When I think of a boxer fighting a taller opponent, there is one thought that immediately pops into my head and that is David Haye taking on Nikolai Valuev for a heavyweight world title fight. At 6 ft 3 inches, in almost every room Haye walks into he’d be the tallest man, he is far above average height.
Against Valuev, however, he was dwarfed by a man who was 7 ft. tall and who went into the fight with around a seven stone advantage. Of course, in professional boxing, the only way you’d ever give up those kind of numbers would be a freak scenario in heavyweight boxing but Haye really had to learn how to beat a taller boxer.
In that fight, Haye won, and quite convincingly so. While admittedly Valuev was a terrible boxer, there are lessons that can be learned from Haye’s performance. If Haye would have stood in front of Valuev and traded punches then he would have lost, even if he was the superior boxer. If you’re outmatched in boxing then you need to find a way around it.
How To Box Someone Taller Than You
In most cases, the advantage you give up to your opponent will be minimal, but significant. When fighting a taller opponent there are two main areas to consider. The first is the height itself and having to punch upwards. You have longer to reach with your arms and it takes more effort to get your hands higher up. The second is the likely advantage that being taller would bring, and that’s reach. If someone has longer arms then it’s likely that they can beat you to the punch and obviously they can jab at you from a longer range than you can.
Despite being matched by weight, there can be significant differences in the divisions away from heavyweight. Some fighters are naturally taller and a bit more slender, while others are more stocky and shorter. An inspiration for a short fighter is with Mike Tyson. If you were to ask at what division someone who is 5 ft 11’ would fight at, then you could possibly get down to middleweight. Tyson had no chance of that though, his body was wide and muscular and from a very early age he had to learn how to beat boxers who were taller than him.
Frampton and Santa Cruz Provided All The Lessons
One of the best recent examples of how to do it, and then how not to do it was with the two fights between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is comfortably the taller man and has the natural reach advantage. Frampton is not too small for his weight, just that Santa Cruz was big for his. Frampton wasn’t used to fighting people comfortably taller than him, but you wouldn’t have thought so going by the first fight.
Frampton was the underdog and for good reason, his opponent was world class and had these natural advantages. Frampton, however, put on the performance of his career and managed to beat him on a point’s decision. He was aggressive throughout the fight and kept coming forward. He used his movement to get onto the inside and when he was there he won the battle. Santa Cruz was happy to trade and paid the price for it. It was a tremendous fight and one that will be remembered for a long time.
The second fight was different and Santa Cruz didn’t make the same mistake twice, he learnt how to beat a taller boxer and this time it was Frampton who would live to regret his tactics. Santa Cruz boxed on the outside and kept Frampton at distance. He didn’t get dragged into a war and instead boxed smartly and used his natural advantage. Frampton had no answers and it was almost as if he expected Santa Cruz to trade just like he did for the first fight.
The lessons were clear, if you want to beat a taller man, then you can’t beat him on the outside. So what do we mean by boxing on the inside or outside? On the inside is where the great scraps are found, this is when two fighters get in close and trade short-range punches where they both can reach. On the outside is where you establish your jab and keep a fighter in that long distance range where they can’t do much damage other than throw out a jab, if you have a reach disadvantage, throwing that jab at range is useless.
If you’re the shorter man then you need to use that jab as to tool to come inside and to the middle distance. You need to be smarter about when you throw that jab out as it has to be a means to something more. That middle distance is where the big damage is done as this is where you are able to land your strong hand with your full power.
How To Fight On The Inside
So, how to box someone taller than you? Well, fighting on the inside is the only way to win, and it’s an art form in itself. It can often not make for the most entertaining of fights, but it will be your most effective method of victory against a taller opponent. It’s all about using your strength to manipulate your opponent, and using clever movements in order to get your shots off.
Foot movement is notoriously the most underrated part of boxing. On the inside it is crucial for getting leverage on your shots and getting out of trouble when you need to. If you stand straight in front of your opponent, then you’re not going to be able to get any power from your legs, and therefore no power on to your punches.
You need to create space between the foot of your dominant hand and your opponent. If you’re right handed, then his means stepping your right foot back so that you can pivot over it, rotate your hips and get in a strong punch from a short distance. With fighting the taller man, you want to make sure that you cut down the distance so that his reach isn’t an advantage, but you still want to be far enough away so that you can land telling punches.
If you want to watch a master in action, then look no further than watching a highlight reel of Vasyl Lomachenko. He loves fighting on the inside, not because he’s usually a smaller man, just because that’s where the action is. His foot movement is ridiculous and can switch stances in an instant and has also gained awe from the boxing world with his jump movements. This is where he will jump around an opponent in an instant which not only keeps his head moving, but gives him different punching angles.
Having the footwork of Lomachenko isn’t exactly something you should plan to copy straight away, as he’s the best in the world at it, but lessons can certainly be learned. Just sitting there in the pocket and trading with your opponent is never a great idea in itself. You want to try and be one step ahead with your footwork and your head movement. Constantly changing the distance slightly both forward and back, but also side to side. You should never keep your head in the same place for long.
While footwork is crucial, so is the movement of your upper body. Fighting on the inside can get quite physical and become a bit of a wrestling match. It’s not just about strength in this area, but it obviously helps. Being the shorter fighter actually should mean that you’re the stronger fighter, as that extra weight you’re carrying should be muscle. If you are the stronger man, or can simply use your strength more efficiently then you should be able to push your opponent back and create space. But using your upper body weight, you can affect the balance of your opponent before you go in for the punch.
You can take a quick step back to make space for a punch, or you can push him forward and off balance before landing a shot. Not only will this give you an edge, but it will frustrate your opponent. Being this close will negate the advantage of your opponent being a taller man. Ricky Hatton was the master of fighting on the inside. Unlike Lomachenko who seems to do it for fun, Hatton was the type who did it because it was what he was best at, and what he needed to do to win.
Hatton was an expert at using his body to manipulate his opponent and get him into the position he wanted. Once they were there, he’d create just the amount of space he needed, a lot of the time it was so he could unleash one of his vicious body shots. Hatton was brilliantly aggressive and almost all of his opponents couldn’t cope, even the ones that were taller than him.
Quick Tips For Fighting On The Inside
- Stay close, but step back to give your punch leverage
- Use your upper body to push them forward
- Switch punches from the body to the head
- Throw combinations
- Never stop moving your head
Check out this awesome video on how to box on the inside, some great tips!
Fight With Both Courage & Brains!
Boxing in general takes a lot of bravery, but even more so when you’re the shorter man and you need to figure out how to beat a taller boxer. As a taller man you would happily sit out of range, and then try and avoid trouble. The shorter man has to take the risks to come on the inside. It may be the case that you have to eat a jab to get there, but movement is key.
Tactics play a more important role when you’re fighting at a disadvantage. In that first fight between Frampton and Santa Cruz, Frampton won as Santa Cruz was willing to come forward and trade. The Northern Irishman didn’t have to worry too much about forcing the fight on the inside, because the Mexican was happy to come to him. In the second fight, he didn’t, and Frampton didn’t have a plan B.
If you’re, say, a natural counter puncher, then you have to be prepared to make adjustments. If you go into a fight against a taller opponent, then you’ll lose if that opponent is happy to fight at distance. If he comes at you, then you can simply fight like you normally would. If not, then you have to go against your natural instincts, step-up the aggression and really learn in the moment how to box someone taller than you.
It’s important to make plans as you can never be fully sure how a fight will unfold. Shorter fighters win all the time, but that’s due to being the superior boxer and facing an opponent who can’t cope. If an average tall boxer tries to beat a great shorter boxer, then he won’t manage it because he won’t be good enough to keep the fight on the outside, or might not even try it in the first place.
Always Have A Plan B, and Maybe C
It’s where two fighters are on a similar level where the adjustments have to be made. At 6 feet 7 inches, Wladimir Klitschko had probably never even considered the problems of having to force the fight on the inside. He was always happy to fight on the outside and pick off his opponents. This is what he tried to do against Tyson Fury, but the problem was Fury was 6 foot 9 inches tall. It was clear in that fight that Klitschko had no other plan, and probably had got so used to fighting on the outside that he couldn’t remember what to do.
Not a lot of fighters have the patience to do what Fury did that fight. It’s a more boring way of fighting, but an effective one. If you’re facing an opponent who wants to fight that fight, you simply can’t let it happen. The likes of the Frampton/Santa Cruz fight and the Klitschko/Fury fight are just two examples where the smaller man just expected his opponent to come to fight. The price was paid by taking the losses by not having another game plan.
As a smaller man, the hope is that your opponent comes to you and is happy to just fight. If he does that then the contest will come down to superior boxing skill and power. You won’t have to worry about a game plan and you’ll be just putting your technique against theirs, and hopefully you come out on top. Going into a fight such as this with your usual game plan is fine, as that’s your plan A.
What boxing history has taught us, however, is that you need that plan B. If it quickly becomes clear that you’re facing someone who is happy to sit on the outside, then you need to take action. It’s you that will need to force the fight, find your way to the inside and do the damage while you are there. It’s at times like these where you will need to learn how to box, and not just fight.
There Is Nothing To Be Scared About
There nothing to be daunted by from fighting a taller man. The taller man will have problems themselves, as punching downwards can be more difficult than punching upwards. A smaller man might have the muscle advantage and will also find it easier to avoid punches with being the smaller target. Remember the advantages that you do have, and fight the smarter fight. A lot of boxing matches are won more with intelligence and not with fists.
Avoid the jab, get on the inside and unleash your power. If your footwork and body/head movement is good enough, then it doesn’t matter how tall your opponent is, they won’t be able to cope. Following these steps will help you beat anyone, and not just someone taller than you. Boxers think about the game and don’t just go in for a fight. If you use our head as well as your technique, then you can beat anyone.