A Master-Class From Orlando Canizales

BY Lee Wylie ON April 04, 2013
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Orlando CanizalesHe may have been overshadowed by the likes of Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker, but throughout the late eighties and early nineties, former bantamweight kingpin Orlando Canizales was one of the world’s best fighters and, in this writer’s opinion, is one of the most underappreciated technicians of all time. At his best, Canizales’ level of skill and technique were truly breathtaking. Here, I’d like to take a brief look at some of his technical intricacies that led to him becoming one of my favorite fighters to study and enjoy watching on film.

It should be noted that although I will be dividing this analysis into specific categories (counterpunching, combination punching, angles, etc.) some of the examples I’ll be using here are actually broad enough to fall under another category.

Counterpunching

Quite simply, Orlando Canizales was the epitome of a defensive-offensive fighter and nowhere was this more apparent than in his counterpunching ability. A master of parrying and countering, evading and countering and also simultaneously evading and countering, Canizales was highly proficient in drawing out an opponent’s attack and taking advantage of the resulting opening.

Orlando Canizales

By placing his rear hand by the side of his head and away from his chin, Canizales has presented his opponent with an illusionary target (1st still). Taking the bait, his opponent throws a jab, only for Canizales to parry it down using his rear hand. Next, as his opponent steps in with a straight right, Canizales slips outside the blow (elbow side) and counters with a left hook to the body, sending his opponent to the canvas. By avoiding the right hand in this way –allowing the right hand to sail over the right shoulder—Canizales not only took away both of his opponent’s hands, but also created a perfect opening for a left hook to the body. This is counterpunching at its finest.

canizales 44 1 2013Here’s Canizales fading and countering with a right cross as his opponent’s jab is travelling back home. Notice how Canizales’ rear heel is raised. This does three things. 1) It allows him to sway his upper body back without having to move his feet, 2) allows him to push off his rear foot, giving him greater drive in transferring his body weight back onto his front foot as he’s throwing the cross, 3) it gives his opponent a false sense of range.

Orlando CanizalesIn this sequence, Canizales dips low, slips outside of his opponent’s jab, and counters with a sharp right cross. What I really like about this sequence in particular, is the way in which Canizales weaves out to his right after landing his counter right hand. Regardless of the fact that his opponent is kind of flailing with his counter left after being tagged, what this sequence shows is just how defensively responsible Canizales was immediately after punching. This is something Amir Khan should make special note of.

Orlando CanizalesHere, using his rear hand, Canizales parries his opponent’s jab to the inside and counters with a double jab-right cross combination. Although the jabs of Canizales didn’t land with any real authority, they still did their job –forcing the opponent to back up in a straight line and to set up the more damaging, final blow of the combination, the right hand.

Let’s take one final look at Canizales’ superior counterpunching.

Orlando CanizalesHere’s an example of Canizales using footwork and deception to induce his opponent into reacting in a certain way. First, Canizales feints with a slight level change (2nd still) before taking a half-step back (3rd still). As Canizales comes forward (4th still) and repeats the level change (5th still), his opponent reacts, opening himself up for a counter right hand in the process. By luring his opponent into committing an offensive action, Canizales created a clear path for his right hand. Again, this is elite-level counterpunching.

Entering

If a fighter can continually gain entry without being hit by his/her opponent in the process, chances of victory will increase considerably. Using feints, anticipatory upper body movement and imaginative footwork, Canizales was capable of breeching his opponent’s range almost at will.

canizales 44 5 2013Stepping in from the outside, Canizales dips low and feints with a jab. As his opponent attempts to parry the perceived low jab, Canizales counters up top with a right cross, then exits off of the original line of engagement. As I mentioned earlier, although I’m using this sequence as an example of Canizales’ ability to enter into range without being hit, this could also be seen as an example of Canizales’ counterpunching aptitude –feinting with the low jab to draw a rear hand parry, which in turn, leaves an opening for a right cross.

canizales 44 6 2013Again, Canizales is looking to enter from the outside. Up on his toes, Canizales suddenly drops low (giving his opponent the impression that he is indeed going to attack low) before connecting up top with a stepping-in overhand right. Notice how Canizales has taken his head away from the centerline as he connects. Should his opponent have attempted a counter, or indeed, decided to punch with Canizales during the attack, he would likely have missed due to Canizales’ superior positioning and his lack thereof.

Here’s another example of the same concept.

Rolando CanizalesIn this sequence, both Canizales and his opponent launch their attack simultaneously. Most of the time, a jab (boxing’s longest and most direct weapon) will reach its target well before any looping or arcing punch will. However, by taking his head away from the centerline, Canizales connects and forces his opponent, whose head remains static and upright, to miss.

Guard manipulation

In boxing, basic techniques will not land with any regularity unless a fighter can do something which forces the opponent to present them with openings. We’ve already talked about baiting an opponent into opening up by using feints and evasive maneuvers like slipping, but yet another way to do this is by hitting the gloves of an opponent from an angle (from the inside to the outside or vice versa) so as to, for a split second, create a small opening in which to land something worthwhile. Needless to say, Canizales had this technique down pat too.

canizales 44 8 2013Here, Canizales slaps his opponent’s lead glove to the inside, so as to create an opening for his own lead hand. Similarly to a rear hand parry, Canizales uses his rear hand to remove his opponent’s lead hand (opposite hand, but same side). The difference between this and a regular parry, however, is that Canizales is not actually trying to block or deflect an incoming shot. Rather, he’s trying to create an opening by removing his opponent’s guard.

Below, we have another example of Canizales manipulating his opponent’s guard.

Orlando Canizales

In this sequence, Canizales fires his left hand upwards, knocking his opponent’s rear glove out of the way. With his opponent’s defensive guard severely compromised, Canizales fires in two more blows –a right cross and a left hook to the body (although not shown in the still, the latter blow from Canizales dropped his opponent).

Angles

One of the main aims for any fighter should be to acquire a dominant angle of attack over their opponent. A fighter will always have the advantage if they are able to take up a position from which they can hit their opponent but their opponent is out of position to hit them back effectively. Using masterful footwork that, quite frankly, ranks among the best I’ve seen in a boxing ring, Canizales was simply brilliant at taking himself off of the original line of attack before blindsiding his opponents from a different angle.

canizales 44 10 2013

As Canizales looks to enter, he performs an outside slip, simultaneously parrying his opponent’s lead to the inside. In doing so, Canizales steps through, bringing his rear leg forward and to the outside of his opponent, securing a dominant angle from which to attack him from. As his opponent turns to face him, Canizales connects with a left hook.

Orlando CanizalesBoth fighters are looking to engage at close quarters. Suddenly, Canizales skips to his right, transfers his weight back over onto his left leg, and lands a left hook. Notice how Canizales’ opponent’s hips are pointing away from Canizales (3rd still), whereas Canizales’ hips are locked on his opponent. As far as fighting from an angle goes, this is just about as good as it gets.

Here is Canizales angling off his rear uppercut.

canizales 44 12 2013As Canizales steps in and lands a rear uppercut, he follows through with his rear leg (his right leg now replaces his left leg as his lead until he turns back the other way) and pivots his upper body back toward his opponent. This gives Canizales the superior outside position and allows him to hit his opponent with a left hook while his opponent is in no position to hit him back effectively without having to turn and face him.

canizales 44 13 2013

With his back to the ropes, Canizales angles off his right hand (side-stepping to his right) then transfers his weight back over onto his left leg. In this more advantageous position, Canizales can throw a left uppercut followed by a right cross, just as his opponent is turning to face him.

Combination punching

Along with the likes of Joe Louis, Ray Robinson, Jose Napoles, Julio Cesar Chavez and Juan Manuel Marquez, I consider Orlando Canizales to be one of the finest practitioners of combination punching that I’ve seen (yes, I believe he was that good at it). Sure, others have hit with more power, and others may have rallied off their combinations with more speed, but in terms of economy of motion, directness, allowing each punch to flow naturally into the next and the thought process behind each punch, Canizales was one of the best.

Rather than use stills as I’ve done throughout this piece, I thought it would be better to finish off this analysis by highlighting Canizales’ combination punching using a fantastic highlight package by ZeffieTowers2. Although his combination punching features prominently throughout the video, the best examples of it (particularly punching around an opponent’s guard and varying the beat between punches), take place somewhere around the 4:08 mark. In fact, the video will also give you a clearer understanding of his tempo changes, sudden shifts and explosiveness, all of which are nigh on impossible to do justice using stills alone.

So there you have it. My thoughts on one of the most underrated craftsman that boxing’s ever seen. All that’s left to do now is to sit back, and enjoy a master technician at work.

Comment on this article

bigstinkybug says:

[COLOR="#800000">*There was a time when he was coming into the gym..oh, back in 85 or so..him and his brother. His brother was a bad muthfka too..Gabby. There was a fighter, one of my favorites, ..his name was Richie Sandoval. Man, i thought that guy was gold..and he was. He beat Jeff Chandler for Chandlers title... Then he faced Gabby Canizales. To date, it was the most devastating demolishion of an up and coming fighter i've ever seen. Sandoval was the goods..and Gabby ended his career in one fight..just demolished Richie.

i also remember Gabby fighting Jose Naplois... man, i wish i had film of that... what a fight.

Orlando was very technical..a real pro... BUT Gabby was dynamic!

the Roast says:

This article had me with the 'voices of Ryan and Clancey' graphic in the bottom of those pics. I remember that fight well bigstinkybug. Gabby ruined Sandoval that night. Wrecked him. Damn near killed him. That was on the undercard of Hagler-Mugabi along with Hearns KO1 of the late James "Black Gold" Shuler. '86 I think. Watched the card at a racetrack on closed circuit. Great night.

bigstinkybug says:

[COLOR="#800000">wow... i didn't remember that that was the card... what a card, now that u think about it... U have to be a fan to remember Sandoval and Chandler...Man , Sandolval was technically sound and Gabby killed him... i once hit the bag next to Gabby... he hit that heavy bag HARD for 3 round... real tough hombre...

i remember Shuler... i remember when he fought James Kitchen ..the winner would get a title fight against Hearns... wow, that was ur reward... Hearns.

ALSO... no one ever talks about it..but,It's always been my opinion that Mugabi took alot out of Hagler... man, that was a brutal fight...

the Roast says:

I really liked Joltin Jeff Chandler. He had a good run in the early '80s. That lady manager of his, KO Becky O'Neil, was quite a character.

That was one helluva card looking back on it. I think you are right, Mugabi did take alot out of Hagler that night but Mugabi was never the same. I'll never understand why Micky Duff took the #1 rated jr middleweight 26-0(26 KOs), and threw him in with one of the best middleweights of all time. Mugabi hit Hagler with everything he had but it wasn't enough. Mugabi never got his confidence back after that fight.

Sandoval never fought again after that night and neither did James Shuler. He crashed his motorcycle about a week after the loss to Hearns and died. A fateful night indeed.

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