The jab is arguably the most important yet underrated punch in boxing. The jab does everything – it can distract your opponent, dictate the pace, stun, and set up combinations. It can control range, feint, frustrate, wear down – and when timed and placed properly – even knock your opponent to the canvas. In very rare cases, a well-placed jab can even lead to a knockout.
Throughout the history of the sport, many great boxers have tactfully utilized their jabs to outbox their rivals and enter the pantheon of ring icons. In homage to boxing’s bread and butter punch, let us honor 7 of the most impressive jabs in boxing history.
1) Joe Louis
First up we have “The Brown Bomber,” Joe Louis, the heavyweight champion of the world from 1937 to 1949. Born in Alabama, Louis was renowned for his incredible physique, and one which =gifted him a natural ability to deliver lightning-fast punches with unrivaled accuracy. His jab was by no means his only weapon or even his best weapon, but it was a devastating punch and he knew how to use it.
Louis was known to relentlessly walk down his opponents and deliver constant powerful jabs, before following through with crosses and hooks when the time was right. In all his years as a professional boxer, Louis never ducked anyone and used his blinding speed and unwavering endurance to register 25 title defenses – a world record second only to Julio César Chávez.
Behind everything was his jab.
2) Sugar Ray Robinson
Robinson is a boxer who needs absolutely no introduction. “Sugar” had skills that were so far ahead of the times, that they are just as impressive to watch today as they were over 50 years ago. Competing from 1940 to 1965 from welterweight up to light heavyweight, Robinson is still considered by many to be the greatest pound for pound boxer to ever lace up the gloves. Hailing from Ailey, Georgia, Robinson was the consummate boxer and had an incredible jab, to boot.
Robinson was very judicious with the use of his jab. As any technician inside the ropes should love their jab, “Sugar” certainly showed how to use it to maximum effect. Unlike a lot of boxers, Robinson was dangerous with his jab, even when on the backfoot. He would use the jab in style, picking off his opponent as he fell back and strafed out of danger before leading them into his punches again and again.
3) Tommy Hearns
One of boxing’s legendary “Fabulous Four,” Memphis’ Tommy Hearns earned his nickname “The Hitman” for good reason. His professional career went on for just shy of 30 years, on which time he would become the first fighter to win world titles in five different weight divisions.
This is a feat that would no doubt have been impossible were it not for his ferocious jabbing skills. Standing at 6’1 and with a reach of 78 inches, Hearns was a force to be reckoned with. One of the most effective tools in his arsenal of weaponry was his pawing jab, which he used to measure distance and blind opponents. Once he threw out his jab, he would often leave it hanging for a second or two, sometimes stepping in behind it to close the gap, and frequently following up with lethal lightning fast combinations.
4) Marvin Hagler
Another of the esteemed “Fabulous Four,” the legendary “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler had it all (lethal jabs included). The Newark, New Jersey middleweight icon competed from 1973 to 1987, setting his stall as the undisputed champion of the division for the last 7 years of his reign. In that time, Hagler registered a total of 62 wins, 2 draws and just 3 losses by the time he retired.
Hagler could really bang. There is no question about it. However, what made him such a force to be reckoned with was his effortless ability to switch stance and fight from either orthodox or southpaw. Hagler trained both sides evenly, so regardless of which stance he was in, his jab was a weapon to worry about. What made him even more dangerous was his ability to cut angles whilst jabbing, getting outside his opponents’ lead foot and blindsiding them, knocking out of a total 52 of them before retiring.
5) Sonny Liston
Regarded to this day as one of the most feared and ferocious men in the history of boxing, Sonny Liston was no joke. His tough guy attitude was no act, and his jab is remembered as one of the most lethal in the history of the sport. The Arkansas native was an intimidating pugilist with long arms and considerable punching power. His professional reign of terror began in 1953 and ended tragically with his mysterious death in 1970.
Liston was an expert in range control, often leaning into his jab for extra length and power, an unorthodox yet effective tactic. When under pressure, Liston would sometimes push his jabs to knock his opponent out of the danger zone, as well as sometimes pushing them off balance. His jab was perhaps best described by the late trainer Angelo Dundee as ‘like getting hit with a telephone pole.’
6) Larry Holmes
Cuthbert, Georgia’s heavyweight champion – also known as the “Easton Assassin” – is considered by many to have the best jab in boxing history. Holmes competed as a professional heavyweight from 1973 to 2002 and held the WBC heavyweight title from 1978 to 1983. Holmes went on to make 20 successful title defenses, the third highest of all time, and thanks to his jab, he holds the record for the longest individual heavyweight title streak in modern boxing history.
His right hand was also a formidable force, but it was the sheer speed, power, and timing of his jabs that was his greatest asset. Holmes was very unconventional with his left hand, constantly flicking out his jab like a whip, using his substantial reach to skilfully pick off opponents from afar, catching them off guard by throwing jabs from low and side angles. This often had the effect of knocking boxers off balance and opening them up for a big, fight-ending right hand.
7) Muhammad Ali
What greatest list would be complete without mentioning Muhammad Ali?
“The Greatest” competed as a professional heavyweight from 1960 to 1981 and lived up to his nickname in a spectator fashion by bringing us some of the most exciting fights the world has ever seen. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali is widely regarded as the greatest boxer of all time. In 1964 he cemented his status by defeating Sonny Liston to become the world’s youngest heavyweight champion at age 22.
With a reach of 78 inches and a lightning fast jab that often caused more damage throughout the fight than all his other punches, Ali made boxing fundamentals look beautiful. With his quick footwork and great reflexes, the iconic boxer defeated a number of the greatest heavyweights in history, frustrating his opponents with his relentless jabs, feints, and verbal whips.
At the absolute foundation of everything Ali would create was one of boxing’s greatest jabs.