Fighting is all about the allocation of resources: all factors required to support the implementation of a plan and the means required to achieve the desired outcome of winning a fight. Basic resources are power, speed, stamina, mental focus, ability to take damage and other. Conservation of resources is important. There is also risk, profit and interest involved in every choice made both in training for a fight and fighting itself.
The word “resource,” of course, is used metaphorically here. Power, for example, is a natural ability but when viewed as a resource you can understand how to conserve and use it wisely. Like all natural resources, power, speed etc are not unlimited. They fade with repeated use throughout the course of a fight.
A good trainer like the legendary Cus D’Amato could look at a fighter and identify growth potential, like an investor can evaluate the potential of available resources. He could tell if the fighter was worth investing money, time and effort.
Tyson’s emerging boxing ability was discovered by Bobby Stewart, a juvenile detention center counselor and former boxer. Stewart considered Tyson to be an outstanding fighter and trained him for a few months before introducing him to Cus D’Amato.
According to Tyson, he does not really understand, not even today, how Cus D’Amato, this legendary boxing manager and trainer who was in exile in upstate New York, watched him spar for less than ten minutes when he was thirteen years old and predicted that he would be the youngest heavyweight champ ever.
Cus told Stewart: ‘Bobby, barring outside distractions, that is the heavyweight champion of the world and possibly the Universe.’ But only if you continue to work like you’ve been working.” What did Cus see? Speed, power and above all, motivation to learn. (Source)
Mike Tyson went on to become one of the two most famous boxing icons of all time, the other being Muhammad Ali. Although Ali was famous for his speed and graceful movement, Tyson is widely regarded as a knockout puncher. There were many KO punchers like George Foreman and others throughout the history of the sweet science but Mike’s power was unique. I often tell my students, than in looking for proof that a small fighter can use punching to stop larger opponents the only solid evidence I could find was Mike Tyson. When Tyson connected his opponents would either bend the knee with desperation or fall on their butts with question marks written all over their faces. And the question was always the same all the time: how can a 5 ft 10 in (178 cm) undersized heavyweight knock out huge, scary opponents some of them 6 ft 5 in (196 cm). Tyson’s reach was just 71 in (180 cm) compared to the 80 in (203 cm) reach of his opponent Tyler Biggs for example.
Many have attempted to answer this question. Some say it was the implementation of D’ Amato’s peek-a-boo style of boxing, in which the fighter holds his gloves close to his cheeks and pulls his arms tight against his torso. And although this fighting style has a lot to do with Tyson’s success (other fighters like Floyd Patterson have used this style successfully), no one was able to use it in such a devastating manner like Tyson.
Natural power and explosiveness had a lot to do with Mike’s success but you can be sure that all ranked heavyweight boxers have enough power to knock a 5 ft 10 opponent out. And reach is very important in boxing.
I have come to the conclusion that Mike Tyson’s success was a combination of many factors including technique and intelligent game planning. This will be the focus of this series: how lack of a size and reach can be used to a fighter’s advantage and how changing levels, attacking at angles while constantly storing and projecting spring-like power from supposedly defensive positions can produce devastating attacks. I will also analyze how all aforementioned factors blend in with Cus D’ Amato’s main strategic objective: using the element of surprise and confusing the enemy. Finally I will examine why Tyson’s style is great for getting takedowns in MMA.
Cus D’ Amato: A boxing scholar
Cus D’ Amato’s world was a world of concepts. In the clip above Muhammad Ali calls him “a scholar of boxing.” But Cus was not a theorist. Where other experts approach a gordian knot by adding more thread, D’Amato would find a way to cut the knot in the most efficient manner using common sense.
Cus was a strategist, a motivational speaker, a sports psychologist, a manager and a realist. “Though he didn’t have skill, he had that quality of determination and he just kept coming even though he got hit with some good right hands on the jaw.” – Cus’ noted about his first impressions of Mike Tyson when he first saw him spar with Bobby Steward.
Tyson’s determination was a sign of character that impressed Cus. Here is a combination of several of his great quotes: “Character is that quality upon which you can depend under pressure and other conditions. It is the mark of a great fighter when he has character plus skill, because a fighter with character and skill will often rise and be a better fighter because of this. A man who’s thinking or worried about getting hit is not gonna have a good sense of anticipation. He will in fact get hit. Boxing is a sport of self-control. You must understand fear so you can manipulate it. Fear is like fire. You can make it work for you; it can warm you in the winter, cook your food when you’re hungry, give you light when you’re in the dark and produce energy. Let it go out of control and it can hurt you, even kill you…fear is a friend of exceptional people.”
Below is a rare documentary from the early 1980’s that includes footage of Mike Tyson, Teddy Atlas, Cus D’Amato, and more (Watch Me Now by Michael Marton).
It is important to watch all videos linked here in order to comprehend all the concepts that will be analyzed in this series.
Speed combined with changing gears and patterns of movement.
Tyson, an undersized heavyweight had a significant speed advantage. One of D’Amato’s main objectives was to implement a boxing style style that confuses the opponents. Speed is very effective in creating confusion but so is changing gears and rhythms. If you establish a rhythm your opponent gets used to it and it takes a second for them to adjust when you change gears into a new pattern of movement or rhythm. Watching Tyson shadowbox above you can see how he goes from long/fast attacks to the head to a series of body punches and then back to the head, often mixing double hooks or double jabs or hooks to uppercuts. These are patterns that are very hard to deal with when you are counterpunching and play a big role in confusing the enemy, bring despair in their hearts and make them quit. We will examine most of this different patterns in this series.
Cus D’Amato’s angle theory
If you watch the clip above you can listen to D’ Amato describing that when opponents get hit with a right hook to the body and receive damage, they drop their hands, then it is time to strike again this time with a right cross. You may drop your opponent with the first punch or land three perfect punches.
Here is an example of this. Notice how Tyson’s opponent drops his right hand down when Mike connects with a right hook to the body thus creating an opening for the right uppercut.
In the YouTube clip above Cus adds “Remember it is always better to throw the punch when you can hit him and he can’t hit you. That is what the science of boxing is all about. Remember from the side you can let that punch go with the worst kind of intention because you know he can’t hit you back so you can throw the bomb with all the power you can generate.”
Key phrases here are “worst kind of intention” and “can’t hit you back.” The first is traditional Budo’s concept of striking with the intention to harm the opponent that makes a ton of difference in striking and fencing and the latter phrase refers to the angle of attack from the side where your opponents are a step behind you, having to reset their stance in order to defend properly.
I created the photo above to better illustrate this concept. Mike Tyson on the left has a clear view of his opponent’s left ear and his right foot is right in front of his opponent front left foot. Tyson can land at will from this position and if he were an MMA fighter, he could also get a tekedown. His opponent would have to do the Weldon reset to get in position to fight back and he is already late as a split second is all it takes when fighting against a puncher.
During mittwork sessions with my students, I always try to cut angles and I often tell them “I can see your ear.” This helps them immediately correct the angle and face me in order to defend correctly. This is an easy way to teach angles: move so you can face your opponent’s ear and even better so you can see their back. Vasyl Lomachenko is a master of this.
Another advantage of attacking at advantageous angles is that your opponents do not see the punches coming and these are the punches that knock people out.
Here, it is time to put this theory in context with my modified version of Kenny Weldon’s definition of boxing:
Boxing coach Kenny Weldon on the definition of boxing (at the 1 min mark)
“Boxing is the art of hitting an opponent from the furthest distance away or closing the distance to box at an advantageous angle, exposing the least amount of your body, while getting into position to punch with maximum leverage and not get hit.”
Kenny Weldon was another boxing scholar and along with Cus D’ Amato, is one of my main inspirations. He passed away on April 13 at age 72 after a long battle with Parkinson’s. He is survived by his wife Faye, three children and 10 grandchildren.
Examples of attacking at angles (orthodox version)
As we will analyze next week, Tyson would often turn to southpaw to fight at an advantageous angle or cut the ring. In this article we will examine three attacks from the orthodox position.
Description: Here, Tyson closes the distance with a right hand. In anticipation of his opponent ducking to escape the punch, Tyson moves his back foot to the right (photo 3) and simultaneously throws a right uppercut. Even if his opponent pulls back to avoid the uppercut, Tyson keeps pivoting to the right and is now positioned at an angle to deliver a devastating right cross. Three right punches in a row from different distances and angles are a counterpuncher’s nightmare as more boxers usually expect left-right-left combinations.
Description: It’s time to throw three left hands in a row this time around. Tyson attacks with a double jab and his opponent crouches and pivots right trying to reach Mike’s blind side (the back). Tyson is faster and pivots right, getting in front of his opponent’s left side and lands a hard left hook/uppercut hybrid.
Description: Here Tyson attacks with a right cross and as his opponent covers up, Mike pivots right, turns his hips and gets in perfect position for a vicious right hand from the side. This is another detail of the angle theory: as the opponent covers up move to the side so you can attack behind the arms/guard. Tyson was also able to do that with leaping left hooks.
Final words: It took me weeks to watch more than 50 Tyson fights in slow motion and isolate 1346 clips. Several patterns of defense & attack have been identified, some not so obvious. But then again but here on Bloody Elbow we do not go for the obvious. Now that the building blocks have been identified, it’s time to start building. Here is a schedule for this series:
Next week: Tyson’s attacks from a southpaw position.
Third week: Peekaboo style explained
Fourth week: The jab and countering jabs.
Fifth week: Leaping left hooks
Sixth week: Combining uppercuts and body attacks
Final: Using Tyson’s boxing style to get takedowns in MMA.
For a list of my previous technique breakdowns on Bloody Elbow, check out this link.
About the Author: Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system © which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback © mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a brown belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).