This week’s finish of the week comes from the great Sugar Ray Robinson and is enormously relevant to the upcoming bout between Jon Jones and Dan Henderson. There is a rare type of striker / boxer who stands side on and relies on stepping into his right hand as if he is swinging a baseball bat. These men always have enormous power but they are exceptionally rare at the highest levels of combat sports due to their one note offense. Last week we looked at Rocky Marciano, a man whose style when outside of the pocket is almost identical to Henderson’s. In that article I hinted at several ways that Jones – or anyone fighting this sort of one punch right hander – can evade and counter these tactics. This week I will be publishing a piece called “Defusing the H-Bomb” which will summarize this information with direct reference to the particular querks of Dan Henderson. Today, however, we will look at another great finish – this time courtesy of Sugar Ray Robinson.
Something that many casual fans don’t know about Sugar Ray Robinson is that very little of his welterweight career is captured on film. The many famous flurries and knockouts that you will have seen in highlight videos came after what sports writers and fans consider Robinson’s prime, once he had moved to middleweight. Gene Fullmer had defeated Robinson to win the middleweight title, dropping the iron jawed Robinson in the process and causing great doubt over Robinson’s future. Fullmer had an iron jaw and a phenomenal right hand – which has proven enough to give any striker in the world problems. Robinson’s answer for Fullmer was simply sublime.
This clip, while not the whole fight, summarizes Robinson’s strategy to counter his adversary’s great right hand. You will notice that Fullmer fights similarly to Rocky Marciano and Dan Henderson – in that he takes punches on his elbows and shoulders, all in hopes of landing his right hand on an opponent as they are recovering. Fullmer is not a slick fighter like Robinson, but rather a rough house brawler with one punch knockout power.
I highly recommend reading Sugar Ray by Ray Robinson himself to get some insight on Robinson’s own thoughts during his training camp. His autobiography also provides numerous hilarious asides, such as the argument that erupted before the contract was signed over which fighter could wear their trademark white trunks; TV executives argued that if they both wore white no-one would be able to tell the difference between the two. In Sugar Ray, Robinson recounts how he believed that to counter Fullmer’s enormous right hands he would have to spend the entire camp working on his left hook. Calling the specific set up and training regime “Operation Left Hook” – Robinson set about perfecting a hook that could sneak inside of Fullmer’s arcing right hand. Robinson already had an excellent left hook, but to knock out Fullmer, who had never been stopped, would take incredible timing.
At 0:40 of the video Robinson engages with a long right hook to the body then skips out away from Fullmer’s right hand. This means that Fullmer can’t catch him as he circles out. Robinson immediately does the same thing again and moves straight back, Fullmer manages to graze him with a right hand to the body this time. As Robinson fakes to do it a third time, Fullmer begins to step in for his right hand and Robinson immediately moves his weight back and lands the left hook. A short, slapping left hook that lands inside of Fullmer’s attempted right hand – from certain angles it even appears as though Robinson is moving backwards. It is quite clear why many would consider this the greatest punch of all time.
The tactic of landing one’s right hand and convincing the opponent that you want to trade is one that we discussed last week as Jersey Joe Walcott convinced Rocky Marciano that he was in for a flat footed brawl before pulling the rug out from under him with a beautiful fake into the left hook.
Here is a wonderful still of the moment that Robinson’s hook connects. Notice that Fullmer’s right hand has dropped as he lunges his left foot forward, ready to swing his right arm through it’s arc. His punching form is near identical to Dan Henderson and Rocky Marciano’s.
There are numerous examples of great boxer punchers using the left hook to counter inside of the overhand right – Walcott vs Marciano we have already examined, Robinson vs Fullmer, and Muhammad Ali vs Oscar Bonavena. The interesting part is that none of the men who performed the counter in the above examples were noted punchers, and all of their opponents were noted for having iron jaws. Ali gave Bonavena the only knockout loss on his record with this counter, as did Robinson to Fullmer. I am often asked what makes some fighters such great knockout artists and I think there are a great many answers – but my personal favourite is to use elite level timing. Muscles wane and movement slows, but a great sense of timing can be used from the teens to the late 40s.
The left hook is the toughest punch to learn and perfect, but it pays dividends if it is used correctly. Whether we will see Jon Jones use his left hook or left elbow to similar effect against Dan Henderson is one of the main areas of this match up that intrigues me. Jon Jones recently declared that Dan Henderson is a one trick pony, and arguably he is, but one trick punchers have knocked out better men than Jones and demand respect and intelligence more than any other type of fighter.
Five of Robinson’s tactics are broken down along with the tactics of 20 other fighters in the Advanced Striking ebook.
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