Judo Chop: Manny Pacquiao and the Art of Aggression

Remember Manny Pacquiao? Once upon a time, nobody would stop talking about a potential fight between he and Floyd Mayweather, and then he lost a controversial decision. Then he attempted to redeem himself with a strong performance against long-time rival Juan Manuel Marquez, which resulted in Manny being KO'd for the first time since 1999. And now everybody seems to have forgotten about the Pacman, a boxer who once captured the hearts and minds of fight fans the world over with his kind persona and brutally effective fighting style.

Now Manny's back, and he aims to prove that he's still worth the adoration and respect he once held. His opponent, Brandon Rios, is expected to be soundly trounced, but it remains to be seen how Pacquiao will look after the first two consecutive losses of his 61-fight career. Hopefully we're in for a treat, and with that in mind, let's take a look at how Pacquiao performed at his best.

HIP MOVEMENT

Shakira once sang that "her hips don't lie." It's a beautiful sentiment, really. The idea that, regardless of what one might say, one's body will always tell the truth. Love is real!

Well Manny Pacquiao scoffs at all of that nonsense. He laughs at Shakira and her embarrassingly honest pelvis, because Manny Pacquiao's hips do lie, and they're one of his greatest assets as a result.

Manny is one of the most difficult fighters to face because his aggressive style is perfectly complimented by his set-ups, dozens of set-ups for dozens of different angles and attacks all coming at you at once. It's easy to see why Manny has fustigated so many great fighters with relative ease, when you consider the fact that after two or three rounds it is almost impossible to do anything but simply react to him. Pacquiao is the ultimate initiative fighter.

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I want you to watch the above GIF, and ask yourself, in all honesty, if you can tell what Manny Pacquiao is about to do before he throws the right hook. Oscar De La Hoya certainly couldn't, and it resulted in Manny handing him one of the most unexpected beatdowns in modern boxing history. Manny's hip movement is a core tenet of his style.

He is, at heart, a come-forward fighter. He always has been, even when he was just a hard hitter with a decent 1-2 and nothing else. This is why Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao are the perfect fit. Roach has always been a trainer who values aggression. He doesn't train his guys to get hurt, but he's willing to let them take a punch to land a better one, and another, and another. Roach crafted Manny into an ideal offensive fighter, his blistering handspeed and remarkable power accentuated by a new ability to punch in combination. Manny went from that young kid with a 1-2 to a fearless killer with a whole array of punches.

And once he was established as a threat with both hands, the games began. As you can see above, Pac is constantly shifting his hips and stepping his feet when he's standing in front of his opponents. Every time he moves to his right, it looks like a left hand. When it isn't a left hand after all, that's because it's a right hook being loaded up. But wait--he shifted back to the right and didn't throw anything--left straight coming again! Wait, no...

Manny exhibits this mental pressure on everyone he fights. De La Hoya knew Manny hit hard, and he knew he didn't want to be hit by him, but he had no idea how to stop the Filipino from cracking him again and again.

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Throughout the fight, Manny landed his left hand at will, and all because of his deceptive hip movement. Notice that, for each of these lead lefts, Pacquiao's weight ends on his right hip, his head situated over his right knee. These are "soft" left hands. That's not to say that they don't pack power, but the intention of these punches is merely to land. They do so consistently because every time that Manny shifts his weight to the right hip, it could mean any number of things to De La Hoya. He could be slipping to his right, wary of Oscar's jab. He could be loading up a right hook, which he had led with a number of times before. He could be simply circling to Oscar's left.

It's almost comical to watch in isolated clips, until you realize that Manny spent the entire fight shifting back and forth like a snake charmer, not only feinting everything, but doing everything. Oscar had to worry about the right hook because Manny quickly busted up his left eye with it. He had to worry about the straight left because it was landing consistently. He had to worry about the slipping and moving because, from the very first bell, he could feel the fight slipping through his fingers.

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This is the effect of fighting Manny Pacquiao; when everything you do is reactive, you're bound to react incorrectly, and get caught.

THE SOUTHPAW JAB

I've written extensively about jabbing against southpaws. Many orthodox fighters seem to eschew the jab, believing it to be too difficult to land on a southpaw, and resorting to the lead right hand as a primary weapon, a punch most orthodox fighters are not used to throwing. No wonder then, that southpaws tend to be such tough matchups for orthodox fighters, because they spend most of their careers fighting orthodox fighters, and know to use all of their weapons against them.

Manny's jab is one of his best punches for the same reason that the jab is one of the best punches in general. He uses it to set up his left hand by gauging the distance with his opponent. Once they have become accustomed to his pawing right hand, he'll often stick a hard jab out there to disrupt the opponent, giving him all the opportunity in the world to land a hard follow-up.

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Here, Pac feints his jab, getting Shane Mosley to reach for it with his own jab hand. Then Manny steps forward. Shane reacts, but incorrectly, assuming that a left hand is following the jab feint. Instead, Manny surges forward with an actual, committed jab that knocks Mosley's head back and puts him in a momentary panic. Mosley attempts, as a last resort, to roll to his right, but Pacquiao is too fast, and his left straight smashes into Shane's temple, sending him to the canvas.

The reason that Shane's hand was so easily drawn out of guard is that many fighters are obsessed with maintaining top hand position when fighting in open stance, i.e. an orthodox vs. a southpaw. You've seen this many times before--recall Rashad Evans gingerly touching fingertips with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira for three rounds and you get the picture. Many fighters believe that by having one glove always ready to smack down the jab of the opponent, they are immune to a southpaw's jab. Unfortunately for Manny Pacquiao's opponents, this is only true if the southpaw is also vying for top hand position. Manny is more than happy to concede the contest of who can hold their glove higher, and come up underneath the opponent's parry or guard.

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Notice how De La Hoya lifts his hands in an attempt to stop the jab, even though his guard is already as high as it ever needs to be. The jab sneaks through at an upward angle regardless. Manny's first jab here is just a touch, but it gets De La Hoya reactive. The Mexican boxer pulls his forearms together, successfully blocking the second jab, but opening up the left side of his face. As he jabbed, Manny moved to an outside angle, and now has a clear shot at that exposed left cheek with his straight left. He pops De La Hoya on his battered left eye.

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Once again, the jab strikes from underneath. Miguel Cotto successfully prevents this one from landing, but his hand is so drawn out of position as a result that he is forced to take Pacquiao's left on the chin. This is one of the keys of Manny's success with combination punches. The point of a combination is that not all of the punches need to land cleanly, or land at all. The point is that, once the opponent is reacting to Manny's attack and offering none of their own, he is free to continue attacking. Thus the third, fourth, and five hundredth punches of the combination slip through the opponent's ever-weakening defense.

BODY SHOTS AND THE FADE-AWAY RIGHT HOOK

As if Manny didn't have enough switch-ups to throw at his opponents, he is also very good at threatening with the body shot. He often throws a right hook to the ribs, but his best body punch is the straight left, which he either uses to target the solar plexus or the gut, right above the belt line.

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Here Manny lands a left hand upstairs on Oscar De La Hoya, already confused and timid after just one and a half rounds. De La Hoya attempts to come forward, but Pacquiao is always moving, and hops out of range before he can create any meaningful offense. Now it is Manny's turn again, and he steps forward behind his jab, working his way to Oscar's left to attain the dominant outside angle.

This time, Manny doesn't jab underneath. Instead, he throws high, to the outside of De La Hoya's left glove, suggesting that he wants to come over the top with a jab or lead hook. This causes Oscar to lift his left glove in defense, taking his elbow away from his ribs and leaving his gut wide open. Manny follows his feinted jabs with a hard left to the body that folds De La Hoya up like origami.

Even though it doesn't land, I'd like to also highlight the final punch of this sequence, Manny's fade-away right hook. After the left to the body, notice how he pulls his weight back to his left foot and swings a right hook at Oscar's head. The weight transfer on this punch is perfect-the lead hook is ideal as a retreating attack because it requires the body's weight to be moving backward to land with power.

Manny uses this punch to do what's called "closing the door" on his opponent. By exiting on an attack, he makes it all the more unlikely that Oscar will work up the confidence to chase after him as he steps back out of range. He not only covers the right side of his head with his right arm as he throws the punch, but puts his head out of range and, at the same time, creates a threat to keep De La Hoya back. It is always wise to follow a body punch with a punch to the head, and always wise to maintain defense when retreating. Even Pacquiao's defense is aggressive, and that's what makes him such a special fighter.

Despite the fact that his decade-long era of dominance just might be over, Manny Pacquiao was and is a very unique and entertaining fighter. Intelligent aggression is the name of his game, and both Manny and Freddie Roach deserve praise for developing a boxing style that is both subtle, and undeniably in-your-face.

For more boxing and MMA technique analysis, check out Connor's podcast Heavy Hands. Coming next week: an interview with Lyte Burly, boxing trainer and practitioner of the little-known prison-born fighting style of 52 Blocks, a.k.a. Jailhouse Rock.

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