DING! DING! DING! NOW WHAT?!
If you’re like most fighters; you were more prepared before the bell than after it. Craziness ensues in real fights. There’s no time to sit and think about what you want to do. Technique and strategy goes out the window when all you want to do is defend yourself.
Luckily, there is a better way. It’s called the feeling out process. The feeling out process is what keeps fighters from being torn to bits before they’ve even straightened out their headgear. The feeling out process is how smart fighters turn a difficult match around and get the victory even when they’re out gunned.
But how do you do it? If you thought feeling out meant moving around and stalling the fight with jabs, YOU ARE WRONG!
The Feeling Out Process
The feel out process is probably one of the most misunderstood boxing strategies ever conceived. The idea is basically to be patient and take your time when the fight begins. If you’ve ever tried this before against a high level opponent (or even some brawlers), then you know it doesn’t work 99% of the time.
Every fight starts out even. Nobody knows what another person’s style is like. Both fighters (assuming they are equally skilled) have just as much chance as landing against each other. Knowing this, the one who throws first will usually land first. After all, you’re either punching or defending. I don’t have any problems with fighters being told to be patient and to use their intelligence. What I do have a problem with is fighters not fighting during the fight!
always be fighting!
Yes, you are ALWAYS FIGHTING!
You are ALWAYS READY TO FIGHT! As soon as that bell rings, you better be ready to throw punches and defend without having to think! Here’s where some fighters complain, “But how can I throw the right punches and use the right defense without feeling out my opponent first?”
…that’s why there’s this magical thing called training…
Training should have refined your technique and reflexes to the point that they’ve become automatic. Everyone knows how to throw a proper jab. Everyone knows how to block, knows how to counter a right hand. But the question is: can you do it automatically? Can you fighting without having to think?
The feel out process is for the dominant fighters
The feel out process is not for the weak. Weak fighters get destroyed. Whether or not they think, they were going to lose the fight anyway. If anything, I would say that thinking makes weak fighters even weaker. If you’re the less skilled and less confident fighter, I would suggest for you to go out there and be wild and do whatever comes naturally to mind. Trying to “feel out” your opponent will likely prolong a slow embarrassing beat-down. If you’re going to lose, it’s better to at least get some shots in and earn your opponent’s respect. The more you guys think, the more likely the better skilled fighter will win!
Now for the skilled fighters and the strong fighters, you guys are the ones with the privilege of feeling out your opponent. Dominant fighters have all the time in the world to think as much as they want. You’re not afraid of fighting because you win every time you exchange. The reason you feel out is so you can maximize your exchanges. This is why the feel out process is for FIGHTERS, not thinkers.
The feel out process is for
FIGURING OUT how to hit each other,
not for WAITING to hit each other.
And the real trick to the feel out process…is being able to do it WHILE YOU’RE FIGHTING.
As I’ve said before, it’s for the dominant fighters. The stronger, better trained guys. These are the guys who can think while they fight. Their skills are so well trained that they can throw combinations while figuring new angles of attack against their opponents. Their technique is automatic and so their head only has to worry about strategy. Lesser skilled guys are still busy worrying about technique and therefore they get in trouble when they give up their focus on technique to think about strategy.
Dominant fighters can fight AND think at the same time.
Weak fighters can only fight OR think.
How to Feel Out Your Opponent
Assuming you’re well-trained enough to fight on auto-pilot against ANY OPPONENT, here are the things I would think about at the beginning of every fight:
How aggressive is he?
- How much power does he have?
- What punch should you avoid?
Is he a forwards fighter or a backwards fighter? Is he a trigger-happy brawler? Or a patient tactician who waits all day for you to make a small mistake? What are his best punches and how powerful are they?
An aggressive fighter with powerful punches means I have to be ready to block punches and fight for the center. I never like to give up ground too early because he might get the idea I’m easy to push around. A passive fighter can be the easiest to beat or the most dangerous. They’re easy because they let you walk them down and take their ground. But they can be dangerous because they really know how to catch you with coming in.
What’s his style?
- What are his habits?
- What are his favorite counters?
- What are his tricks?
Style isn’t something I can explain easily. When I say style, what I mean is…how should you deal with this guy. Compare what he does to what you’ve seen before. The way he holds his hands or moves his feet around the ring. The way he blocks and slips. There’s no time to analyze him. You have to quickly match him with a similar style you’ve dealt with before and follow some patterns. With time you’ll hopefully figure out what he’s trying to do.
What are his favorite counters? Everyone has many but your job is to at least figure out one. After the first minute, you should be smiling to yourself, “A-HA! So THAT’S what he likes to throw!” And use that to your advantage the rest of the fight.
How to figure him out
Try to take his ground and see how aggressive he is in holding his position. Take a step forward and see if he bounces back or throws vicious counters. Some guys like to walk you down slow. Others like to walk away slow. Some guys like to jump back and forth.
The next test is to throw some punches at him. What does he when you jab? Or when you throw the right hand? Is he more likely to defend and then counter? Or does he counter immediately? Or does he not like defending at all and just moves away entirely.
How does he respond when you defend? Is he a cautious attacker? Some guys like to throw a jab and see what happens. Others will throw entire combinations into your guard without any worry of retaliation.
The feel out process is automatic!
The truth is, I don’t really ask myself all these questions when I fight. It’s a natural process refined over years of fighting. I honestly have no idea what’s going on when I fight. I’m not analytical, or emotional, or even physical. After getting in the ring a million times, I’ve learned to just enjoy the process.
I get in there and do whatever is needed to win. I throw punches the way I’ve been trained. I defend punches the way I’ve been trained. And I’m always looking for new ways to penetrate my opponent’s defense. I fight and feel out at my opponent at the same time but this happens on a sub-conscious level. I guess that’s what they call being “in the zone”. On a conscious level, all I’m really doing is enjoying the fight.
Learn to fight,
and then the feeling out process becomes natural.
Every fight requires 2-way communication.
The feel out process is really just a method of acquiring feedback while you fight. If you’re not fighting, you won’t have anything to feel out. Fighting is a 2-way form of communication. Kind of like speaking and listening. And 2 way communication is FEEDBACK & RESPONSE. Feedback requires alertness and paying attention to your opponent by feeling him out. Response requires fast trained reactions which are developed through training.
Wow ! Another great article .. really helpful !
Thanks ! 🙂
I always thought feeling out meant feinting and throwing uncommitted decoy attacks to see what the other guy is about, which in the amateur circuit is never an option: Opponents almost always seem to come out full bore since they know they have only three 2 minute rounds in which to win.
So in essence, if you’re a fighter who actively thinks strategies and counter strategies in response to your opponent while fighting, then you’re always feeling people out? Or is there something different than just fighting smart in reaction to what your opponent does?
I have great staircase strategy. Everything occurs to me on my way down the stairs after the fight as I play it back in my head. Makes for a great ability to win re-matches, but it would be nice if I could process earlier.
Exactly, you’re always feeling people out! Always trying to get a read on him AND USE IT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE! It’s no different from hitting a double-end bag. You’re always trying to get a feel for where the double-end bag will move next so you can hit it or slip it.
If you feel too slow it’s because you don’t have enough training. 2 way communication is FEEDBACK & RESPONSE. Feedback requires alertness and paying attention to your opponent by feeling him out. Response requires fast reaction which is developed through training.
Thanks again, Johnny. Awesome advice.
Great article man. What a coincidence that I just read this today, because i realized I did this last night. I was boxing with a marine, and he was very aggressive, but I have really good defense so the only clean shots he landed were a few to the body. In the 2nd round, I realized that he was throwing a ton of straight rights, so I baited him into the corner, and defended 4-5 shots by shoulder rolling, waiting for the heavy right, and as soon as it came, I shoulder rolled, and came back with an overhand right and dropped him. You are completely right when you say it is automatic, it just happens without thinking. Once again man, amazing article, you never let me down man.
Wow, this is great and couldnt have come at a better time… Im taking a lot of pointers from this but please give me a little advice on a situation. Couple of days ago, a “beginner”came to the gym and gave me a hard time during a sparring session. It was definately a head scratcher and wake up call for me. It didnt help that he was 170lbs of muscle w/ natural athletic instincts and me, a 135lbs of skin and bones, BUT NO EXCUSE, I shouldve outsmarted and outwitted him with my experience(2 years amateur ring experience-whatever that means, haha). He admitted he was scared of me so just started brawling and pushing me around. My style is counter attacking/defensive/baiting him in. Unfortunately he just suffocated me with flurries of wild aimless punches and I couldnt do a thing about it. I glanced at my coach and he gave me a look as if I needed this and I needed to learn how to handle this- which is true. It just started getting a little dangerous after he threw me out of the ring twice. This article has helped me tremendously, but any more advice on my particular situation? Yeah, I know I probably shouldnt risk injury with a bigger guy with less or no control but I strive for challenges like this and cant wait to get back in the ring with him. Help… and thank you!
Personally, that guy will do very little for your boxing career. The way he fights will not represent how a higher level opponent fights and you’ll learn very little by fighting with him. I never let myself get beat up by an opponent who can’t teach me anything. I’d rather get beat up by a pro instead of some random thug without any control.
But I guess if you want to beat him, I would say develop a better defense, stronger punches, and the conditioning to keep it up. There you go.
sounds like an opportunity missed for both you and your opponent. Nothing productive can come out of a match up like that. Sparring QUESTIONABLE.
Rodrigo Mosquer would say “If you don’t have it in you…you don’t have it in you”. You where born to practice and teach The Art of the Fist…and phsycology.
Bruce Lee reborn.
Thank you teacher.
Thank you… I was feeling the same thing. Honestly, I wasnt happy with the fact that my “coach” let this happen. I was convincing myself to “man up” and believing him when he said I needed to learn how to answer his pressure. I couldve seriously been hurt both ways I fell out of the ring. I appreciate and needed that perspective from you…. I may have to rethink joining another gym/team.
Just know that getting beat up is easy. Everyone can do that. But after getting beat up 20/50/100 times…it’s like you’re already proven tough. So what’s next? Learning is what takes you to the next level. I don’t know what getting beat up teaches anyone–nothing more than a free lesson in humility.
John Taylor York
Are there any videos of you sparring? I think I speak for all when I say I would like to see a whole sparring session
No disrespect John but I, like many here have no interest in seeing him spar. I enjoy, learn and respect his POV and take it at that… I dont know if that would prove anything because he has nothing to prove. Even if he showed a whole sparring session it would be against ONE individual person with a particular skill set, level and style. It wouldn’t validate him either because we all can show ourselves “schoolin” someone but then there is always someone out there who can beat us. Unless he shows a video of himself sparring as to make a point about something or to learn from, then yes, I’d be interested.
John Taylor York
I think you misunderstood me. I don’t mean for him to show us he can really fight. If he didn’t know how to fight he wouldn’t know all the little intricacies of fighting. I just want to see him spar. I’m a visual learner and I think it would be fun to see him fight. Just like how I learn something from fighters in my gym and fighters on tv. I think it would take the learning everyone gets on this website, and take that learning into more depth.
I do have over 100 sparring videos of myself out there.
My feelings echo those of Jay. I could show a video of myself looking amazing against weak competition or show a video of myself committing critical mistakes when under pressure. Neither would prove how good I am unless you met me in person.
Ultimately, my goal is to teach and knowing this, I should point to great fighters who can demonstrate the skills to you better than I do. If you want to learn, watch videos of the pros because they do it better than me. If you want to see a video of me beating up a newbie or getting beat up, I don’t see how that benefits your learning.
If you want to see examples of a technique that I haven’t demonstrated in an instructional video or article, let me know and I will find you a link.
John Taylor York
I know what you mean Johnny. I’m not trying to get you to prove how good you are man. I just thought it’d be interesting seeing you fight that’s all.
Oh definitely! That’s the only reason I would share a video. When I get time later, I’ll make a compilation of my sparring footage.
John Taylor York
Okay cool bro. I didn’t mean for that to be taken the wrong way. But some sparring footage would be sweet because on my Mac I can slow down the speed of the video and see all the little intricate things
hi johnny.. This is out of topic. But i would like to request for an article about hand injury and how to prevent them. Thanks
1 – wrap your hands properly
2 – use proper training gloves, gear
3 – proper punching form
4 – stop if you injure yourself
yo john, big respect to you bro by answering my request.. makes me feel like i can scientifically increase my fight game as this was one thing i could not understand when a coach used to say it, and i used to wonder why other dudes were like better ant exploiting my weaknesses although i am presentably tough.. May i remind that some trainers or coaches dont know anything about this very important aspect of the arts and that they decieve people with the “trainer look”. the trainer look is any guy who has a spit bucket, a towel, and some grease in a bag that calls himself a coach.. very decieving to a lot of amateurs and also thats why we have a lot of broken jaws and black eyes and stiched up mouths.. Thanks again Johnny!
Trying to throw the jab so you can gain some direction toward throwing a hook around it or a uppercut underneath the guard. By sencing how to opponent reacts you know how to set up and even place shots. Simply put Ok this guy can parry my jab but not to the body – throw more body jabs there on.
Is this apart of the feeling out process to defunk this guys ringwork?
Yes, that’s one way of looking at it.
Love all your articles because they beat the crap out of all other boxing sites! Super super helpful
The sport of boxing needs more guys like Johnny Nguyen
Thank you, Hearns.
Thanks for the article! Recently, a brawler outboxed me as i tried to feel how strong he was. He hit me so bad.And I suggest before feeling out, quick heavy combination is necessary to discipline your opponent. Otherwise he will brawl you out of the ring just like one did to me.
Thanks for your tips Mr Johnny, they motivate me during those hard moments when i feel like i wanna quit, then i remember something.
“The feel out process is not for the weak. Weak fighters get destroyed…I would say that thinking makes weak fighters even weaker. ”
What the hell is this all about? You sound like the evil karate instructor from the 1884 Karate Kid movie.
Awesome comment. I know it sounds mean but that’s how I really feel about it. If you’re not trained enough to have automatic reflexes, sacrificing your focus on thinking instead of fighting will only hurt you. The best fighters can afford to “feel out” because they fight well even on auto-pilot.
Johnny, this’s the first time I write man, but ‘been reading and watching your videos for a while, thanks a lot man, they’re really helpful. On the subject I’d like to say that It’s a great article, altough I’m a 160 lbs ex-weightlifter, many times I’ve been outboxed by lighter boxers, and that’s because boxing is not all about being muscled, but about being fast and properly trained(which I’m far away yet), but I don’t quit, nor I leave myself open to beat ups. Instead, I’been talking with my partners at the gym and convincing them about sparring slow and light, not like the first sparring sesions which seemmed to be like the fight over the inheritance!
There’re not many couches/trainers with the proper ethic so that boxing achieves a decent level of philosophy, similar to that of the martials arts(karate, kung fu, etc.), so with that been said, WAY TO GO JOHNNY!
Its a great article, I find it very interesting and helpful, but I want to ask you a question:
Is it possible to feel out an opponent that strikes hundrets of punches(even if they are not very good) and what is the way I should fight against him? Should I wait until he makes a mistake(I usually do this), or find a better solution??
The problem is that some of his punches always hit me and I just have to focus on deffence for most of the fight? What to do?
As I’ve already said before, you should already be fighting. You should already be throwing your own punches while simultaneously trying to defend against his. This is a fight. A guy busy throwing punches will not give you any time to think so you will need to be well-trained with automatic reflexes before you fight him.
Thanks Johnny, I’ll try to work on reflexes for more time. Very helpful advice
Hi, how I can do to beat the highest fighters, and more powerful, is that when I want to hit is thrown backwards, and when I throw punches waist eluded me. Thanks Man!
another awesome article about boxing, this can only come with a man who has stepped in a rin a million times. YOu are like the equivalent of musashi the swords man in terms of figting awareness 🙂 keep it up sir, Im a fan
Good article as usual.
I am 50 years old and going in the ring with younger boxers, you really need to know what you are about.
My primary style is a counter puncher e.g. Jimmy Young, but I can adapt to more of a puncher boxer style when needed. stick to your strengths and then make adaptations, but first you need to see how others react, with your offense and you need to see how they attack as well. You must throw a punch to win. Only sparring will give you the experience you need to handle those situations. This is the time to learn about range and other peoples approaches as the article pointed out.
For me I just spar so i have the advantage to see how guys approach fights, naturally they have the ability to adapt as well. That said this is within reason, you will not likely see a brawler all of a sudden become a boxer, or at least not often. Jab, Jab, and Jab, When in doubt jab the old timers used to say,. the jab can reveal a lot, what hand does he block with does the boxer move, what is their primary type of defense i.e. Philly shell, peek a boo,
That said there are fights like Hearns. v.s. Hagler where it is very doubtful there was much feeling out process.
Hi Johny, great site. I started training boxing in december, i am 5´8 and i was weighting 93 kg, the first month i spar a couple of times, and get beat once. Then in january the trainner said “do you want to participate in the “my first globes” tournament ?”and i said yes. so i trained january and febrary and the first two weeks of march. I only did spar on fridays, only training 7 hours a week, and only one day doing mitts a week. I got to 86 kg and enter the contest in 91 kg division, by the week before tournament i did spar with a younger and taller guy with no technique and i realized i had improved a lot but i was slow and sliping was not natural for me i mean in spar i prefer to block rather to slip. But i said whatever lets give i try i want to test myself i can combat my fears. The thing is that i had my first fight and the other guy was a little smaller than me and i beat him, let me tell you never in my life i have hit somebody like that, i won the fight but at the end of the fight i felt a little dissapointed with the aggresivity of the sport, but i said whatever, the second fight was the final bout cause there were only 4 guys. In my next fight i didnt knew who i was fighting till i go up in the ring. And man this guy was at least 8 centimeters taller than me and fucking full of muscle and my brother told me he is a mma fighter that was boxing to improve his mma. So i got scared like no moment i remember in my life, but once in the ring i said well this is the test you want for fear and i said lets doit, the other fight i throw lots of punches and combination, but this time i said lets wait him and try to counter, everything was right the guy was a bit slower than i maybe and in the time he was coming i throw jab o right stragiht, the guy was fucking strong his punches were the strongest i have blocked, but i think i wasnt bad in the scorecards cause i was hitting jabs more than him, i wasnt punching hard cause i didnt want to get exposed. The thing is that in the last 20 seconds the guy throw a combination, and got me with a left cross hiting my head and my nose, i didnt get knocked down, but i got a bit stuned, and right after that i covered and went inside him, but the referee said stop , he started to count and i was a little bit dazed, but not that much, i mean i think that i could continue but the referee stoped the fight and i lost, i didnt care cause i think i was doing well. but the thing is how i was supposed to fight towards a stronger opponent like this, thankyou very much
Man you complicate the sport soo much shit ain’t that hard my dude. You making it seem like rocket science for beginners lol