How to Beat a Better Fighter

July 11, 2011 July 11, 2011 by Johnny N Boxing Strategy, Boxing Styles 36 Comments

It is possible to beat someone that’s more skilled and more talented than you? Not only can the “underdog” win, it happens ALL THE TIME!

How to Beat a Better Fighter

 

Every now and then, I get one of these emails:

  • Johnny, there’s this guy at my gym. He’s faster, stronger, taller, better footwork, slips all my punches, counters everything I throw, better than me in every way. “How do I beat someone that’s better than me?!!!”

Well there is a way….CHEATING!…ok haha, no, just kidding. Don’t do that. You might get unlucky and run into a boxer that’s better at cheating than you are. Serious now…

Most people think boxing as a combination of hard work and talent. Those without the talent will have to work harder. It’s an easy enough concept, but boxing is more complicated than that.

Skills and talent often make a guaranteed win on paper but not when it comes to real fighting. There are just so many intangibles and variables beyond skills and talent that nobody can truly predict the outcome of a fight. I’ve beaten many better-trained opponents as well as lost to many less-talented opponents. Beating a more talented fighter is not only possible, it happens all the time!

“Nothing in the world is more common
than unsuccessful people with talent.”

 

1. Anti-Style

The best way to beat a more better skilled opponent is to counter his style. It’s true what the old timers have always said, “Styles make fights!” A lot of boxing is rock-paper-scissors. You can be the best fighter in the world, but somebody less talented than you will always have the ability to beat you. You may already know a guy just like that in your gym. He’s not a better boxer than you but for some reason, he always gives you a hard time…even though he has bad technique. Pro boxers are no different; many boxing champions ducked certain fighters or even their old sparring mates for the same reason.

…look at Joe Frazier. When you compare his boxing achievements to Ali, not many would ever consider him a better boxer than Muhammad Ali, but he did get the better of Ali compared to other opponents.

Your style might be the “Joe Frazier” to someone else’s “Muhammad Ali”. Sometimes it happens naturally, you’re lucky enough to be someone else’s anti-style. Other times you have to study someone’s style and figure out a way to beat it. It doesn’t matter how perfect somebody is, they are always vulnerable to something! But developing an anti-style is more than just looking for someone’s weaknesses.

Developing an Anti-Style

Freddie Roach, one of boxing’s greatest trainers, said in an interview, “I don’t look for weaknesses, I look for habits.”

Roach explained that looking for someone’s weaknesses might not work if that fighter fixes his vulnerabilities. It was one of the smartest things I ever heard. If you want to beat someone, don’t count on him making his mistakes. Instead, look to his habits, especially his “good” habits! Perhaps he always doubles up on the jab. Or maybe he slips to the side at the end of every combination. Or maybe he slips under every jab. If you know what he always likes to do, you can take advantage of this.

It doesn’t matter if his technique is good or bad,
if you know what he will do, you can take advantage!

This single truth is so powerful. You could have the worst technique in the world, but if your technique perfectly counters his, you will win easily! Like I said before, boxing is rock-paper-scissors. And in that game, the worst piece of paper beats even the best rock? Get it? Styles beat styles, easily!

I would also recommend you read my guide on Style and Anti-technique.

 

2. Automation

Automation, the 2nd best way to beat a more skilled opponent, is all about fighting automatically. You’re simply fighting on auto-pilot, without thinking, without hesitation. Now I’m not saying for you to fight without thinking. Of course, you have to think. What I’m saying is for you to do all your thinking in training.

When you fight, your body should know how to respond automatically without you thinking about what to do. You don’t have to decide, your body just reacts. The advantage of automation has always been proven to beat more skilled opponents. How many times have you not done something for a long time and came back rusty? Remember those times you stopped playing basketball, or a video game, or a musical instrument? Then you came back after a month and got beat by some kid who wasn’t even on your level? You got beat because you forgot your moves and spent more time thinking than doing. It’s easy to beat someone if you’re doing all the fighting while he’s busy thinking.

Even bad technique can win if it’s automatic.

 Becoming an Automatic Fighter

Drills and drills! Whatever you want to do, practice it so that you can do it without thinking. Being automatic gives you that hi-tech advantage. Think of the value of automation in new technology. A machine can never replace a human but it gets so much more work done. I have been completely destroyed by lesser skilled fighters because they were more automated and ultimately better fighting machines than me.

 

3. Physicality

If you’re not the better boxer, then you have to outwork him. This method is the most spectacular way of winning because it changes the tide of the fight and makes for great comebacks. I think every kid has dreamed of a Rocky-style come-from-behind victory. In reality, it rarely ever happens because skills beats physicality all the time. After all, what’s the point of learning how to fight if bigger muscles could get the job done?

Nonetheless, it’s still possible to beat a better skilled opponent by out-hustling him. You’ve got to out-fight him, out-brawl, push this guy to the limit so that he breaks. If you’ve got the harder punch, keep trading until he goes down. If you got the harder chin, just keep taking punches until he gets tired of hitting you. If you got power and endurance, why not just leave it all the ring…keep coming forward until you go down or he goes down. Some of the greatest fights were won this way, one guy taking 3 punches to give one. (Antonio Margarito VS Miguel Cotto comes to mind.)

If you can’t outbox him, out work him.

Make it a Fight

If this how you want to win it, I wish you the best. This is why you always push your limits in training; you never know when you’re going to need it. Show up in really good shape and pray your opponent is not in better condition than you.

 

4. Psychologically

Many of the greatest fighters fought their opponents not just with their body but their minds. They talked trash during the fight (Ali VS Foreman). Stood during the breaks to show off their endurance (Hopkins did push-ups against Pascal 2). Or purposely dropped their hands and took punches to show off their chin (Mayorga VS Forrest). Some encourage their opponents to fight while others ran while making fun of their opponents (Leonard VS Hagler).

Winning the Psychological Battle

Win the mental battle to keep your opponent from fighting at his best. Be annoying, frustrate him, and stall the fight. Keep it close and try to steal rounds. Keep deceiving him and pretending you have more than you do.

Stall the fight with feints and jerky movements as if you have dangerous counters lined up. Make him think you’re faster than him. Cock your hands back as if you were a dangerous power puncher.

Scare him, get into his head, make him think you’re more dangerous than you really are. Slow the fight down to one punch at a time. Pop him with a hard jab and then FAKE a right but don’t throw it. Act as though he wasn’t in perfect position for your right hand. Until you actually hit him, he’ll be cautious of your power.

Get inside his head.

 

5. Heart

Winning on heart is one of the most difficult ways to win anything. That’s why everyone loves to make inspirational documentaries out of heart-wins. It is SO incredibly difficult. Most people don’t have the heart of a champion. In fact, most people don’t even have the heart of a survivor. Let me explain the difference between the heart of a survivor and the heart of a champion.

I would say only 10% of all boxers have the heart of a surivor. And of those “survivors”, only 10% have the heart of a champion. The survivor is the guy who wins the moral victory. He does just enough to lose. Even in losing, he wins over the respect of his fans and he’s proud of himself for the loss.

The fighters with the heart of a champion are the select few people who never take “no” for an answer. These VERY FEW select individuals can battle through the toughest moments and still come out on top. They never make excuses for their loss, they always find a way. These champions always have that magic in the clutch moment when it is needed most.

Most boxers don’t have the heart to win losing fights.
They can do enough to lose honorably, but not enough to win.

Developing the Fighter’s Heart

Developing the spirit of your fighting heart is one of the easiest things to do yet most overlooked aspects of boxing. Too many fighters, especially the beginner ones, don’t preserve their love of the sport. They let their pride and ego get the best of them; they always go too hard in sparring.

Don’t always go all out in the gym, save that fighting spirit for the competition! You will need it then!

When you train, always train so that your passion for fighting grows by the end of your training. If you go too hard, you will lose your fighting spirit, you will lose your passion and love for the sport. It’s a kind of mental over-training that slowly creeps up on you. You don’t realize how tired you are of fighting until the day that you need it most. You’re tired and beaten in a live fight, and you realize right then and there: maybe you just don’t love fighting as much as the other guy.

The best trainers know how to develop a champion’s heart. They know how to push you physically and mentally without burning you out. Not all trainers can do it. It takes a lot to train an fighter to the point where he can stand up proudly and claim, “I REALLY LOVE FIGHTING!” Some guys need to be slapped, scared, confidence boosters, angry, or challenged, etc. Whatever it is, your trainer should know you best.

 

6. Luck

Luck is the craziest way to win a fight, and it happens all the time. Your opponent has an injury, the judges are biased, whatever. I don’t actually want you to count on being lucky. I brought up luck because you should be aware of fights you won on luck. Don’t get big-headed. You should know when the universe worked in your favor. Learn something from that lucky siutation and make a change in your training so that next time you don’t need luck.

I’ve gotten lucky dozens of times. My opponents noses bled to the point that they couldn’t continue. Or I parried someone’s glove in a way that it bent their wrist or dislocated their thumb. One time I landed the perfect body shot when I wasn’t winning the fight in the first place. Yes, a body shot knockout counts as LUCK if you were being outboxed! I know darn well I was losing that fight. I treated myself as the loser and punished myself in the gym the next day. I’m honest to myself about it and learned something from it instead of parading around bragging about my lucky body shot.

 

Beating the Better Skilled Opponent

Just know that boxing is about fighting. It’s not about who has the better jab or the better defense. It’s about who can fight, and fighting is more than just a combination of techniques. And just because someone is better trained than you are, or a better fighter than you are, doesn’t necessarily mean they will beat YOU.

Sooner or later, you’re going to face someone better than you. This is a necessary part of learning and improving your skills. Hopefully, you’ll be ready for it in every way possible. Never forget the amount of control you possess over all methods listed above. Spar against many different styles of opponents. Train hard and keep growing your love for the sport. Even when you face inevitable doom, think happy thoughts and go out with a smile.
This crazy russian boxer at my gym always said:

When you fight someone worse than you,
you pick up their bad habits.
When you fight someone better than you,
you pick up their good habits.

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36 Comments

Radd July 11, 2011 at 8:38 pm

This is a treasure article. Thanks.

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peter July 11, 2011 at 11:37 pm

this was great like always thanks

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Jan Rasmussen July 12, 2011 at 5:32 am

These are wonderful words of wisdom and truly inspiring!

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nick August 6, 2011 at 8:36 pm

:-) awesome artical i have been boxing for nearly 2 years and am now 16 i think im ready for my first fight

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Johnny N August 7, 2011 at 6:02 am

Good luck, Nick!

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shahzar August 11, 2011 at 5:33 pm

good article
;-)good man

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da_qhost September 3, 2011 at 6:41 am


qreatt article, it helps alot

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Sven September 13, 2011 at 4:38 am

Yet another fascinating and inspiring article.
Thanks. I particularly liked the ‘crazy Russian’s’ comment! Now, once again, it simply a question of putting all this excellent advice into practice in the gym and in the ring!

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Johnny N October 10, 2011 at 2:27 am

Give it a try and let me know how you do!

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shawn October 9, 2011 at 11:49 am

Beautiful , wish i read this article before my first kickboxing match haha couldve really used the tips but atleast now for my next fights i’ll know what to train towards .really liked the automation part . i never used to be able to explain how but whenever id fight or spar i wouldnt have to think about which punch i throw it would just flow into a combo of punches and weaves . my favourite habit , but ive been trying to change my automation because i was worried it got too repetative which could become a habit so i figured that breaths and steps also attribute to my sequences so now im trying to figure out a way to make it a habit to take a breath when i throw a 2-3 punch combo but a longer breath when i throw more than 4 punches . . . hope it works

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Johnny N October 10, 2011 at 2:28 am

oooh…yeah, always breathe. take shorter breaths when you’re exhaling for a punch.

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rodmen October 18, 2011 at 12:39 am

it is always a pleasure and interesting to read your articles.

Thank you and regards from Germany, Hamburg

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Johnny N October 18, 2011 at 5:08 am

Much appreciated. Thank you, rodmen.

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tybabycrybaby November 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Your ability to put boxing into words is extraordinary. I am an experienced boxer as well, I have sparred hundreds of people but i always struggle putting what I do in the ring into words. I always say they best way to learn something is to teach it. I have learned a lot from your articles and look forward to teaching these techniques to others.

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Johnny N November 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm

“The best way to learn something is to teach it.” —- so true. Thank you, ty.

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Mac April 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Hey Johnny, tonight I sparred with a pro boxer who has over 60 fights, trained with Jon Jones, and is going to be competing in the olympics. When I was sparring with him, I landed some nice shots and counters, but the majority of it was him having me in the corner throwing at me while i cover up and bob and weave to try my best to survive. Needless to say, I did pretty bad, but everyone was telling me how good I did because he is very experienced. I was very humbled because I can hold my own against a golden glove boxer at my gym, so I felt like I was really good, but after sparring with this guy, it made me feel like shit. I feel like the main reason I didnt do as good as I hoped to was that I wasn’t mentally prepared, and I wasn’t focusing. I was just wondering, if it’s normal to feel like you cant get at level when you think and know you are really good, and then get outclasses. I still believe if I focused as much as I could and really got in the right mindset and focused a lot, then I would be able to hold my own, because I usually can do decent againt pretty with more experience than me.

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Johnny N May 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm

It’s normal to feel pathetic when you get outclassed. Keep working harder and you’ll get there. Don’t get sad, get mad! Get angry and use that energy to improve yourself. If you think you’re amazing, try to prove it to yourself.

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Mac May 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm

haha thanks for the reply man. ya i was a bit down but I realized I wasn’t mentally prepared that night. ill kick his ass next time haha

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Tom Varley July 28, 2012 at 4:41 am

Great article Johnny! I`m just about to head off for my fifth amateur fight and your website is the best place I could have come before the fight. Keep it going for all of us that love this sport! Tom from South Africa :)

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Johnny N July 30, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Good luck, Tom! Post your video on the Facebook.

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Andrew B August 11, 2012 at 6:11 am

This has gave me a lot to think about, such an amazing article, thanks!

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neil roecklein December 6, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Johnny:
I came across your article and it was good information. I find now that I’ve been boxing a year I’m getting better but my friend who just recently got into it has been getting better and handled me too well recently. I don’t know if its because he learned my style or he might be more talented. It shook my confidence a little but I know it just means I have to keep improving. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.
Neil

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Johnny N December 7, 2012 at 10:01 am

I agree with you. It could be anything, style, talent, hard work. Focus on yourself so YOU can get better.

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laurence sherrington-roberts April 12, 2013 at 8:09 am

When you say you “punished” in the gym. What do you mean by that. Does that mean you worked to an extent that you felt bad and miserable on the way home. You do mean fitness not letting another guy hit you right? I don’t think its the right way to go about that after a loss or failure. I don’t know about you but boxing to me is reward, improvement itself is a reward, not just the end result but the journey to improve it. You make it sound like all champion do boxing to win. I’m sure I’ve heard that the too main killers of boxers and all fighters is; taken it too seriously( like its the answer of life) or reaching a certain peak of your training. By saying you ‘punish’ in the gym. You are saying 1. “How dare I be bad at boxing. I have to win.its an extremely bad thing to not good at boxing” How are you suppose to improve if you can’t except your own skill level . And 2.”I hate having to improve myself, I thought I knew it all but I obviously don’t!.” That doesn’t sound right. You said yourself one of the best parts is learning boxing and improving. I Enjoy the fact you’ve given myself a chance to improve even more. That’s what stops losing streaks. Motivation is way better than tough love TRUST ME I lived with myself for 2 years (mental stuff) constantly punishing myself for every little thing (seriously everything. I made a slurping sound with a drink on a train I felt like shit). Dude your obviously way more expeiranced than me and defiantly more talented in boxing itself. But if you keep seeing the gym as a place of punishment you’re gonna hate it. It happened with me at school. Anyways wafledon abit , what I do when I lose a match is I go home sleep, don’t think about it. Then in the morning watch I did wrong, LAUGH, go to the gym ask the trainer (he’s good) look it up on EXPERT BOXING
And improve myself. Sorry if this sounds like a condi sending lecture. But its not. Just trying help improve the sight. I’m saying your shit or anything just given you a different view.

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Johnny N April 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm

I think you’re taking the word more literally than I did. I used the word punish in regards to the context, not in its actual literal meaning. I don’t mean for anybody to whip themselves. But to sit down and face yourself know the truth of what you did wrong…rather than celebrate what you were lucky for. Motivate yourself…but also be truthful and honest. The “punishment” is more like facing the hard feedback of your work rather than congratulating yourself for a lucky shot.

Last but not least, this article is about how to beat a better fighter….not about mental attitude in training. I love the sport and I take my work seriously. When you train for years for something and you make mistakes, it’s natural to be angry at yourself. I’m not a 2-month old boxer that’s going to quit because I almost lost. I’m just settling down to be critical for a moment which can be motivation for improvement. Boxing is more serious to me than most others; I’m not at risk of quitting the sport. I can afford to have a different mindset than others.

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laurence sherrington-roberts April 12, 2013 at 8:10 am

Sorry *I’m not saying youre website sucks it doesnt

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laurence sherrington-roberts April 12, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Thanks for not seeing my comment as an insult

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Cody "IRISH PRIDE" Outland April 17, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Wow. This article helped more than I can explain with words. Seriously, whoever wrote this, thank you sssssssssoooooooooo much.

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Robert June 7, 2013 at 12:24 am

Here’s a great way to become a better fighter, watch this instructional video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e7zG58ZlMo&feature=share

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Johnny N June 12, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Very funny.

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Anthi July 24, 2013 at 5:29 am

I discovered the site about 1 month ago..and has been my top favorite bookmark since! so helpful, funny and inspiring!

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jerry August 22, 2013 at 9:03 pm

when I think of a fighter who could beat a better fighter then he was I think of ken Norton who could beat Ali. In 3 fights I think Norton beat Ali twice . Norton was a good fighter but when It came to fighting Ali he was great . In Joe Frazier book he described what he though 1 .Boxer beat sluggers 2. Volume punchers. beat boxers 3. Punchers beat volume punchers. most of the time .Examples are Ali foreman Frazier . Frazier described himself as a volume puncher

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apollo November 29, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Amazig article

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Ruu February 14, 2014 at 3:43 am

like the site

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Alan February 19, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Very helpful. Thankyou. I am a wrestler but I admire a boxers heart and have always enjoyed the sport because in so many ways it reminds me of my own.

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