"Film study" is more than just a fancy term for watching fights. When done right, boxing film study is one of the best tools you can use to pick up new techniques, develop training drills, and increase your fight IQ. As an exercise, it's useful for anyone with an interest in boxing, and essential for those without regular access to a trainer. If you're strictly a fan, I still recommend it - a single film study demo will take your appreciation of the sport to another level.
Today's post outlines film study tips, guidelines, and exercises to help you become a better student of the game. First, we explain the different styles of boxing film study. Next, we share 6 of our most valuable boxing film study tips. Finally, we cover our #1 study exercise, and link you to some examples of high-level film study sessions.
Why Include Boxing Film Study in Your Training?
There are three kinds of film study, each with different training utility:
- Studying the opponent: Active boxers often analyze footage of future opponents to spot tendencies that could be exploited on fight night. For example, if you notice your opponent drops his rear hand when he jabs, you might train yourself to hook off of their jab to exploit that opening.
Finding recent footage of the opponent is never easy, especially for amateur fighters, but it's usually worth a look. Think of it as a heads start on the "feeling out" process of a fight where you gauge the opponent's movements, reactions, and preferred punches.
That said, some boxers prefer not to watch their opponents, and more power to them. There's always a risk of developing too much respect for your opponent's game. After so many hours of study, you get used to watching them work and become too passive in the fight. Moreover, your opponent could correct whatever weakness you spotted before you meet.
- Studying the best. This form of film study refers to the analysis of pro fight and training videos for the purposes of learning new skills, developing training drills, and increasing your boxing IQ.
For example, suppose you wanted to improve your cross.
First, you'll want to identify fighters who are known for their cross, and specifically the cross characteristics you're trying to improve. If you wanted more power, you might study the punch mechanics of Thomas Hearns or Kelly Pavlik. To develop a faster lead cross, you could analyze Floyd Mayweather's set-ups and shoulder positioning.
Once you've identified which fighter to study, take notes and use them to develop relevant training drills. Notice Hearns gets more leverage by pulling his right shoulder way back as he jabs? See Floyd squaring his shoulders up slightly to shorten the cross's travel time? Work these technical adjustments into drills, starting with shadowboxing, then working through boxing's "training hierarchy": first shadowboxing, then heavy-bag, focus mitts, sparring, and finally fighting.
For best results, apply the analytical tips in the next section, then rinse and repeat for any technique you want to develop!
Unlike studying the opponent, this form of boxing film study is recommended for competitive and recreational boxers of any level, and there are really no downsides. This will be our focus today, though our film study tips apply to all three forms.
- Studying yourself. Like shadowboxing in the mirror, watching yourself on video shows you what your opponent sees, giving you a chance to spot any openings before they do. For non-competitors, it's still one of the best ways to identify technical errors and see what needs to improve. This style of boxing film study is very intuitive: you spot your mistakes, then focus on correcting them.
Boxing Film Study Tips for Beginners
Everybody has different study habits, but there are some "best practices" out there that apply to all 3 styles outlined above.
This section shares 6 film study tips we've found to help beginners become better students of the game.
1. Turn off the commentary.
When you sit down to study film, the first thing you should do is hit the mute button.
Boxing commentary isn't helpful for film study; it focuses on the spectacle, not the sport. Though exceptions do exist (Teddy Atlas, Paulie Malignaggi, and Andre Ward come to mind), you're usually better off cutting out the distraction.
However, if you're studying training footage, leaving the sound on can come in handy. You can learn a lot about your punches by the sound they make hitting the mitts. If you're watching pro training, you might even overhear some helpful coaching cues from trainer to fighter.
2. Pause and replay often.
Film study isn't like watching the fights with your friends. Boxing techniques happen so fast, you'll miss a lot of technical detail if you let a fight play from start to finish.
Keep your finger hovering over the pause button and be prepared to replay the same exchange again and again.
3. Isolate exchanges.
Every fight or sparring sessions is really just a series of exchanges, broken up by "entries" (e.g. jabbing into range) and "exits" (e.g. pivoting out after a combination). We recommend studying individual exchanges, rather than trying to wrap your head around an entire round's worth of action at once. Most exchanges last 5-8 seconds.
4. Watch lots of different fighters (and even different sports!).
Don't limit your film study to one fighter whose style you want to emulate. This is a common beginner mistake.
Instead, study as many different fighters as you can. Try to get a look at everything that's out there and expand your vision of what's possible in the ring. This is especially important for competitors who can't afford to be surprised by unfamiliar styles in the ring. You may be surprised by what you're able to borrow from others, even when their style isn't supposed to mesh with yours.
As your film study habits improve, you'll learn to take lessons from anything. Certain athletic principles carryover, even from non-combative sports. Though boxing is always the best learning material, studying Muay Thai, wrestling, or even basketball can help develop your understanding of leverage, balance, body mechanics, timing, and foot speed.
Gennady Golovkin teaches Sullivan Barrera wrestling-style head positions for inside fighting.
5. Don't forget to study training footage.
Studying fight footage is a must, but do not neglect professional training footage. If you want to fight like the pros, you need to know how they train. There's a shocking amount of raw training footage online, and careful study uncovers a lot of gems, especially when fighters or trainers start talking shop...
Andre Ward shares boxing secrets in a late-night training session.
6. Pay attention to what both fighters are doing at all times.
You may focus on one fighter at a time, but it's important to always be aware of the broader context in which their techniques are being used. To do this, you have to watch both fighters, even if you're focusing on one over the other.
The bottom-line here is that we should never look at a technique in a vacuum. This is what A Million Style Boxing coach Barry Robinson refers to as "looking at the what." Pointing out WHAT is happening (e.g. Roy Jones Jr. has his hands down) is low-level analysis that tells us very little. Instead, paying attention to HOW, WHY, and WHEN the technique is being applied tells us volumes.
Using our example of Roy Jones Jr. putting his hands down, we would look at the position and behaviour of the opponent to assess whether RJJ's decision was a good one:
- Asking WHEN Roy dropped his hands, we might see that it only happened when the opponent was too far away to take advantage of the openings.
- Asking WHY Roy drops his guard, we realize the opponent is susceptible to punches that come from under his line of sight.
- Asking HOW Roy got away with it, we might realize how Roy's dedicated counter punching has affected the opponent mentally, discouraging them from opening up.
While this is all hypothetical, we can see the value of watching what both fighters are doing to take our analysis "beyond the what." In this case, rather than simply saying "having the hands down is a good/bad thing," we can learn about safe distance, unorthodox punching angles, and the mental effect of successful counter punching.
#1 Film Study Technique for Beginners: The "Pros and Cons" Exercise
The Pros and Cons exercise will move you one step closer to understanding the "secret" of boxing, which is that there are no rules, and anything can work in the right context. Before I get into the exercise itself, allow me to briefly expand on this point.
In boxing, there are best practices. Some techniques land at a much higher percentage and generally keep you safer than others, and these have become the core fundamentals of the sweet science. While mastering these core fundamentals is key, limiting yourself to the "textbook" stunts your growth and makes you predictable. Knowing when to bend and break the rules is the sign of a true master in anything, and you only reach that level once you expand your vision of what's possible in the ring. Rather than labeling any technique as inherently good or bad, try to identify the pros and cons.
Here's how the Pros and Cons exercise works:
- First, choose a single technique to study from a fight exchange you've isolated. For simplicity's sake, let's stick with our previous example of Roy Jones Jr. dropping his hands down to his waist.
- We will start by listing the PROS. Your goal is to highlight all of the benefits of the technique in question. Remember to factor in what the other fighter is doing, too. It can be hard to get past stylistic biases - some people can't imagine ever dropping the hands, or throwing a rear hook, or crossing the feet before a pivot - but challenge yourself to remain objective and list all the positives you can.
EXAMPLE: Roy Jones Jr. keeping his hands down is very easy on the shoulders. It baits the opponent to throw, making counter punching a great option. The low hand position shortens the distance his body punches have to travel, and also works like a tightrope walker's pole, improving balance to make footwork and head movement easier. Finally, it can be pretty intimidating.
As you can see, writing off unorthodox techniques means missing out on a lot of strategic options!
- Now we will list the CONS. Replay the same technique, only now you're a hyper-critical asshole. List every possible downside you can think. This will help you calculate risk in the ring so you can make better decisions under stress.
EXAMPLE: Roy Jones Jr. dropping his hands leaves him wide open to be hit. It's also terrible for hand-fighting, and puts him a step behind if the opponent initiates a clinch. Moreover, the low hand position adds a lot of travel time to any punches targeting the opponent's head, making them easier to avoid.
Remember, there are pros and cons to every move you make in the ring. This film study exercise will help you understand them.
Best Examples of Boxing Film Study
When it comes to film study, Barry Robinson can't be beat.
I highly recommend studying the entire A Million Styles Boxing archive, which includes 300+ film studies that are sometimes available on YouTube (Barry occasionally pulls the archives down for a reboot). Visit his website to see what's available and how to get it.
Wrapping Up on Boxing Film Study
Proper film study is what separates the good from the great. Boxing icons swore by it. Regular boxing fight analysis led me to some of my biggest training breakthroughs.
Don't settle for the boxing knowledge contained in your gym. For the first time in boxing history, every Internet-privileged person has the power to study the greatest technicians of all time, with full freeze-frame, replay, and slow-mo capabilities. This is a tremendous opportunity for your boxing growth, as well as the evolution of the sweet science, so don't waste it.
I hope you found this beginner's guide to boxing film study helpful. If you have any questions, hit me up on Instagram (@macrea), Twitter (@mac_rea), or join our tech talk on Facebook.