When you first go into a boxing gym it’s likely that you’ll just be asked to keep your hands high at all times to protect your chin and put yourself into a simple position. Over time you’ll find that you want to express yourself more when you’re in the ring and develop your own style which you’ll feel comfortable with.
The best style for you can often depend on your own physical attributes. Mike Tyson was famous for his ‘peek-a-boo’ style where he would keep his hands high as he walked through opponents before dropping them and unleashing a flurry of hard shots. Tyson was able to do that due to his smaller height and ferocious power.
The likes of Naseem Hamed often didn’t even have his hands up at all and kept them very low. He could do this though as he was the complete opposite body type to Tyson as he was small and slender which allowed him to move extremely quickly and be able to trust his reflexes. He had exceptionally quick head movement to avoid getting hurt.
There are also plenty of fighters who have a different guard from when they’re attacking and when they’re defending. Floyd Mayweather had a unique counter punching stance whereby he would hold his left arm against his chest to protect his body and hold his right arm against his chin ready to pounce. In order to protect the other side of his chin he’d press his left shoulder against it so it wasn’t exposed.
There clearly isn’t one perfect technique for boxing otherwise everyone will be using it. Often you’ll see a fighter in a boxing match switch styles depending on the circumstances. In order to feel as comfortable as possible though it’s wise to know about all the standard boxing styles, once you have learned them then you will know which feels the most comfortable, which doesn’t and which you can switch to during a fight.
Here we look at the 5 boxing guard styles that it’s essential to master before you can feel completely comfortable in the ring.
One of the first things you’ll learn in boxing is how to put up a basic guard as this will give you a basic foundation from which to work from. This is the simple guard that most will see from new fighters where they place both hands out from them either side of their chin as they look over their boxing gloves.
When you’re first starting out this is where you want to be most of the time, just sitting behind that guard. It places your hands in a good position to throw punches and also to defend them as well, once you’ve thrown a shot you need to return your hand back to your guard and you’ll find that this is the safest and most comfortable place to be in.
One thing it’s easy to forget when you’re starting out in a basic guard is to make sure that you keep your chin tucked into your chest but also make sure that you’re always looking at your opponent. There is an initial defense mechanism of leaning forward when you’re taking punches but this leaves to vulnerable to the uppercut and you also take your eyes off your opponent and become an easy target.
- Keep both hands at your chin level
- Keep your chin down
- Always look at your opponent
- Keep your lead hand out in front to blow punches and throw jabs
This is much the same as the basic guard except that you hold your hands much higher than before. Where with the basic guard you’d be holding your hands up against the chin, with a high guard you’ll have your hands closer to your temples.
This is a guard that is mainly used for getting on the inside as it’s a very protective stance. Boxing from this stance normally wouldn’t put your hands in a brilliant position for being able to throw punches. This stance though ensures that your opponent will only be able to hit you on your hands and elbows.
As your hands will be up high they will be obscuring your vision so you want to make sure there’s enough space between your arms to that you can look through but not enough space to make you vulnerable to the punch.
- Keep both hands at temple level
- Look through your arms while keeping them tight enough
- Drop your elbows for body shots
- Only use this guard in a transition from the outside to in
When people think about how to avoid punches they instantly will think about either moving to the side or taking a step back. One of the most effective ways to avoid a punch though is being able to sit under it as this puts you in a great position to strike back.
The sit down stance will mean you’re able to avoid punches but without compromising your balance in the process. In order to correctly master this stance you simply have to bend your knees while keeping a straight back. This will allow you to move easily and maintain your power.
This will keep you as a small target and very hard to hit. It’s not only great for trying to pounce in on your opponent but can also be a very effective defence mechanism if you’re being overwhelmed by punches.
- Even though you’re low, still keep your chin down
- Don’t take your eyes off your opponent
- Only use this to avoid punches, not an attacking stance
- Bend your knees, not your back
This is essentially the stance which was adopted by Floyd Mayweather for a lot of his fighting, especially when he was looking to counter his opponents. It’s a stance that is difficult to protect and difficult to feel comfortable with but the results can be brilliant.
This guard involves pressing the shoulder of your jab-hand up against your chin while looking at your opponent. This allows you to see what they are doing and use the shoulder roll to avoid the punches. Your strongest hand will be protecting the chin on the other side your face and your jab-arm will be placed across your body in order to protect it.
- Don’t forget to move your feet when attacked
- Use your dominant hand to parry shots
- Tuck in your chin
- Takes a lot of practice
Low Hand Guard
If you don’t have quick reflexes then using this guard can leave you open to punishment. It was a guard that was used a lot by Carl Froch who was happy to take the occasional jab as long as he could land his. This is a stance that takes a lot of bravery and confidence as well.
As your jabbing hand will be out of the line of sight of your opponent, it’s much more difficult for them to see it coming and it’s a lot more awkward to defend against. This stance involves keeping your strong hand in the same position as it’d be during a basic guard but keeping your jab-hand low and leaving you intentionally open.
- Use your dominant hand to parry punches
- Throw sharp jabs from low down
- Keep your chin down
- Abandon stance if taking too many shots
Which Guard Is Right For You?
So there are a number of different guards but which one is going to be the best one for you? Well the answer to that could well be all of them. Boxing isn’t a simple sport and being able to adapt to your opponent is crucial in terms of being the best boxer you can be.
We’ve already mentioned him a couple of times and that’s because there has been no better technical exponent of the game their century than Floyd Mayweather. You may think that a man that talented could afford to do what he wanted but a large part of his genius was being a master of boxing and using that knowledge to expose his opponents by adjusting to them.
This versatility in his boxing can be seen in all of his fights but in his bout against Canelo Alvarez he goes through all the five stances we mentioned here in just 16 seconds. He comes out with a low guard to see what Alvarez is about before switching up to a basic guard and eventually pushing it up to make it into a high guard. That’s all within the first five seconds, then after another five seconds he switches to the Philly shell guard which he perfected before immediately dipping down into a low guard as he gets ready to counter.
All this was against a world-class opponent who he ended up beating easily. It showed just how a boxing guard isn’t something that you just choose and stick with, instead it’s a response to a situation and something that can be changed in a heartbeat. A lot about the right guard to pick at the right moments depends on the style that you want to fight with.
There are a few main styles that you will fall into as a boxer and when you do you’ll know more about what type of fighter you are and what type of guards you’ll need more often.
The Main Boxing Styles
Many times you’ll hear sayings such as “he’s a fighter, not a boxer” which generally refers to someone who has plenty of fighting skills but not the boxing brain to go with it. This is your all-around boxer such as a Floyd Mayweather or a Muhammed Ali. A boxer who will use their speed and they don’t rely on power to win fights.
An out-boxer is more likely to be comfortable using all types of boxing stance as they’ll be a master of their craft. Have this level of comfort in the ring is rare and the ability to seamlessly switch between different boxing guards is vital.
One way to beat an out-boxer is with a swarmer and as the name suggests, this is a type of fighter who’ll apply constant pressure and try and get on the inside. A great current example of this is Gennady Golovkin who will walk down his opponents and cut off their space, Ricky Hatton was another great example.
Some boxers are swarmers to overcome a lack of talent and others like Golovkin seem to just love the fight. This style will involve a lot of high guard as well as low guard as you try and get inside on your opponent.
While everyone loves the fine art of boxing, everyone also loves to watch a slugger. A fighter who just wants to be able to use their power to win their bout, these type of fighters won’t throw as many shots as a swarmer or an out-boxer but the punches they do through are much harder and have more venom.
These are the fighters of the sport who seem to be only interested in trying to get the knockout. A great recent example of this is Deontay Wilder who loves throwing those wild bombs. In terms of guards, a basic guard is often used but if the slugger thinks they can dominate then the low guard might come out.
If you’re good at boxing but crave the knockout then you’ll probably fall into the category of being a boxer-puncher. This is a fighter who is able to box very well but also wants to use the power that they have to end fights. Manny Pacquiao was a great example of this as he was able to out-box many of his opponents but also knock many of them out as well.
In terms of guards then a boxer-puncher is likely to utilize a lot of them as they will feel comfortable pressing forward with a high guard but would also be able to counter attack with a style like the Philly shell.
While this could be seen as a sub-category of being an out-boxer there is a subtle difference as a counter puncher will be a lot more defensive and be happy to give up the centre of the ring. If you have two counter punchers in a ring then it can make for a very boring fight as neither of them want to attack.
They prey though on their opponent making a mistake and countering it. Andre Ward was a famous counter puncher where he’d be happy to win a fight on points without taking any risks. Being able to master the basic guard is crucial in this while some will use the Philly shell and low guard in order to avoid punches.
Practice Makes Perfect!
As we have discussed here, it isn’t a matter of selecting a boxing guard and sticking with it. You need to work out which type of boxer that you’re going to be and work out which type of guards that you’re going to be using most often.
Practicing a few of these guards can seem very unnatural. The Philly shell will seem odd as you’re not using one of your arms to protect your face and the low guard will feel odd as you feel as though you’ve put yourself in a vulnerable position. You might take a bit more punishment than you might like at first in sparring but you’ll quickly learn how to be comfortable in all the boxing guards. If you just still with the basic guard then it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to avoid shots, counterattack or get on the inside.
Mastering these different boxing guard styles is vital to you becoming the best boxer you can be. Once you’ve learned them then you’ll be able to take them into a fight and transition between them to not only adapt to your opponent but also to confuse them and be one step ahead.