The 3 Levels of Defense

November 10, 2010 November 10, 2010 by Johnny N Boxing Defense, Boxing Strategy 24 Comments

Learn about the 3 basic levels of defense. Improve your defense and counter-punching against better opponents.

3 Levels of Boxing Defense

I broke down boxing defense into 3 different levels. The higher levels of defense will offer you a more effective defense as well as more counter-punching opportunities against better opponents. Train them in order and master all three!


1. Physical Defense

The physical defense is the most basic level of defense. This is just you holding your hands up to cover your face. Your elbows down to cover your body. At the most basic level of boxing, your arms are held in a stationary positiong, serving as a basic shield against your opponent’s attacks. If you listened to anything your trainer said those first few times you sparred in the ring, it was probably something along the lines of “Put your hands up!”


  • Easy to do. Requires no skill.
  • Works well for beginners.
  • Very effective for blocking entire combinations.
  • This defense protects you against any style of opponent.


  • Can block your vision from tricky punches.
  • Not easy to counter-punch from.
  • Can be tiring to hold your hands up all the time.

How To Train:

  • Work focus mitts and have your trainer throw slow punches at you.
  • Work on your stance to make sure you don’t fall over when you’re taking punches.
  • Work on footwork around the heavy bag or in the ring as you hold your hands up high with your elbows down.
  • Record yourself hitting the heavy bag to see how often it is that you drop your hands. (Most people are shocked when they realize how often they drop their hands.)


2. Counter Defense

The counter defense is the next level of defense. Anytime you attack, you should be aware of how your opponent is most likely to counter back against you. If you’re throwing a jab, expect an overhand right. If you’re throwing a right hand, expect a left hook counter. Anytime you throw a punch, you should know what punch your opponent will probably counter with.


  • Allows you to be more offensive with less worry.
  • Improves your counter-punching ability since you know what to expect.
  • Saves energy since you are only worried about blocking specific punches.


  • Will not help you against tricky style opponent.
  • Can make you vulnerable against tricky counter-punches.
  • Requires you to be more alert.
  • Requires you to use your memory or train until your counters become a natural reflex.

How To Train:

  • Work focus mitts with your trainer. Have him throw counter-punches after your combinations.
  • Spar slowly with beginner level boxers and see what kind of punches they like to throw.


3. Awareness Defense

The awareness defense requires the most skill and elevates your boxing game to a whole other level. At this level of defense, you rely on high awareness inside the ring to defend yourself from your opponent’s attacks. Using high awareness is what allows guys like James Toney or Floyd Mayweather to constantly slip and duck all their opponent’s punches without getting hit. Raising your awareness allows you to feel what your opponent is doing and to evade the punch. Because your awareness is so high, you will be able to defend yourself without actually using the physical guard (Level 1 defense) or having to remember what punches your opponent will throw (Level 2 defense).


  • Allows you to box against higher level opponents.
  • Allows you to defend against trickier opponents.
  • Allows you to see more since you use your eyes for defense.
  • Gives you more offensive and counter-punching opportunities.


  • Will leave you dangerously vulnerable when you are tired or lazy.
  • Requires the most energy, physically and mentally.
  • Requires the most skill.

How To Train:

  • Work focus mitts with your trainer. Have him try and surprise you with punches during and after your combinations.
  • Work on the double-end bag a lot.
  • Spar with guys of all different types of styles. Work with smaller guys so you don’t get hurt bad while you’re learning how to defend against different styles.
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tchies November 28, 2010 at 7:11 am

you’re so wonderful i’m a boxer and you just help me a lot with your instruction.


ali January 1, 2011 at 10:46 pm

:-)thanks for sharing!!!!!


TJ February 2, 2011 at 9:28 pm

😉 awesome stuff mate.


dan March 30, 2011 at 9:16 am

top notch
nice 1, itmay sound silly but im trying to teach my brain to box as well as my body and articles like these really to get the brain thinking. i will come back to this article again.



Johnny N March 30, 2011 at 3:11 pm

@dan – learning how to use your brain to fight isn’t silly at all. Every great trainer has stressed time and time again–“boxing is a thinking man’s game”. I’m glad I could help.


logan woods April 14, 2011 at 4:13 am

this article is shjit u faggets i wud teach all of u boys a lesson in boxing


Robert Wright May 9, 2011 at 1:27 am

Thanks for another great article
Superb article.

I have just started an mma boxing class which uses a high guard with the forearms and elbows as the primary form of defense. The stance is called hunchback because its designed to ensure the stomach isn’t badly punished. As an expert, what do you think of ?

Thanks again!


Johnny N May 12, 2011 at 10:50 am

@Robert – I took a look at the crazymonkeyuniverse site. It looks cool but I couldn’t scope out the information without buying. Either way, if Rodney King got his belt from Rigan Machado, he’s gotta be pretty legit. I have yet to be trained by anyone on that level in boxing.


Paul June 17, 2011 at 7:27 am

Physical defence against right cross?
I keep getting mixed answers for this so please help me. When defending against right cross by raising your hand to cover your face how far do you go, do you cover left side of your face with glove close to your face/chin or raise your hand high enough to take a hit with the side of your elbow/hand area?
Glove scenario is ok, but when i got hit few times with semi powerfull cross i felt like i was about to knock myself out with my own hand. While with elbow/midhand defence move, i feel it offers me more protection and i can take more powerfull hits, but i keep hearing its more used in MMA and should not be used in boxing? What are your thoughts on this?

Many thanks


Johnny N June 17, 2011 at 9:50 pm

@Paul – great question. Haha, sometimes I feel I don’t know how to block the right either. Some guys throw them awfully hard!

There’s literally a million ways to block the right, including the ones you suggested as well as many others. There’s the roll away, where you just raise your glove to cover the side of your forehead as you roll away. There’s also the high block, where you use your upper arm (what you mentioned)…I tell fighters to just “touch your ear”. There’s also an upwards maneuvers where you push your forearm up and INTO the oncoming right hand.

MMA guys are more accustomed to the stronger high block that you mentioned because they also use it to block head kicks. Boxers typically prefer to roll the punch than to lift their arms and expose themselves to a body shot. My suggestion is for you to learn all the methods, they will have different uses against different styles.


panos October 29, 2011 at 11:45 am

i am involved in boxing here in greece the last 20 years.Your article plus training and talking with a guy who met roger mayweather and roy jones last year make me understand about strategy.I had bad moments like broken ribs and knockouts in training.boxing in greece is brawling nothing else…(example:kaperonis vs amir khan, olympic games 2004, see it in youtube).My son is 7 years old and now i try to teach him defence.started with guard, then parry punches and pivot.I should be more than gratefull if you send me your advice about proper training for a 7 years old kid.

kind regards


Johnny N November 1, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Wow, Panos. I saw that video and wow, what an awesome brawl. I will definitely write a guide on how to train kids. Thank you for the suggestion. The biggest tip I can give for training kids is not to teach your fighting style. Teach them skills and techniques and let them fight in many different ways.


Mac November 4, 2011 at 3:25 pm

That last little bit about the awareness defense is so true. I was boxing this kid who has a bit more experience than me, and is training for a fight, and i just kept on countering him because i was aware of what he was throwing, but as soon as i gassed out, all i could do was cover up and try to land a pot shot on him. Great article, definitely on of my favorites!


Johnny N November 6, 2011 at 5:51 pm

So hard to stay alert when you’re tired! Thanks, Mac!


curtis c January 13, 2012 at 2:07 am—workout.html what do you think about the defence described on hear about cutting off on the angles? Would it aid my body punching in any way?


Johnny N January 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm

That’s standard boxing info. I don’t understand how taking away the angles improves your body punching.


Jonathan T March 20, 2012 at 4:08 am

Good Article Thanks Mate Keep Em Coming


Raymond May 21, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Great advice! What’s your advice for increasing your reflexes and being able to see a punch comingnatmyoumwhile dodging?


Johnny N May 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Spar slowly and learn to see every little detail in the movement of the punch.


De jesus April 7, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Where would mayweathers shoulder roll fall in these categories…also is the shoulder roll the best defense because I never see mayweather get cuts on his face??


Johnny N April 12, 2013 at 10:08 am

The shoulder roll is an awareness defense. There are many kinds of boxing defense techniques and you’ll definitely need to know them all. Mayweather has mastered many, not only the shoulder roll.


M. Lawrence Pineda June 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

I have to presume we are talking basic defense since the higher levels take many years to master. For example, everyone wants to do the shoulder roll now. Good luck. Make sure the dressing room is ready after you get KO’d by overhand rights. Remember, Floyd has been working on this technique before (literally) he could walk. That said, good defense comes with practice and good habits. For whichever stance, your back hand should be always held under your cheekbone. Too many boxers get into exaggerated high guards where they commit the fatal error off not being able to see the opponent. The lead hand should be a short distance whereas you are looking out over the lead hand. The front elbow is pointed toward your foe. This gives the opponent less surface area to hit, adds snap to your jab, and increases leverage by rotation of the torso. As always, elbows tucked in, consistent but not unpurposeful foot movement, stepping and shuffling as opposed to high-speed dancing. The head and shoulders should move in a constant flow (Marvin Hagler) and your eyes NEVER leave the target. Chin tucked and important: after throwing a shot, weave once and always immediately return your gloves to their defensive area. Keep your punches as short and straight and centered as possible. They’ll not only be more accurate but will be harder for your foe to counter. Stay Hungry, M. Lawrence Pineda


bailey August 14, 2013 at 1:55 am

I want to be the greatest defensive fighter , do you have any tips ? how should I think in the ring etc


Johnny N August 27, 2013 at 10:35 am

Start with learning the different types of defensive techniques and defensive strategies. I cover several defensive fighting methods throughout my articles.


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