Hello Bloody Elbow community, this is my first post and I hope you enjoy it.
I have been musing about standup defence for a while now. Many important variables to defence are neglected and hence misunderstood by many casual fans and commentators. Even some coaches, fighters, and analysts tend to generalize it too much.
It's too often that whenever a fighter hands are not protecting the face, it's seen as a major technical flaw. Orthodox trainers and most stand up coaches put a strong emphasis on the guard and blocking.
I am not going to ever bash the utility of the guard; orthodox and high guards are used by many elite fighters and it's conclusive that it is effective. But what I cannot accept is that a lot of people don't accept the utility of lowering the hands- especially when it comes to fighters that clearly have mastery of such style.
There's a tendency to emphasize the guard (blocks) as the primary defensive technique. This is fallacious thinking in several contexts. A traditional or high guard to employ blocking only becomes the primary defensive technique when their judgement of distance, movement, and ability to read attacks/counters is not enough. That is, these other aspects of defence is not yet good enough to negate their opponent's offensive attacks and they do not have other go-to options.
The point of emphasis with defence ought to be the ability to predict and read the movements of your opponent- a game of chess- rather than thoughtlessly saying "put your hands up". Putting your hands up will probably not win you the fight in said case.
Throughout history, elite fighters who drop their guard are believed by many to have amazing athletic talent to compensate for their technical flaws. This appears to be simple and lazy thinking. But more importantly, it implies disrespect to the technical genius and mastery that these fighters possessed. These fighters (some being Roy Jones, Muhammad Ali, Anderson Silva, Naseem Hamed) also competed with athletic talents that were arguably stronger and faster.
Yet the truth is that they made many of their opponents look silly- many of whom that actively employ an orthodox guard. These fighters did not employ a traditional guard but were quite elusive regardless. A big reason for this is that they had spectacular movement and understanding of positioning as well as angles. They are the ones who tend to control distance and areas of exchange. I know for a fact that Muhammad Ali and Naseem Hamed had coaches that allowed them to utilize the "hands low" style early on in training, and I'm willing to bet other fighters did too (Anderson Silva post Chute Boxe).
Fighting with the hands down in said fighters is a developed skill set. It is neither fatigue nor inexperience as seen in beginners and lesser strikers. It is comprised of technical subtleties- a skill set that is made up of many variables- all of which require a great amount of dedication and deliberate practice.
This is Jack Dempsey's outline of general defence in his book Championship Fighting:
"Punches can be prevented from landing on their targets by three methods: (1) COMPLETE EVASION of the blow by slipping, bobbing, pulling away or side-stepping; (2) DEFLECTION of the blow by parrying (brushing away) with the hand, or by knifing with the forearm, or by shrugging off with the shoulder; (3) BLOCKING the blow solidly with the hand, forearm, elbow or shoulder.
Evasion is the preferred method. When you force an opponent to miss completely with a blow, he usually lurches off balance and leaves an opening for your counterpunch. Moreover, since the blow has not touched you, it has not off-balanced you for counterpunching.
Deflection is next best; for the parry, glance or shrug usually off-balances your opponent without interfering with your own equilibrium.
Blocking is the least desired; for a solid block not only affects your balance but it also may bruise the spot that makes blocking contact with your opponent's fist. Repeated bruisings of one spot-for example, the left shoulder muscles-can handicap your fighting."
Putting your hands up with the hope that it will block against an attack that you did not see is not going to free you from punishment. An adequate opponent will find holes and angle himself where you are out of position, or he will use movement to draw attack and counters. This will tend to happen irrespective of the guard, though the success rate does somewhat diminish when there is a guard. Nonetheless, it's an over-reaching assumption that Anderson would have blocked shots that he did not see.
The Utility in Lowering your Hands
It's not surprising that "hands low" fighters that have mastery in "evasion" and "deflection" were also great at striking while moving backwards. It's a skill that few fighters develop and the elite would utilize it to punish an over-eager / agressive opponent. Their skills in deflection also allowed them utilize techniques such as "head-rolling" punches and mitigate some of the force. But to lean, roll, or evade a punch the necessary pre-requisite is that you have to be able to see it or read it.
"Putting your hands down" is yet another way to draw counters- a strategical trade, as is literally everything in striking: It is an art in itself that allowed Anderson Silva to become the greatest of all time. It ought to be regarded as a trade off rather than a technical flaw. That is, the fighter that drops his hands forfeits one line of defence for the sake of offense.
Putting up their guard and blocking is not their go-to defensive technique, as they have mastery in the art of "evasion" and "deflection". With mastery in these two disciplines of defence, they can often utilize a lowered hands style as a way to setup counters as they draw in their opponents. This opens up opportunities that would otherwise not be present. In the case of Anderson Silva, he generally does not have a great offensive striking game, and thus compensates for it through this manner.
Striking from a lowered guard or the hips also make the strikes harder to see. This comes as a risk-reward trade off, and Anderson Silva has used all these specific skill-sets and game plans to build his great run. It is not necessarily high-risk either, as it's highly dependent on his opponent's skill set.
Yet Joe Rogan attributed his loss to hubris and dropping his hands. Joe Rogan does an excellent job at commentating for the most part, but by all means he is a BJJ and Taekwondo specialist- he can call grappling techniques and spin kicks before they happen, but is almost always too simplistic when it comes to analyzing the art of standup.
It seems pretty silly to bash something that has been utilized effectively for so long. It's what Anderson Silva trains to do- this is his style that he is great at and precisely why Joe can call him the greatest of all time.
Chris Weidman deserves credit for the KO in that he has punching power, good judgement of distance, and good movement. He also studied Anderson Silva for a very long time and had a good understanding of what Anderson does and how to counter it. In reviewing the fight, you will notice that the main strikes Silva landed were leg kicks. Silva was unable to create a collision by drawing in Weidman, and when he was on the offensive Weidman had none of it.
The key offensive point for this fight is that Weidman levered his punches. Weidman threw a 1-2-2(fling/backhand)-3, all of which Anderson saw except the left hook. He doubled up or "lever punched" as Jack Slack had explained in his analyses. It's the exploitation of Anderson's defensive tendency and defensive flaw more than anything else. The fact is that Anderson did not see the punch- it was thrown with trickery- and Silva either didn't expect it or didn't train enough for these type of combinations.
Weidman is not so easily predictable as his other opponents that simply swing left-right-left-right (also explained by Jack). In the case of Anderson Silva, he was again drawing counters. He was using a risk-reward trade off as usual- but in this case it was more high-risk as Weidman was able hit him many times as he "clowned". The risk increases because it is inherent from facing Weidman- it isn't nearly as much about putting the hands up as it is about reading the punch and using footwork.
Silva's mistake was not being able to see the last punch coming- a power shot disguised behind a distraction. But perhaps of equal importance, Silva failed to utilize his footwork to increase his defensive success when Weidman came in with a combo. He did not back-pedal enough, side-step or circle out to put himself in a better position, thinking that his lean, rolls, and weaves will be enough to protect him from what Weidman has to offer. Ultimately, he actually leaned towards the left hook.
This is a defensive error that is much more important than having his hands up, it's a defensive mistake that he has made before against lesser opponents, and it's this defensive tendency that got him knocked out.
Ultimately, Anderson Silva has shown this defensive mistake alongside his defensive brilliance throughout his career. You either correct your mistake or eventually you pay the price when you make the mistake.
Most of the things Anderson Silva does in the ring has been years ahead of many of his opponents, and his judgement of distance, foot work, and ability to read attacks are by far his most important skill sets. It does not do him justice to simply attribute his loss to his lowered hands.
After all, it's a style that worked amazingly for him, and if you consider him the greatest of all time, his skill sets deserves much more credit than the (in)famous "put your hands up".
Inspired by two tweets:
Jack Slack: "I really like Cub's boxing style - hands lower, graceful movement. A guy with short, telegraph free kicks can slow that down."
Connor Ruebusch: "Hands up doesn't mean shit if you really understand defense. Positioning and distance are king."