Instead of this week's Judo Chop: Finish of the Week I want to take time to look at the recent prize fight between Chad Dawson and Andre Ward. I've had some requests to break this one down and frankly Ward's performance was sublime and deserves to be explained. I think it is a real slur on a fighter's skills when the media shower him with praise for his physical abilities, things he was largely born into such as his speed and reflexes, rather than his technique and strategy. To blame Ward's defeat of Dawson on Ward simply being a "better fighter" or faster moving and quicker to react also takes away from Ward's team, who did a masterful job in planning for this fight. In an attempt to shine some of the limelight on Ward's coaches and technical ability I will today break down the methods that Ward used to scientifically take Chad Dawson apart.
This article will not be covering a bullet point list of features on display, as is normally my modus operandi, but will rather talk through the progress of the fight as Andre Ward brought new tools into play through the fight in order to get to a point where he was outlanding Dawson more than 5 to 1 in some of the later rounds. For those who like to have a theme to think about through an article, however, the definite theme for this fight was Andre Ward's footwork.
Reminder: (G) in this article represents a gif image. These are an excellent supplement to the stills in this article and have been linked by me. They are not hosted by myself or Bloody Elbow but will open in a new tab and are definitely worth the watch.
Circling the "Wrong" Way
To set the scene - Chad Dawson is a right handed southpaw, while Andre Ward is a left handed orthodox fighter. This is possibly the most unusual type of encounter in boxing because of the blind following of tradition that the coaching of the sport is rooted in. Both fighters' power punch was their lead hand, while the traditional strategy against an opponent in the opposite stance (which I refer to as Open Guard) is to step the lead foot outside of their lead foot and land with one's rear hand. HBO's commentary team made repeated note of this throughout the fight but failed to notice that in this match the man with his lead foot on the inside of his opponent's lead foot was landing the telling punches.
Something which you should not see used effectively in combat sports is the southpaw jab from a standard fighting position. If your opponent is standing straight in front of you, in the opposite stance, and is hitting you with his lead hand you have some very fundamental errors in your game. Because the lead hand is almost always slapping the opponent's lead hand around from opposite stances, looking for openings and eliminating the opponent's ability to fire his lead. Notice below that when both men are hand fighting from open guard, neither man will have much luck getting his jab through against an alert opponent, even if he has dominant hand position. One of the main examples I use to demonstrate just how poor most boxing is in MMA is Yushin Okami's reliance entirely on the southpaw jab, a punch which shouldn't work without excellent footwork yet has built the flat footed wrestler an entire career.
If it is so hard to land the southpaw jab from the standard position, how did Andre Ward proceed to light up Chad Dawson with the jab in every round of their bout? He used his feet to create a straight line between his rear leg, lead shoulder and left fist. He achieved this by circling what is traditionally the wrong way against a southpaw, into Dawson's rear hand. Notice below how when Andre Ward is landing his jab, his lead foot is always inside of Dawson's lead foot, not on the outside as Max Kellerman kept claiming it would need to be in spite of what was unfolding in the ring.
To land the rear hand lead from an open guard - meaning Ward's right straight or Dawson's left straight - a step outside of the opponent's lead foot would be necessary, but in attempting to land a jab the step outside of the lead leg is fairly ineffective. To land the rear hand lead from an open guard - meaning Ward's right straight or Dawson's left straight - a step outside of the opponent's lead foot would be necessary, but in attempting to land a
jab the step outside of the lead leg is fairly ineffective.
One of the reasons you don't often see men use this technique so freely is that it feels very counter intuitive. Every time you land a stiff jab by stepping inside of the opponent's lead foot and sneaking your lead shoulder inside of theirs, you land in an off-balance position and they can accidentally or intentionally throw you over their lead leg to your back. Notice how Ward is forced to land in almost a headlock every time he lands his jab, simply to keep his balance. You can certainly see why this technique will never come to prominence in Mixed Martial Arts, as it is effectively giving up your balance for one good jab - but the kickboxing southpaw genius Giorgio Petrosyan has also had success with stepping inside on his jab.
After establishing his jab in the first round and circling away from Dawson's power hand, Ward got a little lazy at the start of the second and attacked the bigger, stronger Dawson head on for the first time. Here he got his first tastes of Dawson's money punch, the right hook. Soon after, however, Ward got back to the gameplan and started circling to his right, stepping inside of Dawson's lead foot to land the jab, and ducking out to the right, away from Dawson's right hook again.
In the third round Ward introduced a change of direction with the right straight to the body. This carved out the main difference in the fight - Ward had two weapons, his powerful lead hand and a fairly powerful rear hand, while Dawson was entirely happy to work with just the one. Ward could shut down Dawson's entire offence by moving away from the one hand, where Ward could attack with vigour and bad intentions from any position he placed himself in.
The knockdown scored at the end of the third round is a beautiful example of a change in strategy taking immediate effect. Notice in the stills below that Ward steps outside of Dawson's lead leg this time, to land his right straight to the body, then dives back across to his right by bringing his right foot up and out to the right side. Having circled right all fight, Ward changed direction to land the right straight, then changed direction immediately to land the left hook as he ducked out again to the right. (G)
Notice that while Dawson is dropping his lead hand to swing his right hook from right to left, Ward is able to move his lead shoulder inside of Dawson's - securing the shorter, faster line. Ward also throws his hook more as a lancing straight punch across his body - where Dawson is loading up for a full swing from right to left. The straighter punch travels much quicker and while it is not as pure in terms of bodyweight and punching power it is more than enough to floor Dawson while he is swinging.
Dawson gutted out the rest of the round and Ward opened the second round with another beautiful left hook to knock the bigger man down. This time however Ward landed his hook by jumping his lead foot inside of Dawson's once again. This ensure that his shoulder was inside and added to the speed advantage that his hybrid straight across the body style hook had over Dawson's traditional swinging one. (G)
Notice how it is Ward's lead shoulder being inside of Dawson's lead shoulder that leads him to scientifically win the exchange, not simply his speed. Placing his lead foot inside of Dawson's simply increases the likelihood of his lead shoulder getting inside of Dawson's and also takes his head and body away from the point at which Dawson's hook will achieve it's full momentum.
The rest of the fight was much of the same - Ward continued to circle to his right, landing one hard jab at a time, then changing direction for a few moments to land a hard right straight to the body. As Dawson landed fewer and fewer punches per round he became incredibly discouraged (despite having great success with his left hand the three times he actually threw it in this fight) and eventually he was TKO'd by Ward. Ward's power looked great but his science allowed him to land his shots and evade Dawson's repeatedly, and to simply frustrate Dawson to the point of basically giving up while the referee was counting him out.
If you haven't seen this fight yet I suggest you find a means of watching it as soon as possible. It was a beautiful, scientific display for what is still a rare meeting in the ring - left handed orthodox vs right handed southpaw. I personally struggle to remain interested in modern boxing happenings due to the amount of gift fights, drawn out negotiations that lead nowhere, and fighters who simply put on the ear muffs and take it in turns to throw 8 punch combinations that achieve nothing, but this fight was simply superb and showed that you don't need to throw combinations in excess of 3 punches to put a scientific beating on an opponent if you have great footwork and strategy.