The great Floyd Mayweather recently stated that he is the best counter punching boxer in the history of the sport. Counter punching aside (just for a moment), I actually believe that Floyd is one of the greatest boxers in history. I won’t go into the reasons for my opinion here, but because I feel that he’s one of the greatest boxers in history this means that by definition he is one of the greatest at counter punching.
In this article I want to explore what counter punching is and how it fits in with boxing. I also want to give 6 tips that will help you to exploit a range of tactics, skills and approaches to become an elite counter punching boxer.
So What is Counter Punching?
The Oxford English dictionary gives the following definition of counter punching:
Counter punching (noun) – Giving a punch for one received.
Now, I for one am not particularly comfortable using this definition. The main reason that I am reluctant to describe counter punching in such a way is that all of us involved in MyBoxingCoach don’t set ourselves up for the kind of style that requires taking a punch to land one. Boxing being the art of self-defence I would much prefer for boxers that I work with to appreciate the importance of effective defence.
There is another problem that I have with the OED definition of counter punching. This issue is a little more subtle, and in fact may be a little controversial. It’s this. Counter punching does not require an incoming punch to qualify as counter punching. Counter punching requires only that your opponent do something. It might be a punch but it might equally be some other kind of action, a hand block for instance, or a duck. This will become clearer as you read on, so try not to assume that I’ve gone slightly mad just yet.
There are any number of sources on the Internet that describe how to become a proficient exponent of the art of counter punching, and this is fine. But, after all of these many years of being a boxing coach I still struggle to properly distinguish between counter punching and, well, boxing. You see for me there is only one type of boxing that doesn’t use counter punching as a fundamental element, and this is the previously described ‘take one to land one’ scenario. Great boxing is great counter punching and great counter punching is great boxing.
Not that I don’t respect the great institution that is the Oxford English Dictionary, but I am proposing a MyBoxingCoach definition for the term counter punching:
Counter punching (noun) – Landing a punch in response to an action or reaction of an opponent.
Now that I’ve provided a slightly alternative view of counter punching it’s time to look at the 6 tips that I think will help you to really improve your boxing and by definition your counter punching.
6 Tips to Master Counter Punching
1. Make your jab be the best it can possibly be.
We all know the importance of your jab. Range finding, setting up combinations, controlling your space and ultimately breaking your opponent apart. Add to this list the foundation for any range of counter punching techniques. Check out the jab of Wladimir Klitschko to get a demonstration of hammering home that jab so as to make the opponent react. This reaction is then punished.
2. Don’t wait to see what happens, make something happen!
A popular misconception regarding counter punching is that it involves waiting for the opponent to do something so that we can ‘counter’ it. 90% of counter punching exchanges are initiated by the counter puncher. How is this done? A mix of punching (see tip 1) and more often feinting. Brilliance in counter punching requires a thorough understanding of feinting techniques. A great place to start (aside from the article on Feinting in Boxing) is looking at the Roberto Duran Boxing Style Analysis article and checking out his use of the jab to establish counter punching onslaughts.
3. Build pre-set counter punching passages
Drills are incredibly important in any sport, and in boxing they are even more so. If you have taken the opportunity of signing up for the free mobility drills on the site, or indeed becoming a member of the Boxing Training Foundation, then you will know how much importance I place on drills.
The fact is that certain passages of boxing work very well together. For instance, a left hook to the body will create an opening to the head. The threat of a right uppercut may lift the head perfectly for a destructive short range left hook. So, it is very much worth constructing and practising these passages in gym time. You can start off with a couple of simple combinations. The possibilities are limitless:
4. Identify patterns in the opponent’s responses
Set passages and combinations are great. But, this doesn’t mean that you should not study your opponent as you fight. Becoming skilled at spotting flaws takes time but real benefits can be gained quickly. For example, if your opponent brings their hand quite far forward when blocking your jab, this means that at the very moment that the block is taking place they are open to a left hook. It may be repetitive straight line movement, predictable attack methods or defensive frailties on the inside. All of these can be picked up and used in your counter punching strategy.
5. Adapt your counter punching to suit the opponent
This is really about whether you are counter punching on the front foot (going forward and attacking the opponent) or counter punching on the back foot. Most people consider counter punching to be a defensive type of boxing, but again it is not as straightforward as that.
Would you for instance consider Mike Tyson to be a counter punching specialist? Well, he absolutely was. All that jabbing and slipping combined with explosive foot movements and even more explosive punching was counter punching at it’s very best. Tyson never had height or reach over his opponents, so it would have been pointless trying to counter on the retreat. He adapted his boxing (and therefore counter punching) style to suit his opponents.
Not to be too simplistic, but a good general rule of thumb is that if you are facing a taller opponent then you are likely to reap more benefits from an attacking counter punching style. If you are facing a shorter opponent then you are more likely to benefit from a more conservative holding ground/retreating counter punching style.
6. Learn your hand defences and learn them well!
The 6th and final tip is in many ways the most important; make sure that all of your blocks and parries are perfectly executed. An opponent is most vulnerable when they punch. Furthermore, when you block a particular shot, the movements you have undertaken are supportive of your own follow up shot. So, if you block an incoming hook to the right side of your body, you store lots of leverage to unleash your own short range left hook.
Blocking your opponent’s jab means that you are in perfect range to land your own jab. So, a golden rule is when you block or parry, always, always throw your own shot. If you don’t then it’s an opportunity missed, and champs don’t miss opportunities.
And that’s it, a MyBoxingCoach view on counter punching. I have for the sake of this article drawn out the principle of ‘counter punching’, but I remain firmly fixed on the fact that the vast majority of boxers use counter punching extensively and don’t really think of it as counter punching as such. It’s just good boxing, plain and simple.
Let me have your thoughts below.