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The New Rules of Boxing
Forget everything your trainer taught you. Fence-boxing is here.

by Eldon Frost (eldonfrost@canada.com)

Until recently, boxing trainers told their athletes, among other things, to eat a lots of beef and chop wood in preparation for a fight. It was believed that eating beef makes one stronger than "fat building" carbohydrates, and that chopping wood is a good alternative to weight training, which only builds up "slow muscle." Even Oscar De La Hoya's training regime once included eating cheeseburgers and chopping wood in the forest. In the sport of boxing, old ideas die hard.

If you walk down to your local boxing gym tomorrow, the trainer will probably introduce you to techniques so ingrained into the heart of boxing that even referees and commentators know them. Most trainers feel that if you don't follow these rules, you simply won't win:

Rule #1 - SQUARE UP TO YOUR OPPONENT -- Face your opponent with both shoulders, so that you can fight with both hands.

Rule #2 - KEEP YOUR GLOVES UP -- Protect yourself at all times.

Rule #3 - KEEP YOU FEET MOVING -- Stay on your toes. You can't get hit if the punch can't find you.

Rule #4 - SET UP YOUR POWER PUNCH WITH THE JAB -- Use the jab as a range finder.

Rule #5 - GET IN THERE AND MIX IT UP -- Throw a lot of punches, using a variety of punches.

Perhaps the strangest thing about these time honored techniques is that today's best boxers - guys like Prince Naseem Hamed, Roy Jones Junior, Shane Mosley and Lennox Lewis -- don't do ANY of them. In fact, these guys love to fight traditional style boxers, because traditional boxers make them look like superstars. So how do the best fighters in the world today fight, if not like boxers?

In the "old-old days," sword fighters fought in the same style as boxers do today. They would square up to their opponents with a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other, then slash and parry until someone fell. Some of the first famous boxers, such as Englishman James Figg, were also famous for sword fighting. Over the last few hundred years, fencing has vastly changed and improved its form, while the look of boxing has changed very little. The fundamentals of boxing taught at the gym today are almost the same as they were two hundred years ago.

So if fencing form has become more advanced and boxing form hasn't, why don't boxers adopt some of the same techniques? Well, the fact is that the best boxers in the world ALREADY fight like fencers. If this sounds far fetched, take another look at the "rules," and how the best boxers in the world are breaking them.

Rule #1 - DON'T SQUARE UP TO YOUR OPPONENT -- Face your opponent sideways, with your strongest arm forward. For a right-handed fighter, this means having your right foot forward, pointing at your opponent with your right shoulder and right arm. If you look at ANY fight with Roy Jones Jr, you will see this rule in action. In Jones' fight against Eric Harding, Harding seemed afraid even to step in close enough to throw a punch, for fear of the straight right that he knew would come to stop him.

The most common remark you hear about the best pound-for-pound fighters is, "he seems to be right-handed, but he fights like a southpaw." So what are the advantages of facing sideways instead of squaring up?

First off, by facing sideways to your opponent, you're simply a smaller target, and a smaller target is harder to hit. Secondly, your head is in the middle of your body. Try this simple test. Face squarely against a wall, make a fist with your arm straight, and move forward until your fist touches the wall. Then take a tape measure, and measure the distance between the wall and your head. Next, point your body sideways, make a fist with your arm straight until your fist touches the wall, and again measure the distance between the wall and your head. By facing the wall from the side, the average person can hit the wall while their head is 4-6 inches further back from it. In the ring, this translates into a 4-6 inch reach advantage, just by turning to the side.

Rule #2 - DON'T KEEP YOUR HANDS UP - Keeping your hands up means blocking your own vision. Fighters like Prince Naseem Hamed know that keeping your visual field open and maintaining proper distance is more important to defense than keeping up the gloves. In the post-fight analysis of Hamed-Sanchez, HBO's Harold Lederman remarked with surprise that Hamed was "right in front of the power-punching Sanchez, with his hands down at his sides!" In Lewis-Tua, ringside commentator Jim Lampley remarked that Lewis has a tendency to "hold his left down around his waste."

Fencers train constantly to maintain perfect distance. If one fencer takes a quick step forward, the other fencer takes a quick step back. Playing with the distance creates opportunities to strike, while avoiding being hit at the same time.

Rule #3 - DON'T KEEP YOUR FEET MOVING -- Great fighters do not bounce on their toes. If you are bouncing upward with your heels off the ground, you can't change direction, and if you can't change direction, you can be timed for a punch.

While watching the Shane Mosley-Antonio Diaz fight, I noticed that whenever Diaz bounced or shuffled his feet, Mosley jumped in and smacked him. It happened three times, and each time Diaz seemed stunned by Mosley's speed. During the Hamed-Sanchez fight, the always-observant Harold Lederman noted, "the Prince seemed to fight flat-footed and directly in front of Augie."

It's easy to move fast -- in any direction -- if your feet are planted firmly on the ground.

Rule #4 - DON'T USE THE JAB TO SET UP A POWER PUNCH -- Using fencing-style, a fast jab is the best weapon in boxing. With speed, the jab is more than just a setup for a power punch, it IS a power punch! Because of its linear motion a fast jab is accurate, difficult to block, and can stun just as much as a hook or an uppercut.

In the recent match of Tua-Lewis, many were disappointed that Tua didn't fight as ferociously as they had expected. The reason? Lewis shut down Tua with the jab. Whenever Tua moved forward to strike, Lewis would pop him with a jab to end the advance. By the end of round one, Lewis had landed twenty jabs. As commentator Jim Lampley remarked, "Round two begins with Lewis sticking the jab, sticking the jab, sticking the jab, sticking the jab, stick it, stick it, stick it!" By the end of the match Lewis had landed 300 punches, most of them jabs, despite Tua constantly being the aggressor.

In the post-fight analysis of Roy Jones vs. Eric Harding, Harold Lederman wrote, "Roy takes his time and sets up his shots. He never jabs. Everything is a power punch." Likewise, about the Mosley-Diaz fight he wrote, "in round one, Tono's face was all red in the first minute from taking Shane's left jabs."

In boxing, it only makes sense to treat a fast jab with the same respect as a fast stab.

Rule #5 - DON'T GET IN THERE AND MIX IT UP -- Whenever I see two fighters go head-to-head in a slugfest, the first thing I think is, "these guys are exciting to watch, but they're not great boxers." Using fencing-style boxing, distance and timing is everything. While fencing with swords, you can't just jump in there and "mix it up" without expecting to take severe punishment in return. The same goes for boxing. Going into a slugfest expecting to dish out more than you take is at best a mediocre strategy.

The best boxers consistently win because they simply don't let themselves get hit. Using the fast jab and keeping their distance, they only strike when the moment is perfect.

Fencing-style boxing is an aspect of the sport still in its infancy, which is one of the reasons that it's so exciting. Most fighters do not even realize that they are using a fencing-style. Commentators constantly notice it and remark about it, but until now, now one has really known what to call what they were seeing. Once fighters realize that fence-boxing techniques are superior and adopt them universally, boxing will be a far different sport. It only gets better from here.

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