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The Hierarchy of Skills in Pugilism

The Hierarchy of Skills in Pugilism
by J. R. Workman

Skill is the most valuable asset in all of pugilism and in all of combat in general. All else being equal (physical conditioning, size/height/reach, etc.) skill reigns supreme in that it will be the greatest advantage and have the most substantial benefits in comparison to anything else. Moderate physical conditioning with exceptional skills will beat moderate skills with exceptional physical conditioning most of the time. Consequently, it is useful to learn what skill components are the most advantageous in a self-defense scenario.  This article will elaborate on what the most vital skill assets in pugilism are

“Now, whoever has courage and a strong and collected spirit in his breast, let him come forward, lace on the gloves and put up his hands.” ― Virgil, The Aeneid

The Hierarchy of Skills in Pugilism

Defense vs. Offense


The best offense is a strong defense. Defensive skill is superior to offensive skill since it keeps you alive and reduces your chance of injury and also because it helps to set up cleaner offensive attacks via creating openings for counter-punching. This is why boxers tend to have the edge over brawlers in boxing matches. Because the boxer has a sturdy defense and solid counter-punching skills which make it arduous for the brawler to hit him and a headache for him to outsmart him:

"But being a brawler can only do so much for you when you come up against a guy who knows exactly what he wants you to do and, like some sort of mental magician, he has you in a trance-like state, he has you obeying his subtle mental commands." (The Boxer vs the Brawler by Rahiem Bailey)

The emphasis in pugilism should be placed on head movement, footwork, parrying, counter-punching, and other defensive tactics and maneuvers which will make you tough to strike and will open up opportunities for your offensive moves to succeed. The majority of boxing betting experts agree that a boxer (a more defensive, counter-punching fighter) has the advantage over a puncher (a more offensive, knock out hitting type of fighter): 

"In many matchups, there'll be a skilled technical boxer in one corner, and a powerful puncher who wins most of their fights via TKO in the other corner. Sometimes this creates confusion on the part of many bettors who wonder which type of fighter to wager on. This being said, let's take a closer look at punchers vs. boxers from a boxing betting strategy standpoint.

Who's More Likely to win?

Whenever you're torn between choosing a puncher or technically-sound boxer, the better decision usually lies with the boxer." (Boxing Betting Strategy - Punchers vs. Boxers)

Floyd Mayweather Jr. perhaps the number one defensive boxer of our age and Manny Pacquiao likely the most excellent offensive boxer of our era fought back in 2015 with Floyd dominating the majority of the match with his jab and slick foot work. Floyd ended up landing almost twice as many total punches than Pacquiao did according to CompuBox Stats which had Floyd landing a total of 148 punches compared to Manny's 81―this fight is a prime example of the choicest boxers (defensive fighters) generally being superior to the finest punchers (offensive fighters) when it comes to boxing. Boxers beating punchers has been a common theme throughout the entire establishment and development of Western boxing: 

"Sure punchers can equalize a fight with a single well-placed left hook; however, the boxer is usually very adept at avoiding a damaging punch and will dance around their opponent. There have been many high-profile examples of this throughout boxing history, including the following: 

Kelly Pavlik vs. Sergio Martinez (2010) for the Ring, WBO and WBC Middleweight Titles - With 30 knockouts in 36 fights, Ohio's Kelly Pavlik was the classic puncher. The guy he was facing, Sergio Martinez, was quite the opposite since he had just 24 KO's in 44 matches. Although Pavlik knocked Martinez down once in the seventh round, he was thoroughly dominated throughout the majority of the bout and lost via decision. 

Chris Byrd vs. David Tua (2001) for the USBA Heavyweight Title - Not only did Tua outweigh Bird by 20 pounds, but he was also the superior puncher with 37 KO's in 42 fights. But Byrd was definitely the more skilled boxer and proved this throughout the 12-round match. Byrd won by unanimous decision after putting on a clinic against Tua. 

Winky Wright vs. Felix Trinidad (2005) - With 35 knockouts in 40 fights and only one loss on his record, Trinidad was the heavy favorite going into a bout with Wright. However, Wright had an incredible jab and used this to keep Trinidad at bay for the entire fight. Two judges scored the fight 119-108 and one scored it 120-107, all in favor of Wright." (Boxing Betting Strategy - Punchers vs. Boxers)

You cannot touch what you cannot catch―a moving target is trickier to hit than a stationary one. Offensive tactics are only damaging if you can land them on your opponent therefore defensive maneuvers render offensive strikes useless when executed profitably. Willie Pep one of the best defensive boxers in history has more victories than any other boxing champion ever adding credibility to the principle that defensive boxing skills are of a higher level of importance than offensive boxing skills ontologically: 

"Most historians rate Pep (230-11-1, 65 KOs) as one of the greatest fighters pound-for-pound who has ever lived...Pep is generally regarded as one of history's greatest defensive wizards... Pep finished his 26-year pro career with a record of 230-11-1 with 65 knockouts, and the 230 wins represent the most ever compiled by a world champion..." (Pep Regarded as One of the Pound-For-Pound Greats by Lee Groves)

Without adequate defensive skills there is always a risk that a puncher/knockout artist could get knocked out himself if he gets tagged; the chances of surviving a fight and not getting knocked out sky-rocket when defensive ability is increased. What is of higher value: having outstanding knockout power but not being able to defend against another attacker's offensive power because of having a vulnerable defense or having enough defensive expertise to be able to render any opponent's knockout power completely useless? At the end of the day the most important gain or profit in a self-defense situation is survival and possessing masterful defensive capabilities guarantees this the most. This is not to say that having substantial knockout power is not a major benefit in a fight because clearly it is―but having a solid defensive background will take you the farthest for what it is worth. 

Counter-Punching vs. Combination-Punching

Counter-punching surpasses combination-punching because one powerful punch landed cleanly and accurately produces more damage than a barrage of punches landed less cleanly and less powerfully. Often times trying to throw too many punches dilutes and decreases the power of each one of them, whereas throwing one well set-up punch with all your might will generate greater impact. 

Floyd Mayweather Jr. (a defensive boxer with outstanding counter-punching talent) knocked out Rick Hatton (a powerful volume/combination boxer) with a counter check hook as he lunged in during the 10th round. Canelo Alvarez (one of the greatest counter-punchers of our day) knocked out Amir Khan (a blindingly fast volume puncher) with a counter overhand right in the 6th round. Canelo also used his counter-punching and relentless forward momentum to beat Gennady Golovkin (a fierce knockout artist with a pistol-like jab) in their second match: 

"But to Alvarez’s credit, he made adjustments in the second fight and took advantage of a now aging Golovkin. This time, it was the explosive Mexican counter-puncher (Alvarez) aggressively stalking the Kazakh knockout artist (Golovkin)." (Triple G vs. Canelo Alvarez II: The Counter-Puncher Strikes Back by Sunan Tajwar)

Mikey Garcia (known for his accurate timing and strategic counter-punching) picked apart Orlando Salido (a rough and dirty/aggressive volume puncher) using his stiff jab, smooth footwork, and precise counter-punching reflexes. 

Power and Timing vs. Speed 

Power and timing defeat speed. If your timing is on point and you know how to move effectively then it makes it challenging for someone who is fast to hit you or use their speed against youin essence, it takes away their speed advantage from them. Add power on top of that and you can do more damage to them than they can to you because it takes several punches from them to equal the damage of just one of your punches

Canelo Alvarez dominated the quicker Sugar Shane Mosley in their 2012 match with his superb timing and precision which allowed him to use his respect-worthy power and slick counter-punches to his advantage. In the words of Connor McGregor which were spoken shortly after knocking out the much faster Jose Aldoin just 13 seconds into the first roundat the end of the day timing beats speed: 

“I feel for Jose... He was a phenomenal champion. He deserved to go a little bit longer but at the end of the day... timing beats speed.” (Conor Mcgregor's Best Quotes as UFC Champion Sparks Social Media Frenzy with Retirement Tweet by Robert Hynes)

Muhammad Ali's first two losses came from the noticeably slower Joe Frazier in 1971 and Ken Norton in 1973 who were both able to overpower Ali's speed in those fights with their explosiveness (or heavier hands/power). 

Read my articles on health:

Read my articles on conditioning:

Bailey, Rahiem. “The Boxer vs the Brawler.” Reemus Boxing, 12 July 2016, 

“Boxing Betting Strategy - Punchers vs. Boxers.” Football Betting, NFL Betting, 

Groves, Lee. “Pep Regarded as One of the Pound-for-Pound Greats.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 24 Nov. 2006, 

Department, The Spectator Web. “The Stuyvesant Spectator.” The Spectator, 

Hynes, Robert. “Conor McGregor Says He's Retiring - and 17 Other Quotes That Got People Talking.” Mirror, 19 Apr. 2016,