Counter Punching – Deal With It

by Fran on May 6, 2012

Vasyl Lomachenko

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:

  1. Give the Russian no time or no space, not to think, not even to breathe.
  2. Do this without taking shots on the way in.
  3. Build a lead.
  4. 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!

At 4:28 we can see Vodopiyanov get a little more aggressive and the response of Lomachenko does not bode well for him. Precision jab and straight back hand and another couple of points in the bank.

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.

In Closing

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.

Cheers

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave I May 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Geat vid+analysis Fran-Plenty to learn from that.If i had to pick out one thing only it would be the footwork of Lomachenko.Very impressive the way he puts pressure on his opponent and traps him.

Reply

Fran May 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Thanks Dave.

Agreed, I keep coming back to his footwork too, outstanding isn’t it.

Reply

Ivan May 7, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Hi Fran,
interesting choice of a fight, here is a link to the full 3 rounds, the commentary may not be a big improvement – from Turkish to Russian:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fON3ssbUA24
The only point for Vodopyanov was scored when he had Lomachenko against the ropes and Vasyl could not use the components listed above. Whether anyone can believe that the Russian could not touch him for the next two rounds is another matter but the final score was 12:1. Credibility is an issue with the comp. scoring system, only Casper could stay “dry” for two rounds.
In the third stanza Lomachenko openly refused to engage, but he looked good doing it. He showcased his footwork, staying just out of range.
His footwork is special for an amateur, he is off his toes and glides fluidly on grounded feet so the leverage for powerful combinations is available at all times. It was there for the 6 punch flurry that toppled his tall Cuban foe at 4.10:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqJxdEt25wc
I expect him to chainsaw his way to the top if he turns pro after London 2012. He is a special fighter who can box, brawl, swarm, punch and has the mindset of a champ. The snap in his punch is there too (amateur coaches rarely speak about power, snap or “abruptness” is how they refer to it). Vasyl makes it look easy, but try what he does at 1.20 (with both hands):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nw5hYNqsx7U
This gives a whole new meaning to the old adage about punching your way out of a paper bag.

Reply

Fran May 8, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Great links Ivan. Just watched both of them. His performance against the Cuban was outstanding. It’s like he combines the best bits from a pro style with the best bots from an amateur style. Certainly one of the best amateurs I’ve ever seen. In fact, his achievements are a clear testament to this.

Great links again Ivan, thanks very much.

Reply

Dave Waterman May 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm

What a quality display of pugilism from Lomachenko. As has been commented above, his footwork is masterful and I do believe that’s a bit of an Ali shuffle after the pivot at 4:15.

Vodopiyanov’s performance is certainly not slouchy either and it’s a demonstration of how good Lomachenko is that he closes the ring down as the Russian makes use of every inch of the canvas.

An excellent demonstration of how to deal effectively with a counter puncher, although Lomanchenko is something special.

Nice one Fran.

Reply

Fran May 8, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Hey me Owld Sparrow

Nice to a hear from you. I can’t get enough of watching him at the moment. Getting the boxers at the gym to watch him carefully. Oh what I would have done if YouTube had been around when I was boxing. We were lucky to be able to gather around a TV at Crystal Palace for one of the England coaches to walk in the the prize possession of a VHS recording of a recent championships. Oh the joy!

Take care mate, thanks for the comment.

Reply

Poster May 12, 2012 at 3:07 am

In my opinion that fight was clearly a typical range-fight between a pressure fighter and a mover. Lomachenko is of course more than just a pressure fighter but he uses pressuring quite a lot. In this fight he had made his homework again and knew what was the easiest way to rip down Vodopiyanov’s best skills. He needed just to get in the short range. Vodopiyanov had no chance in that range and seemed almost unskilled against determined Ukrainian and made even beginner-like mistakes. This is not unusual. Many olympic style boxers can just stop fighting and open his/her arms to show the referee that let’s get in the long range again. Often seems that their best weapon in the short range is tying up.

Yes, Lomachenko did pressure Vodopiyanov in the tight guard throughout the first and a half rounds. He got in with his continuous bobbing and forward movement. At first Vodopiyanov tried to answer that by moving and flurrying punches but he didn’t score. But Lomachenko didn’t score either. Immediately when Vodopiyanov first time lost his movement Lomachenko scored his two first points. Vodopiyanov was so afraid of short range fighting that he tried to run and flurry punches all the way three rounds. All what happened was that he self run out of gas, stopped moving and noticed how one-sided skills he owns. His self confidence was gone and so was the chance for winning.

How Lomachenko did this ? I agree that he did prssure but not just that. He was also smart. He did just what needed. Nothing extra. He let Vodopiyanov circle outside and use a double amount of energy. He let Vodopiyanov to flurry punches to his guard and threw self punches just when there was a sure place for that. Of course Lomachenko is the world’s best amateur boxer but same time when I’m admiring his performance against Vodopiyanov, I can’t help wondering what would have Vodopiyanov done in the other way ?

I think he should has stopped running immediately when he noticed that he can’t stop Lomachenko’s pressure and stay focused in the range Lomachenko wanted. Now he did all he could to avoid that and that made he make mistakes. The running prey makes easier the mistakes. The most important lesson of that fight was that the olympic boxers need also to get comfortable with the short range fighting.

Versatility is the key. It takes maybe more time to get versatile but it’s sure worth of it. I think it is pity to see how different and often one-sided the olympic style boxing is nowadays if we compare it to professional boxing. It is beautiful to see a skilled olympic boxer in the long range fighting but it is sad to see how poor they ofter are in the short range.

Reply

Fran May 15, 2012 at 6:39 am

Excellent post. I have to agree that versatility is indeed the key. In this instance Vodopiyanov simply did not have the ability to be as effective up close (or on the front foot) as he is when counter punching at long range. When fighters are forced to fight ‘out of their comfort zone’ we can get a true reflection of their all round capability. A recent case in point is Floyd Mayweather Jr’s brilliant performance against Cotto. He fought hand-to-hand with Cotto, meeting the Puerto Rican at his own game, and coming out on top.

Again, great post.

Reply

Terry May 13, 2012 at 8:43 am

Thanks for the clip Fran,I don’t get to see many of the top amatuers and that was worth watching.Hopefully we will get decent coverage of the boxing in London (for a change)On another note my son is going over to South America and then on to England for the Olympics and said he would like to drop into your gym and have a look and a yarn if it suits you mate.He is a very quite and respectful fellow and I’m sure you’d get along if he dropped in to have a look.Anyway if that suits you I’ll get the address of your gym before he leaves.Regards Terry.

Reply

Fran May 15, 2012 at 6:44 am

Not a problem Terry, I’m going to maintain a series of posts on amateur skills, mainly because I think that most people who visit the site are involved in the amateur code. I do have a mate who runs a Pro-Am gym and he has his Pros look at the fight analysis articles (Duran, Hagler etc.), but by and large most are practising the amateur code and therefore will learn most of the best amateur boxers.

In terms of your boy, absolutely mate. I’m sure that he is aware that travelling from London to Liverpool is no small undertaking. If it’s Olympics fortnight then he may not want to tear himself away from the Capital. If he does want to sample Liverpool, then I’d be happy to show him around our gym, it would be a pleasure. Let me know closer to the time and pass you the details.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: