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!
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.”
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 Anti-technique and Style.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.