Solving Styles: Reverse Engineering Archie Moore and the Lock, part 2

This is part two of a two-part article. You can find part one right here. Yesterday, we explored the history behind the famous cross-armed…

By: Connor Ruebusch | 9 years ago
Solving Styles: Reverse Engineering Archie Moore and the Lock, part 2
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

This is part two of a two-part article. You can find part one right here.

Yesterday, we explored the history behind the famous cross-armed guard of Archie Moore, also known as the Lock. As a basic technique, the cross-armed guard goes back into the early 19th century at least, but it was Archie Moore who made it his signature. Today we will look into his unique application.

Until the time of George Foreman, and later Bernard Hopkins, Moore was the oldest fighter to ever hold a world title, as good an endorsement of his defensive prowess as one could ask for. And while he may not have held his belt as long as those men, he spent far longer than either in the sport, winning his first professional bout in 1935 and fighting his last in 1963. In addition, Moore still holds, and probably always will, the record for most knockouts with an astounding 131 fights ended inside the distance, making him one of the most complete fighters to ever set foot in the squared circle.

All of this points to the one thing that truly made Moore great, that is, his mind. He was not an exceptional athlete, nor did he possess an iron jaw, nor incredible speed. What Moore possessed that gave him such outstanding longevity was a system. There was no situation that could arise in the ring that Moore did not have a prepared and meticulously trained answer to. In a 1955 interview with Sports Illustrated, Moore said of his fighting philosophy, “I try to build a bridge. With each punch I try to build a bridge so I can escape over it if something goes wrong. That’s what you call escapology. That’s what I call escapology.”

Moore had many such “bridges” in his system. In an attempt to “reverse engineer” Archie’s game, I’ve put together one of my geekiest creations yet. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Archie Moore flow chart.

(Click to enlarge)

Now, before we explore some of these paths, I should point out that this is by no means a complete layout of Moore’s system. In this chart we have his set responses to three basic punches–the jab, cross, and hook, and each path assumes that the opponent has led with the jab first. It doesn’t account for such subtleties as range and angle, which would play a huge part in determining Moore’s punch selection. Don’t let this fool you into thinking that Moore was at a loss if his man started his assault with a hook, or a lead right; likewise, don’t let the fact that my chart doesn’t include Archie’s various leads and feints lead you to believe that he was strictly a counter fighter. In 219 trips to the prizefighting ring, Moore made it very clear that he had a plan for every eventuality, and a tool to account for every possible opening.

It would simply be too difficult to put together, and likely to read a chart that covered every technique in Moore’s vast system. Nonetheless, this pared-down version gives a pretty good idea of Moore’s basic defenses and counters against an average, run-of-the-mill boxer.

Many Answers

One of the keys to Moore’s incredible success was the number of options to which he could turn in response to each attack from his opponent. In 1958, Moore defended his light heavyweight title for the 7th time against Yvon Durelle, and in the first round paid the price for using too predictable a defense against the tough Canadian.

About a minute into round one Durelle caught Moore cold. Before this sequence Moore had already settled into a predictable pattern, and you can see the continuation of that pattern at the beginning of this GIF. Durelle, right hand cocked, prods Archie with a jab, and the Mongoose slips it to the outside, attempting to counter with a right hand. To his immense credit, Durelle tries the jab again, and drops a perfectly timed right hand immediately behind it. Moore slips the jab the same exact way, perhaps looking for another counter right, and puts his head right in the path of Durelle’s punch.

This is the risk of having only one answer to a given threat. Why choose this, an example of Moore getting dropped, as the first in an article about Moore’s prowess? Well, Archie Moore was not the kind of man to make the same mistake twice. For those of you who have never seen this fight: Moore, despite looking all but dead after that right hand above, got up, adapted, and fought ten more rounds before knocking Durelle out (though he would go down twice more before the end of the first).

Once Durelle proved he could put a killer punch behind that jab, Moore became obsessed with defeating it. First, he began slipping the jab to the inside, preventing it from blinding him to a potential follow-up right hand. Throughout round two he began circling to Durelle’s right, ostensibly moving into his right hand, but actually moving away from the left he needed to set it up, and therefore forcing Durelle to either constantly adjust or else throw a naked right hand that proved much easier to dodge. Of course, Moore’s defense alone didn’t get him 131 knockouts–his counters did, and Moore didn’t even need a half round of recovery before he started countering with ill intent. Let’ go to the flow chart.

(Click to enlarge)

Slipping inside the jab, Moore ends up with his head slightly forward and his weight on his left foot. From this position, his left hook is cocked and loaded, and Moore has never been shy about throwing it.

Note how Moore is constantly pivoting to Durelle’s right, even as he throws his punches and avoids those of his opponent. This keeps Durelle from setting his feet and throwing combinations of punches while Moore recovers from the brutal first round.

As the fight wore on, Moore’s defense of the jab became more and more varied, until Durelle began to forget about the reason he was throwing it in the first place. Instead of throwing combinations off of his jab, Durelle became so frustrated that he couldn’t land it, and so flummoxed by the fact that Moore was constantly in different positions after avoiding it, that he repeatedly eschewed his power punches altogether. Moore, in response, grew ever more comfortable in his ability to counter it, even going back to the outside slip that had nearly gotten him knocked out in the opening frame.

As the chart says, so Moore does.

Here, tired and frustrated in the 10th round, Durelle feints. Moore reacts, throwing up his right hand to catch Durelle’s jab. Durelle commits to a real jab next, but Moore doesn’t go back to the same defense. Instead, he slips outside the jab and comes back over the top with a heavy right hand. Still wary of Durelle’s power, Archie doesn’t pounce to follow up on his staggered foe, but instead cautiously reestablishes the range with a short step back.

Even when he was so resoundingly effective, though, Moore didn’t rest on his laurels. Rightly so, because Durelle was still looking for the kill.

Here, Durelle throws out his jab, and then lunges in with a right hand after a moment of hesitation, the same combination that dropped Moore before.  This time he’s not so lucky.

Moore’s poise is admirable in this exchange, which took place and the eleventh and, ultimately, final round of the fight. By this point in the fight, despite hitting the canvas four times, he’s thoroughly figured Durelle’s game, while Durelle hasn’t even seen all of Moore’s tricks yet. As the challenger flashes his jab, Moore thinks about countering with his own left hand. It’s barely perceptible, the movement of his left only noticeably if you’re really looking closely for it, but that’s exactly what Durelle was doing. Thinking to catch Moore mid-punch, Durelle lunges into a right hand the moment he sees Moore about to punch. In doing so, however, he throws himself completely off balance. He can’t be blamed for his zeal, as the right hand that dropped Moore in round one only landed as solidly as it did because Durelle was willing to fall in, extending the reach on his punch, but this time Moore is ready for it, and his own attempted punch hasn’t put him out of position at all.

Adjusting to the new threat, Moore shoulder rolls the right hand to set up his counter, a perfectly placed cross to the chin. Unlike the shoulder roll of Floyd Mayweather Jr, with whom we tend to associate the technique, Moore prefers to execute his version from long range. Instead of parrying the opponent’s punch with his left shoulder, Moore uses the rolling motion as more of an evasive maneuver, squaring his shoulders to present his centerline, and then suddenly turning, taking his opponent’s target away. As you can see, it usually caused them to miss big.

Here’s another example of Moore’s unique shoulder rolling technique, from his ill-fated encounter with heavyweight legend Rocky Marciano.

Again, Moore places himself at a rather long distance from his opponent, forcing Marciano to badly overextend himself in his effort to land. As Rocky’s looping right hand goes whistling by, Moore sticks the champion with a perfectly straight right of his own, its force multiplied by Marciano’s forward momentum.

A Matter of Inches

As it turns out, Moore was relatively unconcerned with Marciano’s notorious right. In the same Sports Illustrated interview quoted above, Moore claimed that Marciano’s most fearsome punch was his left hook. If that was indeed the case, then Moore does a spectacular job of defending the one preceding the overhand above, simply by adjusting his right arm a few inches. As Marciano ducks down, Moore keeps his eyes on him and throws up the Lock, preparing for whatever wild punch might come next. Seeing the left hook, and it’s a pretty short one by Marciano’s standards, Moore changes the shape of his guard, lifting his right elbow to cover his jaw and catching the champ’s left right on the point.

In part one we explored the history of Moore’s iconic guard, and traced it back to the era of bare-knuckle boxing, in particular a trainer who was present at various times throughout Archie’s career, a man by the name of Hiawatha Grey. If it was Grey who taught Moore the Lock, and I tend to think it was, then this makes perfect sense. Before their fight, Marciano described Moore as being “all gloves, arms, and elbows.” A bare-knuckle boxer such as Grey would have made a formidable defense out of those arms and elbows, which present an unwelcome landing site for a fragile human fist. Even with gloves and wraps, Moore was exceptionally skilled at placing his arms in just the right position that his adversaries would connect directly with the point of his elbow, or the blade of his forearm.

Let’s go back to the Durelle fight for a moment.

After eight rounds, Durelle had stunned Moore multiple times, but simply couldn’t put him away. In this GIF, desperate for the right hand that had worked so well earlier, he stands right in front of Moore and tries to connect cleanly. Moore rolls under the first right hand, then raises his elbow, expecting a hook to the head or maybe an uppercut to follow. Instead, Durelle swings for the body, and Moore deftly lowers his elbow a few inches to cover his ribs. Durelle becomes so preoccupied with finding ways around Moore’s defense that he forgets that Moore could stop defending and go on the attack at any moment. Moore promptly reminds him with a left hook, timed perfectly as Durelle cocks back his right hand and exposes his jaw.

Hidden Weapons

The most underrated aspect of Moore’s game was his ability to hide his power punches, not merely disguising his intentions with feints, though he could fake with the best of them, but literally obstructing his punches from view. They say the punch that you don’t see is the one that knocks you out, and much of Moore’s success as a knockout puncher must be attributed to the unpredictability of his punches, all thanks to his crafty, sneaky style.

(Click to enlarge)

We’ve seen Archie slip inside the jab to load up a hook, but nothing about that was very unique to his system. Now we’ll take a look at one of his most iconic attacks, a sneaky left hook thrown from the cover of his guard.

In this sequence, Moore battles a young Muhammad Ali, then known by the name Cassius Clay. Even at this early stage in his career, Clay possessed a vicious, unpredictable jab. It only took him four rounds to stop Moore in what would turn out to be the Old Mongoose’s second-to-last fight, but Moore made a valiant effort until his old body started to let him down. Here, he reacts to a feint, expecting that stinging jab. Finding himself momentarily compromised, he stays low and covers to protect himself. Protected from the immediate threat of a left hook by his upraised right elbow, he decides to capitalize on his position, stepping forward and pulling back his left hand for a hook to the belt line of Clay.

Not merely a defense, that crossed right arm prevents Clay from seeing the action of Moore’s left hand as he loads it up, and he stays in range too long to avoid it. Yesterday I compared this utilization of the Lock to sword and buckler fencing. Here, the comparison is particularly apt. Moore’s right arm is his shield. Like a buckler, it is small and doesn’t provide much defensive coverage, but it completely blocks Clay’s line of sight while Moore positions his sword, the left hand. Clay has no indication of the trajectory or target of Moore’s punch until it’s already well on its way.

One more example of a hidden punch, this one from the second round of Moore vs Marciano.

Moore again capitalizes on Marciano’s looping, hair-trigger right hand. Moving his upper body, he draws the punch out of his opponent so that he can counter. As Marciano unloads, Moore again executes his now-you-see-me shoulder roll, slipping just out of the way of the heavy punch. Having already dropped Marciano with a straight right in round one, Moore elects to throw an uppercut this time around. With his body turned to the right, Moore’s left shoulder hides the right side of his body from Marciano’s view. Watch as he keeps his arms glued to his body until he has fully turned his shoulder, at which point he quickly lowers his hand and pulls back his elbow for the uppercut. Marciano, wise to counters now, tries to bull his way through with a left hook, but Moore’s uppercut, which he called a “defensive punch” catches the heavyweight champ leaning and halts his advance.

Moore had the keys to beat any style in his prime. Despite having to wait till the age of 36 to receive his first title shot, Moore ruled the light heavyweight division undisputed for nearly eight years, never losing his title to a challenger. One of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time, Moore’s success was built on the depth and adaptability of his system. The Lock, whatever its provenance, will stand forever as one of the most successful systems in the history of boxing.

For every question, an answer: that’s how you solve a style.

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Connor Ruebusch
Connor Ruebusch

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