One of the ways to tell if a boxer is experienced is from their in-ring awareness. This has to do with knowing exactly where you are in the ring, relative to your opponent, and relative to the ropes/corners.
Why is this important? Because controlling WHERE the fight happens allows you to control the fight itself. It is not fighting on the outside, or coming forward. Regardless of style, the boxer in the better position will have the advantage. Let’s take a look at some scenarios.
Suppose you like to fight on the outside, zipping in and out while popping your opponent with straight punches. You need space for this. If your opponent pushes you back, you need to move backwards to maintain that space. And if your opponent corners you, you need to expend even more energy to quickly escape laterally.
This is very tiring. Foot speed is the first victim of fatigue. Once you’re tired, your offensive game is gone, and you’re now super vulnerable to an opponent who can finally catch you and is eager to make you pay for your earlier boxing antics.
This is also unreliable. What if you can’t escape that easily? You might skip to your right in a hurry and run right into a left hook. You may try a fancy check hook to escape to your left and eat a straight right on the way out (think Hasim Rahman and Lennox Lewis, or Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal). Or you might try to defend on the ropes like Canelo, and have a basic, disciplined fighter like Bivol rack up points on you again and again.
True ring awareness is not even being put in such a spot. Why leap to safety from a corner when you could just never be put there to begin with? Why fight off the ropes when you can stay off the ropes completely? Of course, this is easier said than done. But where do we start?
The trick to not being backed into an unfavourable situation is not to escape when you are already there. It is to escape with every step. You should know exactly how far your back is from the ropes. When your opponent pushes you back, don’t step backwards. Step back with once step, and then take a small side step. You feint and jab with your opponent, they push forward again. Take another step back, and another step to the side. Your back will already be facing the other side of the ring, and not the ropes closest to you.
Your opponent will soon realise that they have been pushing you back consistently, but you are never stuck in a corner, and they end up chasing you in circles. This is what it means to escape with every step. This is what it means to have ring generalship.
The reverse works equally well. If you are trying to corner someone, take small steps. Making a big obvious push forward will signal your intent to corner them, and they will move in the opposite direction. Instead, change the angle subtly with each small step, and herd them towards the corner that you want them to be in (again, you need to know which corner this is, and how far they are away from it). Before they know it, they’re trapped even though they haven’t been consciously giving ground.
The best part? It isn’t tiring to take these little steps at all. A good gas tank is not just about having an endless reserve of cardio, but spending your energy wisely.
Watch the small steps of Floyd Mayweather Jr (escaping) Gennady Golovkin and Julio Cesar Chavez Snr (chasing), and for MMA fans, Georges St Pierre. Observe where they want to be, where they want their opponent to be, and the little steps they take to get there. Nothing big and fancy, just awareness and consistency. Think about what you want to do (trap someone, for example) and keep doing what it takes to do it (small corralling steps to drive them towards a corner).
In warfare, one must be aware of the terrain. Boxing is no different. One way to practice this in the gym during a regular boxing training session is during partner drills. Be aware of whatever is around you, whether it’s the ring ropes, the heavy bags, a wall, a window, or other pairs of members doing their own partner drills. Practice finding out where you are, where you need to be, and the small steps to get there. Good luck!
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