I love watching southpaws (left handed fighters) trade blows. They’re some of the best and most exciting fighters that enter a boxing ring—from Manny Pacquiao all the way back to the Marvelous Marvin Hagler, southpaws have stood at the top of the sport and thrilled boxing fans for decades.
When the bell rings and a southpaw faces off against an orthodox fighter, boxing seems to change into a slightly different sport.
All the patterns we’re used to seeing when two right-handers fight no longer apply, the two fighters move around the ring strangely. Sometimes, the orthodox fighter looks just as confused as we are, unsure why his opponent’s hands and feet aren’t where they usually are.
At the same time, I’ve watched fights that tell the opposite story, where a great fighter knows precisely where his lefty opponent will be at all times. So what is going on there, and is it an advantage or disadvantage to be a southpaw?
The Two Fundamental Characteristics of Southpaws
When thinking about southpaws, the first thing that comes to mind is the boxer’s ‘paws.’ Instead of keeping their right hand back, loaded up for power punches, and their left hand forward, unloading quick jabs, southpaws are the opposite.
They use their right hand to jab, and the left for power punches. It makes sense; as left-handers, their left arm is naturally more muscular and better for going for those knockout blows. But there’s a caveat here: not all southpaws are lefties!
Foot Placement Is The Most Important
Let me tell you a secret about southpaws: their foot placement makes far more of a difference than where their hands are.
Boxers don’t fight face to face (only metaphorically). In reality, they’re both sideways, with one foot in front of the other. In an orthodox stance, fighters put their left foot—the one under their jabbing fist—forward, keeping their weight and power on their back foot.
When two fighters both using an orthodox stance go at it, the fact that both have their left foot forward places them opposite one another (if you’re confused, think about a mirror).
But, as soon as you throw a southpaw in there, all of a sudden, the boxers’ lead feet are on the same side. Now, if one steps forward on their jabbing side, they might run into the other boxer’s lead foot.
In a sport where footwork and position are just as important as brute strength, this seemingly small change is what makes a fight between a southpaw and orthodox fighter look totally different than a typical fight.
Now that we’ve been over the basics, we can take a look at how these differences impact fights in more detail. It’s all about how fighters adjust to these differences in foot, body, and fist placement.
The Advantages Of Being A Southpaw
Here are some of the advantages of being a Southpaw.
The first and perhaps most significant advantage to being a southpaw is that your opponents are not used to fighting you. Southpaws are rare opponents, both in competition and as sparring partners, so when a fighter has to take one on, it’s unlikely that they’ll be completely comfortable.
That’s already a big psychological hit for the orthodox fighter. Anyone who’s boxed or even watched boxing seriously knows that even the slightest bit of uncertainty can have big consequences.
Aside from those conscious fears an orthodox fighter might have, they also need to deal with many of their fighting habits, which work great in standard fights, being dangerous against a southpaw. For example, a fighter who constantly circles to the left to exit engagements will be lining themselves up against a southpaw.
I’ll say it again, that fighter who’s constantly adjusting will feel like they’re playing a new sport.
Guard Positioning And Punching Distance
The mental game aside, southpaws can be tough to hit with both jabs and power punches. Jabs are difficult because the front of a southpaw’s guard (their right hand) is on the same side as the heterodox fighters lead, jabbing hand (their left hand). Mirrors are at work again. This means that a southpaw can easily block a jab from very far away, as their lead hand is already in position.
And, as far as power punches go, they need to travel a lot further to make contact. Those lead legs being stacked on top of each other, rather than slotting in side by side, increase the distance between the fighters.
How Some Great Fighters Took Advantage
That’s enough with generalities. Let’s look at how some specific fighters took advantage of being a southpaw.
The volume puncher of all volume punchers, Manny Pacquiao, used his southpaw stance to set up all kinds of angles for his attacks. His natural agility level allowed him to move around his opponent’s lead hook, breaking into the inside to land devastating power punches from a shorter distance.
Remember when I said that not all southpaws are naturally left-handed. Marvin Hagler is the reason. He would usually fight in a southpaw stance but was capable of switching up stances at any moment, to devastating effect. Hagler’s ability to switch stances magnified all the advantages of the southpaw stance. His opponents would always have to be worried about the switch as well.
Check out this video for an overview of his innovative technique.
The Disadvantages Of Being A Southpaw
Some of the advantages of being a southpaw are, you guessed it, mirrored in the disadvantages of being a southpaw.
In the same way that it’s challenging to land a jab on a southpaw, they can have their own problems landing jabs. An orthodox fighter’s lead hand is also well placed to block jabs from a southpaw opponent. A fighter can overcome this with speed or strength, but those are necessary to break this disadvantage.
Another problem comes in when we look down at the fighter’s feet. Southpaws have a tendency to get tripped up as a result of the two fighter’s lead feet being lined up, especially if they end up with their foot on the inside. That’s because outside foot placement gets you away from the opponent’s center and harder to hit. See the video for some examples.
In the battle for outside foot placement, a southpaw who’s lost out can often trip or be caught off balance trying to get back to the outside. That outside placement is crucial to a southpaw that a savvy opponent can totally disrupt them by winning the positional battle. That sort of one-dimensionality can be a disadvantage.
How Muhammad Ali Took Advantage of Southpaws
The great one rarely faced southpaws, but he knew how to deal with them. Ali only faced two dedicated southpaws during his career, but in both fights came up with totally new ways to combat them using his one of a kind style. He danced around his opponent in the first fight, switching directions mid-fight to grab an advantage, while he stood toe to toe with the other and out-boxed him. Take a look at the video to see some stylish boxing.
The Best Southpaw Boxers of All Time
In my opinion, some of the most exciting southpaw boxers in boxing history are:
- Manny Pacuiao
- Marvin Hagler
- Vasyl Lomachenko
- Lew Tendler
- Freddie Miller
- Lou Brouillard
- Pernell Whitaker
- Naseem Hamed
- Terence Crawford
- Jiro Watanabe
You can find some awesome footage of any of these southpaw boxers on YouTube
The Best Southpaw MMA Fighters of All Time
Of course, there have been plenty of elite southpaw fighters in the UFC as well. My favorites are:
- Conor McGregor
- Anderson Silva
- Demian Maia
- Chris Leben (who now fights Bare Knuckle Boxing as well)
- Nick Diaz
- Vitor Belfort
- Lyoto Machida
- Israel Adesanya
So that’s my take on the old question of whether there really is an edge for southpaws or their supposed advantages are just a myth. It’s not a simple question, nor one that has a simple answer. There are both southpaw advantages and southpaw disadvantages, and individual southpaw fighters (and their opponents) need to figure out their way of maximizing the good and minimizing the bad.