Reading Your Opponent

Terry Southerland

There is a lot to be said about reading opponents.  Sometimes it may be as easy as not letting fears overrule common sense. Sometimes, like I was told, when you relax, you can see everything coming, and how everything sets up. My first professional trainer told me this, and it took me a while to understand it, or even begin to put it to use. Sometimes a rule of thumb might be: He or She who makes their opponent think about what they are doing more than thinking about what they themselves are doing wins!

In light of the thought of Reading Opponents, let’s take a lighthearted, simple look at some things that you may want to think about paying attention to next time you’re in the ring:

When we were growing up, our trainer told us all to watch our opponents. We had no idea what we were looking for, but he told us that if you watch your opponent long and close enough, you could tell a lot about them. Sometimes, invaluable information about strenghths, weaknesses, nervousness, and confidence can be seen by just keeping your eyes open.

The weigh-in is typically the first time that some fighters see their opponents. This is the time where you can see when they strip down, just how well they took the weight off, If their midsection is in shape, if their face looks drawn in because they dropped the weight too fast. The legs are important as well. Historically, long lean legs on your opponent can often be indicative of movement, meaning that if the legs are long and lean, they often have good, fast, graceful movement. If their legs are short, thick, and heavily muscular it’s sometimes all about strenghth. Some of the hardest punchers in history had short, strong legs.

Sometimes everyone goes to the same restaurant to eat after the weigh-in. Look at what your opponent eats. I have a student that was just getting ready for a sparring session, and the guy he was sparring with came in eating. I couldn’t tell what exactly he was eating, but my fighter looked me straight in the eyes and said, “ Did you see that? Did you see what he was eating? I’m going right to his body”. It was really funny at the time, but when I thought about it later, I thought his instincts were those of a fighter! I thought it was especially funny coming from a 19 year old, which had only been training for three months! Look at your opponent’s midsection next time. This is believed by many to be the source of all of his power. The core. The abs do not only protect you from body shots, but they also provide the power to deliver body shots. If your opponent is not strong there, chances are he’s not going to be an incredible puncher either.

I once saw a fighter — who was sitting across the table from his opponent during a pre-fight meal — make the mistake of not noticing that his supposedly orthodox opponent was holding his fork with his left hand. His trainer didn’t notice either. Neither of them really understood the significance of paying attention to that until this fighter kept getting hit with left hooks from a fighter who was in the stance of a right-handed orthodox fighter, but was really a lefty. It turned out to be a short night for the otherwise very astute, knowledgable, well-schooled fighter.

During a fight, reading an opponent might be as easy as getting his or her rhythms down.  I would advise most to try blocking punches during the first round as opposed to slipping them. When you block them, you may get a better sense of the timing that it takes for your opponent to deploy a punch and for you to receive it. Or, better said, for him to throw it, and for you to be hit. A jab is especially a punch to get the timing of.  Everything flows off of the jab and if you take the jab away, no other punches will work quite the same, and combinations will be lacking the same rhythm.

Sometimes during a fight, you may want to watch your opponent’s eyes. They will sometimes tell you a lot about how your opponent is feeling at a particular time. When you land that solid textbook right cross to the chin of your opponent, it might be a good time to watch the eyes. Never mind the fact that he may shake his head like he’s saying “NO you didn’t hurt me”, but watch to see if his eyes glaze over and legs get a little weak. This may be the best time ever to go to the body. I would recommend that you always go to the body first, when you think your opponent might be hurt, for two reasons: The first, because if he takes shots to the body, he will weaken during a time when his head is already a little dizzy. Second, just like the saying goes “ Kill the body, and the head will fall “, if you go downstairs when they are hurt, they will be still trying to protect the body when you are going back to the head. Thus increasing your chances of landing the shot that takes them down. The body can sometimes be the hardest place to get to during a fight, but when your opponent is hurt, he cannot possibly guard his body the same way. Exploit this at every chance you get! I must remind beginners that looking at your opponent’s eyes during a fight isn’t done all of the time. It’s a little like watching a football game. You wouldn’t watch the ball the whole time; you watch the players and the field too. So if you’re in a fight, you watch everything on your opponent. You have to see how it all sets up in order to block or get out of the way of punches.

I would also suggest that you watch the head as it relates to the centerline of the body.  As a rule, the head may cross the centerline slightly to the right, when throwing a punch with your right hand. Remember that we are really just transferring weight sometimes, so your head position can slightly dictate where your power is at a given moment. Watch your opponents for that. Sometimes it’s as simple as your opponent leaning to the left, means that he’s throwing a left hook or an uppercut.

While all of these thoughts on reading your opponents may be pretty basic for anyone who has trained in boxing for more than a few months, sometimes they are so basic that they are forgotten. Remember that there are always exceptions to the rules and remember to make your opponent think about YOU, more than he thinks about HIMSELF and what he is doing. True Combat is more often Proactive than it is Reactive! Most often the best way to read your opponent is to RELAX and fight YOUR fight! All of these little things to think about are sometimes helpful, especially in the beginning, but please don’t be fooled by the exceptions to the rules…

One Response to “Reading Your Opponent”

  1. To add to the fray, some observers believe that Roland LaStarza might’ve been an even tougher match for Marciano than Walcott. If Archie Moore were still alive, he’d probably tell you that he had Marciano in deeper trouble than anyone in Marciano’s career, but you’d be well advised not to believe him. If you watch the tape of Marciano – Moore, Moore’s description of Marciano’s condition after Moore deposited him on the canvas in the second round of their 1955 title bout doesn’t match reality. Moore was a superb technician, a tremendous puncher, and one of the top 3 light heavyweights in history, but he was also a slick salesman at times as well.