Potshots, depending on which side of the punch you’re on, can be the most clever boxing skill or the most annoying attack ever invented in fighting.
Sometimes one cleverly-executed punch, setup and thrown with quickness (sometimes not even with power) is all it takes to frustrate an opponent. Potshots are an excellent physical weapon as well as a psychological weapon.
This boxing guide will teach you how to control a fight one tricky shot at a time.
What is a Potshot?
Potshotting or the term “potshot” in boxing means a surprise attack or a random punch.
Potshots are great for scoring points and beating opponents mentally.
Throwing potshots can be a great way to score points, frustrate or demoralize your opponents. A potshot can make an opponent more defensive and cautious of your surprise attacks, and it can also hurt him and slow him down. Aggressive fighters throw potshots to find holes in their opponent’s defense and hope to score a big surprise shot. Defensive fighters might use potshots to keep their opponents away and even hurt them if they’re coming in recklessly.
Potshots are used for:
- scoring points - landing clean single punches looks good to the judges
- offensive pressure – using your speed and skills to surprise opponents with punches
- making opponents defensive – they start to become cautious if they feel like you might surprise them
- frustrating opponents – they don’t like being caught by surprise shots
PROS & CONS of Throwing Potshots
Throwing one punch at a time has its pros and cons. The disadvantage is that one punch is not usually enough to hurt an opponent. Big punches take time to setup and are usually only effective when thrown in combinations. It’s nearly impossible to win a fight throwing single punches when your opponent is throwing entire combinations at you.
On the other hand, throwing single punches has its own advantages. Because you’re only throwing one punch and not committed to a full attack, you have more creative liberties. You can throw from more awkward angles, even off-balanced, or throw faster (but lighter) punches with less fear because you will be running away after the shot anyway. With some timing and clever tactics, you can break down your opponent physically and mentally one punch at a time without taking any damage in return.
Potshots are usually less powerful than normal punches,
but can be thrown from unexpected angles
and with more speed.
*** Watch my video to see live demonstrations of common potshots in boxing. ***
How to Throw a Potshot
A) THROW a Fast Punch
Throw a fast punch. FAST! Surprise him. It can be a jab, a right cross, a hook, an uppercut. You can throw any punch you want but make it fast. There’s a good chance you might land it especially when your opponent is not expecting it.
B) SET-UP, then Throw a Fast Punch
This will require slightly more preparation and make you far more effective without having to do too much work. Instead of only throwing a fast punch, you can set yourself up in position beforehand to deceive your opponent and surprise him easier. Start preparing your body for a certain position and THEN throw the potshot punch you want.
Stand tall, and then drop down, and hit the body
Standing tall might make your opponent think you’re going to punch at his head or even bait him to throw a head punch at you. It’s common to see many boxers set up a jab to the body this way. You can do this anytime you want, stand tall, or move around while being tall, and then quickly drop down and jab the body.
Stay low, and then pop up with a shot up top
This is the reverse of the last trick. This time you’re staying crouched and low, which can bait your opponent to throw low punches or at least make him lower his hands to guard his body (a natural reflex), and you fly over the top with a big counter. The common tricks are to crouch down, and then pop up with a big hook over the top. You can also do the same with a jab or a right hand.
Jump in from out of range
Stand far enough out of range so that your opponent doesn’t think you can reach him. It would be wise to not actually stand so far that you can’t reach. Keep yourself only a few inches back, only slightly out of range. For added effect, you can lean your upper body back as you slowly creep your feet closer and closer. When the time is right, jump in with a wide left hook or even a hard power jab.
Square up and reach in with a lead right
Stand right at arm’s length and square yourself up with your opponent. (It’s possible to square up only your upper body and not your feet.) This will give you closer reach with the right hand and give you a chance to surprise him with the right when he’s expecting a jab.
C) FEINT, then Throw a Fast Punch
This is what the masters of boxing do really well. They know how to use feints to throw you off and then land a punch elsewhere. Many fighters (especially beginners) are committed to all movements whether it be offense or defense making it easy to use feint them in one direction as you attack in another direction. Using clever boxing skills, you can do very little and make them commit a lot, and then take advantage of that.
Fake a punch, then PUNCH
Fake a jab, and then throw a jab. Or fake a jab, and then throw a hook. Or fake a right hand, and then throw a jab. The possibilities are endless. A skillful fighter can fake a guy using very little movement. Sometimes a quick lift of my right hand is all it takes to make a trained fighter think a right hand is coming. Or even a sudden pull of my left hand is enough to make him slip my jab.
Fake a movement, then PUNCH
Walk away, quickly turn back with a right hand to the face–or a jab to the head/body. Or instead of walking away, you can simply turn your head away as if you’re completely dis-engaged, and then surprise with a potshot as you turn back when he relaxes his defensive awareness.
In case you’re looking for other good ideas, you can use the ideas from the previous step but set them up as a feint.
Prepare for ONLY One Punch
The common mistake when attempting potshots is to prepare for an exchange. You don’t need to be in position to throw both the right hand and the left hand. You don’t need to be in position to defend. All you’re doing is throwing one punch and running away.
Committing to only one punch should give you all sorts of freedom. You can stand totally sideways if all you want to land is the left jab. This will make your arm longer and your body a smaller target. Sure, your right hand can’t reach but you don’t need to worry about that. Having to commit to only one punch should give you freedom to try more wild things such as punching from awkward positions or angles. Try leaning in or leaning to the side, or even standing southpaw.
Don’t worry about the perfect defense technique or position. The best defense after a potshot is to run away. Throw a wild shot and then bend over, duck under, or lean in any other weird angle to escape whatever counter might come back at you.
You’re not looking for the perfect fighting technique, you’re using this moment to try and sneak in a free shot. Breaking the rules is a great way to surprise opponents and make him feel especially vulnerable and cautious of your attacks.
Only committing to one punch gives you the freedom
to utilize more unorthodox attacks.
Don’t Focus on Power
Power is a common limitation of the beginner fighter. They always want to do everything with power. They’re so constantly worried about always having good technique for good power and always being in the perfect position with the perfect technique, that it limits them. The best position for power will always be dead-center and you’ll always be stuck in one place if that’s all you care about.
The most skillful fighters on the other hand know how to give up power in order to make clever strategic plays. The experienced fighters might lean in just a bit to make you do the same. They might throw punches from a weird angles (that don’t allow for good power) in order to distract your defense. The skilled boxers know how to divert your attention someplace else, and then attack you from an angle you weren’t ready for.
Giving up your need for power will allow you to do many tricky things. You can position yourself differently and throw from more unexpected angles. You can place yourself closer or rotate your body closer to land weak (BUT STRATEGIC) arm punches. Without a requirement to be powerful, you can stand from different positions and throw faster punches because you’re no longer worried about loading power or rotating the entire body.
Skilled fighters know when to give up power,
to find new angles and surprise with speed.
Unless you plan to surprise an opponent with nothing more than a speedy strike, it really helps to aim. Are you aiming for the head or the body? Where on the head? Where on the body? When I aim for the head, it could be straight at the face, or maybe low to the chin, or maybe around to the cheeks, or above at the forehead. Or if I see how he blocks with his glove, I aim right at his fingers to make his glove hit his face.
For body shots, I pay close attention to how he covers his body. I’ll sneak a punch right around his elbows if he’s not careful. Or for those guys dropping their left arm to be like Mayweather, I sneak a punch straight into the nook of his arm and hit his left chest (or slightly below).
Remember, you’re only throwing one shot and it may not even be a powerful one. So give it more intention and purpose by being deadly accurate with it. There’s no point in wasting your setup for an arm punch. Make your punches count!
Aim your potshot at a precise target.
Exit Plan for the Head
Head shots are the most common counters you’ll get after throwing a potshot. For this reason, I recommend for you to slip with your head immediately after a potshot. You’re not looking to sit there and block and defend or trade punches. GET IN and GET OUT! You can slip out with good technique or you can simply yank your head out wildly in fear of getting hit with a huge counter. It all depends on how frustrated your opponent may be and your fear of getting hit.
Again, you don’t have to use a fancy slipping technique. You can throw a punch and then quickly bend over to get your head way under. Or you can punch and duck straight through his expected counter. Or punch and lean all the way back. Or you can swing a big hook and let it pivot you all the way through that you switch stances (this is a good idea as you’re completely safe with your back to him). Remember, you’re not looking to be in position to fight back; you’re simply looking for an escape.
Always defend your head after a potshot.
This is one of the most important rules of potshotting if not boxing or any athletic sport in general. You have to be relaxed to surprise an opponent. Being relaxed and calm is what gives your movement that sudden quickness. You have to be calm, relaxed, sometimes even nonchalant as if you dis-engaged and don’t care and don’t want to fight.
Being tense and looking like you want to do something is the worst way to surprise someone. Everyone becomes more cautious when you appear aggressive. It’s a natural reaction to become alert when you feel tension in another person.
You have to be relaxed to surprise an opponent.
What does it take to be good at potshots?
The trick to being quick is to BE STILL
The “speed” that you need for potshotting isn’t so much about pure hand speed. Potshotting speed comes from the suddenness of striking from a complete standstill. You have to first do nothing and then burst out of that still moment. Striking from stillness is what catches opponents off guard. It’s even better if you can stand still just long enough to make him stand still, and then quickly change gears and surprise him. You may have noticed many pros pausing right in the middle of the fight before making a sudden movement. Their bodies may have stopped, but certainly not their minds!
Striking from a still position
can easily surprise an opponent.
Best time to land potshots
Although it’s not guaranteed, you can often land surprise punches in the beginning of the fight and at the end of the fight. Opponents are vulnerable during the beginning of the fight because they don’t know how you fight yet and aren’t warmed up yet. You can throw anything weird and you might land it because they were looking for a more common punch like the jab.
Although there’s no rule saying you can’t land potshots during the fight, I simply tend not to do this around then. You want to spend the bulk of the fight actually fighting and engaging and scoring points. In sparring, I like to engage as that’s how you develop actual fighting ability that way. In an actual fight, only throwing potshots might not be enough to win and you can tire yourself out by using your energy to run instead of punching.
The end of the fight is also a good time when because both of you are tired, relying more on habits, and not as cautious. As always, potshots are a good strategy when you don’t have much energy left but need to fight back somehow. By using your skills and cleverness you can stall the fight and slow it down to one punch at a time.
The best time to land potshots
is at the beginning and end of the fight.