Timothy Bradley Jr.’s 10 things to look for when watching a boxing match

Boxing

There’s boxing to be found on television almost every weekend. After all, Saturday night’s alright for fighting. If you’re into sports but not a hardcore boxing fan, seeing a fight in TV listings might intrigue you, but you keep moving on. Maybe you think it’s another sporting event you feel you won’t understand, or perhaps you just “don’t like” boxing.

While the sport’s focus is always on the concussive blows, there’s a lot more to a fight. There’s strategy beyond “hit but don’t get hit,” but understanding what is happening can be a problem.

Here are 10 things you should be looking for when watching a boxing match.

1. A fighter’s approach can tell you their game plan

A fighter moving forward signifies aggression, an intention to dictate the pace and engage in close-range combat. Some fighters specialize in counterpunching, preferring to capitalize on their opponents’ offensive mistakes. They adjust their position based on the opponent’s range, whether outside, mid-range or inside. A skilled counterpuncher can effectively avoid, block and counter at any range.

Watch for different fighting styles, such as waiters (back-foot counterpunchers). Those fighters can be troubled by volume punchers, aggressive defensive masters who create their openings with defense, and swarmers who attack relentlessly with punching power, known as boxer punchers. On occasion, we will get a style matchup of two pure boxers. If you like the board game of chess, you’ll appreciate the strategy of this violent waltz between two technically sound pugilists.


2. Athleticism usually means entertaining fights

Athleticism is the genesis of all sports, including boxing. Superior coordination, balance, strength, speed, power and agility are essential for success in the ring. Observing a boxer’s movements and reactions while attacking or defending reveals their athleticism and understanding of Newton’s third law of motion (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction). Athletic fighters are graceful and have fluidity in their movements in every direction, while less athletic fighters tend to be more predictable and stiff in their maneuvers.


3. The bigger the fighter, the harder the punches, but don’t rule out the smaller pugilist

In boxing, the heavyweight division is the biggest, with fighters over 200 pounds — and sometimes close to 300 pounds — competing. These fighters tend to produce more knockouts due to their greater physical power. However, lower weight classes produce more skill, quickness and agility. There is more action amongst the smaller men. Occasionally, exceptional smaller fighters like Manny Pacquiao (a champion in eight weight classes) emerge with remarkable knockout abilities even when moving up in weight classes. In today’s generation, boxers such as Naoya Inoue (who fights at 122 pounds) and 135-pounder Gervonta “Tank” Davis showcase impressive skills, techniques and knockout power despite their smaller stature. If you see any of these fighters on TV, stop and watch.


4. Calmness can be a great weapon in boxing

Calmness in boxing? Really, you may ask? Calmness is a helpful ingredient inside the boxing ring because it opens doors to more opportunities. A composed boxer can spot openings, dodge shots and remain unfazed by setbacks. Boxers vary in this approach. Some live in chaos with demanding physicality, while others prefer a controlled, technical style and focus. It’s important to recognize both forms of calmness: passive and aggressive. I like fighters with a mix of both. We often say in boxing: A boxer’s fighting style usually reflects their personality. So observe closely.


5. Good apparel equals success

A boxer’s attire can reveal much about their boxing style and confidence. Many boxers believe that looking good boosts their confidence before and during a match. While a stylish uniform doesn’t earn extra points, it reflects a boxer’s success and can enhance self-worth. Hair styles, flashy outfits, robes and grand ring walks accompanied by singers and other entertainers signal confidence and egotism. A boxer’s confidence correlates with their performance in the ring. Having a dope appearance doesn’t guarantee a victory, but it does make a boxer more interesting to watch. Find the fighter with the best outfit, and you’ll know who’s the most popular.


6. Red corner? Blue corner? Who’s in the corner?

The fighter in the red corner often tends to be the more popular draw and has a higher likelihood of winning. Promoters typically place the favored fighter, the A-side or house fighter, in the red corner. However, in matchups between two champions, this tradition can change. Ultimately, the corner color choice is part of contract negotiations. Keep a watchful eye on the boxer fighting out of the red corner. More than likely, they should win.

In a boxer’s corner, only three people are allowed in most cases. On occasion, there can be four displayed in championship fights. These are the boxer’s most important support on fight night. During the one-minute rest period between rounds, only the chief second, typically the head trainer, can be inside the ring providing instructions and removing the fighter’s mouthpiece. The other two cornermen can be on the apron but outside the ropes to assist by giving water, rinsing off the mouthpiece, applying ice to reduce swelling, or providing other support. If there is a fourth cornerman, he has to remain on the floor assisting in any way. No cornermen can step onto the apron during a round to avoid disqualification.

If a fighter sustains a cut, the cutman replaces the chief second inside the ring between rounds to address the laceration. A cutman’s tools include an enswell, a chilled piece of metal that can slow down any swelling around the eyes, and medicines to stop cuts: Thrombin and a solution of adrenaline 1/1000 plus petroleum (Vaseline). The third person in the corner handles tasks like bringing the stool in and out of the ring and providing a towel. It’s crucial to have an efficient corner that runs smoothly. There is no time for chaos between rounds. Solidarity inside a corner is a must for a boxer’s balance. So look for those interactions between fighter and corner.


7. Footwork, righty/lefty matchups and stance

A boxer’s footwork is crucial for both defense and offense. Proper foot positioning, such as aligning the feet shoulder-width apart, enhances mobility in every direction and positioning for efficient striking (see video above). Skilled boxers like Vasiliy Lomachenko use active upper body movement along with footwork, including pendulum-bouncing and lateral movements, called front foot step shuffles, to get around his opponent’s flank to gain a positioning advantage. A boxer’s goal is to avoid getting hit while landing punches of their own. Creativity, indirect and direct attacks, and angle changes play critical roles. Mastering footwork and angles is essential for success in boxing, helping fighters evade attacks and deliver precise counterattacks.

One thing to keep an eye on is a matchup between a southpaw (lefty) and orthodox (righty) fighter, as each fighter’s back hand is readily available due to what’s known as an open stance. In an open stance, the southpaw’s lead hand is the right hand, the lead foot is the right foot and the left is the power hand. For the right-handed fighter, the stance is the opposite. So in a matchup of southpaw vs. orthodox fighters in open stance, the lead hands (or jab hands) and lead feet of the two fighters often align, creating a risky footwork scenario. Securing lead foot dominance by positioning it outside the opponent’s can be crucial for gaining an edge. Head clashes are common in these matchups as the boxers fight for optimal positioning to land their back hands, aligning their heads during exchanges.


8. Defense and the Philly shell

Being defensively sound in boxing is critical for longevity and success. Great defense should also provide countering opportunities. Techniques such as bobbing and weaving, slipping punches and footwork are vital to avoiding punches. The eyes of a boxer indicate his knowledge and experience as they anticipate and react to oncoming punches. Keep an eye on that. Excellent defensive boxers closely watch their opponent’s movements and positioning. Boxers with exceptional eyes can often predict and evade punches. Living legend Floyd Mayweather’s mastery in defense frustrated his opponents with his elusive tactics. A boxer’s ability to avoid being hit not only protects them from harm but also psychologically wears down their opponent. While boxing often emphasizes boxers taking punches, the art of not getting hit is unappreciated. Think of boxing as you would dodgeball; the one that doesn’t get hit is the winner.

Defensive techniques in boxing vary among fighters. One notable defensive strategy is the Philly Shell, famously used by Mayweather. In this technique, the lead arm is positioned as if it were in a sling to shield the body with the back hand up. The lead shoulder is raised and turned inward to block incoming punches like jabs and crosses. The back remains high to defend against hooks to the head and body. This defensive style focuses on countering with precise shots at close range, luring opponents in. By keeping the chin tucked behind the lead shoulder and standing tall, a fighter forces opponents to take more profound steps to land punches, leaving them vulnerable to counters. Watch for that.


9. Body attack

Focusing on attacking an opponent’s body in boxing shows skill, strategy and intelligence. Investing in the body usually pays great dividends late in matches. Who ever knew that punching someone in the body could weaken their resolve? It can even drain a boxer’s stamina, zap their energy and slow their movement. The most devastating and powerful one-punch knockouts aren’t as dramatic as you think. A well-placed liver shot delivered on the upper right flank is the most painful punch in boxing. It seizes the liver momentarily, sending shockwaves throughout the entire nervous system. The pain can last for hours after the match, sometimes even days. Trust me, I know.


10. Effective punching and scoring a fight

When scoring a boxing match, three judges are seated ringside. If the commentator’s table were set up on the south side of the ring, the judges would be seated east, west and north, centered along the edge of the ring apron. Each judge gives the winner of a round 10 points and the loser 9 or fewer. A point is deducted for any knockdowns. Remember that not every judge scores the fight the same. They can see different things from their different positioning.

There are no computer systems, monitors or punch counters accessible to the judges when scoring a fight. However, 99% of judges score each round using one criterion: Effectively punching (power punches) in the scoring area, which is the entire front half of the upper torso and high on the biceps, minus the forearm. The frontal lobe on the top of the head, the temple, is also a scoring area.

Notice I didn’t say “clean” punches, which are used in the amateur scoring system. Professional boxing is the hurt business. Although the jab is a vital weapon, effective hard shots are king when scoring a boxing match. For example, If Fighter A lands 10 jabs during a round and Fighter B lands a right cross that buckles Fighter A, according to the No. 1 scoring criterion, Fighter B will likely win that round. It’s the effectiveness of the punch that matters most.

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