How To Set And Control The Pace In Boxing

Hot to set and control pace in boxing

Setting the pace is often a term you will hear often when we talk about any race. Whether you are running 1500 meters on the track, winning points in a league, specific businesses, or even countries trying to keep up with one another in terms of growth. 

In most cases, the one that is at the front in a race is who controls how fast the other racers have to go

In the case of boxing, it is usually the one who sets and controls the pace, who will win the fight. And is probably one of the most important aspects when you are in the ring if you wish to win. 

In this article, I’m going to dissect this factor and give examples of setting the pace in a fight and how the best in the sport use this to win fights and control them. 

This should help those that box themselves or those that watch and want to understand the importance of this. 

You can watch my video version or continue reading below:

The style of the fighter 

The first thing I want to address is very important. Depending on your style of fighting, could determine how you set or control the pace. 

If you are an aggressive pressure fighter, your forward footwork, slipping of punches, and inside fighting are going to be key. 

On the other hand, if you are someone who likes to fight on the outside and prefers counter punching. It is much more about controlling the pace in most cases. Such as using feints, jabs, and intelligent quick footwork. 

(I recommend you check out my article on 7 types of boxing fighting styles if you are unsure).

Now just like with anything in life, there are polar opposites to everything, night/day, sun/moon, male/female.  Or to give a more boxing analogy – “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee“. 

You can be dominant in one style, but it’s important to know your weaknesses, so you can counteract other styles of fighting. Especially those that fight at a fast pace. 

Even better, you can add a bit of both, as this will help you to set the pace for each style you come up against. 

But let’s look at both sides of pacing. 

Aggressive Fighter Pacing 

7 Types of Boxing Fighting Styles

Now for fighters that like to take more of the initiative, this is usually an easier way to show to the judges that you are setting the pace of the fight. Due to the forward momentum and also the volume of your punches when up close on the inside. 

This can be horrible for some styles of fighters, as from the first round they can’t keep up with the pace or have weak/slower footwork, poor counter punching, or lack of inside fighting ability. Leading to a quick knockout. 

Typically this is more pressure, swarmer, and brawler styles that like to fight this way and it definitely is a more obvious way to set the pace. However, how many times have you seen a guy overcommit himself too early and gas out fighting this way? 

You need to be able to pace this aggressiveness for you to continue applying this pressure or the roles could reverse over time if the fighter gets a second wind. Just think of fights such as Ali vs Foreman, Joshua vs Klitschko, or Pavlik vs Taylor.

Examples of aggressive pacings

But to help you out, here are some good examples of aggressive pacing. 

Julio Cesar Chavez

Julio Cesar Chavez’s whole style was based on applying pressure on his opponent.

​​Perhaps the most important aspect of his boxing style was his forward pressure. He would relentlessly suffocate his opponent with constant forward movement that would disrupt their game. Outside fighters tried to keep their distance, but sooner or later Chavez got close to their world.

While the classic boxing motto is hit and not get hit, Chavez and other swarmers swear by the seek and destroy.

Don’t think that he rushed recklessly forward though. He would always move in a forward weave, ready to slip or duck a punch at any time. There was an end goal of the pressure to ensnare each opponent into his own game – infighting. Here he would eventually break them down thoroughly. (See in action below.

Julio Cesar Chavez Applying Pressure

Gennady Golovkin

Another good modern example of aggressive pressure is Golovkin. Who would use his high pace by using a stiff hard jab to help push opponents back toward the ropes?

While also making sure he was always in a position (within mid-range) of his opponent. This was so he could quickly and efficiently cut off the ring and fight at this range so he could throw those powerful punches while continuing his high-pressure pace. See this in action below:

Golovkin cuttting off the ring

However, despite these two examples above. You need to be careful not to outpace yourself as you can very quickly run out of energy if your cardio level is where it should be. This is where you sometimes often see the fight flip on its head. E.g. Pavlik vs Taylor.

Out-fighter / Counter Puncher Pacing 

Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. Fighters who like to fight on the outside and focus more on defense can also very much set the pace or control it. Think of it like Matador and Bull.

It’s about reacting to the opponent’s movement and rhythm. Great counterpunchers or even-out boxers are mainly known to control the pace through their jab or lead hand. As their opponent tries to close the distance they are using their lead to jab catch hook or counter with the backhand. 

Usually, they also have very good linear and lateral footwork to help them get out of the way. If they stick and move. This is even better! 

If an aggressive fighter constantly has to chase them down and is not landing shots, it can be extremely tiring and frustrating as they can throw unnecessary shots and even sometimes get countered rushing in. If they are not in any way intelligent coming into range through things like upper body movement or feints. They could get hurt badly. See an example of Devin Haney doing this vs Kambosos below.

Let’s look at some further good examples below now.

Floyd Mayweather Jr

Probably the ultimate fighter doing this was, of course, Floyd Mayweather. A good fight to watch is his first fight with Maidana (see below), all he had to do was use his lead hand and footwork to control the pace.

If you watch the clips below you can see Maidana is trying to push the pace by closing the distance, but for the most part, keeps getting caught with the variation of Floyd’s lead hand. 

Where is it going to land next? Head or Body? Will it be a hook next? This causes indecision and hesitation from Maidana, therefore Floyd sets and controls the fight. 

Floyd was a brilliant example of controlling the pace to suit him, sometimes he would look at the clock, to see how much time he had left in the round. He knew exactly how to pace himself for all his fights. 

This is obviously very hard to master something like this, it takes lots of experience very good ring IQ, and awareness to get to this level. See Mayweather Jr in action below.

Mayweather controlling Maidana with the lead hand

Terence Crawford

Another brilliant fighter at controls the pace is Terence Crawford, in his fight vs Viktor Postol. In the fight, he really dictated the pace through his lead, feints, and movement. While Postol go frustrated closing distance trying to land the punch, he upped his pace.

He would come into range and get caught with Crawford’s backhand power shot. From here Crawford was able to fight at the pace he wanted to. His great use of rhythm and timing with his punches made Postol under control of what Crawford wanted to do. See in action below.

Changing pace

canelo changing pace

Now a fighter who I think does a good job of combing both high and slow paces is Canelo Alvarez. The Mexican in more recent years has liked to start fights at a very high pace, especially against more defensively-minded boxers like Saunders and Caleb Plant

He will close you down using his high guard defense waiting for the opportunity to counter with power shots. Naturally, as the rounds go on, this will no doubt tire you out and this is where Canelo will sometimes take a slight break in some rounds to go on the back foot.

He usually liked to lie on the ropes (play possum) and this would give him an opportunity to counterpunch with some big and well-timed shots. It would also cause some hesitation from his opponent having to change the pace and attack Canelo.

Now, this could obviously be seen as a negative against better opposition as they know he may do this at some point in the fight.

But as much as Canelo may be seen taking a break, he is still able to compose himself being able to bounce back in most cases and start applying that pressure to get the knockout. See below.

Canelo drops Liam Smith 3 times

Some other really good examples of varying pace include Sugar Ray Leonard would use of dazzling footwork on the outside. Before quickly changing his pace closing the distance with quick fast explosive punches.

Someone like Marvin Hagler was very good at changing his rhythm through his use of feints and the timing of his perfectly placed punches.

What can I do to set the pace in a fight? 

Now a lot of this comes down to your ability, stamina, Ring IQ, and experience. If you are in Amateur boxing you will know that you have to fight at quite a high pace. Because there are only three to four rounds, there is not much time to prove to the judges why you should win the fight.

Whereas professional boxing is a lot slower and they build themselves into a fight. But in most cases, you should try to fight at a high pace early on or at least try to dictate it.

What can you do to improve this area? 

Why boxers run

The first thing to consider physically improving yourself is your cardio. This is so key if want to be able to maintain the pace whether this is amateur or professional boxing. You need to be able to fight at that high pace, slower pace or changing pace throughout a fight.

If you are unsure how to improve this area the first thing I recommend you need to do is to start getting in your roadwork. This will obviously help build up your stamina to prepare you for sparring and competition. But not just doing 3-5 mile runs, you need to introduce interval training on top of this. Adding in a quick sprint burst with a 1min rest then a sprint again

Best boxing head guards for sparring review

You can also do interval training with the heavy bag too, doing light soft punches before quickly using explosive power punches on the bag. 

Overall this will help your overall cardio. Once this is built up you need to start working on your footwork and punch timing. This will help to discourage your opponent with your movement or counterpunching.

It is then obviously important for a fighter to try this out in sparring. As this helps you better able to develop and change the level of your pace before real competition.

Another vital aspect is understanding your rhythm, as this can help you better understand the movements of your opponent so you can exploit them.

I hope this article has helped you understand the importance of setting and controlling the pace of the fight depending on what style of fighting you or a fighter is.

*I do recommend you watch the video at the top of this article to give you more visual cues.

I recommend you check out some more useful boxing technique articles below:

Jamie - Boxing Life

I'm a boxing analyst, amateur boxer, and blogger looking to pass on my boxing experiences and passion to anyone looking to learn or find out more about the sport of boxing. Whether that be gear reviews, fighter analysis, news, training tips, or my own personal journey, I'll be covering it on 'Boxing Life'.

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