At most boxing gyms you’ll hear coaches tell you to stay off the ropes and control the center of the ring during your rounds. And that’s sound advice.
But there’s also some good things to be said about being the kind of fighter who can perform well against the ropes, and even win a fight using rope skills. Here’s what I mean.
When you’re new in the ring, you tend to fight your rounds with your back to the ropes because your opponent is controlling the motion and running things from the center. You go where your opponent sends you — toward the edges of the ring — and you spend a fair amount of time doing ring slides, or sideways motions, doing a big circle at the outside of the ring. In boxing, we also call that running.
If you’re in good enough shape, you can “run” from your opponent like this, unless they are good at “cutting off the ring,” or stepping in front of you and launching an offensive. In the video below you’ll see a couple of guys drilling in running and cutting off the ring. The guy in the black cap is working his ass off (which running requires) and the tall dude in the center gets to rest and take his leisure — and, if they were actually throwing punches, you get the feeling he might calmly clobber the hyperactive guy into mush… Maybe. The dude in the Army tee-shirt definitely has gas, and might also be packing heat in those fists. (It would be fun to find out, wouldn’t it?)
Coaches don’t like for you to work on the outside against the ropes for several reasons, including:
- It takes a LOT of energy (as you can see in the video above)
- You’re typically not controlling the space (which you’ll be judged on in competition)
- You can easily get pinned there by a good opponent
However, you should be comfortable working there because — guess what? — you’re gonna be fighting there sooner or later. Probably sooner, if you’re new to boxing. You might as well snatch the psychological advantage and shock the hell out of your opponent and everyone else by making it a place you perform your best.
A “Huracan” on the ropes
The first time I ever saw a fighter perform as if the ropes were just another of her favorite ass-beating positions was while watching the IFBA Lightweight title fight between Chevelle “Fists of Steel” Hallback and Melissa “Huracan” Hernandez in 2009. Before I saw that, I hadn’t even known there WAS such a thing as fighting WELL on the ropes.
Both these women are freaking enormous favorites of mine (brag #1: I got to talk to Chevelle on the phone — thank you, Amy Green! — after I won my very first fight; brag #2: I got to interview Melissa — thank you Bonnie Mann! — for an article here; OMgawd I want to go to Florida and be punched by BOTH of them, just not at the same time), and if they had collectibles I would have way more than you do, bitches. Way more.
But we were talking about fighting on the ropes…
Fighting Chevelle Hallback is probably a lot like trying to fend off a supremely pissed but perfectly level-headed Optimus Prime. She just marches relentlessly forward and calmly batters you into pulpy submission.
Melissa, on the other hand, is damned slippery. I swear that woman carries WD-40 in her gym bag — there is no way in hell you are ever gonna get her to stand still so you can beat the shit out of her. No way, jack. Because where ever she was just a second ago, she ain’t there no more.
Chevelle looks like she was BORN in the center of the ring. Like, her mama (whom I’m sure I would love) just laid down and birthed baby Chevy right there in the middle of the canvas and said, Look baby! You’re home.
Melissa just steals every square inch of the ring from people who think they own it. Oh, she gives it back. But then she steals another little bit. And another. While pretending that yeah, this is yours — you can have it back ’cause I’m all done with it. With Melissa, you begin to wonder who the fuck really controls the ring.
Here’s a video of the two of them in the 2009 fight (which was judged a draw — which I’m sure disappointed them both — but it was an incredible match). This is just the first half, but starting in the second round you can begin to see Melissa beginning to show ownership of the ropes.
Scroll in and watch Melissa in ropes-form at 3:21, 3:37, 4:45, 9:36, and so on… The second half of the fight is even better, but this will get you started.
(Btw, at 6:53 when Chevy gets a monster barrage of knockout punches rolling, look at Melissa! She just relaxes — relaxes, motherfucker! — and keeps doing her thing. I swear, these women are ARCTIC cold.)
Here are some of the premium messages I took away from this, the first time I ever saw it…
1. The ropes can support you
The ropes give you some flotation and energy. It’s a little like having that springy old couch backing you up, giving you a little bounce as you work. (And that’s the first time I’ve ever used “flotation” in regard to boxing. Win!) Melissa USES the spring and support in the ropes to give her movement and punches a little extra zing. You gotta kind of sit into them a little for this to work; don’t be a stiff plank, be a coiled spring yourself.
2. The ropes are a place to work your offense
When I was new to the game, I thought the ropes were to be avoided at all costs. If you got on them, you were supposed to do whatever it took to get OFF. Melissa doesn’t do that. She works on the ropes just like she works in the center. Never forget your offense! Let the ropes support you while you launch little “back off” grenades with both fists. Relax and show that you can beat ass there just as well as anywhere.
3. Maintain a tight guard on the ropes
The REAL first rule of Fight Club is protect yourself at all times. Both these women are seasoned pro fighters, and if I caught any of my boys at the gym with these kinds of low, open guards, I’d put them on push-up duty for a good long while, and they wouldn’t get back in the ring until I saw a tighter guard. And none of that Philly shit, either (one glove up and the other down, across the body). Philly shell works for Sugar Ray and Floyd Mayweather, but it’s a good way for amateurs to get hammered.
But look at Melissa: no matter how low her guard is at other times (and it’s damn sure tighter than Chevy’s; Chevy fights like a wrecking ball — very little defense, but a megaton of offense), she usually pulls both fists up and both elbows in when she’s on the ropes. Chin down, tight guard, whipping out her shots and returning to guard position.
One other advantage to having a tight guard on the ropes is that if your opponent isn’t careful, they may launch a furious barrage and leave themselves gassed out. Most people are smarter than this, but there’s such a strong push from coaches to keep someone pinned as long as you can, that it does happen. Just not usually in the pros.
4. Move your ass, especially on the ropes
Those first two segments (3:21 and 3:37) really showcase something Melissa does ALL the time on the ropes. She moves. She has this signature zig-zag when she’s on the ropes that make it nearly impossible to tag her. She’s a lightning bolt of pure energy. Don’t just stand there when you’re against the edge of the ring. WORK it.
5. Spin out
Sometimes you’re tempted to use the ropes to rest. Remember me saying the thing earlier about how the ropes are like that nice old springy couch you love to bounce on? You also like to nap there, but napping and boxing: mix them not! Hah. (New sport: Nap boxing. Survey says…?)
See how Melissa spins out? I’m half surprised she doesn’t get rope burns across her back. But she doesn’t — she’s slicker than Elvis’s hair, and waaaay sexier. 🙂
6. Shoot on the exit
This one you don’t see as much on this particular video, but it’s a great practice. Try to get a shot off as you slide or pivot out off the ropes. It just discourages your opponent from trying to keep you there and run up the score.
DOUBLE BONUS points if you can turn your opponent into the ropes with a shove or a sweet nasty hook. The only woman I’ve ever seen who has made this a signature move is my original trainer and two-time world champion Bonnie “Queen B” Mann. That woman has a left hook that will leave you wondering where you are and how long it will be before the nice man in the paramedic uniform will let you sleep. She routinely suckers people in, then spins out and hooks her opponents into the ropes. Love ya, Bonnie. Mean it! 🙂
Disadvantages of boxing on the ropes
As with everything, there are two sides to this story. If you’re not careful, you can shitcan a fight you otherwise would have owned by fighting on the ropes. Here’s why.
1. The judges can’t all see what’s happening
There are typically three judges, seated on three sides of the ring. A judge is NOT ALLOWED to count a shot they have not seen. Think about a movie fight scene — those guys aren’t necessarily hitting each other, but they’re often filmed from different angles where you see someone’s head flying back, or their body flying through the air, but you didn’t always see the shot that was thrown. In boxing, you MUST see it to count it. That’s why there are three judges — they each see a slightly different fight, based on where they’re sitting.
So if you consistently work the ropes with your back to a particular judge, she or he is probably actually seeing very little. Mostly your sweaty back. Your sweaty back is not going to win this for you, and I don’t care how stupendous that new Hello Kitty as Hannibal Lecter tatt is.
2. It may not look like “domination” of the bout
The new USA Boxing rules are much more like professional scoring, and you’re judged on the following criteria:
- Number of quality blows landed on the target area
- Domination of the bout
- Technique and tactics superiority
- Non-infringement of rules
It doesn’t matter how many shots you land cleanly while you’re on the ropes; if it looks like you aren’t controlling the ring and dominating the match, you’ll be judged down. Then again, if you performed like Hernandez on the ropes, you might get points for technique. Gotta be careful there, because it could go either way.
So, badass. What about you?
No matter what, I routinely drill on the ropes: using their power, working while I’m there, and not letting ANY part of the ring feel like it isn’t mine to own. But it’s always true that you don’t want to stay there too long. Get in, get out, just like most things in boxing.
But what about you? Leave me a comment below and tell me about your tactics on the ropes, drills that help you, and what you’ve learned about this particular bit of boxing…