A well-placed, power punch to the right area of the skull is unquestionably the number one cause for knockouts in popular combat sports like Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Muay Thai, or boxing. Which is why while heavy punchers are so popular among fight fans, they are completely and utterly terrifying for fighters who actually have to face them in the ring or cage. And if you have ever sparred or fought a heavy hitter, then you know this to be true.
In Muay Thai, the heaviest punches in the ancient art’s history are undoubtedly some of the most frightening and intimidating fighters to have ever stepped into the ring as well. These fighters include greats like Khaosai Galaxy, Coban Lookchaomaesaitong, Ramon Dekkers, Sagat Petchyindee and the recently retired, Yodsanklai Fairtex.
So how does one combat a heavy puncher in Muay Thai? It is certainly no easy task, but with the right techniques and approach, you will be well on your way to success. Here are some tips to help you with dealing with a heavy puncher in Muay Thai.
Defense: Maintain an Extra-Safe Range
Maintaining a good range is key to performing well both offensively and defensively against any type of opponent. However, against a heavy puncher, it is especially crucial. The reason is simply because the damage that can be done by a heavy puncher who is allowed a range that is comfortable to him/her can do much more significant damage to you than a fighter who hits with an average amount of power. Also, it is important to remember that a heavy puncher has the potential to break through a good guard as well.
So with a heavy puncher, you need to focus on maintaining an extra-safe range; a range that is perhaps a little more than what is usually comfortable for you. The danger, however, is to allow yourself to get too wary of getting hit that you end up being too tentative while in an extra-safe range. You need to time and commit to your attacks whenever you can as well in order to score and frustrate your hard-hitting opponent (see point Offense: Focus on Countering).
The best way to maintain and ensure an extra-safe range is to use good defensive footwork (see next point) with well-timed jabs and teeps. Snapping your opponent’s head back with a well-timed jab and pushing him/her back with an effective teep can keep your opponent at bay and cause him/her to find it difficult to enter for an attack. Be sure to practice performing this along with good defensive footwork and head movement not just as you are moving forward, but also as you’re moving backwards as well.
Defense: Move at Angles
As mentioned in the point above, being in an extra-safe range will not only keep you safe from the heavy puncher’s biggest strength in the fight, it will help you in the way you attack as well. In avoiding an incoming attack from a heavy-hitting opponent, moving back in a straight line would not be a wise thing to do. Not only are you placing yourself directly in the center of his/her attacks, you are also allowing him/her more room and range to throw strikes more comfortably because you are moving back in a straight line.
Using good defensive footwork to pivot and move at angles is a much more efficient way to avoid incoming attacks. Not only are you cutting short the amount of effort and time needed to move away safely from incoming strikes as compared to moving back in a straight line, you are also potentially placing yourself safely at an angle to counter with significant strikes while your opponent is not in a position to throw anything back.
And Even though cutting and moving at angles is more effective than moving back in a straight line, there is still a risk of getting caught with strikes as you move, especially against more experienced and skilled heavy punchers. So be sure to focus on keeping your guard up and applying good movement.
Defense: Use the Right Guard
As mentioned, heavy punchers have the potential to break through a good guard as well. Which is why sometimes, the conventional double-guard, though effective against some, might not be the best guard to use against someone who hits exceptionally hard. On top of that, using the double-guard limits your vision and movement and can also expose you to crushing body shots. This is why using the right guard is also a huge part of combating a heavy puncher.
The long-arm guard or figure four guard is perhaps one of the better guard choices to use against a good boxer or puncher in Muay Thai. This is because, firstly, the structure of these two guards helps you maintain a range against your opponent as your lead hand is extended out pressing against the forehead, face, shoulders, or chest of your opponent. Secondly, the structure of the two guards protects your chin with your shoulder on your lead arm, and the entire glove and arm on your rear arm, while also providing you with vision down the center and from a range.
This allows you to continue defending from a more comfortable range, not just with your upper body but with your lower body against knees and kicks as well. It also gives you the option of utilizing the range to cut angles or the extended arm to manipulate your opponent’s body while defending in the guard. Transitioning into the double long-arm long guard from either of these guards also helps you force a clinch safely if you choose to (see point Defense: Force the Clinch). The weakness of the long-arm guard, however, is against the uppercut, so be sure to look out for uppercuts if you are using the guard.
Defense: Force the Clinch
If avoiding punches with head movement and footwork isn’t working out for you, perhaps limiting the attacks with effective clinching would be a better option. Using the clinch is arguably the safer and most fool-proof way to deal with a heavy puncher. This is because working in a tight clinch will completely nullify your opponent’s ability to throw punches.
The difficulty, however, is in forcing the clinch. This is because on the way to forcing the clinch – be it with a double guard, long-arm guard, double long-arm guard or simply charging forward – you run the risk of getting caught by your opponent’s strikes.
The best way to force the clinch is to engage after an attack instead of moving in while the opponent is timing and reading your entry. One way this can be done is to bait your opponent to overcommit to his/her strikes, which will leave him/her off-balance or lean forward after missing. Another way is to simply wait for your opponent’s attack, avoid them with good head movement and footwork, and force the clinch.
Offense: Kick the Arms
One good offensive strategy you should consider adopting is to use kicks to the guard and arms of a heavy puncher. In Muay Thai, kicking to the arms and guard of the opponent is not uncommon. And even though such kicks are considered blocked and defended against, they count as minor scores on the judges’ scorecards.
But such kicks also serve another purpose; they hurt and weaken the arms of your opponent, taking away the power in his/her punches, and also the strength and durability of his/her guard. Against a heavy puncher, this is without question an important practice to include in the fight.
Ideally, the arm you should target is the rear arm of your opponent. If you are fighting in the same stance as your opponent (orthodox vs orthodox or southpaw vs southpaw), this means using swift and effective lead leg switch kicks. If you are in stance opposite of your opponent, then you should use your rear leg kick against the rear arm of your opponent.
Offense: Utilize Trips
One of the keys to generating a stronger punch comes from stability and ability to ground oneself well on the feet. The stability and well-grounded footing allows a fighter to channel weight more efficiently into his/her punches. This also means that a fighter looking to land good, heavy shots would have to put more weight his/her legs or in some cases, flatten his/her feet even more to the canvas to secure a greater level of stability.
As someone facing a heavy puncher, you can use this to your advantage. Because of the weight channeled to the feet, using swift low shin or ankle trips can set your heavy-hitting opponent off-balance. This is because if caught off-guard, the weight invested into the lower body will cause them to lean unexpectedly forward or diagonally sideways in an attempt to reestablish their balance a lot more than an opponent who is light on his/her feet.
And as your opponent is set off-balance, landing a counter attack or moving away will come a lot easier. The best time to use ankle trips is just as your opponent is advancing straight in or throwing his/her punches. The commitment and weight put into moving forward or throwing a punch will increase the degree to which they will lose their balance, so be sure to time your shin or ankle trips well.
Offense: Focus on Countering
The worst thing you can do when facing a heavy puncher is to engage in a brawl with him/her. Even if you might have better boxing ability over your opponent, trading shots in the pocket is just too risky against a heavy puncher. The wiser approach would be to maintain good range and focus on countering with sharp, well-timed strikes.
Staying at a safer range will give you a greater degree of ring vision and increase your ability to see shots coming and avoid them as well. Counter striking from the outside smartly in this manner will also frustrate your opponent as he/she will find it difficult to engage and land significant shots on you.
The key to applying this focus is to be patient and keep yourself calm, so be sure to not give in to your emotions in the moments your opponent gets the better of you.