Boxing styles and technique

Throughout the history of gloved boxing styles, techniques and strategies have changed to varying degrees. Ring conditions, promoter demands, teaching techniques, and the influence of successful boxers are some of the reasons styles and strategies have fluctuated. One reason why research in this area is complex is because boxing itself is a complex endeavor where no person is psychologically, mentally, or physiologically exact. No era had strange holds on particular styles of boxing. Prevailing techniques of one era overlap into prevailing styles of another as well as coming full circle around.[1]

A straight right demonstrated in Edmund Prys's The Science of Defense: A Treatise on Sparring and Wrestling, 1867

Boxing styles

There are four generally accepted boxing styles that are used to define fighters. These are the swarmer, out-boxer, slugger, and boxer-puncher. Many boxers do not always fit into these categories, and it's not uncommon for a fighter to change their style over a period of time.


The swarmer (in-fighter, crowder) is a fighter who attempts to overwhelm his opponent by applying constant pressure. Swarmers tend to have a very good bob and weave, good power, a good chin, and a tremendous punch output (resulting in a great need for stamina and conditioning). Boxers who use the swarmer style tend to have shorter careers than boxers of other styles. Sustaining the adequate amount of training required to execute this style is nearly impossible throughout an entire career, so most swarmers can only maintain it for a relatively brief period of time. This inevitably leads to the gradual degradation of the sheer ability to perform the style, leaving him open to increasing amounts of punishment. This style favors closing inside an opponent, overwhelming them with intensity and flurries of hooks and uppercuts. They tend to be fast on their feet which can make them difficult to evade for a slower fighter. They also tend to have a good "chin" because this style usually involves being hit with many jabs before they can maneuver inside where they are more effective.[2] Many swarmers are often either shorter fighters or fighters with shorter reaches, especially in the heavier classes, that have to get in close to be effective. Tommy Burns was the shortest Heavyweight champion at 5'7, while Rocky Marciano had the shortest reach at 67-68 inches. One exception is Jack Dempsey, who was nearly 6'1 with a 77-inch reach. Famous swarmers include Henry Armstrong, Carmen Basilio, Nigel Benn, Melio Bettina,[3] Tommy Burns, Joe Calzaghe, Julio Cesar Chavez, Steve Collins, Jack Dempsey, Joe Frazier, Kid Gavilan, Gennady Golovkin, Harry Greb, Emile Griffith, Fighting Harada, Ricky Hatton, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Marciano, Battling Nelson, Bobo Olson, Floyd Patterson, Mike Tyson, Aaron Pryor, Micky Ward, and Mickey Walker.[4][5]


Muhammad Ali (Out-Boxer)

The out-boxer (out-fighter, boxer) is the opposite of the swarmer. The out-boxer seeks to maintain a gap from their opponent and fight with faster, longer range punches. Out-boxers are known for being extremely quick on their feet, which often makes up for a lack of power. Since they rely on the weaker jabs and straights (as opposed to hooks and uppercuts), they tend to win by points decisions rather than by knockout, although some out-boxers can be aggressive and effective punchers.[2] Out-boxers such as Benny Leonard, Gene Tunney, Muhammad Ali, and Larry Holmes have many notable knockouts, but usually preferred to wear down their opponents and outclass them rather than just knock them out. Notable out-boxers include Muhammad Ali, Wilfred Benitez, Jack Blackburn, Cecilia Brækhus, Ezzard Charles, Kid Chocolate, Billy Conn, James J. Corbett, George Dixon, Chris Eubank, Tiger Flowers, Mike Gibbons, Tommy Gibbons, Holly Holm, Larry Holmes, Harold Johnson, Wladimir Klitschko, Jack Johnson, Junior Jones, Zab Judah, Benny Leonard, Tommy Loughran, Joey Maxim, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Philadelphia Jack O'Brien, Ken Overlin, Willie Pep, Maxie Rosenbloom, Barney Ross, Michael Spinks, Gene Tunney, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Pernell Whitaker.[5] The fictional character Apollo Creed is considered an out-boxer.


George Foreman (Slugger)

If the out-boxer represents everything classy about boxing, the slugger (brawler, puncher) often stands for everything that's brutal in the sport. A lot of sluggers tend to lack finesse in the ring, but make up for it in raw power, often able to knock almost any opponent out with a single punch. This ability makes them exciting to watch, and their fights unpredictable. Most sluggers lack mobility in the ring and may have difficulty pursuing fighters who are fast on their feet. They usually throw harder, slower punches than swarmers or boxers and tend to ignore combination punching. Sluggers often throw predictable punching patterns (single punches with obvious leads) which can leave them open for counterpunching.[2] Sluggers can also be fast and unpredictable fighters, such as the case with Terry McGovern, Stanley Ketchel, and Rocky Graziano. While normally considered the most crude boxers, Bob Fitzsimmons was considered by many boxing historians to be highly scientific in his slugging techniques. Because of their similar brawling tactics, swarmers and sluggers are often confused with each other, and some fighters may fit into either category. Famous sluggers include Max Baer, Paul Berlenbach, Riddick Bowe, Rubin Carter, Gerry Cooney, Bob Fitzsimmons, George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Bob Foster,[6] Gene Fullmer, Ceferino Garcia, Arturo Gatti, Wilfredo Gomez, Rocky Graziano, Naseem Hamed, Al Hostak, James J. Jeffries, Ingemar Johansson, Stanley Ketchel, Vitali Klitschko, Ron Lyle, Terry McGovern, Freddie Mills, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Ruben Olivares, Ricardo Mayorga, Ruslan Provodnikov, John L. Sullivan, Joe Walcott, Vonda Ward, and Ann Wolfe.[5] Fictional characters Rocky Balboa and Clubber Lang are considered to be sluggers.


Marvin Hagler (Boxer-Puncher)

The fourth style is the "boxer-puncher". He possesses many of the qualities of the out-boxer; hand speed, often an outstanding jab, combination and/or counter-punching skills, better defense and accuracy than a slugger, while possessing slugger type power. The Boxer-Puncher may also be more willing to fight in an aggressive swarmer-style than an out-boxer. In general the boxer-puncher lacks the mobility and defensive expertise of the pure boxer (exceptions include the Sugar Rays, Freddie Steele, and Joe Gans). Boxer-punchers usually do well against out-boxers, especially if they can match their speed and mobility. They also tend to match up well against swarmers, because the extra power often discourages the swarmer's aggression. Their only downfall are the big sluggers because once again, it only takes one punch and the lights are out. This would depend on the boxer-puncher's defense, chin, and mobility. They make for interesting fights and throw a sense of the unknown into some. Where a boxer-puncher is matched up against an out-boxer, the fight is great because depending on the style the boxer-puncher tries to use in the fight.[7] Boxer-punchers can be hard to categorize since they can be closer in style to a slugger, swarmer, or an out-boxer. Notable boxer-punchers include Laila Ali, Alexis Arguello, Marco Antonio Barrera, Tony Canzoneri,[8] Marcel Cerdan, Oscar De La Hoya, Roberto Duran, Joe Gans, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Bernard Hopkins, Evander Holyfield, Eder Jofre, Roy Jones, Jr., Sam Langford, Sugar Ray Leonard, Lennox Lewis, Ricardo Lopez, Vasyl Lomachenko, Joe Louis, Christy Martin, Carlos Monzon, Archie Moore, Erik Morales, Jose Napoles, Manny Pacquiao, Sugar Ray Robinson, Luis Manuel Rodríguez,[9] Sandy Saddler, Carlos Zarate Serna, Freddie Steele,[10] James Toney, Felix Trinidad, Ike Williams, Jimmy Wilde, and Tony Zale .[5][11]

Sub-styles and other categories

Rock, Paper, Scissors

There is a commonly accepted theory about the success each of these boxing styles has against the others. The general rule is similar to the game Rock, Paper, Scissors—each boxing style has advantages over one, but disadvantages against the other. A famous cliché amongst boxing fans and writers is "styles make fights".

Sluggers tend to overcome swarmers, because being the in-fighter, they like to fight in the inside where the hard-hitting brawler is most effective. The swarmer's flurries tend to be less effective than the power punches of the slugger, who quickly overwhelms his opponents. Famous examples of this are George Foreman defeating Joe Frazier twice and Ingemar Johansson defeating Floyd Patterson in their first bout.

Slugger Ingemar Johansson knocks out the swarmer Floyd Patterson, 1959.

While the swarmer could be considered a 'meatbag' for the slugger, they tend to succeed against out-boxers. Out‐boxers prefer a slower fight on the outside, with some distance between themselves and the opponent. The swarmer tries to close that gap and unleash furious flurries. On the inside, the out-fighter loses a lot of his combat effectiveness, because he cannot throw the hard punches. The in-fighter is generally successful in this case, due to his intensity in advancing on his opponent and his good agility, which makes him difficult to evade. An example of this type of fight is the first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, the Fight of the Century.

The out‐boxer tends to be most successful against the slugger, whose slow speed (both hand and foot) and poor technique make them an easy target to hit for the faster out‐fighter. The out‐boxer's main key is to stay alert, as the slugger only needs to land one good punch to finish the fight. If the out-boxer can avoid those power punches, he can often wear the brawler down with fast jabs, tiring the slugger out. If he is successful enough, he may even apply extra pressure in the later rounds in an attempt to achieve a knockout.

Hybrid boxers tend to be the most successful in the ring, because they often have advantages against most opponents. Pre‐incarcerated Mike Tyson, an overwhelming in‐fighter with his tremendous power was also able to use his in‐fighting footspeed to close in on and knock out many out-fighters who tried to stay out of his range, such as Michael Spinks. Muhammad Ali's speed kept him away from hard hitters like Sonny Liston and George Foreman, but his strong chin allowed him to go the distance with and twice beat Joe Frazier.[2]

Equipment and Safety

Headgear is no longer mandatory in amateur and Olympic boxing.

Boxing techniques utilize very forceful strikes with the hand. There are many bones in the hand, and striking surfaces without proper technique can cause serious hand injuries. Today, most trainers do not allow boxers to train and spar without hand/wrist wraps and gloves. Handwraps are used to secure the bones in the hand, and the gloves are used to protect the hands from blunt injury, allowing boxers to throw punches with more force than if they did not utilize them. Headgear protects against cuts, scrapes, and swelling, but does not protect very well against concussions. Headgear does not sufficiently protect the brain from the jarring that occurs when the head is struck with great force. Also, most boxers aim for the chin on opponents, and the chin is usually not padded. Thus, a powerpunch can do a lot of damage to a boxer, and even a jab that connects to the chin can cause damage, regardless of whether or not headgear is being utilized.

The modern boxing stance is a reflection of the current system of rules employed by professional boxing. It differs in many ways from the typical boxing stances of the 19th and early 20th centuries. A right-handed boxer stands with the legs shoulder-width apart with the right foot a half-step behind the left foot. The left (lead) fist is held vertically about six inches in front of the face at eye level. The right (rear) fist is held beside the chin and the elbow tucked against the ribcage to protect the body. The chin is tucked into the chest to avoid punches to the jaw which commonly cause knock-outs. Southpaw boxers use the same stance, but with the right and left reversed. Modern boxers can sometimes be seen "tapping" their cheeks or foreheads with their fists in order to remind themselves to keep their hands up (which becomes difficult during long bouts). Modern boxers are taught to "push off" with their feet in order to move effectively. Forward motion involves lifting the lead leg and pushing with the rear leg. Rearward motion involves lifting the rear leg and pushing with the lead leg. During lateral motion the leg in the direction of the movement moves first while the opposite leg provides the force needed to move the body. Also the shoulder thrown forward fast enough can create enough force to knock someone clean off their feet.


In a fully upright stance, the boxer stands with the legs shoulder-width apart and the rear foot a half-step in front of the lead man. Right-handed or orthodox boxers lead with the left foot and fist (for most penetration power). Both feet are parallel, and the right heel is off the ground. The lead (left) fist is held vertically about six inches in front of the face at eye level. The rear (right) fist is held beside the chin and the elbow tucked against the ribcage to protect the body. The chin is tucked into the chest to avoid punches to the jaw which commonly cause knock-outs and is often kept slightly off-center. Wrists are slightly bent to avoid damage when punching and the elbows are kept tucked in to protect the ribcage. Some boxers fight from a crouch, leaning forward and keeping their feet closer together. The stance described is considered the "textbook" stance and fighters are encouraged to change it around once it's been mastered as a base. Case in point, many fast fighters have their hands down and have almost exaggerated footwork, while brawlers or bully fighters tend to slowly stalk their opponents.

Left-handed or southpaw fighters use a mirror image of the orthodox stance, which can create problems for orthodox fighters unaccustomed to receiving jabs, hooks, or crosses from the opposite side. The southpaw stance, conversely, is vulnerable to a straight right hand.

North American fighters tend to favor a more balanced stance, facing the opponent almost squarely, while many European fighters stand with their torso turned more to the side. The positioning of the hands may also vary, as some fighters prefer to have both hands raised in front of the face, risking exposure to body shots. Modern boxers can sometimes be seen tapping their cheeks or foreheads with their fists in order to remind themselves to keep their hands up (which becomes difficult during long bouts). Boxers are taught to push off with their feet in order to move effectively. Forward motion involves lifting the lead leg and pushing with the rear leg. Rearward motion involves lifting the rear leg and pushing with the lead leg. During lateral motion the leg in the direction of the movement moves first while the opposite leg provides the force needed to move the body.


James J. Corbett training on a punching bag, 1900.

The four basic punches in modern boxing are the jab, the cross, the hook, and the uppercut.

These different punching types can be combined to form 'combos', like a jab and cross combo. Nicknamed the one two combo, it is a really effective combination because the jab blinds the opponent and the cross is powerful enough to knock the opponent out.

Less common punches

Floyd Mayweather, Jr. employed the use of a check hook against Ricky Hatton, which sent Hatton flying head first into the corner post and being knocked down. Hatton managed to get himself to his feet after the knockdown but was clearly dazed and it was only a matter of moments before Mayweather landed a flurry of punches which sent Hatton crashing to the canvas, giving Mayweather a TKO victory in the 10th round and handing Hatton his first defeat.


Henry Armstrong blocking and parrying at a 1943 U.S. Army exhibition.

There are 3 main defensive positions (guards or styles) used in boxing:

All fighters have their own variations to these styles. Some fighters may have their guard higher for more head protection while others have their guard lower to provide better protection against body punches. Many fighters don't strictly use a single position, but rather adapt to the situation when choosing a certain position to protect them.[2]


  1. Michael Hunnicut. "The Development of Boxing Strategies, Styles and Techniques During the Gloved Era to Present--Part 1".
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Boxing Styles".
  3. "Melio Bettina".
  4. "IBRO's 25 Greatest Fighters of All Time".
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Boxing: It's a Style Thing!".
  6. "The Bob Foster Story".
  7. "Boxing Styles: Boxer, Boxer-Puncher".
  8. Mike Silver, The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science, p. 72-73, 2008, McFarland & Company, Inc
  9. "In Search of Cuban Flash".
  10. John D. McCallum, The Encyclopedia or Word Boxing Champions: p.151-155, 1975, Chilton Book Company
  11. "Tony Zale".
  12. "Marvin Hagler – The Marvelous One!".
  13. "Michael Moorer".
  14. "The Science of Mike Tyson and Elements of Peek-A-Boo: part II". SugarBoxing. 2014-02-01. Retrieved 2014-09-18.
  15. 1 2 John D. McCallum, The Encyclopedia or Word Boxing Champions: p.121-122, 1975, Chilton Book Company

External links

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