In the buildup to last night's fight, Jean Pascal was accused of being a ninety-second fighter. The man who accused him of fighting just ninety seconds of each round was his opponent, Lucian Bute. Yet throughout the fight, Lucian Bute did little to fluster the Canadian. He simply sat back and let Pascal pile up the points with his heavier, flashier punches.
The fight didn't do anything for the reputation of boxing, and I'm sure there weren't many people calling up their friends and saying "Man, you gotta watch this fight," but even the most pedestrian fights give insight into the subtleties of the sweet science.
For a start, this fight was doomed to be slow-paced from the start, because it was a southpaw versus orthodox (what I term "open guard") engagement. In these matchups, the lead hands clash, the fighters are angled away from each other and their lead feet get in the way of each other, forcing the fight to take place at a greater distance.
Much has been made of Jean Pascal bringing in one of his heroes, Roy Jones Jr., to train him. Many are pointing to some similarities between the overall style of Jean Pascal's performance and some of Jones' memorable ones. These tend to be vague generalizations, so I'll try and go a little into the nitty gritty of Pascal's and Jones' tactics.
Firstly, there is the stepping off right lead, which Pascal showed repeatedly and which Bute had no answer to. When in an open-guard engagement, you are essentially fighting a man who is on a line. The stuff which is right in front of you is the lead hand, shoulder and hip, not much good stuff to hit. To land a good blow, one must break the line.
The most common way to do this is to get the lead foot outside of the opponent's. By 'straddling' the lead leg, one lines up one's rear shoulder with the opponent's centre line. This means a fighter can land his rear straight to the head, sometimes to the body, or a rear hook to the body. He is safe from the opponent's rear hand and can pivot off immediately afterwards.
Unfortunately, most fighters know this and deny all opportunities to get outside of the lead foot. So the second option is to get both feet inside of the opponent's lead foot. This is normally accomplished by circling and leaping in as the opponent pivots to face you.
A textbook example of this method is Willie Pep. Though he was an orthodox fighter, almost all of Pep's offence came from switching to southpaw, circling to his left and leaping in with a southpaw left straight as his opponent chased. Here's a little video I made about that strategy.
Roy Jones Jr. enjoyed utilizing a variation on the second method. Rather than circling and getting both feet inside of the opponent's lead foot, however, his lead leg would stay stationary and he would throw his right hand as he stepped his right foot up level to his left foot. In effect, he was punching while his right foot was in the air. This placed him in the angle between the opponent's legs, presenting him all of the good targets, while his opponent was forced to turn to face him.
Roy Jones Jr.'s bout with Richard Harris is a brilliant example of this stepping-right-hand-in action. He was constantly stepping with his right foot and connecting with his right hand, not trying to get away from Harris' power hand but to move around inside of it.
Throughout the Pascal-Bute bout, Pascal was able to perform this right-hand lead with impunity but with none of Jones' trademark accuracy. Time and again, he moved towards Bute's dangerous left hand, but in such a swift manner, combined with his right hand, that Bute was forced onto the defensive.
What most commentators remarked on, in terms of similarities between Jones and Pascal, however, was Pascal's stance. The lead hand low against a southpaw is something Jones utilized a lot in hopes of drawing the jab. When he drew the jab, Jones would rock back, then throw the right straight down the pipe. Manny Pacquiao did this nicely against Brandon Rios the other day, and Pascal was able to accomplish it last night.
What really showed the difference between the ability of Jones and the ability of Pascal, however, was Pascal's attempts to counter left hook. Jones would hold his lead hand low against southpaws and then throw the left hook over the top of their jab, or even use his rear hand to parry it (near suicidal) and land the left hook.
Whenever Pascal attempted a counter left hook, all he did was hammer his forearm into Bute's lead shoulder. Jones' methods are sound and will improve a boxer tremendously, but accuracy is a skill that cannot be changed with strategy.
A final Jones method was the backhanded jab against the southpaw. When a southpaw's lead hand is high, it makes it hard to sneak a straight jab through. What Jones would do, and what Pascal did last night, was to get his lead foot inside of the opponent's and then throw the jab as almost a backhand.
One of the downsides of this method is that it leaves a fighter very off-balance. This was illustrated nicely by Pascal almost tripping over Bute's lead leg several times, and then by Pascal himself forcing Bute to the floor in a similar tripping manner.
Anytime an orthodox fighter and a southpaw fighter decide to fight the entire bout with mainly jabs, all you're going to see is a lot of backhanding, a lot of dropping the lead hand, feinting, then picking it up again, and a lot of unhappy spectators. That being said, if anyone can make Pascal into an entertaining fighter, it's Roy Jones.
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