Tricky slipping patterns for all you slick-flashy fighters!
I’m sure you’ve seen it before…Muhammad Ali, Nicolino Locche, Pernell Whitaker, Prince Naseem, Vasily Lomachenko, and more.
They just got that super slick flashy head movement that lets them dance around RIGHT IN FRONT of their opponents without getting hit. Sometimes they do it to escape from the corner. Others times they do it make their opponent look silly. Or also when they’re hurt from body shots and trying to survive. There are many reasons why you might want this skill!
Let’s be real…nobody reading this site is good enough to copy them (that includes me), but in the spirit of artistic appreciation…let’s make our best attempt!
FIRST LEVEL of Head Movement: Defense
Moving your head to avoid getting hit is a natural defense instinct every fighter has. You’ve probably done it before as a beginner without any instruction; jerking your head around nervously to avoid punches. I’m sure you’ve seen street fights where both guys duck their heads straight down or pulled it straight back to get out of range.
You may have also seen beginners being yelled at in their amateur fights to “move your head more” and so they start bobbing their head side-to-side automatically without any punches being thrown. This is a perfect example of beginner-level head movement, where it’s only used for defense and nothing else.
As I write the 2nd and 3rd parts of this series, we’ll go over head movement WITH counter-punching. For today we’ll go over only fancy evasion tactics and nothing else!
For those needing a more basic head movement guide, please check these out:
Core Head Movement Maneuvers
Some basic head movements you should know before putting together your evasion dance. Aside from defense, head movement should help you find your defense rhythm!
Head movement should help you find your defense rhythm!
- An essential core skill for many fancy head movements. Not all, but most head movements are best done from a planted-feet position. You don’t have to actually “squat” your butt all the way to the floor, but try to feel as if you had the same stability. This is the same as “sit down on your punches” that you hear for punching harder.
- Plant both feet and bend your knees slightly. Some movements are better with both heels planted. Some are better with one heel up (usually the back one). Big tip: try to feel some weight in your feet and not all in your knees; you’ll have to experiment to get the best results.
- The best fighters can quickly plant and un-plant (to move again). The idea is to be able to “plant” with as little knee bend as possible. Otherwise, you use so much energy and time to set and un-set your position.
- GREAT FOR ESTABLISHING BALANCE AND POWER.
- Just like the squat-plant but the extreme version. Bend deep into your knees to get under punches.
- At first, you go straight down and later you can angle your body off to one side or the other. You can see Pernell Whitaker and Mike Tyson doing this a lot. Miguel Cotto does it as well!
- GREAT FOR GETTING UNDER PUNCHES AND GETTING YOUR BODY OUT OF THE WAY.
- Really simple basic skill. Just dart your head in and out as you tempt him to punch at you. Your head goes slightly into range (or appears like it) and then you pull your head back out of range.
- Instead of pulling your head straight back, you can angle it to the back-left or back-right. You can also mix in tiny footwork steps as well. Manny Pacquiao is known for this kind of back-and-forth movement a lot.
- Mix up all three directions, forward and back, forward and back-left, forward and back-right.
- It’s common for beginners to do this with their weight over their back leg (leaning off balance) but I recommend you do this with your weight more over the front-leg. Also, try to move your head with as little distance as possible (make him miss by an inch, not a mile).
- GREAT FOR BAITING PUNCHES AND ESTABLISHING RHYTHM.
The Neck Pull
- Similar to “Back-and-Forth” but you pull your head back without moving your torso. Imagine like you’re pulling your chin into your neck.
- Clever tactic that avoids a punch without setting your body movement in any direction. You can do it from any position…neutral or leaned to one side or even while you’re punching and need to avoid one of his counters immediately.
- You can also tilt your head/neck to one side instead of just straight back. The great Nicolino Locche did a lot of this!
- GREAT FOR SUBTLE SLIPPING AND RHYTHM-INTERRUPTION.
The Torso Tilt
- Probably the most crucial head movement skill ever. Same idea as the back-and-forth darting with your head except your head and torso moves in all directions (forward, backward, side, all 360 degrees).
- AND you have emphasis on tilting/dipping your torso. Some head movements have an emphasis on the head moving in and out. For the torso tilt, you have more emphasis on the entire torso dipping.
- How far can you tilt? Fighters with shorter upper bodies can tilt a lot without losing balance. Fighters with longer upper bodies might lose balance a bit but their extra torso length helps them lean completely out of the way.
- Try a rhythmic jerky motion; this is not a smooth type of motion but it should still be as effortless as you can. You have to establish a nice slipping rhythm that fits your body for this to work. (Perfect example of powerful torso tilts is Mike Tyson.)
- GREAT FOR ESTABLISHING RHYTHM AND STILL BEING ABLE TO ATTACK.
The Arm Balance
- Reach your arm out as a counter-balance and notice how it allows you to lean your torso and head further back. And as your head leans back, you can then wave in circular motion to one side (like a joystick).
- Can be done in very jerky style like you see with tall fighters like Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko. You can even use your arms to push shorter opponents away while you do this (VERY hard for them to get around this). Or also lay one hand on their shoulder or somewhere on their body (very effective/frustrating for opponents).
- Can also be done in a casual looping (drunken style) that you see with many long-armed fighters like Prince Naseem, Pernell Whitaker, Floyd Mayweather. They kind of wave their head and arms around in a circular style. Sometimes they use their hips to counter-balance as well…which is the next tactic coming up.
- GREAT FOR SLIPPING IN RELAX MANNER WHILE BACKING UP.
The Hip Balance
- Similar mentality to counter-balancing your torso movements with your arms but this time with your hips. You can actually move very fast this way and find all sorts of fun angles.
- Unlike the “arm balance” where your arms move all over the place, here you can have your arms at home close to your face while your hips do all the counter-balancing work. Only issue is it’s hard to move away from your position (footwork) when your hips aren’t under you.
- GREAT FOR FINDING MANY NEW DEFENSIVE ANGLES.
- Very much like the “hip balance” maneuver but you bend straight over almost like you’re bending down to tie your shoes. Yes, it’s a little scary because you’re somewhat blind and opponents can run behind you but it’s incredibly effective for avoiding shots. Rigondeaux uses that a lot against all opponents (especially Lomachenko).
- Use jerky bug-like rhythms to really disturb opponents attack rhythm. I like to just freeze in this position and WAIT until I feelmy opponents swinging their shots in, and that’swhen I duck! A great bug-like rhythm example again is Guillermo Rigondeaux.
- Works well against any punch, preferably bigger power punches. Just keep going up and down until you get up. The move works itself out. Either they keep swinging and getting tired, or the ref makes you get up. Either way, this move buys you the opportunity to get up.
- GREAT FOR EVADING BIG PUNCHES IN CLOSE RANGE.
- Opposite move of the bend-over. You straighten out your body and lean back, pulling your head straight up. I also thought of calling it the “stand back” as many fighters stand straight up when doing this.
- This is somewhat similar to the arm balance but your arms stay close to you (some fighters even have their arms straight down.) It’s also similar to the hip balance in your hips can help counter balance.
- This move is especially useful for when you want to get away, as it transitions perfectly into back steps.
- GREAT FOR EVADING PUNCHES IN CLOSE RANGE AND ESCAPING.
The Blade Turn
- Simply turning your upper body like a blade from one side to the other. Of course, don’t be so predictable. Sometimes you go all the way from one side to the other. Other times, you go all the way to one, then only halfway back. Or maybe you roll under, then roll over. Etc and etc.
- You might also roll and THEN tilt, or tilt your torso first and then blade turn. Some guys even blade turn so much their upper body is almost in the opposite stance.
- This move is more relaxing. You can chill and take it easy since you’re showing your opponent only a very small sideways slice of your body. The move is done IN rhythm instead of off-rhythm like other maneuvers.
- GREAT FOR RELAXED SHOULDER ROLL DEFENSE.
The Hand Shift
- Something between the “arm balance” and the “blade turn”. You may have seen many slick old-school fighters do this. They turn their upper bodies side to side while shifting their hands around from one side of their face to another.
- Many tall guys like Paul Williams do this (watch his shadowboxing)…or even short stocky guys like Miguel Cotto. It has a nice slick vibe to it that allows you to move smoothly and relax while defending.
- GREAT FOR SLICKNESS AND RELAXING.
The Roll Under
- Just like what it says. Roll your head under punches. Imagine your head drawing a “U” as you dip your head under and come back up.
- This move has a few drawbacks like requiring a lot of energy, taking your eyes off opponent, and can be hard to come back with a counter…but it does a fantastic job of throwing opponents off balance or tiring them out when they miss.
- GREAT FOR WEARING OUT OPPONENTS.
- Exactly what it sounds like. You use pivots or other sharp movements with your footwork to mix in with your head movements. Combining head movement with footwork makes you so much more elusive. The hard part doing it in a RELAXED MANNER!
- Some guys prefer sharp, high energy pivots…like Manny Pacquiao or Vasily Lomachenko. Others prefer a more relaxed slick pivot like Miguel Cotto, Roberto Duran.
- On the inside, it’s great if you can mix in a push AND pivot. Simply bump your opponent or make some contact and then as he tries to push back, you pivot out of the way to make him lose balance momentarily.
- GREAT FOR CREATING ANGLES, ESCAPING CORNERS.
ADVANCED Head Movement Patterns
Time to start putting together your own EVASION DANCE!
Oh, this is gonna be so much fun! We are now officially ready to start wiggling our heads around and coming up with our own “evasion dance” or as I also like to call it “the joystick dance”. I share some classic head movement patterns as well as the ones used by the pros!
No matter how much trainers yell at me for it, I will always enjoy it from time to time. It’s an incredibly useful skill to practice even if you don’t use it in a real match. And best of all, it’s fun as hell!
Just string different evasive movements together to create your own unique evasion dance!
Bait Patterns (beginning of fight)
These head movement patterns are for baiting punches and getting you into the rhythm of slipping and avoiding shots. They’re relatively safe to do and great for the beginning of fights. You can get in and out easily without much risk and also without showing all your slip patterns early.
BAIT PATTERNS establish your rhythm and bait punches.
1. Back-and-Forth, then Roll Under (classic roll under)
This one is a classic range-finder type of head movement for the opening rounds. You do a lot of quick head darting going in and out to draw his jabs. At some point, he’ll get tempted to throw some power shots and when that happens, you roll under and through and come back with a left hook, or pivot off and return a right hand. NOTE: the pivot works better if he’s really aggressive and coming into your space.
2. Bend-over, then Roll Under (bait stall)
So simple and yet so effective. Bend over (forward or side) and wait for a moment before you pop back up. He’ll either wait for you or swing at your head while you’re bent over…simply duck even even lower, rolling under (backwards) and up. Can even do it slowly/casually for maximum slickness.
3. Back-and-Forth, Torso Tilt, then Arm Balance (probing and escaping)
Great one for just getting in close and getting your opponent to throw his shots, then walk yourself back out. You can also do a blade turn after the torso tilt to really make some separation. Keep the energy relaxed. And try to resist taunting him as you’re only encouraging him to chase you down with heavy shots. Try to lull him to sleep so you can surprise him later.
4. Back-and-Forth, Neck Pull (tricky range-play)
This is a funny one used by cocky tricksters. They’ll kind of slip in and out and then pull back only their head and neck. It’s like a one-inch slip. Just to let you know they’ve totally got your range down.
5. Back-and-Forth, Roll Under, Pivot (classic pivot)
This is more for establishing your rhythm than to avoid punches. You tease your head back and forth to draw punches, roll under them, and then pivot away. It’s slick and let’s you get close without taking any damage. Useful for drawing shots to study your opponent’s attack patterns.
Aggressive Head Movement Patterns (attacking)
These head movement patterns are for getting into close range and letting you take your opponent’s space. They’re great for avoiding tons of power shots while also keeping you in range to counter. These movements are also very flashy and can intimidate opponents or discourage them.
AGGRESSIVE PATTERNS avoid big punches and stay in range.
1. Back-and-Forth, Arm Balance, Roll Under, Bend-over (range bait)
Sneaky tactics to get your opponent swinging and missing. Tease with your head moving back and forth, then lean back to bait long punches, roll under those punches, and right as your head is about to come up again you surprise him by bending down 1 or 2 more times. Lots of smooth motion mixed in with jerky movements. Be careful not to do this too early as it gives away your head movement pattern. Do it mid-fight.
2. Torso Tilt, Roll Under, Blade Turn (going inside)
This is VERY aggressive. A bit of slipping, roll under once or twice, then shoulder roll right in front of your opponent. Then do whatever you need from here.
3.Torso Tilt, Roll Under, Pivot, then Bend-over (aggressive angling)
Come right in, slip some straight shots, roll under the big ones, pivot around and then duck under as he swings at your new position. This is a great way to crowd him and make him uncomfortable or anxious.
4. Bend-over, Arm Balance, Duck (inside fighting)
Great tactic on the inside. Bend your head over onto him for a bit and then pull it away as he swings a hook. If he’s still swinging, duck under or even bend-over again. If you want…can even grab his waist at this point or pivot out.
5. Blade Turn, Bend-over, Roll Under, Lean-back (miss recovery)
This is a popular one for when you miss shots and need to avoid the return counters. Suppose you miss a right hand, just rotate your upper body more to avoid the counter right, bend-over to avoid the counter left hook, roll under to avoid whatever other follow-up shots, then pop your head up and use the arm balance to wade back into far range. Another variation is to use a pivot after the roll under.
Defensive Head Movement Patterns
These head movement patterns are for pure defense such as when you’re cornered, hurt, or just trying to get out of a tough place and not looking to fire back at all. Because these patterns can easily avoid many punches, you have to be careful not to resort to these every time. Remember: you can’t defend an opponent to death, you have to throw punches!
Escape tough situations, without countering back.
1. Duck, Torso Tilt, Pivot and Arm Balance (when cornered)
Duck straight down (can sit on the ropes if you want), start tilting your torso at different angles. At some point when he really starts to over-extend himself, you pivot around and then arm balance to lean your head all the way out of range as you walk out calmly. Really really slick!
2. Torso Tilt, Blade Turn, Bend-over (tall man’s defense)
Great tactic for taller rangier fighters. Slip some shots, then start rolling and finally, bend over to get your upper body out of the way entirely. You’d be surprised how many shots you can evade easily with this pattern.
3. Torso Tilt, Hand Shift, Blade Turn (slick defense)
Slip some shots, then block some shots with your back hand (switching it to both sides of your face), then shoulder roll off the rest of the shots. If you absolutely need, roll under and then pivot or step away when your head comes back up. Keep it relaxed and stay in rhythm with this one.
4. Hand Shift, Blade Turn, Roll Under (easy rhythm)
Catch some on your gloves, roll off some punches, then go under. You can also go straight to the shoulder roll, then roll under, then catch the final shots on your gloves…this is harder to catch the rhythm but allows you to counter.
5. Duck, Roll Under, Torso Tilt, Lean-back (slickster, trickster)
This is basically Pernell Whitaker type of stuff. Dip into your knees, roll your head around real quick, slip sharply at different angles, and then lift your head up and backpedal away.
Tricky Slipping Patterns (used by professional boxers)
Pro boxer vs Amateur boxing (sparring)
Love this video. Watch the pro mix in ducks, tilts, and roll-unders. This is standard pro-style movement. Notice how he teases…mixing regular slipping and then bending down extra when the other guy swings. And then when he’s evading long combos…just wiggling his head all over the place. So much fun.
Roberto Duran vs Nigel Benn (sparring)
Lessons from the master! So much tricky head movement on the inside. So many clever subtle movements. Notice he even slips in slow motion at times. He gets his head in close, bends over, and then rolls to the side and under many times. So incredibly relaxed without any care in the world. This is how comfortable you can be when you establish a slipping rhythm that matches your opponent’s punching rhythm (yes, that’s part of the secret).
Pernell Whitaker head movement
One of the greatest defensive talents ever. Precision slipping, athletic ducking. I love how he goes from super smooth to super fast whenever he wants. Similar to Prince Naseem, he also likes to lean back a whole lot. Notice how he uses his hips to balance his torso bending every which way.
James Toney head movement
So relaxed and so slick. Lots of shoulder rolling and bending over. He makes opponents reach all over the place for him.
Prince Naseem head movement
You have to watch his fights in full to get a complete understanding. He’s a genius and extremely unorthodox. All his slipping eventually takes his body and head to a “leaning-back” position where he punches incredibly hard from. Lots of pulling his head back, rolling under shots here and there. He’s smooth when he wants to be and then herky-jerky at other times.
Nicolino Locche head movement
A lot of ducking and lean-backs, and funny neck pulls. It’s harder than it seems. You have to mix in some subtle slipping and shoulder rolls, also punches, or else opponents will over-run you with constant shots. Here’s another great video of him.
Guillermo Rigondeaux head movement
Cuban master at work. Lots of bending over and lean backs…even pivoting from the lean back position. And then many little twitchy shoulder rolls and angles. He makes you reach just an inch, then an inch more, and then he bends or pivots fully out of the way as you lose your balance. This guy is so damn cagey.
Sugar Ray Leonard head movement
An incredible legend whom we don’t always remember for defense. He was known more of as a welterweight Ali, fast flashy hands and swift footwork…but here you can see his incredible slipping on full display. Lots of slick ducking under and clever pivots, also subtle neck pulls and turning away from shots.
ADVANTAGES of Evasion-only Head Movements
Not having to punch allows you to have more creative positions.
The beauty of doing EVASION-only type of head movement is that you have so much more creative range and flexibility in how you move. Not having to throw punches opens up more unexpected positions making you an even more frustrating target to hit. For those of you wondering if it’s safe…yes, and no. NO, it’s not safe because you can’t fire back and smart opponents may capitalize on that. But then again, YES, it’s somewhat safe because many of these positions can make you more defensive or allow you to get into clinching opportunities further limiting his ability to attack you.
As with anything in fighting, all movements are calculated risks. Slipping in and of itself cannot win a fight. However…frustrating an opponent, making him doubt his own attacks and just overall being more cautious of you…that certainly opens the door for you to gain control of the fight. Boxing is 90% mental, remember?
fantastic, perfect timing for where i’m at in boxing development. thank you- esp for the vids- they are great to study
You’re very welcome, Eric! Let me know how you do. These tactics are actually pretty advanced.
Hello Johnny Nguyen,
I have a question, I don’t know which of your articles should I place the question in, so I place it here. And I’m sorry about that! But I wonder how to stop the opponent when suddenly he/she come and bombards ton of combo punch? Do you have any idea or trick to escape from that case?
Thank you for your answer!
Hi DucNH, I have a million guides on counter-punching but if you want to be serious. The best thing in those moments it to trade right hands. Try to time their right hand…the moment you see it coming, dip your head forward and chop that right hand over the top. The combined momentum can knock them out or at least earn a lot of respect. If they’re making careful space and not totally jumping into you well then you’re gonna have to really box your way out with good counters. “Escaping” or running never really works as you’re only going get even more tired when he catches you in the next corner.
Thank you, Johnny Nguyen!
I know escaping or running will not work forever. I just need the solution to get back the space, and be calm to return and fight back. Just a solution for the situation of sudden attack. Thank you again! One more experience for me to get better boxing skill
Hey Johnny Nguyen,
Over the last 5 or 6 years I’ve been developing my own boxing style, I’ve done a lot of training and sparring with my older brother who is a natural heavyweight, 6’1 110kg, he’s a good boxer and due to the dramatic height, weight and power advantage he has had all these years, myself at only 5’7 68kg, I have developed a very defensive style, I use the philly shell guard and I have quick footwork and the reflexes to back it up, all of these advanced head movements are awesome and I’m so glad to finally have a clear layout of the different kinds, I use a lot of these naturally, before I knew what they were called. I have developed my style mainly from watching and studying the old defensive masters extensively, Jersey Joe Walcott, Willie Pep, Ezzard Charles, Nicolino Locche, James Toney, Mayweather, Pernell whitikar etc. Something I need your advice for is whenever I go to a knew gym and tell the trainer I prefer to use philly shell defense they always look at me like they’ve never heard of it, like c’mon I know amature is different to pro styles, but I honestly don’t understand why its so taboo for Australian trainers. What can I say to assure them I am well capable of using the style efficiently, I’ve tried asking them to let me spar to prove it but the lasy traine ri had said I had to be a member for more than three months to spar, so I left, i am currently searching for a new gym.
Hi Al, trainers are going to be turned off by a beginner telling them what they want to learn. My best advice is to show respect and let these old-timers share their experience with you. All these styles you see are usually a TREND. Back when Ali was around, everyone wanted to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Then Mike Tyson came along and then everyone wanted to do peek-a-boo. Now Mayweather is here and everyone wants to do the philly shell. Trainers laugh at it because they know it has to do with the individual and not the style.
I also wanted to say that I really appreciate all of your articles, they have actually been a lot of my form of study, this latest one is my favourite of course, and I was just wondering if there is any possible way I could send you some footage of me sparring with my big brother so you can give me a bit of an assessment and some advice possibly?
Hi Al, join our free Facebook group. Upload your video there for some friendly community feedback.
I’m curious, do you plan to finish this?
I have other stuff in this works, so part 2 isn’t coming out for some time.