Take This Jab and Shove It!

23.08.05 - By Chris Acosta: It’s the most basic punch in the book, the first punch taught to novice boxers the day they walk in the gym but still of paramount importance to fighters competing at the elite level. It doesn’t have quite the same visceral impact of a hook or cross delivered off the back foot but those punches wouldn’t have anywhere near the same effect without it paving the way. The jab is at home creating openings as it is keeping an onrushing opponent at bay. And before we assume what the jab is let’s remember that it comes in more than just one form.

Some jabs are fast, some heavy and hurtful and some a combination of the two. Some fighters prefer to come forward with it while others use it in a defensive posture.

It can be accurate or a range finder or used as a sort of distraction to hide a punch coming directly behind it. It can be effective when thrown 50 times a round or rationed only until it is certain to land. Whatever the case, the jab is a key element in a boxers success. If it can be developed into a great jab, well then you’ve really got something. Throughout history, the very best in the business have possessed great jabs.

If you mention Larry Holmes, then you’ll remember that stiff left hand that seemed to violently stop many of his challengers in their steps. George Foreman and Sonny Liston with their impossibly heavy hands, often intimidated other fighters by virtue that if the set-up punch could be that hard, then what about something that had more time to gather momentum? Former lightweight, junior -welter and welter title holder Pernell Whitaker who flaunted maybe the best defense in the history of the sport, used the jab as his cloud of smoke, landing the punch and then gliding off to one side before his opponents knew where he was. Whitaker was something of a rarity among jabbers: he didn’t throw the punch with any rhythm. Unlike most boxers who tend to jab from the front foot, Whitaker often let the punch go while in the middle of a position-shift and that drove so many men from his era crazy.

Vitali Klitschko does that today by jabbing when, by technical rights, he shouldn’t but until someone figures it out, the textbook might have to be revised. Julio Cesar Chavez was one of the best pressure fighters in the history of the game but even he needed a solid jab to accent that ability to suffocate rivals at close quarters. Mike Tyson, though always conceding height and reach in the heavyweight division, found that his jab had an unexpected place against men who were more concerned with a hook, uppercut or cross.

Fighters can go a long way with a right hand or hook but usually fail to reach the top and of they do, it’s seldom a long stay there. A top-shelf jab adds dimension and prolongs careers. When we look around today, we can see that the jab is still alive and well and not being lost to “high-tech” training methods and the like. You can alter some aspect of boxing through technology but the meat and potatoes of its very nuance will never be left behind.If you ask any boxing fan whom they feel has the best jab in the game, you’d probably get more than a majority decision in the way of Jermain Taylor. The undisputed middleweight king has a terrific left hand, incredibly quick and there’s no one who can put a right hand behind it the way he can. There’s a milliseconds time separating the arrival of both punches and it’s the reason he was able to stay in the fight with Bernard Hopkins when the wise old “Executioner” had figured out the rest of his arsenal. Hopkins to his credit has a hell of a jab as well, but Bernard represents another school of jab theory.

Though not as quick as Taylor, Hopkins is more resourceful and accurate with his jab. It just goes to show that there’s really no right way to throw the jab, at least from a strategical viewpoint, it all depends on the fighters and how it works into their respective styles.

Marco Antonio Barrera was once a face first warrior who relished in the field of body punching and smothering his victims so badly that we can assume they began to question participating in such a painful vocation. Sure, there were defensive lapses and all but as they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and who could argue? Well, Junior Jones did and Marco Antonio was forced to dig through that old box of memories, find that jab and dust it off. It’s the reason he’s still here today after what seems like forever. His nemesis, Erik Morales, isn’t anything resembling a speed demon but like many tall boxers, his reach puts a little more bite on a jab given that extra bit of travel in his reach. Morales likes to fight a little more than he needs to sometimes but when needing some distance, watch how he pumps that jab so consistently. The best jab in the game (and I know I’ll be hearing this in the “comments” section) may go to Floyd Mayweather Jr. Not only is poor Floyd blessed with enough gifts to win no matter what way he chooses to fight but he also has the boxing brain to go along with it.

Remember that speed alone does not make a great jab. Many of those who live in the fast hands lane are also prone to counters or errant haymakers because they are so caught up in trying to overwhelm. Not Floyd. “Pretty Boy” knows that staying one step ahead is effective since it allows him to keep balance and control the pace of a fight. Sometimes a guy has a superb jab without anyone really noticing. One of them is France’s Jean-Marc Mormeck, the cruiserweight champion of the world. He’s billed as a power puncher and there’s no denying that he lives up to that description but one thing came as a shocking revelation to those of us watching his title-winning effort versus Wayne Braithwaite for the title.

After firmly establishing a solid lead on the scorecards and perhaps feeling a bit fatigued from grinding down the tough Guyana –born boxer, Mormeck suddenly got up on his toes and started to jab the hell out of the supposedly better boxer down the stretch. The punch was snappy and on the money and made you wonder just how farfetched his eventual move into
the heavyweight ranks really his.

Winky Wright controlled one of the most fearsome punchers in Felix Trindad with one punch. Most guys would have enough trouble keeping “Tito” off them with three arms let alone one and even if they could only use one, a jab wouldn’t be their first choice. But Wright did it and that’s why he’s one of the very best fighters in the sport.

Sometimes a jab needn’t be particularly quick or hard, the guy throwing it just has to believe in it and that’s what an unheralded Humberto Soto did this past weekend against the highly touted Rocky Juarez. Soto pumped his jab from the onset and didn’t stop so what could have been “troubling” for his strong foe instead became downright impossible to overcome. After pelting Juarez with combinations, Soto went right back to that left hand and poor Rocky not only had to lunge to land a punch, but lunge through a jab which doesn’t feel too good.

The heavyweight division may not be the most rip-roaring place to be right now but when looking for great jabs, you can find them without looking too hard. The best short punch in the heavies belongs to Wladimir Klitschko. We all know that the big guy is susceptible to punchers but getting through his rocket of a left fist makes the objective potentially perilous. He’ll need that punch against Sam Peter in his next fight. Hasim Rahman has a terrific jab too, though he can sometimes forget to use it. The thick-bodied Rahman has a very long reach and though he was knocked silly by Lennox Lewis
in their rematch, his jab appeared to make the Brit uncomfortable when it landed.

Southpaw Chris Byrd isn’t what you’d traditionally think of as a strong jabber but he knows what to do with it. Chris likes to paw for a reason: he paws, the other guy jabs and he puts his jab over theirs while stepping around to his right. It’s not the most exciting way to go about it but you can’t doubt its effectiveness. It all seems so easy in some ways,
doesn’t it? Develop a jab and you’ve got it made, right? Well, not so fast.

Sometimes an over –reliance on a jab can leave you open for a right hand over the top (mainly with the orthodox style). Larry Holmes was notorious for getting splattered by right hands because there was little mystery about what he was going to do. For every move, there’s a counter and the jab, as wonderful as it can be, is not without fault.

There are a good number of boxers out there plying their trade who owe so much to a jab. Some of them may not be known for it but you can bet that when confronted against someone who forgets to move their head, that they’d be more than happy to use it.

Article posted on 24.08.2005

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