The Importance of Angles in MMA Striking, Part 1: Footwork
In combat sports much lip service is paid to "angles" - Chuck Liddell had them, Anderson Silva has them, Roy Jones had them, but often it is unclear entirely what is meant by this - and this is not helped by a new generation of color commentators on smaller shows (and even some larger ones) simply spamming the term around whenever a fighter is doing particularly well on the feet. For those who feel alienated by the term or are guilty of having repeated it from the television in order to describe a fighter's approach this article intends to clear up the misconceptions.
When two men square off toe to toe it is most common that the man using a stiffer, more accurate jab will win. The jab came into prominence in the late 1800s and was initially referred to in most sports articles and boxing texts as the "jolt"; indicating the power and damage which was done by it's earlier exponents. Using the jab or jolt to cut inside the swings of brawlers revolutionized the fight game as men now had to move and hit to avoid walking straight forward onto an opponent's jab.
As you can see from the above diagram of two bombermen in replica PRIDE FC gloves (or fighters from a birds eye view) attacking from 12 o'clock is essentially a toss up with a fifty fifty chance of landing first, and even then the attacker may receive a jab in return.. The man who jabs first, jabs hardest or has the longer reach may up his success rate with jabs from 12 o'clock position, but he still runs the risk of taking a return strike - and coming in head on it is not hard for an opponent to throw a punch at where the attacker's head will be, even with a fist in his eyes. Even a shorter, slower, stockier striker can outjab a speed demon if all the latter does is jab head on, as demonstrated in this fight between Ken Norton and the legendary outfighter Muhammad Ali:
Muhammad Ali vs Ken Norton I - March 31, 1973 - Entire fight - Round 1 - 12 & Interviews (via primeboxers)
Ali's ludicrous speed is well known to almost all fight fans, he is considered the fastest heavyweight fighter in history, and yet he could not out jab Kenny Norton, a relative journeyman nearing his 30th birthday. A quick glance at rounds one and two expose the strategy of Norton - every time Ali throws his jab Norton catches it in his right glove while simulteneously throwing a left. As Ali is accustomed to landing his jab with ease he does not keep his right glove up to catch while throwing so he comes out the worse in these 50/50 exchanges, having his jaw broken in round 1 and going on to receive the worst beating of his career. Attacking head on then does not always work, even for those with supreme physical gifts.
This necessitates moving off of the 12 o'clock line of attack. Obviously as almost all martial arts techniques are designed to strike opponents at 12 o'clock in relation to the user, it is necessary to move around an opponent to a position where they are not facing you but you are facing them. The most basic and ideal angle is the one demonstrated below. Moving around to the 11 o'clock position is good, to 10 o'clock is great, and to 9 o'clock pretty much guarantees a flush landing with the attacker's right hand. As you can see the fighter who has taken the dominant angle can land his right hand with ease, while his opponent cannot easily return fire.
In this excellent video boxing old timer, Don Familton breaks down the side step at 8:40. The Jersey Joe Walcott variation that he demonstrates is a marvelous way to take an angle, developed by one of the savviest boxers of all time. Walcott is definitely a fighter to look up if you want to see angles used in practice as almost every moment of every fight he participated in he was moving this way or that, looking for an opening for one of his enormous punches.
Lecciones de boxeo - Maniobras defensivas (via shadowupper)
Angling off in this manner can also be used by southpaws (though a little more care must be taken as sidestepping toward their rear hand side will bring them closer to their opponent's power hand if they are not careful. Two brilliant examples are Mirko Cro Cop's use against Wanderlei Silva and Bob Sapp.
Wanderlei Silva VS Mirko Cro Cop Filipovic (via Pharmasports)
At 1:09 you can see Mirko step off of Wanderlei's line of attack and as Wanderlei turns to face him Mirko cracks him with his signature straight left.
Here, against Bob "The Beast" Sapp, Mirko Cro Cop attempts the same technique from the beginning of the fight to counter Sapp's famous charges. At 1:10 he scrappily lands the side step hook, before clinching up to avoid Bob's power. When Cro Cop catches Sapp with the punch that breaks his orbital bone he can be seen to continue stepping to his favored angle before realizing Sapp is falling.
Pacquiao vs Hatton round 1&2 (via h3artang3l)
A final example of the same side step angle comes from Filipino boxing virtuoso Manny Pacquiao in his match with Ricky Hatton. Manny, as the smaller man who is not known for his clinch work, cannot afford to be tied up with Hatton and spends the entire two rounds picking Hatton apart during the latter's attempts to close the distance with telegraphed hooks. Pacquiao's constant movement forces Hatton to keep changing direction and Ricky is so concerned with catching up to Pacquiao that he is not in position to defend himself when the punches come in. Notice that when Manny lands his punches, such as the powerful hook replayed at 4:10, he immediately weaves and uses his feet to angle off - in ancipation of Ricky throwing a punch after his own lands. Pacquiao has the discipline and conditioning to do this after almost every punch or combination he throws and this more than any physical attribute is largely what makes him the greatest boxer in the world today. Hatton's continued bullrushes toward Pacquiao are also nullified by his footwork - notice at 4:52 that Manny circles out towards Hatton's powerful right hand, but at a distance where Ricky cannot hit him, leaving Ricky to run into the ropes just as he did against Mayweather. At 5:00 Manny lands another combination on Ricky before immediately angling off - forcing Ricky to turn and face him before he can attempt to retaliate - buying Manny time to re-establish the distance. At 7:37 Pacquiao ends the fight with the same side step that Cro Cop used above, throwing a hook after his left foot lands that ultimately retires Hatton from professional boxing. While the footwork is not clear even in the first few replays - the slow motion replay at 9:15 captures Pacquiao's footwork perfectly as he steps onto his left foot before springing back with the left hook - and even as Hatton falls Manny exits the correct way as he did throughout the fight. If Ricky had been born with an even greater chin than the one he already possesses and had thrown a punch back after Pacquiao landed, Pacquiao's angling would have insured he hit nothing but air.
A final thought is this; no matter how many professional fights you see, something will always be able to surprise you. Here is Mike Tyson switching to a southpaw stance to take one of the craziest angles I've witnessed to knock out the previously undefeated, Buster Mathis. Mike cuts his angle at 0:26, 1:57 and 2:17.
MIKE TYSON VS BUSTER MATHIS JNR - 1995 - RD- 3 KO (via jjomarsheikh)
This is Jack Slack's debut article at HeadKickLegend.com, his blog can be found at http://fightsgoneby.blogspot.com/ for more technical articles.
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