After the madness of late summer, which gave us three UFC events in the span of seven days, it doesn't seem possible that we are heading into yet another weekend with no big-time MMA events. Well, there is Bellator, but that's on a Friday. Everybody knows that Saturday night is the time to sit alone in front of the TV with six beers and an entire large pizza to yourself to watch some face-punching action (I assume this is how everyone watches fights).
Well fear not, fight fans! Because two of the biggest names in boxing are fighting this weekend. Miguel Cotto (37-4, 30 KO) takes on Delvin Rodriguez in a comeback fight, while heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko (60-3, 51 KO) defends his five titles against undefeated Alexander Povetkin.
Both men are expected to win handily, though I wouldn't be quite so certain. This is boxing, and one punch can change everything. What is certain, however, is that both men will present a master class on that most basic, most fundamental of punches, the jab. Today we're going to break down how each man uses this ever-effective weapon.
Somewhere along the line Miguel Cotto went from being a tough guy with a left hook and a penchant for low blows to one of the better boxers in the sport, ably setting up his brutal bodywork and heavy power shots from the outside. The key to that transformation was Cotto's jab, a fencer's lunge of a punch that he uses to hurt and disrupt his opponents. Whether he hits his opponent's gloves, head, body, or shoulder, Cotto's jab is excellent at throwing off his opponent's rhythm and setting up the knockdown punches-that is, if that cannon jab doesn't knock them down first.
In these GIFs we see Cotto knocking down Joshua Clottey with a stiff jab. Cotto's positioning and timing is key here. Notice that, before the jab is thrown, Cotto has his lead foot lined up with Clottey's center line. If we were to view this from above, we'd see Clottey squared up with his gloves by his eyebrows, and on the floor right between those gloves, we'd see Cotto's left foot. Wherever that left foot points, Cotto's jab will land with power.
At first glance it would appear that Cotto lands his jab and then partially blocks a counter left hook, but if we look more closely we can see that in fact Cotto's punch was the counter. This is why I mention his timing. Clottey drops elevation slightly, preparing to step forward with a left hook. The moment Cotto sees that wind-up motion, his jab shoots straight out from his cheek and he takes a deep step forward. His jab counters Clottey so effectively that the Ghanaian boxer is already on the way to the canvas by the time his planned left hook has a chance to land, and by that time his legs are gone and the punch has nothing behind it.
Basically, this jab is a message to the opponent that it is suicide to lunge forward at Cotto. If the fight is going to take place on the inside, he tells the opponent, then I will be the one to take it there.
And while he may throw it with more power than most, Cotto's jab is still a jab--not a straight left, like the one that Canelo Alvarez sometimes throws, but a left jab: quick, safe, and efficient. Opponents who eat a hard jab from Cotto might feel like they've been hit with a power shot, but the GIF above shows how easily Cotto can continue to pump that jab, even while moving his feet, changing range and angles with ease. It's not a one-off. In fact, Cotto's distinctive power jab, and the way that he often secures a nice low angle before throwing it, should remind MMA fans of someone else...
If there's one thing that most people know about Wladimir Klitschko, it's that he's tall. Very tall. At 6'6", Wlad rarely faces an opponent very close to his own height. Last week, I wrote about the myth of fighting tall, and advocated getting low against an opponent and attacking from beneath. I did, however, allude to the fact that there are times when standing up tall can be effective, and Wladimir Klitschko is nothing if not an example of how to fight tall effectively.
Normally I try to avoid images where possible in which the fighters' feet are not visible, but the important aspect here is the trajectory of Wlad's punches. In this excellent video, trainer Dadi Asthorsson mentions the concept of upward and downward threats. We tend to think of fighting as happening on a side-to-side plane, but upward and downward movement plays a key role as well. With Wlad we have a clear example of a modern fighter whose entire game is built around the idea of threatening (and landing) punches from various angles.
The first jab above catches Francesco Pianeta from below. Wlad and his brother Vitali are both well known for carrying their left hands at the chest or lower during fights, and the reason for this is clear. Wlad's up-jab pops Pianeta's head up and back and, once he has almost understood where the first punch came from, the right hand lands from a completely different angle. That downward right hand is a staple of Wlad's style, and though punching downward defers a disadvantage in power, it allows Wlad to constantly threaten a different angle of attack. The final left hook of this sequence also connects from a low angle. Just as in Dadi's video: left hand from below, right hand from above.
Aside from the up-jab, Wlad also tends to paw with his left hand, flicking his glove in the opponent's eyes to draw their gaze and set up the cross. Luis Monda calls this method of punching "pet-pet-slap." Klitschko will first use the jab merely to touch the opponent, establishing a rhythm with which the opponent can almost become comfortable and...
POW! Wlad often catches his opponents right as they gather enough confidence to counter his pawing jab, and then they run face-first into a powerful right hand.
The other advantage of Wlad's height and reach is obviously his ability to control distance. The jab is also crucial for this goal, and it's actually very difficult to close range on Wlad with his very active left hand. He will happily switch from pawing, to sticking jabs, and then to simple stiff-arms, using his reach to keep the opponent at bay like a big kid holding his little brother at arm's length.
So prepare yourselves for a nice weekend of boxing, folks. This Saturday it's all about the jab, as two of the sports biggest names get set to put on impressive displays of technique and power.
For more boxing and MMA analysis, check out Heavy Hands, Connor's new podcast featuring interviews, technical analysis, and jokes about Matt Brown destroying metropolitan Cincinnati.