Cox's Corner

This article first appeared in the Sept 1999 CyberBoxingZone

"Itís a Styles Thing"

By Monte Cox

What is that makes one fight or a particular match-up seem attractive, while another a "bore snore?" How come some fights have us so riveted to our seats we end up screaming in excitement, while others have us fighting to stay awake as we watch our beloved sport of boxing? Itís the styles of the particular combatants.

Weíve all heard the worn out clichť that "styles make fights." This is an ultra-truism in boxing. Not only do the styles of the fighters make a match more or less appealing, but it also helps decide the outcome of individual match-ups. Have you ever noticed that some fighters just have a difficult time when dealing with other certain types of fighters? Ken Norton and Joe Frazier always seemed to give Muhammad Ali fits. Roberto Duran had trouble with slick boxers like Edwin Viruet, Ray Leonard, and Wilfred Benitez. Why is it that Buster Douglas and Evander Holyfield just seemed to have Mike Tysonís number? The answer is quite simple. Itís a styles thing.

Style in boxing is the characteristic, mode and fashion of fighting employed by a fighter in taking advantage of his particular skills. Fighting attributes such as hand speed, quickness, punching power, chin, and stamina, as well as the personality of the individual boxer all contribute to the style he adopts.

There are 3 basic styles in boxing, plus a fourth that is more difficult to narrow down since it is a combination of two of the others (Iíll cover it last). The 3 "basic" styles of boxing are "boxer", "slugger", and "swarmer (or crowder)."

A boxer also called a "pure boxer" is best described by the title of a book by one time Featherweight great Jim Driscoll, entitled "Outboxing, Or Long Range Fighting. (1921)." Representative of this style are boxers like Benny Leonard, Gene Tunney, Willie Pep, Tommy Loughran, Billy Conn, Maxie Rosenbloom, Muhammad Ali, and Pernell Whitaker.

The "slugger" has always been a fan favorite. Lacking the exquisite boxing skills of the "fancy dan" boxer types, the slugger is characterized primarily by his punching power. Examples of the slugger style are Stanley Ketchel, Terry McGovern, Max Baer, Rocky Graziano, Sonny Liston, and George Foreman.

The third basic style is the "swarmer". The swarmer (or "crowder") is identified by his non-stop aggression and pressure on the inside. The swarmer throws more punches than a slugger, usually wearing his opponents down rather than blowing them out. Some examples of the swarmer style are Tommy Burns, Battling Nelson, Harry Greb, Henry Armstrong, Carmen Basilio, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Marciano, and Joe Frazier (some may argue the last two as sluggers but they fought more like swarmers).

When two long-range boxers meet the bout often turns into a strategic chess match, which can be quite boring to the casual boxing fan. Two sluggers going at it make for a far more entertaining, crowd pleasing affair. But what happens when fighters of opposing styles meet?

Typically, but not always, Boxers beat Sluggers, Sluggers beat Swarmers, and Swarmers beat Boxers. It depends on the level of skill each man possesses as to how any bout will turn out, but the contrast in styles does offer a distinct advantage or dis-advantage. It is much like the ancient Chinese "rock, scissors, paper" scheme. One style is better than another against a specific type of opponent, but weaker against the other.

When fighters of a similar level of skill meet, all other factors being about equal, the styles of the particular fighters may indicate the outcome of a given match-up. Boxers generally beat sluggers because they are quicker, and have better defense and mobility. Here are some examples of "boxers beat sluggers": James J. Corbett ko 21 John L. Sullivan (the first to prove that skill could overcome power), Gene Tunney W 10 Jack Dempsey, Cassius Clay Tko 7 Sonny Liston, Jimmy Young W 12 George Foreman, Buster Douglas ko 10 Mike Tyson, and Ivan Robinson W 10 Arturo Gatti.

Swarmers generally beat boxers because of the contrast in styles. Boxers prefer to maneuver at long range while a swarmer crowds him, smothering his punches as he forces his way inside where the boxer is less comfortable. Examples of swarmers beating boxers are Harry Greb W 15 Gene Tunney (Tunney won 4 of 5 but he was bigger and one of those wins was controversial), Marciano W 15, ko 8 Ezzard Charles, Jake LaMotta W 10 Robinson (Jake lost 5 of 6 but Robinson far superior- LaMottaís style gave Robinson trouble though), Joe Frazier W 15 Muhammad Ali (Ali wins 2 of 3 but all tough fights), and Phillip Holliday W 12 Ivan Robinson. Swarmers often give boxers trouble even when they are nowhere near the same class, such as Carmen Basilio beating Ray Robinson W 15.

Sluggers usually beat Swarmers since they are harder punchers and their opponents stand right in front of them. There are many good examples of this; Jim Jeffries W 20, W 25 Tom Sharkey, Sonny Liston ko 1 and ko 1 Floyd Patterson, George Foreman Tko 2 and Tko 5 Joe Frazier.

The fourth style is the "boxer-puncher". He possesses many of the qualities of the boxer; hand speed, often an outstanding jab, combination and/or counter-punching skills, better defense and accuracy than a slugger, while possessing slugger type power. In general the boxer-puncher lacks the mobility and defensive expertise of the pure boxer. Examples of the "boxer-puncher" are Joe Gans, Joe Louis, Ray Robinson, Ike Williams, Alexis Arguello, Tommy Hearns, Felix Trinidad and Erik Morales.

A boxer-puncher may be classified as more of a boxer or puncher. For example Terry Norris was a fine boxer-puncher he destroyed a number of good opponents quickly. He then ran into Simon Brown who turned into a slugger and knocked him out, but in the rematch Norris turned pure boxer and danced his way to a 12 round decision. Fighters like Ray Robinson, and Ray Leonard were also boxer-punchers with excellent footwork. Fighters like Gans, Louis, and Arguello were more punchers but also had highly refined boxing skills. Against the other three basic styles a boxer-puncher does well against pure boxers since they can often match hand speed, and possess the skill to eventually catch there elusive opponents with their harder punches. Examples are Sandy Saddler beats Willie Pep 3 of 4, Ray Robinson W 15 Kid Gavilan, Joe Louis ko 13 Billy Conn, Ray Leonard ko 15 Wilfred Benitez, Thomas Hearns W15 Wilfred Benitez.

Boxer-punchers also seem to have less trouble with swarmers than pure boxers since their greater power discourages much of the swarmers aggression. Some examples of this are Joe Gans W 42 Battling Nelson (Gans lost next 2 but was dying of TB), Joe Louis W 15, ko 8 Arturo Godoy, Jose Napoles W 15 Emile Griffith, Marvin Hagler Tko 11 and ko 3 Mustafa Hamsho, Vince Phillips ko 10 Kostya Tszyu.

Boxer-punchers, however are somewhat less successful against big sluggers, since they often lack the defense or mobility of the boxing stylist. Examples of this are George Dixon Koby 8 Terry McGovern, Carlos Zarate koby 5 Wilfredo Gomez, Alexis Arguello koby 14 and koby 10 Aaron Pryor, Thomas Hearns koby 3 Iran Barkley, Julian Jackson koby 5 and koby 1 Gerald McClellan. Contrary examples can be named also such as Evander Holyfield ko 11 Mike Tyson, Alexis Arguello ko 13 Ruben Olivares, and Carlos Zarate ko 4 Alphonso Zamora where the boxer-puncher beats the raw slugger. The results of these slugfests often depend on who has the best defense or who has the best chin as in a slugger versus slugger match-up.

Many fighters are not so easily classified, those that are "unorthodox" are so named because they do not fit the proto-type of one of the classical styles and may lack some of their ability as a long-range boxer, an inside fighter, or in punching technique. Many of those mentioned such as Ray Robinson are versatile enough to adapt to more than one style. Not all boxers can be lumped into one category, but the style that one chooses does offer an advantage or dis-advantage against a particular opponent.

In the movie "Enter the Dragon" one of the fighters ask Bruce Lee, "What's your style?" If your not sure who to pick in the next great "Superfight", ask yourself, "what are the opposing stlyes?" Is he more of a boxer or a slugger? A boxer-puncher? A swarmer? The outcome of boxing matches will depend upon the talent of the principles involved. If they are fairly evenly matched and your not sure who to pick, or the outcome turns out differently than you expected, simply remember, "Itís a styles thing."

The boxer over slugger, etc. idea was taken from the book: "Who Was the Greatest?" by R. Stockton and published by Boxing Enterprises in Phoenix, Az in 1977.