If given a choice, I prefer to keep an opponent on the far end of my jab, but like everyone with a lot of height and reach I’m frequently faced with an opponent who wants to bring the fight to me on the inside.
Every boxer should be able to fight on the inside.
I practice it whenever I have a willing sparring partner, because it’s a critical skill. When you’re fighting inside, the game changes. You need short range punch power, better use of small, quick shifts and pivots, and good use of your (and your opponent’s) weight.
The reason it’s hard to fight inside is that all your fight-fear rises to the surface; you can’t dance around and toss shots from the outside, you can’t pause to plan your next combo, and you don’t have the luxury of a breather. The fight has come to you and the clock is ticking: how long can you hold out in an incredibly tense, fast boxing situation?
Inside fighting is like the sprint within the sprint of a boxing round.
One of the secrets of doing well on the inside is to remember that shots on the inside frequently have less power. Most people can’t launch a bomb and land it with so little space. However, if you can get your legs beneath an uppercut and land it under your opponent’s jaw, you’re golden. The head snaps back, you follow it with a nice hook, or else pivot out and nail them from the side with a straight shot and you may just take the fight right then and there.
What usually happens to me during inside fighting is a clinch.
I was in the ring recently with an opponent who is slightly smaller and lighter than I am, and who lives for the inside game. She’s a great opponent to work with, because you know what you’re about to get. It’s like having to swim a long distance underwater: you get as much air as you can before you duck under, because you’re about to work your ass off, and the next oxygen you’re going to get is 3 minutes away when the bell rings.
There are only three ways to stop the inside game: great footwork or speed (evasion), a shocking punch or combo, and a clinch.
When I’m up against a teenager who is in top shape in her sport, I know my speed is not going to top hers. I can try the power, but in the end, I’ll end up in a clinch.
And that’s where we went, over and over again during our session. And I found that I was bleeding energy at an insane rate during every clinch — even more than usual.
And because we repeated the same pattern over and over again, I could see the reason for the power bleed. The shot she was throwing every time before we clinched was a left hook, and although it usually missed my jaw, it was still coming in behind my guard — essentially “threading the needle” into the little triangle of space created by my right arm in guard position. As soon as it came in, we clinched and her glove would be trapped against me. Then I would spend a tremendous amount of energy to pull away, popping her glove out of my guard like pulling a cork out of a bottle.
It wore. Me. Out.
I could see what was happening, but couldn’t muster the brain power to fix it. Until my coach told me, during the bell, what to do.
“Just relax,” he said. “You’re trying to hold your gloves high and tight and it’s working against you. Keep them high, but relax, and when you pull away you won’t lose so much energy popping her glove out of the tangle.”
This is why no boxer can succeed without a great coach.
You really need that third party watching and puzzling out with their brain power, not yours, what’s happening.
“Also,” he added before I headed into the fray once more, “what about a nice little shot on the exit? You’re in close, so dust off your hook and see what happens.”
Magic, that’s what happens.
I know it sounds terribly counter-intuitive, but relaxing in the clinch really does work. And so does that sweet little right hook on the exit.
Creative commons image by maxintosh on Flickr.