Left-handed athletes have been dreaded in many sports for decades. With just around 10% of the world’s population naturally left-handed, their percentage in sports is even lower. In fighting, lefties are called southpaws and are often avoided or feared by right-handed fighters, also known as orthodox. But do Southpaws really have an advantage? How to beat them as an orthodox boxer?
In the end, а fight can be won by either fighter, but the strategies and tactics for fighting southpaws have been created, tested, and well-documented. All that we need to do is learn them and use them effectively.
Is the Southpaw advantage real or a myth?
Southpaws have a reputation for being a nightmare for orthodox fighters, and this reputation has been well earned. When both boxers use the same stance with the same foot in front (the left in the case of orthodox and the right with southpaws), the stance they are in is called a closed stance. In a closed stance, the targets are smaller and better defended, and the angles of attack are closed.
When the fighters are in opposite stances (one is orthodox, the other is a southpaw), then they are considered to be in an open stance. This opens up the body and head for the opponent’s powerful side and generally makes landing the rear hand easier. The angles from which punches come and the movement patterns change quite drastically in an open stance. But if this is the case, then both the orthodox and southpaw fighters should be on even ground and have the same possibilities, right?
On paper, this is true. But in reality, it’s almost never the case. Left-handed boxers are much rarer than right-handed ones, and each southpaw has infinitely more experience fighting in an open stance. This is where the southpaw advantage comes from. They are just used to fighting orthodox fighters all the time, while the opposite is rarely the case. In fact, southpaws often have a much harder time against fellow lefties than against orthodox just because they have less experience dealing with them.
The southpaw advantage is just that—an advantage, not a certain outcome. On the higher levels of boxing, especially, elite fighters are prepared to face everything, and each training camp is done with specific game plans for a specific opponent, which negates that advantage.
The basic tactics when fighting a southpaw
Get your front foot to the outside
The single most important thing you must do to have an advantage over a southpaw is to get your lead foot on the outside of his lead foot. This means your left foot is outside of his right foot. The fighter who has the outside position also controls the ring and has a perfect line to land his rear straight and lead hook. Conversely, the fighter on the inside is in a much worse position to land his own punches. See the example above with T-Line.
The bad part about fighting southpaws is that they are likely better than you at obtaining the outside position of the lead foot because this is their main tactic against all orthodox fighters. This is part of the southpaw advantage we’ve already discussed.
The battle for foot positioning will be a deciding factor in any match with a southpaw. If he is not good at it, you will have it easy, just walk into the outside position you want to be in. If he is more experienced, this won’t work, and you have a couple of other options for getting there. The first is to use punches to occupy him and then move into the outside position. The other option is to slip outside or duck away from a right jab or hook.
Remember, having your left foot on the outside of the southpaw’s right foot is the most important tactic you can employ, but it is not the only one.
Move to the left
Positional advantage is critical in boxing, and the general rule is to always move away from the opponent’s power punches coming from his rear side. When fighting a southpaw, this means that you should move to the left. This is also easier with your lead foot on the outside. Moving to the left entails actively circling in that direction, taking you away from your opponents’ powerful punches and lining up your own right hand.
Coupling the movement to the left with jabs is even better. There is no need to commit to the jab too much, as southpaws are usually better at this game, but putting the jab out there will steer his attention away from your movement and right hands. Defensive movements like slipping and dipping to the outside are also excellent ways to move left.
Moving to only one side gets predictable, and you can mix directions from time to time, but by circling left, you take away the southpaw’s power punch, leaving him only with a right jab and hook.
Control the lead hand
Fighting in an open stance places the lead hands of both fighters in line, which creates a clash similar to a sword duel. The fighter who manages to secure the top position has the upper hand and can jab and punch easier. If your hand is under the southpaw’s lead hand, yours is jammed, and it becomes hard to throw a good jab or a left hook.
Defending against the southpaw
The southpaw left
The most important thing you should look for is the southpaws left. This is his prime and most dangerous weapon, which he will try to use at every opportunity. It comes from an awkward angle, especially if you’re not used to it. Slipping to the outside of the left cross is excellent, but this is easier said than done. Counter the left over the top with your own cross once you get the timing.
The right jab can be a nuisance, but most southpaws rely on their left more than they do on the jab. Still, if he manages to win the lead-hand position battle, you may be stung by a lot of jabs. Like with the left, the best option is to slip to the outside and come back with a left hook of your own.
Your left hook can be made even better by adding a clockwise pivot. Pivoting around your lead foot and to the back of the opponent puts you in an excellent position against southpaws and is another way of moving to the left. If you time an incoming jab correctly, you can end up completely behind the opponent.
The Southpaw right hook is also a very dangerous weapon. Some are very good at feinting a jab and turning it into a right hook. Oftentimes, your lead hand will be straightened to control his, so be prepared to duck under the right hook instead of trying to block.
Attacking the southpaw
Variations of the right
Just like the southpaw’s left is his greatest asset, the right serves the same purpose for orthodox fighters. The angle for the right is wide open, and if you secure the outside lead foot position, the punches become even more powerful. The key here is to use variations. Throw straights to the head and body. Mix up the straights with overhands, they have a very good chance of landing over the guard. Add in a few right hooks, and keep him guessing what is coming at all times.
Some coaches advise against leading with the rear hand, but when fighting a southpaw, leading with the right or starting combinations with it is a good strategy. The right cross is also a very good counter to the southpaw jab done with a small lean to the left. Another very powerful variation of the right is the uppercut to the body, used both as a counter and as a part of a combination.
Finding a home for your jab against lefties is not always easy, but if you double or triple the jab while stepping to your left, you will move in the right direction, distract the opponent, and set up the right hand all at the same time. Jabbing the body of a southpaw is unlikely to hurt him, but it is also a good way of setting up the right straight or overhand.
Orthodox fighters usually have better lead hooks than their southpaw counterparts, and there are a few ways to use them. As mentioned in the defense paragraph, the left hook can be landed as a counter to a right jab. The right shoulder of the Southpaw fighter guards his chin, so you might want to loop the hooks a little bit and smash his temple. The left hook is also your main weapon to prevent the southpaw from moving to his right and away from your power hand.
The left hook can be landed the same way a southpaw lands his right hook. In the fencing battle for lead hand supremacy, once you have the upper position, throw a quick hook to the unguarded face of the opponent. The strike may lack full power, but it will still sting.
With your lead foot on the outside of the opponent’s lead foot, the left hook to the body has a very good angle. A common combination that employs it is a lead right straight, followed by a left hook to the body.
What to do if your lead foot is on the inside
We’ve stressed multiple times the importance of having your lead foot outside of the southpaw’s lead foot, but this is not always possible. If you are close in skill and experience with the opponent, chances are he will be better at this game just by the experience of facing orthodox fighters all the time. If you are on the inside, though, not all is lost.
The left hook is stronger in the outside position, but it can also be used from the inside. Steeping further in and throwing a powerful left hook is something that few boxers expect to defend.
Get out of range
If you cannot secure the outside position, a viable option is always to disengage and move out of range. You can either move backward or sideways, but it should be out of punching range in each case. This is the easiest thing to do, and it resets the battle for the dominant foot position.
There is another way of pivoting that is more advanced and complicated to do, but it’s great to use if you are stuck in the inside position. To execute this pivot, duck under a left cross, do a tiny step with your lead foot, and pivot anticlockwise to the opponent’s left. This pivot works in mid to close range.
See Cotto execute some of these tactics vs the Southpaw Martinez below:
How to learn to fight southpaws?
The best advice to learn how to better handle Southpaw boxers is obvious: gain more experience against them. Don’t avoid them at sparring sessions; seek them out actively and try to follow all the advice we’ve outlined. Train as much as you can against Southpaws so you are confident you won’t lose in competition to someone just because you are not used to the style and not because he is better than you.
The other way of getting used to fighting against left-handed boxers is by switching your own guard. True switch hitters are few and far between, but it’s good to have at least some skills as a Southpaw. In time, you will get more used to it, and you might even come up with more ways of being better in the open stance matchup.
To finalize, here are some examples of fighters and fights that can serve as perfect examples of how to beat Southpaws.
Alexis Arguello vs Southpaws
One of my favorite fighters I always go back to watch vs Southpaws is Alexis Arguello. He defeated many throughout his career including 3 of The Ferocious Four – Limon, Navarette, and Boza Edwards. Plus Jim Watt, Busceme and Rey Tam.
He was a master in my opinion in foot positioning and attacking southpaws in different ways. You can watch my film study on Arguello below.
Juan Manuel Marquez vs Manny Pacquiao 4
Usually, Pac-Man serves as an example of how to fight as a southpaw, but Juan Manuel Marquez finally got his number in their fourth meeting and produced one of the most memorable KOs in boxing history by intercepting the southpaw with a vicious overhand right.
Floyd Mayweather vs Zab Judah
Floyd has always had excellent lead right straights, but it was this tactic that helped him the most to win a fight against crafty southpaw Zab Judah. You can also see in this fight a lot of short left hooks over the lead shoulder of Judah.
Bernard Hopkins vs Antonio Tarver
Bernard Hopkins is a boxer well known to decimate southpaws and his fight against Antonio Tarver is a beautiful example of his mastery. Despite being a 3-1 underdog, Hopkins completely dominated Tarver with a good variety of right-hands and masterful inside fighting.
Andre Ward vs Chad Dawson
Andre Ward didn’t face too many lefties in his professional career. But when he faced Southpaw Chad Dawson, he put on his whole array of skills to completely dismantle him. Ward dominated the lead hand battle while he was able to set up his lead left hook in a masterful display.
If you enjoyed or found this blog useful, make sure to check out more boxing technique articles below or if you are a southpaw check out my article here on some advantages you have:
- How to Beat Or Dismantle The Shoulder Roll / Philly Shell
- The Science Behind The Shoulder Roll Technique In Boxing
- The Shift Technique in Boxing
- Gazelle Punch Technique Breakdown
- 6 Key Boxing Defensive Techniques – Hit And Don’t Get Hit
- Top 12 Advantages Of Being A Southpaw Boxer
Are you a southpaw boxer that wants to know the advantages you have over right handed fighters? Or maybe you are an orthodox fighter wanting to study or know the mindset of a southpaw? This list...