Author’s note: This will be a six part series. Please keep in mind that although some of our sample techniques feature straight right hands, the counters are the same as the one used against overhand rights.
A conceptual framework of counter-fighting
As we analyzed in the parts one and two of our past series, although the overhand right seems like a simple punch, it can be combined with several follow-up moves. This can potentially make counters to the overhand right very tricky.
Due to the complexity of the counters listed below and before we proceed with specific technical examples, it is important to analyze several important concepts of the defensive and counteroffensive game.
Telegraphing and anticipation
In striking, fighters defend attacks by reacting to their opponents “telegraphing” their movements. In sporting terminology, to telegraph is to unintentionally alert an opponent to one’s immediate situation or intentions. In boxing for example, fighters will unconsciously notice how their opponent’s shoulder moves before a jab is executed and this provides them with the reaction time needed to parry the punch.
The more fighters are able to apply economy of motion in their execution of techniques, the more they are able to land strikes as there is less telegraphing of movement.
During camps, predictable patterns are often defined so that efficient counter strategies can be developed. These predictable patterns can often give away the opponent’s intentions or help anticipate openings from specific reactions.
A good sense of timing and rhythm are also crucial in becoming a good defensive or counter-offensive fighter. Although these are often natural born attributes, they can be enhanced with training.
Usually, there is just a split second that makes the counter possible. A split second too late and you may run into a counter yourself. Timing is of utmost importance.
Endurance is also important as exhaustion can compromise your defense and reaction time.
We will analyze rhythm in an upcoming post.
Proper defensive technique involves good posture, balance and timely recovery of the defensive guard.
Types of counter-attacks
There are five types of counter-attacks depending on timing and parts involved in each sequence:
- First blocking and then attacking the opponents after their attack has finished. (Example: opponent throws a jab, you parry and hit with your own jab). This is typically executed in a 1,2 fashion (two breaths).
- Step/pivot to make opponent miss, attack and go back to a safe distance. This is also a 2 part sequence (two breaths) .
- Attacking at the same time with your opponents, both bodies moving at the same time. You can use footwork, attack at an angle and/or preemptively duck, slip or trap. This can have unexpected results as you cannot always be sure about the nature of your opponent’s incoming attack .
- Stop-hit: you attack while the opponents are also attacking (but faster) and you catch them before they are fully able to extend their striking limb or in a way that their strike cannot reach you. Sometimes you can just catch them mid-air or out of balance. The Fedor-Arlovski KO is a famous stop hit.
- Mental opening/attacking first: opponents initiate attacks but your reaction makes them hesitate, they exhale and freeze for a second thus not finishing the attack. If you attack at that specific moment there is high probability of catching them. Attack with power and determination.
Other types of openings
In classical Budo where swords were involved every mistake would be fatal. A swordsman would never attack without an opening as this could create an opening in favor of the opponent. Here are some basic types of such openings:
Technical Opening: Some opponents do not have efficient technique and they tend to get out of balance or drop their hands down after their initial attack. This will create a technical opening and taking advantage of this opening will maximize your chances of landing your counter.
Physical Opening: some physical weakness or injury (for example the opponent’s shins are injured or not conditioned enough to block low kicks). Physical openings will often result in hesitation and mental openings.
Opening in the posture or stance: when you can tell that the opponent will not be able to defend against certain attacks from a specific stance, angle or or guard.
Strategic opening: when the opponent follows a predictable strategy and you counter the strategy itself and not just individual techniques.
Make them pay for missing. When opponents miss, you need to take advantage of the opening and their compromised defense by attacking before they can recover their balance or their guard.
Make them pay for landing. In Muay Thai fights, when a fighter lands a blow, their opponents will attack immediately, not caring about the damage they just received. This requires mental and physical toughness and is often risky but some opponents will just not back down. They will keep coming and sometimes you will have to fight fire with fire.
This is something that traditional martial artist fail to understand when fighting full contact fighters : a boxer can take a punch in order to get close and land a knockout blow.
Damage control. If you see a strike coming, your body will instinctively react in a way that minimizes the damage you are about to take. Moving an inch left and right can save you from the knockout. That is why you need to keep your eyes on your opponent at all times even when you are getting hit. Remember: the strike that you don’t see coming is the one that will knock you out. When fighters gets knocked out, their first question to the referee is: “what hit me?”
Fighters often have a poker face. For example, all low kicks hurt but if you watch kickboxers fight you will come to the conclusion that their shins and thighs are made of steel. They may not be able to walk the next day but they know that signs of pain or discomfort during the fight will encourage opponents to attack their legs even harder. So they have to act as if they are not hurt.
Now that we have listed several important aspects of the counter-fighting game, it’s time to analyze specific techniques.
Overhand counters: dealing with follow-up attacks
In order to counter the overhand right you need to be aware of the most common follow-up attacks: left hooks and left hooks to the body. When opponents miss with an overhand right their hips are loaded with energy and a left hand can be launched with devastating force.
Beware of the left hook
In the clip above, Gennady Golovkin lands a right hand and slips a right hand from Canelo Alvarez. In a totally predictable manner they both go for left hooks, but Alvarez is able to pull back and land. Two great fighters using the same common combination.
Another common threat is the hook to the body. Here is an example.
Sometimes fighters are too busy protecting their head and their feet are not fast enough to get their body to a safe distance. This makes the body easier to hit.
A right cross is usually hiding behind a left hook
In the clip above, Cris Cyborg has Amanda Nunes with her back against the fence and keeps coming forward and misses with an overhand. Nunes attacks and misses with an overhand of her own. Cyborg continues to press with a right hand but Amanda semi-connects with a left hook over the top and finally lands a short right hand.
A fighter should not attack recklessly against a puncher without constantly moving the head and keeping the hands up.
[Right hand] pull, [left hook] duck under, pivot right
As demonstrated above, when pulling away, rolling under or slipping overhand rights you should also be able to block or roll under follow-up left hooks.
In this clip, defensive master Floyd Mayweather pulls away from a jab, uses a “shoulder-roll” defense against a right hand and ducks under a left hook. The duck-under is followed by a right pivot towards the blind side of Marcos Maidana. Once Maidana resets, Floyd connects with a left and a right hand.
[Right hand] pull, [left hook] left hook
Floyd’s opponent attacks with a right hand, left hook. Floyd pulls back and catches the opponent with a left hook of his own, at the same time. This is a great technique that can be used to counter the follow-up left hook, but it requires great timing. Keep in mind that the opponent’s reach can be deceptive. You can only catch opponents for a split second with your left hook.
Basic overhand right counters (attacks to the head)
Roll under or duck under, move left
A common defense against an overhand right is to slip left, duck or roll-under the punch, step left and move left towards the blind side of the opponent. Floyd prefers to go very low but most fighters do not. In the clips below you can see similar variations:
As we mentioned before, you have to move in way that is safe from left hooks to the body or left hooks.
Slip left, move left, right hand
This is a great move and works better when opponents do not set-up the right hand with jabs or other tactics. Charging towards your opponent is never a good idea. Please notice that he catches his opponent from under the armpit.
Here is the full clip.
Pull or shoulder roll, right uppercut
A pull or shoulder roll, followed by a right uppercut, is a common overhand right counter. It requires a certain amount of skill. The specific clip above is a shoulder roll. This is why the right uppercut is included in my mittwork drills as you will see in part 2 next week.
Finally, here is Archie Moore knocking down Rocky Marciano:
Using this counter, Archie Moore knocked down Rocky Marciano for a four-count in the second round of their fight. Marciano recovered and retained his title with a knockout in round nine. If you watch the fight Moore was using this counter all the time. (Knockdown at 14:50)
Duck or roll under, right uppercut
Sometimes fighters crouch in order to avoid the punch and the incoming overhand right lands on their neck and back. As you can see in the clip above, this is a good time to land the right uppercut as the opponent’s chin is exposed. (Bellator 214: Henry Corrales vs. Aaron Pico)
[Overhand right] move forward/left, right uppercut.
Here is Junior dos Santos knocking out Fabricio Werdum with a vicious right uppercut while moving forward and to the left. Junior launches his attack before Werdum starts throwing the overhand right. As mentioned before this tactic can have unexpected results.
Move forward/left, right hand
Here is a variation with Cyborg slightly checking the overhand with her left, moving left and attacking with a right hand. The attack can be a straight right, or a hook/uppercut hybrid.
Wide left block, right hand
This is both a block and stop-hit by Lyoto Machida. He does not slip or wait for the overhand right. Blocking and punching are both executed at the same time with a single breath.
Pull, right hand
This technique is also included in my mitt-work system as it is a standard counter. Fighters should pull back slightly while avoiding the overhand right so that they can catch their opponents with a right hand before they can move away. A fighter should avoid overextending right hand attacks.
Jab to the body, [overhand right], pull, right cross
This is another way to use the right hand counter to the overhand right. Floyd launches a jab to the body. The follow-up overhand right by Maidana is a common counter-attack (as well as a left uppercut). Floyd pulls back to avoid the overhand right and attacks with a right hand. He ends the sequence with a jab-out.
Slip left, overhand right
A left slip and a well-timed low right hand can do wonders against an overhand. This is Evander Holyfield applying the technique against Mike Tyson.
Below is another example. (Original clip was with both fighters in a southpaw stance, mirrored for orthodox version)
One final example:
Pushing opponent away
Sometimes the opponent will just miss with the right hand and his shoulder will land in front of you. A good option is to push the opponent away and attack with a left hook, a right uppercut or an overhand left as is the case above with John Dodson vs. Petr Yan.
[Right hand] pull, left hook
This is a classic counter. You can catch your opponents when they launch the right hand by pulling back and attacking with a left hook over the top as in the clip above. As you will see below however, some opponents crouch or move to your right when attacking and that may cause your left hook to miss.
Here is a legendary knockout by Mark Hunt:
Guard block, left hook
Here is a similar version as above but in this variation you can use your guard to block or absorb the impact of the incoming right hand and then launch the counter left hook.
Pull, left hook, right uppercut
As mentioned above, it is easy to miss with the counter left hook. In this example Floyd follows up with a right uppercut.
Using jabs when missing with the left hook.
Jab-in and jab-out is a great way to start and finish combos. Here Floyd misses with the left hook, keeps his distance with a jab and attacks with a second jab.
This is the end of part one. In part two we will examine how to counter the overhand right with attacks to the body, elbows to the head and a couple of notable attacks from the southpaw position. I will also post a clip of several mittwork drills. See you next week.
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).