Inside Straight: The Body Punchers

Inside Straight – I collapsed helplessly into the fetal position. I’m sure I would have yelled in pain, but my lungs were completely devoid of air, and I was too busy writhing in agony to do anything else. For what seemed like three hours (it was 20 seconds), I laid on the mat squirming. I had just been introduced to the liver shot.—Matthew Swain, theguardian.

Abner Mares takes a great deal of heat for his inability to tell the difference between the liver and the testicles.—Swain

“When Sam [Langford] hit me to the body, I looked behind me to see if his fist had come out the other side—Harry Wills

Whether a withering left hook from Culiacan, an “inside straight” from Buenos Aires or a rib-breaking right hand from Roy Jones Jr., body punching remains an essential part of an offensive attack. One that is strategic and committed can break an iron will.

Early on, Bob Fitzsimmons was a tremendous body puncher and is credited with inventing the solar plexus punch. He gave Gus Ruhlin such a beating that Gus suffered from stomach problems until the day he died. Had anyone but Wyatt Earp been the referee, Fitzsimmons would have defeated Tom Sharkey with a body shot in 1896. (Earp inexplicably disqualified Fitz – but nobody else at ringside or anywhere else saw a foul.)

Later, Henry Armstrong, Tony Zale, Jake LaMotta, and Jose Torres demonstrated the art of going downstairs. The Cus D’Amato-trained Torres’s knockdown of Willie Pastrano in 1965 at Madison Square Garden was a classic as Torres conducted a clinic on body punching.

More recently, Joe Frazier (known for his double left hook to the head and body), Alexis Arguello (who used it in multi-punch combinations), Mike “The Bodysnatcher” McCallum (they were his signature), Vasily Jirov, Pernell Whitaker, Marco Antonio Barrera, Julio Cesar Chavez (the very definition of the inside straight who invested so many shots downstairs that his opponents often were gassed by the late rounds), Ricky Hatton (using great angles), and the subtle Roberto Duran showed the way. 

Pinoy Gerry Penalosa’s KO of heavy-handed Jhonny Gonzalez in 2007 still has aficionados buzzing for its delayed action effect.  Thomas Hearns’s body work on James Shuler was one of the most savage ever witnessed and set up the undefeated Philadelphian for a clean right-hand knockout. Hearns was a vicious puncher to the body, and the punches he drilled Iran Barkley with in their first fight were incredibly hard. However, the fact Barkley could withstand them was equally incredible. And at his best, Sugar Shane Mosley threw body shots with the baddest of intentions. Early in his career Jose Louis Castillo worked with his legendary countryman Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., learning how important it is to work hard downstairs, and nobody worked harder than the Lion of Culiacan.

Today, Leo Santa Cruz, Gennady Golovkin, Miguel Cotto, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Lucien Bute go downstairs with lethal regularity. Lucas Matthysse still uses “a rocket propelled grenade” as one of his tools for setting up blows to the head.

Canelo Alvarez and Chocolatito Gonzalez  are fearsome gut-crunchers with Alvarez using wider hooks, one at a time, to break down smaller opponents while Gonzalez pinpoints close-in shots in combinations to break down all opponents.

Irish Micky Ward

“They [the HBO Announcing Team] ripped me apart [before taking out Sanchez]…And all due respect, they had reason because of the way I was fighting. But some of the things they said, I was like, ‘You get in there and try it.'”—Ward

For a laser-like shot that could end a fight at any time including the last second of the last round, Irish Micky Ward was somewhat in the minority (along with Jirov and MaCallum). Unlike most “in-close” combatants, he did not methodically wear down opponents with a two-fisted body attack ala Chavez as much as he often put them away with one clean shot that he launched at the most opportune time. Louis Veader, Emanuel Augustus, Steve Quinonez, Shea Neary, Reggie Green, Alfonso Sanchez and even Arturo Gatti all felt the impact of that fake hook upstairs-and-quick-slice-to-the-liver. My personal favorite is the one Ward used to take out the heavily favored Sanchez.  It came out of nowhere and it shut up the HBO crew as fast as you can say “Foot in Mouth.” Here is the 7th round and it, along with the commentary, is something to behold:

Reversing the norm, Mike Tyson was effective throwing a hook to the body and then letting loose with a hook upstairs with the other hand.

Eugene “Silent” Hairston (1947-1952)

Eugene “Silent” Hairston (45-13-5) was an extremely active and talented boxer who did his best work inside. A big fan favorite in the 50s, some said he had the style to give Sugar Ray a run for his money. He fought 18 times alone in 1951 providing many opportunities on television to see him employ his magic where he always committed to body punching, exposing him to the attendant risk of counters as he strategically broke his opponents down.

 Hairston’s opposition reads like a Hall of Fame induction list. Among his many accomplishments, he drew with Jake LaMotta and Robert Villemain, beat Kid Gavilan, Laurent Dauthuille, Paul Pender, Lee Sala  (61-1 coming in), stopped Paddy Young and sent Charley Zivic into retirement.  

 The thing was, “Silent” was deaf, though he never asked for special accommodations. Ironically and sadly, an eye injury forced him to give up boxing at age twenty-two and he never got an opportunity to win a world title or at least to fight the great Sugar Ray.

 But no one could quite fight in the trenches like “Silent.”

 This splendid YouTube provides a variety of entertaining shots to the body.


Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records. He enjoys writing about boxing.