One of the most common things repeated by many boxing fans and writers today is how there are not many great fighters/boxers around today. And though I’d endorse that, I do think there are some great fighters currently campaigning, but not as many in each weight division as there once was. What stands out more to me is how we are inundated with so many counter-punchers. With the exception of Manny Pacquiao, a majority of today’s greats and dominant fighters, like Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward, Juan Manuel Marquez, Bernard Hopkins, Carlo Froch, Sergio Martinez, Adrien Broner and Vitali Klitschko, are at their best and most effective fighting as a counter-puncher.
There are less than a handful of active fighters today who are close to outstanding let alone spectacular fighting as the aggressor and pushing the fight; I’d point to Lucas Matthysse, Roman Gonzalez, and Gennady Golovkin. In today’s boxing world it seems as if all the upper tier title holders and contenders either want to wait on the opponent to initiate the action, or attempt to move around and box. Nobody wants to or is skilled enough to force the fight and make the opponent fight under duress.
Being a truly effective aggressor/attacker requires a fighter to be in phenomenal condition and have the capacity to force the fight from bell-to-bell. It’s the hardest route for a fighter to take compared to any other style in professional boxing. And most fighters who fought as the attacker burned out fast and their best days were behind them by the time they reached their 32nd birthday.
To be a great attacker it helps to be blessed with one punch fight altering power, but it’s not like a lack of one punch power held some previous pressure fighters back from achieving greatness. Pressure fighters enter the ring with one single purpose, and that is to force their opponents to rush their offense and defense and make them do what they don’t wanna do. If the pressure fighter a la Joe Frazier is successful, the opponent will wear down and eventually be forced to fight and trade with a depleted gas tank. Another staple in being effective at forcing the fight is being able to cut off the ring, which is a lot different than just moving your feet forward and following the opponent around it. A sophisticated attacker cuts the ring off thus taking away the opponent’s escape routes. Look at what Frazier did in all three epic bouts with Muhammad Ali. He attacked Muhammad to the body and forced him into a corner or against the ropes. His upper-body and head movement forced Ali to missed a huge percentage of the jabs and right hands he launched at Joe’s head. Frazier’s pressure forced Ali to do one of three things in every one of the 41 rounds they fought. In all three fights Ali was forced to run/move, hold and take it to the body inside with his back to the ropes, or fight it out with Frazier. And guess what, all three scenarios were preferable to Joe.
On the other hand, Marvin Hagler was his least effective when he was forced to fight as the attacker. Just re-watch his fights against Roberto Duran, who was an all world attacker as a lightweight, and Sugar Ray Leonard. Marvin followed both around the ring and was outboxed for huge gaps of the fight because despite his moving forward, he didn’t cut off the ring or seal their escape route to where they had to fight it out with him. In one fight he needed a rally in the last three rounds to pull it out and in the other he didn’t have rounds 13, 14 and 15 to stage a rally.
Jack Dempsey was the first sophisticated attacker fighting as a heavyweight. Dempsey went through the division due to his blistering pace and his ability to constantly force the fight. With the exception of Gene Tunney and Tommy Gibbons, Jack’s aggression overwhelmed every other fighter he confronted in a marquee bout. Harry Greb was a human windmill and fighting as a middleweight took it to everybody he fought between middleweight up to heavyweight. Henry Armstrong forced his way to the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles. Both Jake LaMotta and Carmen Basillio, who were two of the best pressure fighters of their time, managed to defeat the great Sugar Ray Robinson in title bouts. Rocky Marciano beat a smooth boxer in Ezzard Charles, a great counter-puncher in Jersey Joe Walcott and a great boxer-puncher in Archie Moore in title bouts. And when it was all said and done, Rocky’s unrelenting pressure and aggression forced all three to wilt and fade down the stretch of their bouts.
Roberto Duran was one of the greatest lightweight champions and pound-for-pound fighters in history. As a lightweight he overwhelmed every boxer, counter-puncher and big banger he fought. Roberto had great head and upper body movement and the stamina to bring it non-stop for 15 rounds. Julio Cesar Chavez beat world class fighters and champions between 130-140 by working the body and applying bell-to-bell pressure. “Smokin” Joe Frazier was the greatest pressure fighter in heavyweight history and defeated Muhammad Ali in the biggest and most celebrated fight ever. Mike Tyson was also a great attacker and went on to be the youngest undisputed heavyweight champion ever.
Fighters who are great at fighting that style have the stylistic advantage over “boxers,” counter-punchers” and in some cases, depending on how good their chin and stamina is, “boxer-punchers,” too. Their pressure doesn’t give good boxers the time or space they need to move and box. Good pressure fighters don’t give counter-punchers anything to counter because they’re usually on defense, which disrupts the counters via high volume punching. And in many cases a good pressure fighter will get inside on the boxer-puncher and keep them fighting on their heels and take their balance thus reducing their long-range/outside power. In fact the only style the the pressure fighter is at a style disadvantage is against the knockout puncher, who is too dangerous to carry the fight against.
Granted, most pressure fighters are short and tend to be a little challenged when it comes to their reach (yet there are exceptions like Sandy Saddler). They also must posses endless stamina and a grade-A chin. If they love to fight that’s a plus and with a semblance of punching power they should be good to go. And since so many upper-tier fighters and title holders occupying the top spots in most of the divisions today are counter-punchers, for the life of me I can’t figure out why there is such a dearth of fighters who can bring it and fight as the effective aggressor from bell-to-bell while cutting off the ring.
Today, pressure fighters move their feet forward and eat lefts and rights for 10 or 12 rounds looking for the perfect opening. That’s nothing more than ineffective aggression which allows commentators to label them the aggressor, which is totally incorrect. Real pressure fighters dictate the tempo and usually the outcome with their none stop attack – forcing the opponent to look for an air tank so they can survive the fight if they’re not stopped before the final bell.
The absence of legitimate pressure fighters is impossible to overlook today.
Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com