Counterattack tactics with side movements in boxing

Associate Professor, PhD A.A. Romashov1
Associate Professor, PhD O.B. Malkov1
A.O. Zvezdova1
1Russian State University of Justice, Moscow

Keywords: boxing tactics, side steps, counterattack, coordination, tactical goals, punch line, punch trigger moment.

Background. Side shuffles are widely applied in the boxing footwork in defenses and counterattacks [7, 8]. Mastering of the technique may be problematic for many athletes due to the fast transition from defense maneuvering to the controlled attack on the move, with the side step combined with a punch in an integrated biomechanical sequence to attain different technical and tactical goals. It should be mentioned that the side shuffles with counterattacks are getting increasingly popular in the modern elite boxing sport [7], and this is the reason why a special priority needs to be given to the side stepping component of a dynamic attack [4] in the excellence education and training systems.

Objective of the study was to theoretically analyze benefits of the side step counterattacking tactics in modern elite boxing sport.

Study methods. Expert analysis of the modern boxing tactics with an emphasis on the success aspects was used as the key method of the study [5, 6] based on replays of the top-ranking professional boxing matches.

Study findings and discussion. Tactically, a counterattacking side shuffle is designed to move aside of the opponent’s attack line exactly at its starts, knowing that a premature side step gives time to the attacker to regroup, stop or retarget the attack, whilst a late side step is often punished with a missed punch. It is important that the move should be perfectly timed to the peak of inertia of the opponent when he is unable to retarget the punch line. The time when the opponent slows down the attack to retarget the punch after the side step is the most beneficial for a counterattack. This fight situation may be provoked by the boxer to tempt the opponent into attack and respond by a counterattack at the right moment.

Such counterattack is normally the most successful when the opponent is tricked into a full-power attack [1, 2] by a tactical mechanisms geared to provoke the attack by a fake passive defense/ retreat at the moment of punch. In every encounter the opponent needs to decide if the attack should be continued, adjusted, stopped or completed. Having made the decision to complete the attack, the attacker is normally unable to revise the decision on the fly regardless of the opponent’s actions. The retreat footwork should tempt the attacker to crush defenses by decisive punch(s), and this mindset and inertia provides an excellent opportunity for a side shuffle step with a counterattack. The fighter countered by an unexpected side step and driven by inertia needs time to slow down, regroup and retarget, and this switchover gives a great advantage to the opponent. Generally, the fight situation may be classified into the following stages: (1) the opponent slows down; (2) regroups or retargets the attack; and (3) finds ways to defend from or respond the counterattack. These are the three elements of advantage given by a perfectly timed side stepping footwork. 

Let us now consider the situation of a premature side step when the attacker’s inertia is still not high enough and he may easily retarget the attack being fully charged for the punch. In this case the side stepping maneuver totally fails since the attacker needs no time for revision of the attack line and may make necessary minor adjustment to the move.

The maneuvering (side stepping) counterattack skills may be problematic for the athletes whose trainings are dominated by standard-position punches for they need to not only master the maneuvering counterattack skills but also perfectly time them to the opponent’s actions on the peaks of the encounters [3]. The boxers who are gifted with maneuvering attack skills (with the punches on the move and side shuffles to attain one or another tactical goal – e.g. threat, provoke, block the attack etc.) are normally well fit for the side stepping counterattacks.

Prior to the side stepping counterattack mastering drills, the boxer should be well trained to punch on the move to demonstrate excellent footwork and distance control skills with a versatile toolkit of jumps, dodges, retreats etc.; albeit it should be mentioned that the side stepping counterattack skills may be still difficult for the shaped-up highly skilled boxers. Tactical goal of the side-stepping footwork is to move aside from the attack line or punch trajectory as it is sometimes called. The movement shall be perfectly timed to the opponent’s peak of inertia and combined with a counter punch so as to bypass the punch trajectory or closely follow the punch; and these three elements of the movement sequence with the three focuses of attention require special qualities and skills for success.

Conclusion. The study data and analyses demonstrate that success of the side stepping footwork with counterattack heavily depends to the action timing, and for success the athlete shall:

– Perfectly time the action to the moment when the opponent fully charges forward and unable to regroup or stop;

– Provoke the opponent into a full-power attack to catch the right moment on the peak of his inertia;

– Perfectly trace the start of the attack and respond with a side stepping ideally timed counterattack – knowing that a tracing error or premature side step gives time for the attacker to regroup, stop or retarget the action; and

– Disguise the side stepping sequence (for the opponent to see no threat and interpret it as defense only) to hide the counterattack and tempt the attacker into a defense-crushing full-power charge.


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  2. Gozhin V.V., Malkova O.B. Teoreticheskie osnovy taktiki v sportivnykh edinoborstvakh [Theoretical bases of tactics in combat sports]. Textbook. Moscow: Fizkultura i sport publ.. 2008. 232 p.
  3. Malkov O.B., Romashov A.A. Printsipialnye razlichiya v taktike primeneniya boevykh deystviy po samoprikazu i po puskovyim signalam v bokse i tkhekvondo [Key differences in combat tactics, action triggers and self-commands in taekwondo and boxing]. Teoriya i praktika fiz. kultury, 2018. no. 7, pp. 56-58.
  4. Malkov O.B., Kalashnikov M.Yu. Takticheskie kharakteristiki alternativnogo vypolneniya starta pri nanesenii udara i zakryitiya ataki v edinoborstvakh [Tactical characteristics of alternative start when striking a blow and finishing attack in martial arts]. Teoriya i praktika fiz. kultury, 2015, no. 9, pp.75-77.
  5. Romashov A.A., Malkov O.B., Zvezdova A.O. Problema effektivnosti i slozhnosti primeneniya bokovogo manevra dlya provedeniya vstrechnoy ataki v bokse [Problem of effectiveness and difficulty of side maneuver in counter attack in boxing]. Boevye iskusstva i sportivnye edinoborstva: nauka, praktika, vospitanie [Martial arts and martial arts: science, practice, education]. Proc. III nat. res. practical Conference with international participation. Moscow, September 21, 2018. pp. 194-196.

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Tactical benefits of a range of side steps are sport-specific in the array of modern martial arts. The side shuffle footwork in modern boxing is mostly defensive and intended to partially support the dynamic attacks and counterattacks. Side movements are generally senseless in the situations when the opponent keeps punching from distance and keeps the range by retreats to avoid a close fight. Side shuffle steps are basically designed to complicate focusing for the opponent and attain different attack line distraction related tactical goals. Multiple side/ diagonal moves are also intended to imbalance and disharmonize the opponents’ favorite combat patterns, complicate the range-finding and punching in the encounter, and disrupt the opponents’ attacks and footwork on the whole. When the immediate tactical goals are attained as required by the own fight plan and tactics, the side shuffles may significantly contribute to success of the counterattacks. The article overviews and summarized the tactics, logics and mechanisms of the side stepping counterattacks in modern boxing.