Researchers have found that, on average, professional boxers can punch at 25 miles per hour (40 km/h). Despite this speed, fighters still manage to dodge dozens of punches throughout a match. With such speed and frequency, how do boxers dodge punches?
Boxers dodge punches by first establishing an efficient sightline on the opponent. They must then be able to read a punch before it’s thrown to effectively dodge the punch at it’s execution.
We’ll take a look at why each of these steps is essential to dodge a punch. Additionally, we’ll discuss the specifics of how boxers train these skills and use them to their advantage.
Establish an Efficient Sightline on the Opponent
Boxers can’t dodge a punch that they don’t know is coming. Naturally, then, the first step boxers take to dodge a punch is to see it.
Punches, however, move fast. If a boxer first sees the punch in motion, they’ll likely get hit by it. Because of this, fighters focus on other parts of their opponent’s body to anticipate a strike before it’s in motion.
Boxers focus their vision on a few places to see their opponent before they send their next attack:
Boxers focus on their opponent’s collarbone as a central point of vision.
Most people drop their shoulders back before they swing forward. Naturally, then, a fighter wants to have those shoulders in view.
A focus on the collarbone gives fighters peripheral vision of both of their opponent’s shoulders. Thus, it’s a perfect spot for combatants to maintain a neutral sightline.
Boxers also give occasional glances to their opponent’s legs.
Most fighters have specific footwork for any given punch. A repeated stance, then, can tell a boxer the same blow is on the way.
For example, a right-dominant fighter may start to lead with their left leg. This stance is a good sign your opponent will throw their punch from their back, dominant side.
While an occasional glance may be valuable, focusing on the legs will spell a boxer’s downfall. If a fighter leaves their head down, they leave themselves incredibly vulnerable to quick jabs from above.
Boxers maintain their neutral sightline for most of the bout because of this potential vulnerability.
NOT the Eyes
Many beginner boxers focus entirely on their opponent’s eyes. While it may seem like an intelligent play, this strategy will not help dodge punches in the slightest.
A boxer’s eyes will only show the fighter’s emotional state, not whether they’ll throw a punch. Although a solid read on those emotions may help strategy, it won’t allow a fighter to read their opponent’s next blow.
An opponent may squint, blink, or give another tell with their eyes before they throw a punch. Because of this, a situational look at their opponent’s eyes may prepare a boxer to dodge.
Generally, however, there are more reliable, obvious spots to find an opponent’s tell.
Read a Punch Before It’s Thrown
Once a boxer knows where to look, the next step to dodge their opponent’s punch is to read their opponent.
When boxers make a “read,” they look for specific tells in their opponent’s movement. These tells signify what blow will come next. There are a plethora of tells a boxer may give about their next move beyond an obvious wind-up.
As a boxer gets more advanced, however, these tells tend to shrink. We’ll start with a few beginner tells and then look at how boxers read more advanced opponents.
The tension in an opponent’s body can be a surefire sign of what their next move may be. Johnny gives a few examples of where an opponent may hold tension, including:
- Upper body
- Front leg
- Back leg
Based on tensions in these spots, a boxer can make a variety of reads.
Perhaps they want to launch a surprise attack or a series of small blows. They might be on the defensive or could become aggressive. They could aim for a few more minor jabs or strive for longer, more powerful punches.
A boxer could read all of these things and more from their opponent’s tension. Once a fighter knows their opponent’s approach, their dodges become that much easier.
An opponent’s breathing is another surefire tell to their upcoming attacks. While there’s less variety than in their tensions, a good read of breath is still a valuable tool.
Short breaths or long breaths symbolize different approaches. A deep breath could symbolize an incoming power punch. Shorter breaths, meanwhile, likely signal a few tighter jabs.
More experienced boxers fight more relaxedly than their amateurish counterparts. A rookie may huff, puff, and grow tenser with every move. A veteran, however, will transition from relaxation to violence in an instant, almost effortlessly.
Against these veteran fighters, boxers try to study their opponent’s overall flow.
Johnny compares a boxer’s flow to a woman’s moves to the dance floor. It might take a few minutes to understand their movements, but once you figure it out, you’ve got it.
To read flow, a boxer gets in their opponent’s range. They may even have to take a few punches. However, once they understand the flow, a fighter can utilize the slightest movements to prepare a dodge and counter.
Johnny advises boxers to use the first round as a means to read flow. The sooner they flow, the sooner a fighter can make more advanced reads.
Dodge the Punch
Once a boxer sees their opponent and has read an approaching punch, it’s time to dodge it.
Boxers that skillfully dodge combine drilled footwork and reflexes. They use drills such as the ones shown here to improve both.
There are also several different types of dodges that boxers utilize.
Types of Dodges
We’ll reference this video from Shane of fightTIPS to go over a few types of dodges in boxing. Shane explains the three most common in it: the slip, the pullback, and the bob and weave.
Shane advises boxers to use their hands to block their face as they dodge with each of these techniques. Hands add an extra layer of protection should an opponent deliver a quick follow-up.
Additionally, we’ll mention some advanced techniques highlighted in this video with Sean and Roy of Brawl Bros:
A slip is the most basic dodge in boxing. This technique is likely what you think of when you picture a fighter dodge. Slips are helpful to dodge an opponent’s jabs.
To slip blows, boxers bend their knees and move their head off-center. Fighters slip to the right if the opponent comes from their left. Alternatively, they slip to the left if the opponent comes from their right.
Sean also encourages boxers to dodge forward into the punch instead of squarely to the side. Boxers that slip in gain the opportunity to use their head to turn their opponent’s shot over.
Pullbacks see the boxer move their body back to avoid a punch rather than side to side.
To perform a pullback, boxers shift their weight onto their rear leg. Shane also recommends boxers tuck in their chins through a pullback.
Sean doesn’t necessarily recommend the pullback as a technique, as it leaves you out of position. He asserts that if a boxer chooses to dodge with a pullback, they should always follow with a slip. This way, the fighter will return to position before they get knocked back even further.
Even the most skilled fighters fail when they rely too heavily on pullbacks. See this famous knockout from Chris Weidman on Anderson Silva for an example:
The Bob and Weave
The bob and weave is a technique in which a boxer dodges under their opponent’s punch. Fighters use this dodge to counter incoming hooks.
To bob and weave, a boxer bends their knees and makes a U or J shape with their head. They then move in the direction of the hook. For example, a fighter would bob and weave to counter an opponent’s right hook to the left.
Many boxers bob and weave in unorthodox ways to throw off their opponents. Sean mentions how Mike Tyson would often throw his own left hook, then roll to the right for an opening.
This combination of offense and defense is what separates the best boxers from their less-skilled counterparts.
A boxer’s dodge is far more than a simple reaction to their adversary’s attack. It takes disciplined vision, skilled reads, and honed technique for fighters to consistently evade. While it may be less than a second within a match, that single dodge takes hours of training and focus.