Judo Chop Finish of the Week: The Mike Tyson Shift

'Iron' Mike Tyson has led a remarkable and turbulent life; from being crowned the youngest heavyweight champion in history, to spending time in jail…

By: Jack Slack | 11 years ago
Judo Chop Finish of the Week: The Mike Tyson Shift
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

‘Iron’ Mike Tyson has led a remarkable and turbulent life; from being crowned the youngest heavyweight champion in history, to spending time in jail for sexual assault. Fortunately the man who has come out the other end of such a trying and confused life is as pleasant and mild mannered as anyone you could hope to meet. Age has a way of putting a misspent youth in perspective just as a lifetime in the ring will sap the anger and tenacity out of even the most bitter and spiteful of us. I am never here to judge or praise a man for his personal choices and spiritual development however, I am here to show you where fights are won and lost.

I have covered the technique featured today once before when I first began writing, but I wish to return to it with my larger audience and my more developed writing ability. A shift is a punch wherein the stance you are stood in is changed. This could be the “cheat punch” that I am so fond of – throwing the left straight or hook while stepping forward with the right, or it could be a switch step as Robert Fitzsimmon’s famous shift was, or it could be an actual hop to an angle as the one we are examining today is.

After the jump we look at Mike Tyson’s signature shift.

This was Tyson’s second bout after his return from prison and while his power was still evident he was far from the terrifying young man who won the title. His head movement was slow and laboured, and his footwork wasn’t much better. Tyson was no longer with trainers who knew what had made him great and was buying into the hype of his own punching power, as so many knockout artists end up doing. Where Cus D’amato, Teddy Atlas and Kevin Rooney stressed “elusive aggression”, this Tyson was simply about going after his opponent.

Sugar Ray Robinson noted in his excellent autobiography that no matter how hard he tried to knock out opponents during his last comeback, he couldn’t get them to hit the deck. It was when his wife pointed out that he wasn’t using his “bag of tricks” – in other words the footwork and elusiveness that had made him great – that Robinson realised his punching power was only one part of the equation. Trading one for one with an opponent is simply giving him chance to rise to the occasion. You will land one on his guard and he will land one on yours – and you’ll be in a rut for the entire fight.

Despite Tyson’s reluctance to use his “bag of tricks” and his attempts to brawl with Buster Mathis, he won the fight using a trick that he had used since his early days – his shift. At 0:25, 1:55 and 2:17 you can see Tyson perform his shift. He squares his hips to Mathis, then brings his rear foot up to where his lead foot is and steps his lead foot out to his left side – turning to his right to face the opponent in a southpaw stance. This technique is a beautiful example of taking an angle and how an angle can completely change the path of a head to head brawl.

This example is from the end of the fight, Mike uses the technique to get his back off of the ropes, but moments before at 1:55, Tyson had used it in a combination in the middle of the ring which was a much cleaner example of the technique but failed to floor Buster Mathis.

The genius of this technique is that it places Tyson in position to land his right or left hand freely, while Mathis is in no position to fire until he turns to face Tyson. In the meantime Mathis has to worry about the heavy shots that Tyson is throwing from his safe position.

I have heard many boxing coaches claim that Tyson’s change of stance was unnecessary or even an accident simply because it doesn’t fit in with their traditional mindset of only fighting from one stance. This could not be any further from the truth. This technique was a staple of Tyson’s career and can be seen in almost all of his pre-prison fights. Tyson’s right hook was a fantastic punch and the best way to set it up was to move to the side, into a southpaw stance, and assure that the hook was coming towards the opponent from the front – making it incredibly difficult to stop on the forearms.

Just in this short highlight 2:40, 3:35 and 5:42 are all excellent examples of Tyson’s shift in action, but the number of occasions when Tyson allows his opponent to circle around so that Tyson is in the southpaw stance and standing to their right are too numerous to count. Even in the middle of exchanges Tyson was very good at circling towards his left, changing into the southpaw stance and landing his right hook or uppercut. Here is a nice example from Tyson’s massacre of Marvis Frazier:

With all the emphasis the boxing media placed on Tyson’s head movement and punching power, it is often easy to forget just how good his footwork and angling was.

Jack Slack breaks down over 70 striking tactics employed by 20 elite strikers in his ebook, Advanced Striking.


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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