Rules of Elusion: Shoulder Roll, Check Hook, Jab

By Gordon Marino on September 11, 2013
Rules of Elusion: Shoulder Roll, Check Hook, Jab
"Defense is an art and with a great defense you can last a lot longer in this sport."

Unlike some of his boxing brethren, Mayweather has no urge to acquire the macho credentials that come with being able to absorb punishment…

Every generation or two, a boxing champion captures the imagination of his peers.

Fighters in the 1970s looked to mimic Muhammad Ali, dancing around the ring with their hands down, flicking jabs. In the 1990s there were Mike Tyson wannabes.

Now, in almost every parlor of sweat and punch, you are sure to encounter amateurs and pros inching forward with their chin tucked, shoulders narrow—as though between two panes of glass—and left hand down at a 90-degree angle. They are practicing the sweet science perfected by Floyd Mayweather Jr.

On Saturday in Las Vegas, in a bout sure to be one of the biggest financial bonanzas in fistic history, 36-year-old Mayweather (44-0, 26 KOs) will scrap with 23-year-old Mexican sensation Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KOs). A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mayweather hails from a city and family famous for its fighters. Hall of Famers Stanley Ketchel and Wes Ramey, to say nothing of Buster Mathis and Tony Tucker, developed their craft in Grand Rapids, as did Floyd Mayweather Sr. and his brothers Roger and Jeff.

All three of the senior Mayweathers were elite professionals, but the eldest, Floyd Mayweather Sr., was the one who taught his son the inimitable fighting form that “Money” Mayweather banks on. As Sugar Ray Leonard—who defeated Floyd Sr. in 1978—pointed out, “Floyd Jr. fights just like his dad. It is just that Junior hits harder!”

One needs to be a history detective to trace boxing techniques to their sinewy point of origin. Henry Grooms, who managed Floyd Mayweather Sr. for a good part of his career, contends that the style “was really one that Floyd Sr. developed on his own.” Floyd Sr., who had his son in the gym at the age of 10, said, “I picked a lot of it from Bob Tucker,” the father and trainer of former heavyweight champion, Tony Tucker.

Floyd Jr.‘s uncle and longtime trainer, Roger Mayweather, disagrees. “It was Dale and Mitch in Kalamazoo,” he said.

Informed of the conflicting accounts, Mayweather Jr. chuckled, “To be honest, I think it was a style that came from all the great gyms in Detroit.”

Either way, the younger Mayweather describes his ring method as one based on “timing and inches…You have to stay in the pocket, behind the left shoulder.”

The move widely associated with the Mayweather style, the shoulder roll, goes back to Jersey Joe Walcott, Sugar Ray Robinson and Archie Moore. When Alvarez launches his powerful right hand on Saturday night, Mayweather will likely roll his left shoulder to the right with the incoming punch.

This technique doesn’t tie up a fighter’s hands and leaves him in perfect position to return fire.

All sweet scientists know the jab is an offensive and defensive weapon. A boxer uses it to attack and set up the big blows but also to gain separation.

Mayweather said he has “at least” three different jabs: a regular jab, an up-jab and a punch that his dad tabs the spear jab.

With the up-jab, Mayweather’s left is held low and he simply whips it up like a stick at his rival’s chin. As for the spear jab, “you slip inside the other guy’s left and throw a hard jab.”

After a pause, and with a twinkle in his eye, Mayweather added, “You will see a lot of fighters move to their left and jab, but I do something no one else does—I walk out to my right and jab.”

The best pure boxer of this era, Mayweather can be vulnerable to the jab, something he remains wary of. “The left hook is the punch that can knock you out because you don’t see it coming,” he said. “I keep my right hand by my cheek to catch the hook. But I don’t try to catch the jab.”

Mayweather sports one of the best counter right hands in the history of boxing. Poke at him with a left and he will pull away, load up his power on his back leg and crack a right that will give any fighter pause about punching. Asked how he became so impossibly good with this shot, Mayweather grins, “God-given talent, I guess.” And 25 years of practice.

For those who attack bull-like such as Ricky Hatton, whom Mayweather defeated in 2007, Mayweather has the “check hook,” a devastating punch from a bygone era. Here, Mayweather slides a step in retreat, coils the springs of his back leg and unleashes a left hook that comes from outside his opponent’s field of vision.

Balance is often the factor that distinguishes the good boxer from the great one. Mayweather is seldom off kilter. As elusive as a wraith in the ring, he prides himself on his unpredictable movements and balletic pivots. Pressed to the ropes, he will invariably slip under incoming blows, pivot out and reverse positions.

When most boxers release their power shots, they tend to tip forward and get off balance. Mayweather, however, can detonate multiple right hands without ever falling off the beam of punching position. On this point, he boasts, “Go back and watch my knockout of Phillip Ndou. I did it with four right hands in a row!”

The CompuBox numbers attest to Mayweather’s supremacy. Bob Canobbio, founder of CompuBox, said that in his last 10 bouts, “Mayweather has a punch connect percentage of 41. The only one with a higher rate is Alvarez (42%).”

“However,” Canobbio added, “Alvarez has not faced anything close to the same level of competition as Mayweather.”

On the defensive side, Mayweather’s opponents have only landed 17% of their punches. “The number that counts the most is what I call the ‘plus/minus,’” Canobbio said. “You subtract the rate of punches that hit you from your connect rate.” With a plus/minus of 24, Mayweather reigns as the statistical king of the ring.

Mayweather’s core strength is his uncanny ability to anticipate punches, said legendary trainer Brother Naazim Richardson. “I don’t look anywhere in particular when I’m fighting,” Mayweather said. “I scan their whole body and in about two rounds I have them figured out.”

Unlike some of his boxing brethren, Mayweather has no urge to acquire the macho credentials that come with being able to absorb punishment. With a glance that belies an appreciation for the perils of the gloved game, he said, “Defense is an art and with a great defense you can last a lot longer in this sport.”


A professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, Gordon Marino writes on boxing for the Wall Street Journal. He is on the board and works with boxers at the Circle of Discipline in Minneapolis, as well as at the Basement Gym in Northfield, MN. You can follow him on Twitter at @GordonMarino.

Special thanks to the Wall Street Journal

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

(Fight 31) Floyd Mayweather vs. Phillip Ndou [2003-11-01]



(Fight 39) Floyd Mayweather vs. Ricky Hatton [2007-12-08]



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  1. Tex Hassler 04:54pm, 09/19/2013

    Floyd Mayweather may be the best there is today. I am not a fan of his but I do give him credit for his skill. He works hard at his trade.

  2. kid vegas 10:46am, 09/14/2013

    Nicely done

  3. Don from Prov 09:18am, 09/13/2013

    Over=hyped match or not, this is a good piece of writing, IMO

  4. Jim Crue 05:39am, 09/12/2013

    this may be the most over hyped match in the history of boxing and thats saying a lot. Alvarez has no chance or Floyd would not be fighting him. Floyd is a legend in his own mind and the minds of his ass kissing entourage.
    There have been many elusive counter punchers in the history of boxing. He is a not a revolutionary.
    I am sick of hearing about this fight and yes the paid shill announcers will claim Floyd is great after this fight. And on and on….
    And oh.. I would not put a nickel in phony Floyd’s pocket and pay to watch it.

  5. Jose 11:25am, 09/11/2013

    Right on brother!

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