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What is Ring Generalship? Horn/Pacquiao Case Study

If you’ve been around boxing long enough, you’ve probably heard the term “ring generalship” thrown around by fans, commentators, or even your boxing trainer. But what does it mean? And, more importantly, how does ring generalship make you a better fighter?Using a case study of Jeff Horn‘s controversial win over Manny Pacquiao, we nail down a definition and explain how ring generalship can help you hit without being hit.

What is ring generalship?

BoxRec defines ring generalship as “the ability of a boxer to dictate the pace, style and tactics of a bout vis-a-vis his opponent.” It is one of four factors used to judge professional boxing, along with clean punching, effective aggression, and defense.The term is somewhat subjective, but for our purposes, ring generalship refers to a boxer’s ability to manipulate space and positioning to dictate where and when the fight takes place. A “ring general” fights on their terms, choosing a battlefield that deploys their strengths against the enemy’s weak points. Because every style is unique, successful ring generalship can look different from fight to fight. For example, Ricky Hatton’s trench warfare has little in common with a Thomas Hearns artillery barrage, except that they’re both examples of boxers fighting on their own terms. 

In a classic display of ring generalship, Ricky Hatton stormed across no-man’s land and ripped Kostya Tszyu’s title from the trenches back in 2005.

With such a broad definition, the only way to really wrap your head around generalship is to see it in action. Jeff Horn’s recent win over Manny Pacquiao (or “win,” depending on who you ask) provides the perfect case study.

Applied Ring Generalship in Paquiao vs. Horn

​Few credit Jeff Horn for his July 2nd, 2017 win over Manny Pacquiao, even after WBO judges re-scored the fight and got the same result. Those who do usually attribute Horn’s win to his size and hustle, dismissing the strategic brilliance underlying his awkward swarming style. 

Horn understood that his best chance to beat Pacquiao was through a series of calculated short-range engagements. Fighting chest-to-chest would make the most of Horn’s strength and volume punching, and keep him safe from Pacquiao’s straight left. 

So there was the plan (and the criteria for Horn’s successful ring generalship):

  • ​avoid a long-range firefight at all costs
  • get inside and crowd Pacquiao
  • wear him down with volume punching from short range

Meanwhile, Pacquiao wanted to create distance and counter-punch at mid-to-long range. So how’d he do it?

Like any good general, Horn used a combination of different tactics to implement his strategy. Let’s break down all three. 

1. Delaying the outside fight with feints

Horn didn’t want to fight at long-range, so he employed delay tactics to shut Pacquiao down on the outside. 

Here we see Horn ​use a series of probing jabs, angle changes, and hand and foot feints to keep Manny on the defensive, without committing to offense that would open him up to potential counter shots:

So long as Manny was thinking and reacting, Horn was safe. It was boxing’s version of the Fabian strategy: occupying and misdirecting the opposition while avoiding big exchanges and frontal assaults. 

Sure, it’s no Gatti/Ward to watch, but Horn’s delaying the outside fight with feints and head movement is a perfect example of successful ring generalship. Going back to our initial definition, Horn chose the right battlefield, and refused to fight where it didn’t suit him. 

Once Horn got Pacquiao’s respect on the outside, opportunities to close the gap and throw short-range combinations appeared. Watch him freeze Manny with foot feints, then abruptly change his attack rhythm to collapse the pocket and land short shots:

It’s just another tactic Horn uses to disrupt Manny’s best weapons and keep the fight on his terms. 

2. Shifting into short range

Horn’s primary tactic for collapsing the pocket and entering short range involved throwing the cross while simultaneously stepping the right foot up into southpaw. Made famous by Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, this technique is sometimes referred to as shifting

Notice Horn’s right foot step forward into southpaw as the cross makes contact with Manny’s guard. The step puts Horn on his chosen battleground (short range), while the punch occupies Manny long enough to stop him counter-punching. 

Horn uses the same shifting step to close range with the cross to the body:

3. Committing to volume punching in close 

Manny wasn’t about to cooperate with Horn’s plan; on the contrary, Pacman’s main goal was to maintain space and score with counter strikes. Knowing that Pac was trying his best to keep away, Horn had to make the most of his opportunities, which meant getting physical and throwing punches in bunches – there’s no point bringing the battle where you want it if you’re not going to deploy your troops, right?

Below, Horn uses all the tactics described above in a beautiful display of ring generalship. 

​The sequence unfolds as follow:

  • Horn uses feints to delay Manny’s offense at mid range (tactic 1). He is effectively denying Pacman his chosen battlefield.
  • Horn throws a right hand to the body and shifts his right foot into southpaw (tactic 2). The shift rapidly collapses the pocket, putting the fight at short range where Horn wants it.
  • ​Horn commits to volume punching, unleashing a series of hooks and uppercuts (tactic 3)

Wrapping Up on Ring Generalship

Whether or not you agree with the judge’s decision, nobody can deny Horn’s incredible ring generalship that night. Using three distinct but complimentary tactics, Horn manipulated space and positioning to dictate where and when the fight took place. Delaying the outside fight, Horn boxed on his terms, choosing a short range battlefield that matched his strengths against Pacquiao’s weaknesses. 

Though Horn’s style of ring generalship is not for everyone, this case study should inform your understanding of this subjective scoring criteria. More importantly, I hope this write-up helps your boxing training. To learn more on the subject from one of boxing’s real generals, be sure to check out A Million Styles Boxing.

​If you have other questions about ring generalship, get in touch on Facebook

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