This edition of Finish of the Week (the second edition) will focus on a fight from the golden era of boxing, Rocky Marciano versus Jersey Joe Walcott. While many will have become disinterested or alienated the moment that they read that, this week’s finish has great relevance to the upcoming bout between Dan Henderson and Jon Jones. The truth is that the golden years of boxing, with smaller gloves, smaller purses and smarter fighters, are much more relevant to MMA striking than the matches of today between overpaid athletes, many of whom rely more on endurance and pace more than they do on set ups and technique. No fighter in MMA holds more stylistic parallels with Rocky Marciano than Dan Henderson, and understanding the weaknesses of Marciano’s style will aid enormously in understanding the weaknesses of Dan Henderson’s.
This fight will give you a few hints as to what we will look at in my next big piece Defusing the H-Bomb.
Rocky Marciano, like Dan Henderson, had a granite jaw and took a great amount of punishment, but towards the end of his career began to become more defense savvy. The most important similarity between the two men, however, is their huge reliance on their right hand. Both Marciano and Henderson have good power in their left hook, but cannot throw it straight from their stance because they stand almost side on. This side on stance allows them to lunge forward onto their lead leg and swing their hips through to the fullest potential. Both men owned absolutely numbing power and fought behind a stinted, relatively weak jab – simply serving to set up the enormous, Babe Ruth swing that they took with their right hand.
The video, gifs and analysis come after the jump.
I’m sure everyone is familiar with Rocky Marciano, he is rated as one of the best heavyweight champions ever despite having a sub 70″ reach. What Rocky lacked in length and height he more than made up for in power and determination. Never the prettiest fighter, Marciano’s power was absolutely numbing.
Marciano’s meeting with Walcott came on the trail of 42 wins, the vast majority of which ended in a knockout. In this match, Marciano’s title shot, Jersey Joe Walcott fought an excellent fight. For 12 rounds he dominated Marciano, out boxing him and dropping him with some of the heaviest punches the old champion had shown to date. It was in the thirteenth round that Marciano found Walcott; as the latter was trapped against the ropes. Rather than get out to Marciano’s left , Walcott stayed where he was and tried to fight back – putting him in place for Marciano’s money punch. Fifteen round title fights no longer exist, and were it not for them we may never have seen Marciano go on to be one of boxing’s greatest champions.
Rocky Marciano vs Jersey Joe Walcott (1952) (via JKDTaoist)
What is most important about this match is that Rocky Marciano continued getting hit and firing back until he got his way. The finish is now legendary and reminds me in many ways of Shogun’s match with Dan Henderson. Walcott, convinced he was the better boxer, took the liberty of attempting to beat Marciano to the punch. I would like to point out that for most fighters, excepting giants such as Nikolai Valuev and Shane Carwin, a powerful punch is a fast punch. It might move wide and take longer than a snapping jab, but a punch thrown with the body weight still travels at great speed. Walcott’s attempt to beat Marciano to the punch failed mainly for the reason that even in the thirteenth round, because Marciano wasn’t pumping his punches out straight with his arms and fatiguing himself but rather throwing from his legs and core, he was able to throw a crushing blow and work at a similar speed to which he had fought all fight.
Furthermore, punchers such as Henderson and Marciano may have ugly form in many of their clubbing blows, but both have superb form in their money punch. Marciano named this punch the Suzie Q, after a popular dance move, and it is the most memorable punch in boxing history. Watch this beautiful gif a few hundred times and notice how pure Marciano’s punch is. Forget his dropping his hands in between shots, and getting clipped. As an example of power punching form, this is perfect.
Notice that Rocky shuffles in towards Walcott in his short stance, he has little power on his shots in this stance without a big step – which is why Walcott had so much success finding Marciano in the centre of the ring when Rocky couldn’t pin him down- but when Marciano is ready to unload, it provides him with more power than any other method. Marciano flashes the jab, lunging onto his lead leg, then turning his hip through for the right hand. His right shoulder completes it’s motion before his right hand does – meaning that the force from the hips is directly carried into the punch. Dan Henderson’s right hand is always accompanied by this lunge onto the lead foot, and his shoulder always completes it’s path before his fist does. (G) (G) Jack Dempsey observed that for pure punching power the bodyweight must be in motion forward or to the side, which requires a step, and that not nearly so much power can be accomplished by twisting on the spot. As a bonus you will notice that Rocky’s left hook is thrown with a step to the right. As a final point, Rocky lands with the front of his fist, the power moves correctly through his knuckles and not the inside of his fist. This is what Jack Dempsey would call the purest form of punch.
Both Henderson and Marciano require / required their opponent to be standing still or circling into their right hand. The beginning of this fight really shows the weakness of both men’s side on, loaded crouch. Where the end of the fight came as Walcott attempted to beat Marciano to the punch and failed, he was able to accomplish this at the beginning of the bout. Walcott came out and immediately jammed his jab in Marciano’s face (Marciano, just as Henderson showed in the match with Shogun, had a great weakness for being jabbed). This served not to strike Rocky but to keep his head in it’s current position and to prevent Rocky from stepping in with his drop step. Walcott immediately followed with a right hand to Marciano’s head, and then he did the same immediately after – initiating a firefight and catching Marciano off guard.
Walcott and Marciano clinched off of this exchange, Walcott knew that he didn’t want to have a prolonged firefight with Marciano. Rocky had already ground down much better infighters and brawlers than Walcott. When the referee broke them Marciano still believed Walcott wanted to trade right hands, but Walcott used this to land the weapon of a true boxing technician, the left hook. The left hook is, I’m sure many will agree, possibly the hardest punch to learn and to throw with power. Marciano’s right hand had to cover so much distance that when Walcott faked an attempt to engage, Marciano was still throwing the punch as Walcott connected his left hook inside of it – sending Marciano to the canvas.
Marciano and Henderson stand so side on that despite both having huge power in their left hook, they cannot throw it straight off of the bat. Walcott, standing more square, can switch between his right hand and left hand leads fairly subtly – as he does when he fakes a right hand lead here and fires the left hook instead.
Dan Henderson’s punching, like Rocky Marciano’s, is incredibly impressive. The punching power is so pure and this is helped by the best possible punching form. Smaller men like Henderson and Marciano do not have huge levers with which to generate force, they rely on their bodyweight and legs. Where Marciano and Henderson excel above the average puncher is their ability to force their opponents into their punches; Marciano through brawling and moving his opponent to the ropes, Henderson through his thudding inside low kick.
This fight doesn’t tell the whole story of Marciano’s right hand, indeed it was not his best performance – it was actually one of Walcott’s – but it served to show his amazing desire and will. Neither does it tell the full story of countering the one handed puncher. Stay tuned to Bloody Elbow this week for Defusing the H-Bomb and we’ll talk in more detail about countering this unusual, but anything except new, style.
Jack Slack breaks down over 70 striking tactics employed by 20 elite strikers in his ebook,
Look out for news on Jack Slack’s new kindle book, Elementary Striking which will teach the basic techniques and strategies of striking in detail.
Jack can be found on Twitter, Facebook and at his blog; Fights Gone By.
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