Global Training Report
The Theory and Practice
of the Jab
Why Mike Tyson Lost to Lennox Lewis and What We can Learn from it.
By Roberto Pedreira
He couldn't and was knocked out. But Buster Douglas could. Consequently, he knocked Tyson out. So could and so did Evander Holyfield. So it shouldn't surprise that Lennox Lewis, who has the best jab (heaviest and longest that is), of the bunch, would use it to his advantage and end up knocking Tyson out.
The jab is not the most difficult punch to learn (the hook is), but it is the most essential to know. Any boxing trainer will tell you that the jab is the key to everything else. You can win boxing matches and street fights with nothing more than an accurate, stiff, fast, and well timed jab. It doesn't even have to be powerful to be effective. As Jack Johnson once said, a man can't do much to hurt you if you keep your lead hand in his face, the rest of your body (and of course your head) out of his reach. George Plimpton's boxing teacher George Brown told him (Plimpton was preparing for an exhibition match against Archie Moore): "No man.....likes to have a glove flicking around his eyes".
The jab is not an ancient technique, judging by old boxing film. The old timers didn't jab. They used their lead hand, but they kept it low and tried to hook with it. But it was wasted effort. From that position not much weight could be transferred into the target. Boxers did not throw combinations, but rather tended to flail (not that people haven't been knocked out that way). The lead left might have set up the power punch by forcing the opponent to react but it was inefficient. It was easy to avoid (easy to see coming), the follow up was obvious (the right hand), and easy to counter, partly because, not having the jab to keep their best distance, fighters tended to stand way out of reach.
Little by little boxers brought their hands up and tucked their elbows in. When you do this, the lead hand tends to become a "jab". The only thing left to do is make sure to bring it straight back.
If you reach with the jab, you'll be in perfect position to continue with a right cross. Your opponent knows that sooner or later those otherwise bothersome but non-lethal jabs will be followed by the heavy ordnance, and therefore will have to react to every jab.
There are many ways to throw the jab and most are correct. The key is to land it without getting hit. If you do that, you have thrown it correctly (assuming you don't do other things in the process such as turning your back by angling your lead foot toes in, crossing the centerline, crossing your feet, raising your chin, turning your head, dropping your other hand, etc.).
Boxers know about the jab, even if not all of them can or bother to use it well. But the jab is a concept rather than a technique, and the components of this concept can be generalized and applied in MMA.
Essentially. the jab is nothing more nor less than a lead hand used tactically. This distinguishes it from the hook, (usually referred to as a left hook, since most fighters are right handed) which is used to cause major damage. How you use it depends on who your opponent is and what his game is.
Kinds of Jabs
Boxing jabs and Muay Thai jabs ("yab") are different animals. To understand the difference, try working hands first on lightweight boxing focus mitts and then on heavy Thai pads. Then you will feel the difference. You cannot hit focus mitts and Thai pads in the same way. For one reason, the trainer can't move the Thai pads fast enough. For another reason, your hands don't bounce off Thai pads the way they do off focus mitts.
Boxers and Thai fighters stand at about the same range. The difference is that from that range a boxer needs to step in to reach his target, but a Thai fighter can reach the target with his leg. A step would make him very vulnerable to a low kick, so Thais do not step when they jab. They jab when they are close enough to land without stepping. In this event, they are also close enough to be hit with knees and elbows and a light jab is not a good exchange for a knee or an elbow. This being the case, they do not really throw the jab (although they call it a jab) tactically, but rather try to put as much into it as they can, alternating with right hands delivered the same way. People do get knocked out by hands in Muay Thai like this. Part of the reason is that the Thai defense consists mostly of covering and clinching, rather than elusive upper body movement. Boxing defenses are too risky. Slipping a punch could run you into an elbow; bobbing and weaving could and probably would get you pulled down into a knee, and at the least would put you in a disadvantageous clinch position. Ditto ducking. So Thais usually cover and clinch, which works most of the time. But sometimes it doesn't.
Boxers catch, pat, or slip jabs. Sometimes, if they are Muhammad Ali or Ray Leonard, they sway back. Occasionally, they don't do anything and just eat jabs. The latter option isn't my personal favorite but it is better than overreacting and getting pasted with a jolting right. Boxers also time the jab so that they can return a cross while the jab is still in the retraction phase. To minimize the length of the exposure, boxers are taught to bring their jab straight back. This is less necessary if your opponent is Thai because he will be concentrating more on taking your legs away (of course, if you make a habit of dropping your left, you can probably expect an unpleasant encounter between your skull and your opponent's shin sooner or later). Muay Thai fighters do not spend a lot of time working hand skills only. They do not experience fast jabs much and don't practice countering them.
Now if you are fighting a wrestler you have a completely different problem. You do not want to initiate with a heavy committed right hand. You may stun or knock the guy out but that is a big gamble Punches like this are easy to spot coming, easy to avoid, and easy to counter. In other words, they rarely work., which is why boxers usually don't throw them, and also why they occasionally do (the paradox of surprise--because lead rights are easy to defend, the defender thinks the attacker won't throw one, and consequently lowers his defense, which makes it profitable for the attacker to do it after all.). Vitor did it to Tra, but he also had the element of surprise, because Tra thought Vitor, being Brazilian and all, must of course be a grappler (1). [Vitor led with his left, but he is a southpaw.] I can't recall another case, but I can recall plenty where the guy launches a big right and gets immediately tackled and mounted.
You don't need to pull your jabbing hand straight back because the wrestler (probably) isn't planning to counter it with a right. He is planning on following the punch back in and tackling you. The more you extend with the punch, the more time he will have to get in. A jab will give him less time, but still enough to get in. Pulling your hand straight back helps him. What you need to do instead is to pull it back and down at the same time, while retracting your lead foot. If he does tackle, you will be in good position to drive his head into the ground. The step back will basically be the beginning of your sprawl. should it be required. If the wrestler doesn't attempt to tackle, you will simply now be in a southpaw stance (be careful he doesn't fake to your left and shoot to your right.)
A good tackler can shoot in off even a fast straight jab (it's in the timing), but you also can also sprawl effectively if you retract your jab following the path described above.
Thai fighters tend to stand in front of their opponents, facing forward, applying forward pressure. Lateral motion is not emphasized. Boxers, however, are taught to move laterally, to give the man angles. Which direction you move to depends on the opponent. Generally speaking, if you are right handed and your opponent is too, you will both move to your left. If you are right handed and your opponent is left handed, then you should move to your right. If you are right handed and fighting a right handed slugger type (who has his lead hand low and his weight on his back leg), then you'd better move right. Basically you stay away from his power hand, whatever the variations might be in his stance. Thai fighters have it simpler. Everything that hits you is going to hurt, so it doesn't matter where you move to. In fact, there's not much reason to move at all, as long as you are in range (Thai fans frown on fighters who stay out of range).
The key to any jab, no matter the opponent or his game, is to make him react, without getting caught yourself. If you make him react, you will sooner or later have openings for heavier strikes, for tackles, for clinches, or for upper-body tie-ups. If your objective is more defensive, you will be able to disrupt his set-ups. At least in theory. In practice, it requires countless hours and repetitions to be able to pull it off consistently.
(c), 2003, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.
Other articles about boxing and Muay Thai on GTR.
Nikiema (Muay Thai in Bangkok and Pattaya)
Sityodtong Sityodtong Boxing Camp, Nongphrue, Pattaya, Thailand
Khao-ti Muay Thai devastating knees
Clinch Muay Thai clinch technique
Interview with Sugar Ray Leonard
Intreview with Tra Telligman