A tall new fighter came and into training the other day and put a decent beating on my friend during sparring. He utilized his length to keep my buddy on the outside, at the end of his punches, smashing up his face pretty good. Knowing a similar fate could befall me when I went the rounds with him, I decided to avoid his standup altogether and take him down. Luckily, I landed an early single-leg takedown and kept dominant position while giving a light serving of ground & pound*.
I took the easy way out, I know it. I’m guilty. So when I got home, I decided to repent** and study up on the question of the hour: How do you beat a taller a taller fighter? How do you compensate for a reach advantage in striking?
I’ve put together some sound advice from around the web, coupled with my two cents.
Killer footwork is genesis of so many delicious things -it creates power and speed; it is fundamental to solid defense or offense. Jason Van Veldhuysen has a solid instructional video, boxing footwork, that shows a sneaky way to get past a reach advantage.
Instead of closing the gap yourself, why not have your opponent do it for you? As shown in the first vid, when you directly advance, expect that your opponent can easily move back out of the way. With a reach disadvantage, expect to get peppered with shots and not be able to hit back.
Local MMA teacher Brian Yamasaki fixes the problem of a reach advantage by cutting angles and counterattacking: catching kicks then punching, evading punches and kicking. Brian wrote an entire article about short vs tall, and I leave one video below.
In a similar vein, check out Chad Howser’s boxing video on closing the gap by timing the jab. A variety of counter attacks could be utilized; the basic idea is get them to come forward (or plant their feet so they can’t retreat) and take a counter shot.
Many non-MMA boxers don’t account for another problem in the tall vs short puzzle. Tall guys have the advantage on the inside with the Thai clinch. Getting on the inside doesn’t automatically create victory. In fact, a classic way to squelch a shorter fighter’s attempt is to hone your uppercut. Keep ‘em at bay with the jab, sucker them in and shovel their brain into uppercut oblivion.
That aside, clinching may be an option if executed well. Keep their arms tied up, your head under their chin, work for a takedown, etc. Watch Jon Jones fights to understand the limitation of this strategy.
Chop Down the Tree
When the arms just won’t do the trick, try the legs. A disparity in arm length may not always exist with the legs; you may be able to land low kicks and still avoid the hands. I’ve even seen a few guys use foot stomps and low leg kicks targeting the ankle to sneak by the range of a longer fighter.
The Overhand Right
Some experts may say that taller fighters aren’t used to seeing strikes come down at them and ergo don’t see it coming. Regardless, sometimes its the only strike long enough to get to their head.
Feints, Fakes and General Snitchery
In competition, if I know a guy has a longer reach and better striking skills I’m not going to be a silly goose. I’m going to try to take him down and defeat him where I have advantage on top. Fake with my hands, get him to plant for his counter attack, change levels and shoot in. The striking feints are even more important when there is a disparity in length; long arms can fence you off before you can even get a good grip on a leg, so make sure they are busy with something else.
Again from Chad H. “Tip: feint a lot. Really mix things up, but feint then throw a punch. Keep the bigger guys off balance. It’ll annoy the hell outta them and you’ll land clean punches. When you get inside, get and stay busy.”
While I wouldn’t suggest it as a primary strategy, I have been told that if you adamantly keep your chin tucked down you can “catch” a lot of strikes on the top of your head. If you have a high guard, the theory is that you KO spots are well protected and you can eat some shots and then exchange blows that matter. You may even be able to hurt your opponent’s hand via you chrome dome. When I have been with much taller fighters, I have noticed their downward angled punches don’t zing me like those coming from underneath me. Personally, it felt like a dull pounding instead of the sharp strikes that make your vision fuzzy.
You Tell ME!
I’ve listed a bunch of ways I’ve read, heard, or experienced to deal with a taller and longer fighter. I’d love to know the tricks you know about in the comment section.
* When sparring with friends and acquaintances, I don’t really ground & pound – I just let them know my hands are working without delivering too much damage. I’m not sure what you’d call it – mat & slap? floor & fondle? tap & tickle? – but we remain friends and don’t get any uglier in the process.
** Next time the giant comes in, I’m going to keep it standing. If I get KTFO’d, then so be it. If I slay him via knowledge, there will be much rejoicing.