There are a lot of confusing opinions and "rules" out there when it comes to fights between orthodox and southpaw fighters. Typically, you will hear that the jab is out as a viable option, and the rear hand is the key weapon. This is a textbook case of fans and pundits recognizing a point, and then heavily overstating it. Yes, against a southpaw you are faced with a shoulder in the way of your jab, and an unusually clear lane for your cross, but to forego the jab and rely almost entirely on the rear hand is tactical suicide.
No one is a better example of this than Manny Pacquiao. Watch any of Pacquiao's first 34 bouts, before he came under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, and you'll see a talented southpaw who follows the conventional wisdom to a T, and nothing else. Left hand after left hand brought Pacquiao a long way, but it took Freddie Roach's jab and right hook to make him the powerhouse that he is today.
So what better than a Pacquiao fight to delve deeper into the complex and little-understood game of angles that is the southpaw vs. orthodox matchup? Better yet was the fact that Tim Bradley found unparalleled success with his right hand, meaning that we can examine both he strengths and weaknesses of each angle available to the open stance fighter.
(Note: I'll be using the term "open stance" which, while not native to boxing, is a convenient term for an encounter between a left-hand-lead and right-hand-lead fighter.)
Before we jump into the fight, let's break down the basic angles available to fighters in an open stance fight. First, and most basic, is the simple step off the center line.
Blue and Red start in neutral position, with their front feet lined up. You will see this position constantly in open stance bouts, as both fighters attempt to get past the lead foot of their opponent, and the opponent makes adjustments to stop them doing so. Once this angle has been attained, Blue's left (rear) hand is lined up with Red's center line. This also opens up the lane for a short left hook over Red's left shoulder.
I myself have lazily referred to this movement as "taking an outside angle" in the past, though I can't really consider it a true outside angle. Blue has indeed moved to the outside of Red's lead foot, threatening his center line, but his own center line is exposed. This is where a sharp, quick jab from Red could stop Blue in his tracks. Red can also make a tiny adjustment and have Blue completely at his mercy--more on that in a moment.
Because this angular movement, though necessary, is not "safe" as stronger angles are, I'll refer to it as a "weak outside angle." To be clear, no angle will ever truly protect one fighter from another who knows how to position himself. It's just that this weak angle can be thwarted by Red without Red even having to readjust, while a true angle should force the defender to turn to protect himself or attack, during which movement the aggressor will have a window of opportunity.
Next, let's take a look at a true outside angle.
Here, Blue not only steps outside Red's left foot, but pivots counter-clockwise. You can see immediately how this is a safer, and therefore more threatening angle than the weak outside angle above. Blue can throw virtually any punch he wants, depending on the distance and what targets the position of Red's upper body present to him. Red, meanwhile, cannot hit Blue without first turning to face him. Again, if Red is smart he will adjust immediately, but it is during that adjustment that Blue can essentially hit him for free.
If Blue moves to the outside of Red's lead foot for an outside angle, then of course he would pivot in the opposite direction to take the inside angle. That looks like this:
Blue pivots clockwise, to his left. Once again, Red has no punches immediately available to him, while Blue has a great selection. This is an angle you don't often see in open stance bouts strictly because most boxers have it hammered into their heads that they should always move away from their opponent's rear hand, not into it. But as you can see, by moving toward Red's right hand, Blue has actually passed its trajectory, while giving himself and even better lane for punches with either hand than afforded by the outside angle.
The true beauty of the inside angle is how it can be used to kill the weak outside angle, like so:
1. Blue and Red are in neutral position.
2. Blue steps past Red's foot, attaining a weak outside angle.
3. Red makes a small pivot to his right, easily gaining a dominant inside angle.
Frame-by-Frame: The Mad Science of Manny Pacquiao
BE's striking specialist Connor Ruebusch uses footage of Manny Pacquiao's ill-fated first fight with Timothy Bradley to break down the unique aspects of the Filipino phenom's style, as he gets set to rematch Bradley this Saturday.
This is a maneuver only seen in high level open stance fighting, and it is usually more subtle than my exaggerated diagram, but it results in some of the most beautiful boxing you'll ever see. Oftentimes, the fighter in Blue's position will think he has a clear shot to throw his rear hand, simply because his lead foot is outside his opponent's. While he throws and misses in utter perplexity Red, who unless he finds the angle on accident is usually the superior boxer of the two, will happily land his own rear hand with ease.
Fundamentally speaking, the position of your lead foot relative to your opponent's is secondary to whether or not you are facing his center line. Commentators (and even some coaches) get caught up on foot position in these open stance bouts, but foot position is merely an indicator--a symptom of good positioning, not the end-all-be-all.
OUTSIDE ANGLES AT WORK
So that's the basic rundown of open stance angles. Let's take a look at one example from the Pacquiao vs. Bradley 2, going back to our first two diagrams, the weak and strong outside angles. Watch the following GIF, as Tim Bradley utilizes both in the fourth round, staggering Manny Pacquiao for the first time in his 16 rounds against him.
Bradley lands two right hands on Pacquiao. The first is thrown with a simple outside step, and while it's not a great counter, Pacquiao catches Bradley with a right hook as he steps off-center to throw the punch. This is the weak outside angle, and because Bradley doesn't disguise his step well, Pacquiao tags him with the counter.
Next Bradley throws another overhand as Pacquiao pivots counter-clockwise, trying to move away from his right hand. The reason that Pacquiao's evasive movements fail is that he loses track of Bradley's feet. While Manny pivots, Bradley repositions his left foot outside Manny's right. Without any action from Manny, this would be a weak angle just like the last one, but Pacquiao's pivot actually turns Bradley's angle into a strong one. Let's close in on the fighters' feet.
1. Pacquiao steps to the outside of Bradley's lead foot (circled in green).
2. As Pacquiao begins to pivot, Bradley repositions his own lead foot, stepping deep to the outside of Pacquiao's foot.
3. Pacquiao continues to pivot, turning himself away from Bradley and inadvertently strengthening his opponent's angle while destabilizing himself to the force of Bradley's overhand right.
Prior to this shot, Bradley had placed his foot outside of Pacquiao's, and failed to land anything of real consequence, while getting countered himself. But in this instance, a momentary mistake on Pacquiao's part, coupled with Bradley's outright refusal to let Pacquiao out of his range, resulted in a much stronger angle. The result was that Pacquiao was unable to counter Bradley, and was knocked off balance and staggered by the punch.
But as I said before, foot position is secondary. What matters most, simple as it may sound, is whether or not a fighter is facing his opponent, and whether or not his opponent is facing him.
Take a look at the positions of the two boxers' bodies moments before the impact of Bradley's momentous punch. It's obvious that Bradley is facing Pacquiao, weapons cocked, while Pacquiao, caught out of position mid-pivot, has his body turned almost completely away from his opponent. A tiny mistake such as this is often all it takes for one fighter to really capitalize and knock his opponent out.
That does it for part one of this breakdown. Check BE tomorrow for part two, which will focus one more examples of angles from this weekend's classic rematch--with lots of GIFs!
For more analysis, as well as fighter and trainer interviews, check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face punching. On this week's episode, Connor answers listener questions with boxing trainer Luis Monda.