When Tim Bradley spun Manny Pacquiao's head around with a straight right hand in the first minute of their much anticipated rematch, I knew something was different. Suddenly, a bout that everyone had expected to be all but identical to its predecessor was anything but. This was a classic orthodox vs. southpaw matchup, with both fighters trying to out-land the other with their powerful rear hands.
(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.)
Footwork in an open stance fight is always interesting, and often misunderstood. Today, we'll be taking a look at the realities of footwork when two high level fighters in opposite stances square off.
Before you read on, check out part 1 of this article, wherein I explain the basics of outside angles, both weak and strong, and the potent but underused inside angle.
USING THE WEAK ANGLE
In part 1, I spoke about the most basic open stance maneuver, which is for one fighter to place his lead foot to the outside of his opponent's in an attempt to line up his cross or hook. While there is more to southpaw vs. orthodox fighting than simply stepping past the opponent's lead foot, there is a reason this logic is so heavily promoted--it works.
Here, Bradley draws Pacquiao's straight left with a double jab. His jab pulls his head back over his right leg, off the center line, and Pac's left whizzes right past his ear. Though it doesn't actually land, at this point the purpose of Bradley's jab becomes clear. First of all, by drawing Manny's cross he has caused his opponent to plant his feet, making himself a stationary target. Secondly, Bradley's jab disguises the movement of his left foot, which steps far to the outside of Pacquiao's right foot, lining up Bradley's right shoulder with Pacquiao's head.
Pacquiao vs. Bradley: Fun with Angles, part 1
On Saturday Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley fought for the WBO welterweight title. What ensued was a spell-binding clinic in the fascinating subject of southpaw vs. orthodox footwork.
The purpose of this "weak" angle (check this diagram for a visual of the angle I mean) is really to shorten the distance between Bradley's right hand and Pacquiao's chin. By not only stepping forward but also putting his right shoulder right in front of Pac's face, Bradley is able to throw a shorter, more direct punch.
The important thing here is the set-up. Without a set-up Bradley would be placing himself at risk by stepping off the center line, because he actually ends up giving his own center line to Pacquiao. By jabbing his way in, Bradley is able to change position without Pacquiao noticing, allowing him to take advantage of his angle without being punished.
THE INSIDE ANGLE
So what happens when the opponent catches on and takes advantage of that open center line? Throughout this fight, both Bradley and Pacquiao took the inside angle, usually as a quick and subtle counter to the opponent's off-center step (diagram of counter inside angle here).
In this instance, Pacquiao steps off the center line to land his straight left, and Bradley hits him with a beautiful cross counter. In the first GIF above, Bradley took a very deep step to close the distance between his target and his right hand, while in this example Pac takes only a small step, doing the typical Manny Pacquiao thing and closing much of the gap by leaning with his upper body instead of moving into range with his feet. This, in part, is what allows Bradley to land such a crisp, short counter punch.
This one's fast, so let's take a closer look with some stills.
1. Bradley gets Pacquiao to pull by feinting with his jab. Pac's right foot is to the inside of Bradley's left.
2. Pac takes a step off the center line, putting his right foot just to the outside of Bradley and throwing his left hand.
3. Bradley doesn't even move his feet (he tends to keep the lead foot turned to the side regardless of situation), he just turns his hips and shoulders so that his right hand has a clear lane right to Pacquiao's head.
Once again, note how Pacquiao gives Bradley his center line with this outward step. Essentially, he squares himself to his opponent, putting himself at risk in order to land a punch. This is a very small, subtle inside angle, but that's the only opening a fighter of Bradley's caliber needs to land a solid counter.
Of course, Pacquiao is excellent at finding the inside angle himself, and he did so numerous times in this fight, usually making Bradley do all the work for him by forcing his opponent out of position.
Here, Pacquiao doesn't create the inside angle so much as take full advantage of it when it presents itself. First he tests Bradley with a jab while Bradley has his back to the turnbuckle, and Bradley grazes him with one of his favorite jab counters, the left hook over the shoulder. Pacquiao hops back out of range, and then inches forward once again, with Bradley waving him on.
Once again, Bradley tries to counter a right jab with a left hook, but Pacquiao is aware and pulls his head just out of the way. After one more feint, Pacquiao launches a beautiful 1-2, barely showing the jab before throwing a lightning fast cross behind it. The arc of this cross is the perfect answer to Bradley's reaction to the jab, which was to slip to his left. As his cross catches Bradley on the ear, Pac pivots to his left, placing himself right inside Bradley's stance. He follows up with another cross and a nice rising right hook, and even though he backs up in a straight line, Bradley misses when he tries to fire back, because his feet just aren't in the right position to hit Pacquiao, all thanks to that subtle pivot a second before.
IN CONCLUSION . . .
There's a strong contingent in the boxing community that call fights like this one "sloppy" or "amateur" because the fighters didn't stick to textbook boxing with perfectly straight punches. I would argue that this contingent is more interested in sounding smart than actually understanding boxing.
I say this because, no matter how "unschooled" the fighters' punches may have looked in this fight (and there is a science behind both Bradley's overhands and Pacquiao's lightning fast chest-level combinations), there was a fascinating game of distance and angles being played throughout the bout. Pacquiao and Bradley's feet were up to something even more interesting than their hands in this bout. Both Pacquiao and Bradley don't always box "correctly," but they do the correct things with the skillsets they have.
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.