Anthony Pettis, George Foreman and Mike Tyson share a common trait—they are very good at getting their opponent along the edge of the ring and they perform their best work from there.
Ring craft is absolutely the most important element of the game between two skilled combatants. A fighter with a lesser punch or slower movement can make up for it with good ring placement, while a fighter who has an advantage in these areas already can make a fight look like a complete mismatch if he uses good ring craft to get ahead.
There is a reason that being "on the ropes" or "in a corner" are phrases with negative connotations for the party involved—because those are terrible positions to fight from.
Ringcraft, like almost every element of the fight game, can be considered from an offensive and defensive perspective (though the best are aware of both elements at all times). Defensive ring craft is the ability to stay off of the ropes/fence, the ability to turn an opponent and the ability to reverse positions if cornered.
Offensive ringcraft, the focus of this article, deals with the art of cutting off the ring and the attacking options which are made available both while attempting this and once one succeeds at it. It is, of course, impossible for me to come close to doing justice to this in 1500 words, but I hope to at least illuminate a little and entertain.
Today we will cover:
- Cutting off the Ring
- Herding and Blocking with Strikes
- The Ring vs The Cage
- Examples of Cutting off the Cage/Ring
Cutting off the Ring
Cutting off the ring is simple in theory: move in the same direction to meet the opponent when he attempts to move laterally. The natural instinct when an opponent begins circling is to pivot and face him. This, however, just re-establishes the fighting distance between the two fighters but along a different line.
If the objective was to get the opponent to the ropes or cage (and for the aggressive puncher it should be) by turning to follow the opponent's movement, you have just allowed him to take the fight away from where you wanted it. The art of cutting off the ring is getting into position to 'cut off' the opponent's movement before he completes it.
A good example of a fighter who cut off the ring to implement his power punching game along the ropes is George Foreman. Foreman would come forward with both hands open and ready to parry straight blows, then step to meet his opponent and move them into a corner.
The ropes are a terrible position to fight from because when a fighter is pushed against them, his stance naturally collapses and his feet move underneath him. Here he has no base from which to punch and is trapped in front of an opponent who is still in a strong hitting base.
Herding and Blocking with Strikes
To prevent an opponent from simply circling out, it is necessary to meet him with strikes. The easiest way in which this can be accomplished is with the right hook or left hook. If an opponent circles out toward the ring cutter's left, he should meet them with a left hook. Just the same, if the opponent circles to the ring cutter's right, he should meet them with a right hook.
It is hard for an opponent to block the force of a strike if he is circling into it. Moreover, by circling into a strike, the opponent shaves split-seconds off in which he could react to the height of the blow—be it a hook to the body or head.
Most importantly whether the hook lands on the opponent's ribs, jaw or arms the opponent is not going to be able to move through it. No one circles so well that they can move through flesh and bone. Meeting a circling opponent with a strike will prevent them from moving away and pin them in place for a barrage.
Notice above how George Foreman walks down Ken Norton and uses the wide right to the rib cage to hold Norton in place along the ropes before beginning to unload.
Herding the opponent into strikes is a more assertive method of meeting the opponents circling with punches. By allowing a larger space on one side it is possible to convince the opponent to move in that direction then jump on them with a strike. It often involves reaching to connect though.
Roy Nelson will often pressure his opponent to the fence, then begin moving into the fence on their left side, encouraging the opponent to move into the space around his dangerous right hand.
Anthony Pettis, whom I will examine in great detail nearer his upcoming fight, will often pressure his opponent to the fence, then attempt a higher risk maneuver because his opponent cannot retreat but can only move left or right. His jumping back kick against Clay Guida, his cage spring knee against Donald Cerrone and his "Showtime kick" against Benson Henderson are all examples of this rushing an opponent as they are either against the fence or attempting to move along it.
The Ring vs The Cage
I have spoken about the importance of the different fighting areas before in my examination of fighters who rely on movement to avoid takedowns such as Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. In a ring it is simply so much easier to move an opponent into a corner.
The corners of the Octagon, or even a hexagonal cage, are much less sharp than in a four-sided ring, and therefore much harder to get stuck in. Where a fighter who is cornered in a ring will have to move into one of his opponent's hands to get out, a fighter in a cage has a much smaller corner to escape from and, unless his opponent is right on top of him, can usually run out unharmed.
The key in the cage seems to be to move towards a wall and a clinch, then to break but to keep the opponent along the fence. This is the strategy which has worked for individuals such as Nelson and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and seems a sound strategy.
Pettis will often push kick his opponent towards the fence, then allow them distance so that they rush him or shoot. He almost ruined Shane Roller's night with one such knee attempt as Roller ducked in off of the fence. Benson Henderson also ate a nice counter punch as he attempted to superman punch his way off of the cage.
In a boxing ring one may lean back on the ropes and spring off them as Roy Jones and Muhammad Ali famously did, but in the cage, when a fighter is pushed to the fence, he must often spread his feet apart to make a wide base so that his opponent cannot simply scoop his legs up.
In spreading their base, the fighter on the wall reduces his punching power even further than if he stood upright with his feet in line.
Examples of Cutting off the Cage
Ultimately, this article is simply a collection of thoughts which I had while on a flight home from holiday, but I would like to finish with some specific examples of how make-or-break cutting off the cage can be to an offensive fighter.
Nick Diaz and his younger brother Nate are overwhelming fighters with incredible body work and great combinations, but until their opponents are hurt or tired and standing right in front of them, they have terrible trouble keeping on top of their man. Just watch Nick Diaz vs Carlos Condit or Georges St. Pierre, or Nate Diaz vs Josh Thomson or Benson Henderson.
Watch how both Diaz brothers struggle if their opponent has the good sense to keep circling away from them rather than covering up and walking backwards to the fence.
To see some superb ringcraft in action in the cage, check out Anthony Pettis' wonderful work against Donald Cerrone. When he was on the outside, Pettis was well away from Cerrone's mule like kicks, but when he did step in, Pettis was all over Cerrone like eczema. Physically pushing Cerrone back to prevent the taller man from kicking, Pettis moved Cerrone to the fence before springing off it with a spectacular knee strike.
To watch a great battle of wits between dancing master and bullying ring-cutter in the golden days of boxing, have a look at what footage exists of Willie Pep versus Sandy Saddler. Better yet, take a look at Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman—we all know that Ali pulled the infamous rope-a-dope and upset the terrifying giant, but Foreman had to get Ali to the ropes first and Foreman was very, very good at that.
Pick up Jack's ebooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking at his blog, Fights Gone By.