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Shades of Bruce Lee: Pacquiao, Mayweather, and the sweet science of boxing

Floyd Mayweather Jr Manny PacquiaoBy Sizzle JKD: Over the last 50 years, many boxers have said that one of their idols growing up while learning the fight game was the legendary Bruce Lee, who founded Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do in 1964. Although Lee began his career learning Wing Chun, much of his influence and technique came from Western fighting arts. Jeet Kune Do, which translates as “The Way of the Intercepting Fist” has its foundations in western fencing and boxing. In fact, much of Lee’s personal library consisted of books about the sweet science and fencing. Lee was also a boxing champion in China during his early years.

Jeet Kune Do’s stance (known as the Bai Jong stance), footwork, and tactical elements come from fencing. The concept that the most effective weapon in hand-to-hand combat is to “intercept” an opponent in an opponent’s most vulnerable state – his attack – and be able to set him up and strike at the shortest possible distance with your closest weapon – be it fist, elbow, shoulder, or kick – is central to the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do and comes largely from fencing techniques.

When it comes to bodily mechanisms, generation of power, and maximum exertion of force, Lee turned to boxing. Jack Dempsey and Jim Driscoll were among Lee’s favorite subjects of study. He was also an avid fan of the great Muhammad Ali and studied his moves extensively. Conversely, Ali was a fan of the Eastern boxing style, traveling often to Hawaii and the Philippines early in his career in order to hone his craft.

Lee, whose predominant stance was southpaw, relied on the vertical fist-jab, or straight lead with the left hand, as an integral weapon in hand-to-hand combat. His principles regarding hip rotation and kinetic movement are the basis for his well-renowned one-inch punch.

As a practitioner of Jeet Kune Do and other martial arts, I can say that no other martial art has used boxing as a major pillar in its principles than Jeet Kune Do. In addition, a huge emphasis of Jeet Kune Do training is placed on footwork, precision in a fighter’s technique, timing, simplicity, and controlling range. A lot of attention is given to the type of attacks used while fighting in short, middle, and long distances and intercepting an opponent’s aggression and using it against him.

Many people attribute Manny Pacquiao’s fighting style in boxing to that of Lee’s because, after all, Pacquiao has made it known that Bruce Lee is his idol.

But what many don’t realize is that Floyd Mayweather’s style of fighting also takes many cues from Jeet Kune Do ideology. In fact, Floyd Mayweather Sr. told ESNews Boxing during an interview with Elie Seckbach in 2014 that he was a huge fan of Bruce Lee.

The elder Floyd said when asked if Lee inspired him, “Well a lot of people say, the way I train and everything, I’m doing the stuff like Bruce Lee.”
You can certainly see traces of Lee’s teachings in the way Mayweather fights, largely because Floyd Sr. taught his son the tricks of Lee’s trade. Indeed, you can see a lot of Jeet Kune Do in the way Mayweather Jr. boxes.

In the video titled “Floyd Mayweather, techniques vs Southpaw,” one can see how Mayweather uses timing and the way of the intercepting fist to counter Chop Chop Corley’s jab all night long. When Corley throws his jab, he leans forward, and Floyd uses Corley’s advancing momentum against him to counter the jab with an intercepting punch and ultimately stopping Corley from further advances. Mayweather also displays his timely execution and effectiveness of the straight lead (right hand lead), counter punch techniques utilizing the shortest distance while fighting in the pocket, and evasive maneuvers to put himself in position to attack – all of which are tenets of Jeet Kune Do.

Here’s the link to the video, courtesy of “Manny and Mayweather” on YouTube:

Jeet Kune Do boxing philosophy also teaches that the best defense is a powerful offense. JKD’s “Five Ways of Attack” is a comprehensive and unique set of standards that each boxer/fighter should possess in order to win a fight. These are the 1) Simple Direct Attack SDA), 2) Attack by Combination (ABC), 3) Progressive Indirect Attack (PIA), 4) Hand Immobilization Attack (HIA), and 5) Attack by Drawing (ABD).

Although Mayweather isn’t known for his offensive skillset, don’t get it twisted. Floyd is an exceptional all-around fighter and his array of offensive weapons is far from mediocre. Floyd is so skilled, and his ability to throw a variety of punches goes largely unnoticed because he is not known as a power puncher or knockout artist. In spite of his lack of KO power, Floyd’s punches have snap to it and are strong enough to keep an opponent at bay.

Mayweather displays Jeet Kune Do techniques by utilizing hand immobilization attacks, which are designed to force openings against an opponent using a tight guard by slapping at opponents’ hands or forearms. Floyd also uses “hitting and holding” techniques in order to beat opponents to the punch and catch them off-guard. He did this numerous times against Ricky Hatton.

Against Shane Mosley, Floyd was largely successful in getting Mosley to attack under Floyd’s terms (Attack by Drawing), which is an offensive technique where a fighter uses deception to get his opponent to launch an offensive, unknowingly creating an opening for the fighter to counter-attack his opponent at a time when the opponent can no longer make a last-second adjustment.

Here’s a video to show what I’m talking about, courtesy of The Fight City on YouTube:

Similarly, Pacquiao has incorporated Jeet Kune Do into a lot of his training, fighting style, and technique. Perhaps what he is most known for (Progressive Indirect Attack and Attack by Combination), Pacquiao’s strengths have always been his punches in bunches and combinations that come from awkward angles as well as his tendency to use feints in order to catch opponents by surprise.

Pacquiao’s style of fighting comes from over 100 years of boxing evolution in his native Philippines.

Old school Filipino boxing, known as Panantukan or Suntukan, had its origins during the Spanish oppression, when Filipino martial arts training was held underground and kept from revealing itself to the Spaniards. Suntukan was a kind of bare-fisted boxing where it was no holds barred, and opponents would often try to time each other by charging in and out when an opportunity to strike presented itself all the while maintaining range and distance.

It is widely believed that Suntukan had its origins in the Filipino martial art, Kali and Eskrima, the art of fighting with knives, sticks, and nunchakus. The techniques taught in Kali incorporates swift and rhythmic movements that can mimic the movements of a boxer in the ring, with both its footwork and punching angles. The points of attack are very specific and precision-like.

According to Don Stradley, who wrote an article on ESPN about boxing in the Philippines, one distinction about Kali’s influence on Filipino boxing and what ultimately separated Filipino boxing from modern boxing is its footwork: “Suntukan didn’t stand and trade head shots. Instead, they circled constantly, looking for openings.”

Here’s a short video showing Pacquiao training on his footwork and working on “circling” an opponent, courtesy of the Manny Pacquiao official website on YouTube:

When you watch Pacquiao fight, it’s a thing of beauty. Most novices think Pacquiao’s technique is sloppy, chaotic, and careless. What people don’t realize is that it’s a perfected style that’s evolved from over a century of traditional Filipino boxing combined with western influences. In addition, Pacquiao’s footwork, timing, in and out movement, and offensive maneuvers all borrow from Jeet Kune Do.

Many have said that Pacquiao’s defense is his offense. The reason why is because Pacquiao’s skill set is tailor-made to portray Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do boxing in the squared circle and mimic Lee’s teachings to the fullest.

Here’s a video depicting the mastery of Pacquiao’s martial arts inspired footwork and technique, courtesy of Nonoy Avellanosa on YouTube:

Those who actually believe that it will be an easy fight for Floyd (or vice versa) is completely misguided. This fight will be the toughest fight each fighter has ever fought in his life. It will be a chess game of adjustments, matchups, stamina, intelligence, courage, variable timing, precision, and intercepting fists. Like two finely tuned super cars on a race track, it will be a race so close that even a photo-finish may not settle the final outcome.

What makes Pacquiao vs. Mayweather so intriguing is because of the stylistic matchup between the two pugilists. Not only will it feature the offense of Pacquiao versus the defense of Mayweather, it’s also about Manny’s underappreciated defense against Floyd’s underrated offense.

Both fighters have been heavily influenced by Bruce Lee’s teachings, and because much of how they fight involves a large dose of inspiration from Jeet Kune Do boxing, it’s very difficult to predict how the fight will turn out and who will win.

When it’s all said and done, it may not even come down to who is more skilled since each fighter possesses his own unique set of unparalleled abilities. Instead, the outcome may well be decided by who has more heart, determination, and will to win. At the end of the night, the “way of the dragon” will prevail.

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