found on Twitter, Facebook and at his blog; Fights Gone By.


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