When most fight fans think of Luke Rockhold, they invariably think one of three things:
1) Left body kicks
2) The wheel kick that Vitor Belfort used to knock him out
3) HANDSOME HANDSOME HANDSOME
As for me? Well, yeah, I think of all of those things. But there's one underappreciated aspect of Luke Rockhold's style that really stands out to me: his southpaw right hook, easily his most dangerous and most reliable punch (to the degree that I suspect Luke is a right-handed, converted southpaw).
In boxing, the term "hook" is almost always applied to the left hook of an orthodox fighter, the favored punch of many of history's greatest knockout artists. Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Julio Cesar Chavez--the left hook is a perfect knockout punch, capable of delivering naked, blunt force just as well as a sneaky counter blow. Naturally Rockhold, lacking the heavy hands of a Foreman or Frazier, prefers the latter, and his counter hook has developed into a very effective weapon indeed, stopping numerous charging opponents in their tracks.
There is something unique about the southpaw's right hook, as opposed to the traditional left hook, but first let's examine hooks in general, and explore what makes them such keen counter punches.
The key to a good hook, which I've written about many times before, is that the puncher pull his bodyweight backward, shifting from lead foot to rear. Thus the body motion of a solid hook somewhat resembles that of someone starting a lawnmower. Here's a fine example from Danny Garcia, who isn't necessarily the most technical puncher in the world, but nonetheless possesses a very powerful left hook.
Garcia's punching mechanics are wonderfully exaggerated, making this knockdown of Erik Morales an excellent example. Notice that Garcia is being backed up around the ring as he elects to throw his hook. The punch fits seamlessly into a sequence of backward movement thanks to the aforementioned weight transfer--unlike a right hand, which would require the fighter to stop retreating, plant his feet, and move forward to throw with power, the hook only requires him to coordinate his punch with the footwork he is already using to retreat.
Rockhold used this punch to stagger the badly outmatched Keith Jardine en route to a first round finish, and you can clearly see the same weight transfer at work in that sequence.
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1. Jardine, his back to the fence, prepares to lunge forward and attack.
2. Opting for the typical open stance strategy, he leads with a straight right, but Rockhold slips back out of range.
3. Jardine continues moving forward, shifting into southpaw to throw a left hand. Rockhold's weight is on his right foot (circled), his right heel flat on the canvas and his left raised.
4. Continuing his reverse movement, Rockhold drops the heel of his left foot (circled) and lifts that of his right, smoothly transferring his body weight and yanking a right hook smack into the Dean of Mean's jaw.
Rockhold prefers to fight at long-distance, where his long legs are put to good use attacking the head, body, and legs of his opponents. Though he lacks the jabs and uppercuts a tall fighter needs to completely deter his shorter opponents from advancing, this fade-away right hook makes for an excellent attack to punish them when they do.
There is, however, a key difference between Rockhold's right hook and Danny Garcia's left--one you may have already noticed.
OPEN STANCE, OPEN GAP
As a southpaw, Rockhold tends to find himself against orthodox opponents. This kind of matchup is called "open stance," because two fighters in opposite stances will find themselves standing with a wide, open gap between their opponent and their own rear hand. Like so:
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A step forward from either fighter in closed stance is relatively easy to take. Of course, the reaction of the opponent cannot be accounted for, but any threat is purely virtual--nothing directly stops one fighter from stepping forward and penetrating his opponent's stance, so to speak.
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In open stance, on the other hand, each fighter has the very real obstacle of his opponent's lead foot--and the jab above it, if he's smart enough to use it--which makes it much more difficult to close the gap on an unwilling foe.
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Any straight forward movement is easily tempered by one fighter simply checking the other with his lead foot, putting it in the way and therefore stopping the opponent's own foot from sneaking too close. Angular movement is the obvious answer to this quandary, but many fighters will still attempt to attack relatively straight-on, and often end up leaning in in the process, making them vulnerable to a counter.
The two counters best suited for this very common open stance scenario are the left uppercut, and the right hook. While the uppercut is a great defensive weapon to punish a forward-leaning opponent, the right hook is quite possibly the sneakiest tool in the southpaw arsenal. In a battle of long distances, it is very useful for the fighter to make use of his most immediate weapon--the closer to the target, the faster the counter.
Under Freddie Roach, Manny Pacquiao has developed a very dangerous counter right hook which he uses for exactly this purpose. Watch how he catches Antonio Margarito on the side of the head as he falls face-first into the pocket.
Margarito overextends to the point that his head falls almost completely in-line with Pacquiao's right shoulder, lining him up perfectly for a short, powerful right hook to the temple. This lunging and leaning is not uncommon in open stance encounters from both fighters, but it is almost invariably true that the southpaw fighter, having faced orthodox fighters for most of his career, is better able to take advantage.
The proximity of the right hand to its target also contributes to the general sneakiness of the southpaw hook. Above, you can see that Margarito is completely blind to the counter until it lands. True, some of that is a result of his problematic left eye which was almost certainly blind by this point in the fight, but we must also give credit to Pacquiao for causing that to happen--it was his consistent use of the tricky hook that ended up fracturing the Mexican fighter's orbital. Normally, the right hook is unpredictable because it tends to loop up and over the orthodox fighter's left shoulder, and often the punch is entirely obscured by his own jabbing arm. Notice how Pacquiao waits to catch Margarito's jab on his right glove before firing the right hook in a tight arc over his triceps.
The southpaw cross gets all the love, but nothing is more dangerous or unpredictable than a southpaw hook.
Rockhold has progressively tightened and improved his right hook, turning it into a very consistent, and yet entirely unpredictable punch. Against Costas Philippou, he used the hook in the same way as Pacquiao, punishing the shorter fighter for getting overeager and reaching for a target, and even taking an angle in the process.
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1.Philippou feints the jab and shuffles forward . . .
2. . . . ultimately uncorking a long straight right that, being easy to see at such long range, Rockhold easily evades.
3. Philippou's momentum carries him forward, but Rockhold throws the hook before he can get too close. This time, as he drops his weight onto his left foot, he takes a short step behind himself, pivoting his body out of Philippou's path even as he lands his counter.
4. Rockhold follows through on his hook and pulls his head out of range of Philippou's own punch.
5. And Philippou drops belatedly to the canvas.
It's the subtle little details--the small pivot, the unpredictable trajectory, the ability to attack on the retreat--that makes Rockhold's hook one of the best counter punches in the middleweight division. In time it would be encouraging to see the former Strikeforce champ develop a more complete boxing game, but it's hard to be disappointed that his first serious training investment is one of boxing's most effective and underrated punches.