Time to show who is head and shoulders above the rest?

By Craig Hilton: When I watch the boxers contesting bouts today, I can’t help but think they could do more in the head movement department. The objective in boxing is to punch and not get hit but contemporary training regimes omit to include varied and effective head movement drills.

The advent of the 24/7 and All Access boxing documentaries have allowed fans the opportunity to study the training of professional fighters. Many of the drills involved have the intention of developing head movement but often fail to deliver when the fighters get into the ring.

I’ve observed Robert Guerrero hit the floor-to-ceiling ball, the Floyd Mayweather padwork, Ricky Hatton’s fifteen rounds of the pads and Manny Pacquiao’s speedy shadow boxing. However, it’s my belief that none of this truly develops the head movement necessary to avoid the fastest and most varied of shots.

Sparring is used to sharpen the reflexes and accustom fighters to the ring environment. However, head movement is not encouraged due to the use of padded head guards. The gloves are softer and heavier than those used for professional bouts and therefore sparring cannot truly recreate the fighting experience.

Head movement is improved by slipping fast shots with a trainer, or from repeated use of a slip bag. Some trainers are known to wave implements of choice at their fighter whilst they duck, dodge and slip: a towel or long, thin stick with a glove on the end are often tools of choice.

When I observe the training of fighters with great head movement, I immediately recognise the source of their ability to avoid shots. Mike Tyson, a fighter known for his fantastic head movement, was forever honing this essential skill. When shadow boxing, he would rehearse slipping, ducking and weaving, often without including punches. As a result, his fighting rhythm and ring mobility became naturalised and automated.

Tyson’s fighting movements were observed, tweaked and adjusted by his trainers. They repeatedly threw fast shots at him whilst he slipped rapidly to avoid them. The slip bag was strongly integrated into his training programme. This training was designed to develop Tyson’s timing and reflexes.

It is this fighter’s excellent mobility which is missing from many of our ‘world class’ fighters today. Many of have become so heavily reliant on their natural ability and toughness, that they’ve neglected to improve their ability to avoid shots.

Carl Froch has long boxed behind a far-reaching and thudding jab but was unable to negate the mobility of George Groves. Paulie Malignaggi tagged Adrien Broner frequently with a rapid and accurate fire. Broner plodded forward monotonously behind the Philly Shell defence, devoid of the effective mobility and reflex required to thwart Paulie’s attacks.

Fighters like Tyson could make opponents miss repeatedly. This made them feel weak and vulnerable. After punching nothing but air, they would question their ability, particularly in the early rounds of bouts. Tyson would avoid their shots, waiting like a tiger in the long grass, before unfurling vicious and brutal assaults.

I’ve sparred myself and it’s difficult to transfer training into the ring. However, I believe that with repeated use of head movement drills, our panoply of contemporary fighters can show a more rounded ability to defend and attack.

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