In recent articles I have talked quite a bit about counter punching. In the article Counter Punching and Boxing – The Difference? we explored what counter punching is and I gave 6 tips that would help you reap the benefits of a counter punching style. In a subsequent article Counter Punching Power – Russian Style we saw a Russian boxing coach instilling in a wonderfully simple way the keys to supreme counter punching skills for a southpaw.
Given the quality of the comments and the high level of interest in those articles, I decided to think about demonstrating a winning strategy for dealing with a counter punching style. To help me with this, I’m calling on the help of our old friend Vasyl Lomachenko, the superbly gifted Ukrainian featherweight who continues to leave me open-mouthed with his wonderous skills. You may remember him from the article Body Punching in Amateur Boxing – Does it Exist?
In this article we are going to look at Lomachenko taking on the brilliant Russian bantamweight (54KG) World Champion Sergey Vodopiyanov. The contest took place in the 2009 World Championships in Milan and was to decide the gold medal winner at featherweight (57KG). Both are southpaws and both are brilliantly skilled. The difference is that Vodopiyanov uses what is fundamentally a defensive counter punching style. Lomachenko is more versatile and that is what ultimately is the difference between the two.
Here’s the video covering just Rounds 1 and 2, but to be honest that is all we need:
The Anti-Counter Punching Strategy – The Elements
Let’s break down the Lomachenko approach to dealing with the cagey counter punching Russian. The core principles of his strategy are:
- Give the Russian no time or no space, not to think, not even to breathe.
- Do this without taking shots on the way in.
- Build a lead.
- Force the defensive counter punching boxer to attack to try to get points back.
Sounds simple when put like that doesn’t it? Achieving this short list is quite obviously not an easy thing to do, a good counter punching style can be really difficult to overcome. But, let’s just examine the tactics that Lomachenko applies.
Deny Time and Space
Boxers who use a defensive counter punching style really shine when the opponent tries to close them down at a nice, steady pace. When that opponent attempts to match skill for skill. Sergey Vodopiyanov has a classical, free-flowing counter punching style, really pleasing to watch and usually really effective. Vasyl Lomachenko knows this and quite simply does not allow the Russian to bring his talents to bear.
Lomachenko’s rate of advancement is breathtaking and quite frankly at times ridiculous. He steams forward, almost breaking into a run at times. It’s all about intensity and not allowing Vodopiyanov to dictate the pace. The counter punching style is not being given the time or space to work effectively. As far as Lomachenko is concerned he must close the ground as quickly as possible. No standing back, not yet anyway…
Don’t Take Punches
To defeat the counter punching style, or any boxing style for that matter, you must take as few clean shots as possible. After all, this sport is also referred to as ‘The Art of Self Defence.’ There is no point using an all-out attack against a counter punching opponent if you are eating 9 out of 10 punches coming your way. It just doesn’t make sense in terms of securing victory, and that is why boxers fight, to be winners.
Lomachenko uses a highly aggressive but highly controlled approach. In Round 1 he attacks using explosive forward movement and forward diagonal movement. He does this attacking under cover of the double arm block coupled with some wonderful slipping. His rate of advance might be seen as the equivalent of a battering ram, and in some ways that is exactly what his approach is. But this is not the whole story.
The defense of Lomachenko is pretty much impenetrable to the counter punching of the Russian maestro. Watch the wonderful feinting movements at 1:54, really slick and really effective, a compact guard combined with fluid footwork and body movement. Look also at 3:10, simple movement in with slips and a high guard. For those who have signed up to the free Mobility Drill emails, this approach will be very familiar.
One more thing, I really like the slip and roll combined with the pivot at around 4:15. Check it out, it’s just outstanding footwork and well worth building a drill around. Speaking of building…
Build a Lead
It’s great to stop incoming shots hitting you, but there is a missing piece of our anti-counter punching jigsaw. A critical part of the success of this strategy is to build your lead. Get points on the board and put some clear blue water between you and the counter punching specialist. So, how to achieve this?
The trick is to remember the golden rule that we always apply when we block punches. That is, if you block or use a slip, then fire back. Simple. There are plenty of examples of Lomachenko doing exactly this. He fires at any of the ranges, long range, mid range and short range. He does it with speed and aggression. 2:54 is a classic, a simple slip outside (for the southpaw) then a wonderfully leveraged jab, designed to knock the head back very cleanly. The intense burst at around 3:35 helps a bit as well!
Prompt a Change
The result of Lomachenko’s 1st round exploits is a very healthy 4 point lead. His tactics to not allow the counter punching Vodopiyanov to settle have worked brilliantly. The Russian goes back to his corner, finds out about his 4-point deficit and instantly has to inject an urgency into his boxing. He moves away from his fluid, relaxed counter punching to a more front foot attacking approach. The simple fact is that Vodopiyanov is not quite as good at pressuring an opponent as he is at counter punching his way to victory, and Lomachenko has used this to his advantage.
As for Lomachenko, well, he can do as he pleases. He can continue with pressing Vodopiyanov or he can sit back on his lead and allow the Russian to run onto his punches. The tables have turned. The Lomachenko tactics to deal with a top class counter punching opponent has made the opponent fight a fight that does not suit his particular skill set. Mission accomplished. We don’t get to see the last round here, but for the record Lomachenko walks away with a 12-1 victory.
There you have it, a strategy for dealing with a counter punching opponent. I suppose the key is versatility. The ability to change your style to suit the opponent and circumstances. It’s fine having a preferred approach (for example a counter punching style), but you must have the capability to adapt to and overcome opponents whatever they bring.
One more thing, I know that I have focused quite a bit on Lomachenko and other pugilists from Eastern Europe in recent articles. I’m not going to apologise for this, I think that there is lots to learn from such fine fighters. However in the coming weeks I’m going to shift some focus to the Cubans and some of our top performing Pros. Feel free to offer suggestions or to contribute to this article by leaving comments below.