I don't get the opportunity to cover much boxing here on BE, but I'm always happy for the chance when I get it. As is much the same in MMA, boxing's new year is struggling to compare with the fireworks of the holiday season, but the lack of huge name fights definitely doesn't mean there's a lack of good fisticuffs. Two very talented boxers in Mikey Garcia and Luis Collazo enjoyed impressive wins in January, and both did so via clever manipulation of distance.
These are the Manipulators.
Mikey Garcia - The Lead Hand Catch
Mikey Garcia seems to be the dark horse of the entire boxing world right now. Despite his spotless record as a professional, 28 of his 34 wins coming by way of knockout, his name just doesn't seem to get mentioned among the top dogs of the sport--the Floyd Mayweathers, the Manny Pacquiaos, the Andre Wards. Perhaps it's the weight class in which he fights; Junior Lightweight isn't exactly filled with household names. Or perhaps it's simply the curse of the counter puncher that, without an abrasive personality, a lack of perceived "fighting spirit" simply drives fans away. Garcia's last fight, a relatively slow paced decision win over the 26 year-old veteran Juan Carlos Burgos certainly didn't earn him any new followers, but it did clearly demonstrate why he is deserving of greater recognition.
Garcia has always been lauded for his defensive awareness. He is nearly impossible to hit cleanly, and those who try too hard to catch him usually end up on their backs blinking with a penlight shining in their eyes. Juan Carlos Burgos took very great care not to overcommit against Garcia, and Mikey used a very interesting technique to counteract that cautiousness.
Many fighters catch and parry jabs with their rear hands. The orthodox fighter's right hand, typically carried closest to the chin, is thought of as the defensive hand, preventing the opponent's jabs from getting through, while his lead hand is meant to be active, sending out jabs of his own to probe the enemies defense. Mikey Garcia, so adept at punching with both hands, showed that he is just as ambidextrous when it comes to defense.
After both hurting one another early, Garcia and Burgos seemed vary wary of one another. Neither seemed able to find the other's chin for several rounds, tentatively punching nothing but air. Garcia, the natural counter puncher, prefers to fight off the back foot, but Burgos seemed to have contented himself with throwing little more than pawing jabs from range and the occasional long right hand, giving Garcia no choice but to move forward and follow Burgos' punches back to his chin.
Above, you can see the frustrating strategy of Burgos at work. With the clear reach advantage, he was in no need to reach for Garcia, and even the jabs that were avoided kept Garcia out of range. As he follows up with his right hand, however, you can see Garcia utilize his trademark technique, a catch with his lead left hand, followed immediately by a leaping left hook.
Here, at the end of the 7th round, you can see Garcia finally regaining some sense of the range and, along with it, the confidence to throw committed punches at his opponent. Unlike in the first example, here Burgos' jabs are coming close enough to be caught by Mikey's right glove, and when his right hand collides with Mikey's left, Garcia knows that he is in range to counter. His first attempt fails, and Burgos pops him with a counter right of his own, and the second counter misses the mark as well, but this marks the beginning of Garcia's domination.
Technique Recap: UFC 169, pt. 2
BE's striking specialist Connor Ruebusch brings you the final installment of the Technique Recap for UFC 169, featuring Kevin Lee, Ricardo Lamas, and Jose Aldo.
Garcia's strategy is simple, and clever. Rather than open himself up by jabbing at his taller, longer opponent too frequently, Garcia uses Burgos' own long punches against him. The idea is that, whenever Burgos can touch Mikey's gloves, which never stray far from his face, then the challenger is just a short step outside of range. When he leans forward on his right hand and connects hard with Mikey's glove, then he is ripe for a counter. As long as Burgos is firing those punches into Garcia's hands, Garcia knows exactly where he is.
The rest of the night saw Garcia slowly turning on the pressure but, largely due to Burgos' defensive attitude, still unable to get the finish. Regardless, we got to see some lovely jab counters, thrown directly after a catch with the same hand.
Garcia's propensity for countering with his defending hand is nothing new for him, and it's actually a very crafty tactic. Often the opponent, after committing to a hard shot, will let their hand drop before it returns to their chin, and they will be momentarily thrown off balance and out of position. In this instant, Garcia likes to counter on the same side as the opponent's now out-of-position hand, which means being ready to fire off punches from almost any position. Here you can see him scoring a perfect knockdown with his right hand after using the same arm to block Matt Remilard's left hook to the body. Notice the opening left by his opponent as his left hand drifts in no-man's land.
I don't advocate a hands-only defense, but when you do rely on your hands for defense, you'd better make damn sure you return them to your face.
Luis Collazo - Manipulating the Gap
Luis Collazo vs. Victor Ortiz was a blast for its full 5:59 duration. You might remember Ortiz as the guy who headbutted Floyd Mayweather and was then "cheap" shotted into a TKO loss, but this fight was all about Collazo, a former champion who, since losing his belt in 2006, has struggled a bit against top competition but has never been knocked out.
Collazo played the role of matador to Ortiz's bull in this bout, drawing the heavy handed Ortiz into exchanges where he could use his slick footwork and head movement to avoid the worst of the damage and counter. It only took about a round and a half for Collazo to find the hole in Ortiz's defense.
As Collazo throws his left, Ortiz attempts to counter, but comes up short. The two fighters end up shoulder to shoulder for a moment, and then both pivot to face each other again. Ortiz, probably unused to fighting other southpaws, simply turns to reposition himself. Collazo slips Ortiz's left hand and then, wary of the right, half-rolls again in anticipation of a right hook. That's very important. Collazo recognized the situation as a one ripe for a right hook, and Ortiz did not. Less than five seconds later...
Again, both fighters attempt to trade left hands. Collazo's misses entirely, while Ortiz's gist collides with Collazo's shoulder. Immediately, Collazo recognizes the opportunity for a right hook, and throws one. Two things are very important here: his timing, and his technique. First, timing is key. Collazo throws his hook first--you can clearly see that Ortiz's hook was only a response to the further movement by Collazo, his slugger's instincts taking over.
Second, Collazo's hook is just about perfect technically speaking. The arc described by his fist is tight and compact. With his right elbow down until the last second, Collazo's fist enjoyed a firm connection to the rotation of his torso, which was accentuated by the weight transfer taking place in his legs. Starting with his weight on the front hip, Collazo pulls back to throw the hook, pivoting on his right foot as the heel of his left foot drops down. This is some of the most visible weight transfer you'll ever see.
But the most important detail? Built-in defense, baby. Observe how far Collazo's head travels from the end of his left cross to the end of his right hook. He pulls his dome back at least a foot from Ortiz, who's head stays in almost exactly the same place over his right hip. This manipulation of the gap between the two fighters causes Ortiz's hook, even as wild and wide as it is, to sail right past Collazo's face while his own, shorter hook had already just landed. These are the deceptive mechanics of technically sound punching. The head movement is not an afterthought--rather, it is built into the weight transfer of the punch. With punching power comes great defensive responsibility.
Join me again later this week for a look at the main event of the upcoming UFC FIght Night: Machida vs. Mousasi.
For more fight analysis and fighter/trainer interviews, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast that focuses exclusively on the finer points of face-punching. Be sure to listen to the UFC 169 breakdown with BE's own Zane Simon, and feel free to rate and review the show on both iTunes and Stitcher.