Analysis: Skills Over Brawn

By Tom Donelson
Updated: January 25, 2009

Boxing Gloves IOWA CITY — In boxing, athleticism only takes a fighter so far and what separate the great fighters are skills and techniques. “Sugar” Shane Mosley is a 37-year-old fighter but last Saturday night, he turned back clock and he did with superior techniques.

Fighting a tough young fighter, Mosley changed his style just enough to confuse his younger Mexican opponent. Adding a jab to his arsenal, he was able to hit Antonio Margarito at will.

While Mosley was the quicker fighter, it was not the quickness that decided the fight but his strategy that determined the outcome.

Many boxing pundits write about how today’s fighters don’t have the skills and techniques of older fighters. There are several reasons for this but one is the collapse of amateur programs.

As the past Olympics showed, American amateur programs have not shared the past successes of past great Olympic team. Many fighters lacked the amateur experiences coming into the professional ranks and often learn how to fight in the professional ranks.

Fighters like Paul Williams depend upon athletic skills while learning the nuances of boxing. Mosley had an extensive amateur experience and came into boxing with good techniques that he worked to improve on.

At 37, Mosley’s techniques gave him an edge over younger fighters as his quickness slowly erodes.One of his Golden Boy associate, Bernard Hopkins demonstrated similar techniques in easily defeating the quite younger Kelly Pavlik.

Hopkins has always been one of the boxing crafty veterans as he learned and applied about every boxing trick in the book throughout his career. Against Pavlik, he used his boxing skills to give the Middleweight champion a boxing lesson.

These techniques have allowed Hopkins at 43 to still remain one of the light heavyweight elites.

James Toney used his superior techniques to move from Middleweight to fighting some of the top Heavyweights later in his career whereas Roy Jones lost three straight bouts after he defeated Ruiz for the Heavyweight division.

Jones never depended upon techniques the same way as Hopkins or Mosley did but relied on his athletic skills. His superior speed allowed him to dispense with solid skills but as his speed eroded, he had trouble with elite fighters.

His most recent defeat at Joe Calzaghe simply showed that without speed; Jones couldn’t longer compete with the elites of the light heavyweight.

At 36, Muhammed Ali was an old fighter whereas Larry Holmes used his superior techniques to compete with top ten heavyweights in his 40’s. Lennox Lewis became a better fighter as he adjusted his techniques under the tutelage of Emmanuel Steward.

This was seen when he fought Mike Tyson late in his career.

Lewis easily defeated Tyson because of his boxing skills. Iron Mike was one of boxing’s feared puncher, but Lewis did not obtain status of Hall of Fame fighter until he sharpened his skills.

Tyson could always depend upon his power but Lewis needed to be a better technician to reach his height.

Boxers who works on techniques will have longer career than those who depend upon their athletic skills alone. One reason that Hopkins is still beating elite boxer; whereas Jones had only beaten one Hall of Fame fighter since Ruiz and that was Trinidad; who was coming out of his many retirements.

Hopkins showed that a fighter who valued techniques and work on techniques can have long and successful career. He’s one of boxing smartest fighters and it is those smarts that allowed him to survive into his 40’s.

Mosley went into this fight as a 4 to 1 underdog but what he did was to design a strategy to defeat the taller Mexican opponent. He adjusted but his ability to adjust was based on his past techniques developed over years of fighting in Amateur and professional ranks.

When fighters learn to tweaked his techniques, they developed the ability not just to survive in this tough game but continue to fight on a elite level longer.