The Southpaw Guide.
Written by Sang from Bullshido.net .
The main purpose of this extremely long-winded article was to organise my thoughts on this subject so I can improve my own fight game. The following is just theory, and reading it won’t magically mean you are able to pull it off the next day flawlessly, I am still learning myself and am happy if i remember any of this stuff when I spar. The whole thing is written from the perspective of a left-handed Muay Thai fighter in a Southpaw stance but a lot of the theories will apply to other stand-up styles such as boxing and kickboxing.
This is accumulated knowledge from readings across many forums and Internet pages along with instruction from my coaches and self-experimentation (no homo). Hopefully this article helps out some new fighters and stops the constant southpaw threads from popping up.
Part One – F.A.Q.
What is a Southpaw fighter?
A Southpaw is someone whose stance has the right leg forward instead of the usual orthodox left leg forward. These fighters are usually left handed which means they are much less common than orthodox fighters. There is an approximate 10% chance that a fighter will be left handed or fighting out of a Southpaw stance. There are two main exceptions to this; in Thailand where a larger portion of Muay Thai fighters are Southpaw, and in Mexico where there are entire gyms dedicated to training Southpaw boxers.
What are the advantages of being a Southpaw?
There is a saying in boxing that southpaws should be drowned at birth. When fighting someone whose stance is the opposite of that which you are used to, everything feels wrong. Attacks come from different angles, your targets change and the footwork can confuse you. This is an advantage of being a Southpaw fighter, the last thing people want to face in the ring is something they have no experience with which makes everything they do seem clumsy. The main advantage of being a Southpaw is that every day you will spar orthodox fighters while your opponents will very rarely spar Southpaws.
Even though there is an advantage, please do not over-value it. I’d guess that it adds at most a 10% chance to win at the amateur and early pro level. The key factors in an amateur standup fight will always be conditioning, technique, heart, aggression and the ability to handle pressure. These will be what determines whether you win or lose the fight, do not let ‘he’s a Southpaw’ play games with your head.
What are the disadvantages of being a Southpaw?
There are two main disadvantages associated with being a Southpaw. For starters most coaches are Orthodox fighters and much of the skills they try and teach the class will be tailored to the Orthodox fighters. Some may not even be able to teach you the intricacies involved with fighting out of this stance. Another disadvantage is the difficulty in finding fights, a lot of top boxers will duck fights with Southpaws since they often make for awkward, boring fights. If you have your heart set on getting a title you may be hard pressed as a Southpaw boxer.
Should I switch to Southpaw as a right handed fighter?
Short answer: No, maybe in boxing if your coach tells you to.
Long answer: In the typical Southpaw V Orthodox situation, the lead limbs become less important than they would be in Orthodox v Orthodox. The jab becomes less useful and the only areas where you really benefit from being southpaw such as the rear roundhouse and straight are off the weaker side of your body. Essentially you would be trading all the good power shots for a great lead hook while your stronger leg is out front only being used for the occasional switch kick. In boxing this might be a worthy trade since a killer lead hook and jab would be priceless, but I still wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a coach who is willing to train you for this stance.
Part Two – Tactics.
The most basic of Southpaw tactics which all of you should hopefully know by now is circling. Throughout a fight you should be circling to the right away, from your opponent’s power hand, orthodox fighters should be circling to the left. Since orthodox fighters are used to circling right to avoid other orthodox’s power shots this will often result in general confusion, awkward footwork and if you are lucky they might even walk right into one of your straight lefts.
Your main task when moving should be to get your lead foot outside your opponents lead foot. When you have this advantageous position you are able to throw straights, rear roundhouses to the inner thigh and switch kicks to their lead leg with minimal footwork. Your opponent on the other hand (pun intended) will telegraph these attacks severely by having to step outside your lead leg before attempting them. One nifty attack is to while you are circling to the right, step onto the same line as their lead foot and smash a left roundhouse right across both of his/her thighs.
Be careful when circling that you do not make yourself too predictable, mix up the directions occasionally. While it is good to have the better position, if your opponent notices that you always move to their outside you are probably going to run straight into a nasty left hook.
Where should my guard be?
The best guard position for a Southpaw fighter in a stand-up competition is a high classic boxing guard with the lead right hand around nose/eye height and the rear left hand beside the jaw. This creates two key defences, the lead hand lines up with their lead hand, completely blocking your nose and eyes from your opponents jab attempts and the rear protects your jaw from their threatening straight right. See Winky Wright a famous leftie boxer in the picture below for an example of this or preferably youtube some of his fights.
Most coaches will advise against using the Philly shell style guard with a lower lead hand in a southpaw stance since you will lose this jab ‘immunity’ , however HOW-TO-BOX suggests that it may be possible to use this tactic when in close range due to changing factors (See link at bottom if you are interested).
Be very wary of a Southpaw who likes to counter-punch. Every power shot can be countered with an equally strong hit if your opponent is fast enough. For example: the rear roundhouse to the rear leg can be countered by an easy step diagonal right and chopping the lead leg of your opponent while he has all of his weight on it. Also, the straight can counter the jab and rear kick, and the lead hook can counter the jab and straight.
How do I fight a Southpaw?
Okay by now a couple of you are freaking out thinking ‘this is totally unfair, what the hell should I do if I run into a scary left-handed fighter?!’ The Southpaw in me wants to answer with ‘kneel and pray for mercy’ but there are some definite tactics out there which work just as well against us as the ones listed here work on you.
For starters, almost everything will work for you against a Southpaw here with a few logical changes such as circling the other direction. Unfortunately a lefty will have had more practice using these tactics than you and will have the timing and experience to pull them off easier.
The best thing you can do to fix this problem besides regularly sparring lefties is to improve your clinch game. In the clinch stance no longer matters, so if you can get skilled enough here to dominate most other people then this will give you an edge over possible Southpaw opponents. This is the tactic I fear the most.
There are two other combinations I’ve found so far which work well:
1) You can try to slip the southpaw’s jabs to the left and land a left hook to their liver and head, a bread and butter combination which really sucks to be on the receiving end of.
2) Feint a jab then step through into southpaw stance and let loose your right hook to their head followed by a left leg kick. This one works well because the hook is coming from an angle we are not used to defending and equally so we’re not used to checking with the front leg. My instructor showed me this one last week while we sparred and landed it every time.
Make sure when you fight a Southpaw you do not make the error 9 out of 10 beginners make. Even though the stance feels awkward, do NOT switch to Southpaw stance to fight a Southpaw fighter in order to make it feel normal. When you do this you are basically throwing all your training out the window and will telegraph most of your attacks.
Part Three - The Southpaw Arsenal
The straight is a Southpaw boxer’s Sunday punch. Putting fear into the hearts of orthodox fighter’s across the world this was the only weapon good enough to knock down Roy Jones in his entire pro boxing career. Coming from the ‘wrong’ side and aimed to split the guard, this punch always pays off. This weapon can also be used to counter an opponent’s jabs and rear kicks to good effect.
The Left Roundhouse Kick.
If the straight is the Sunday punch, then the rear roundhouse is a Southpaw’s Sunday kick. There are a few main targets which I will go through in order of importance. Due to the position of the liver (see below) and the strange stance matchup between an orthodox and southpaw fighter, it is very easy to smash your strongest weapon straight into one of the most painful places in the body – the liver.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of being kicked here before I’ll put it into perspective. I’d rather be kneed in the balls than take a strong roundhouse kick to the liver, it hurts that much. The best way to pull off this devastating blow is to set it up with a nice one two. One of your key goals while fighting should be to get your opponent to raise his guard to defend the onslaught of punches while backing up. When he does this you can whip out your kick without even adjusting your lead foot. If your opponent just shells up but doesn’t back up you can switch this kick for a rear knee to the liver.
The next target is one everyone knows, their rear leg. Orthodox fighters are primarily used to raising their lead leg to check enemy kicks and very rarely have to check with their rear legs. Due to this they are often slightly slower to check and you can hammer it home until they can no longer fire kicks of their own or stand up. The last two targets are the inner thigh and head. The inner thigh is incredibly sensitive and even a non switched flick of an orthodox fighter’s lead leg can cause a bit of pain, when you are able to target this area with a full blown rear kick – jackpot. Whipping a kick to their head can also pay off well since it comes from the opposite side orthodox fighters are used to.
The Lead Hook.
The lead hook is an excellent weapon for a Southpaw fighter, coming from an angle orthodox fighters are unused to, this is a high-percentage technique. It is easy to slip an incoming jab to the right and come through with a strong lead hook right to your opponent’s ear. It can also be used to counter straight rights.
The jab is easily the least effective weapon in a Southpaw’s arsenal. For starters you have no decent targets to hit if your opponent has a normal guard, and any attempts are likely to result in your opponent slipping the punch to smash you with a terrible hook to the head and liver or countering with a straight right to your jaw. There are only a few circumstances you should be using this punch:
- When their lead hand lowers giving you an opening.
- As a range finder for your other punches.
- As a feint.
- As a double jab, with the intention of the first jab to move their hand from it’s guard position.
If you are wondering where i got the time and inclination to write this novel, I broke my hand on the weekend roughly one week before my debut fight. I have Muay Thai on the brain with no way to train. Hopefully someone here benefits from my misfortune. I’m not perfect so if I made an error above, please PM me and I’ll fix it up. Also if you have anything else to contribute please tell me! I’m always eager to learn more.
I’ve used two main sources as research while learning how to bang and borrowed liberally from them when writing this article, so the parts which look like they were stolen from these links.. were. To give credit where credit is due:
Kami22 from how-to-box forum, 2007
Frank Benn (Integrated Arts), 2000