Demetrious Johnson, Cub Swanson and the Stepping Right Hook

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Demetrious Johnson, Cub Swanson and the Stepping Right Hook
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

A principle which I have stressed numerous times before is that power punching is not about strength, fast twitch muscles or magic. It can be—there are certainly punchers who have become legendary and were known to be strong (George Foreman) or explosive (Mike Tyson), but there is a third category of fighter about whom many commentators are reduced to saying "I just don't know where the power comes from."

Men like Alexis Arguello—"The Explosive Thin Man"—and to an extent gangly punchers like Anderson Silva and Tommy Hearns. What Arguello, Hearns and almost every other great puncher, regardless of his strength—including Mike Tyson and George Foreman—understands is that punching power is not about the power of the individual but rather about the relationship between the individual and his opponent.

Punching hard is not about swinging harder or gritting your teeth until they hurt; it is about creating collisions. Quick example? Lyoto Machida is joint fourth in the UFC for most knockdowns—but he rarely plants guys on their rears while they're standing in front of him or running away from him. What Machida does is to move back, move back and move back until his opponent is frustrated and moves forward looking to catch up with him, only to find out that he's now standing still and they are running straight onto a fist.

If an opponent is charging blindly, all a fighter needs to do is jam his arm out with his fist in front of his opponent's face and he can count on him to do some damage to himself. Of course, some timing and anticipation is needed because most professional fighters know better than to run in wildly. Chris Leben vs. Anderson Silva is another great example of this principle in action; Silva convinced Leben to chase him, and by moving his head while punching, he caught Leben's head and was able to avoid his opponent hard coming forward.

To put it another way—someone crashing into the side of your car will mess you up, as will a head-to-head collision. Throwing straight punches as you chase an opponent or hooks as they move in the same direction as the hook is moving is the equivalent of chasing someone along the freeway, both cars going at top speed, and trying to rear-end them.

What does all this have to do with Demetrious Johnson, someone many folks would classify as a decided non-puncher? Well, Johnson has hurt opponents, and while he is far from a knockout artist (lack of weight and lack of commitment to punches often hurt him here), he certainly knows how to make collisions.

Johnson and Dodson square off.
Johnson enters with a right straight to the body and Dodson begins circling toward his left.
Johson steps through with his right foot to meet Dodson with a right hook.

One of the neatest tricks in Johnson's considerably deep bag is his stepping right. This was on full display against John Dodson. Johnson would move straight towards Dodson and Dodson would circle out towards Johnson's right. Johnson would step forward with his right foot, changing into a southpaw stance, and throw a right hook or jab out at a 45 degree angle as Dodson walked into it.

Another brilliant example of the stepping right catching Dodson as he circled.

The punch worked a treat for much of the fight and caused Dodson to bring his hand up to check his face several times throughout the bout. Even toughened pros get hurt when they don't see a punch coming. 

Now, the stepping right hook is a pretty rare punch to see. A few fighters have been great at it and have used it wonderfully in conjunction with cutting off the ring, such as George Foreman against Ken Norton.

Another wonderful example was in one of Anderson Silva's rare moments of boxing offense against the hapless Forrest Griffin. Pressuring Griffin back as soon as he circled out to Silva's right, Silva stepped out into a southpaw stance more at 90 degrees than Johnson's 45 and clocked Griffin as he moved toward the hook.

Gif of that here.

The punch sent Griffin to the mat and he never truly recovered, as Silva stood in front of him, baiting his slow punches and countering with impunity. Silva doesn't go on offense with his boxing often—he's a very cautious fighter in that regard—but this was a wonderful example of what he can do against an opponent with no hope of hurting him. 

At UFC 162, we were treated to another beautiful instance of this in action, as it was applied by the creative and always entertaining Cub Swanson. This time, it was not preceded by a forward attack to force the opponent into circling out as a defensive move. Rather, it occurred off of a lazy sidestep to the left, which then accelerated into a step into southpaw stance with a right hook as Dennis Siver circled around into it.

Gif of that here.

For more sublime examples of the stepping right hook, Ray Sefo is always a good bet. The so-called Balmoral Special that he pulled off against Jerome Le Banner was a switch-step right hook, but his knockout of Melvin Manhoef was a pure stepping hook, and a beaut at that.

So why don't we see more fighters attempting this sort of stepping hook?

Johnson misjudges Dodson's reaction and ends up almost on top of him.
Eating a hook which sent him to the mat.

The danger comes if the opponent is not going to concede ground or circle out. Then a fighter has just collapsed his stance and stepped in with little to defend him as he squares up to the opponent. Because Mighty Mouse uses this so frequently, he was caught a couple of times by John Dodson as he stepped in, and one instance resulted in him being put on the seat of his pants.

Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking at his blog, Fights Gone By.

Jack can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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