Take any depiction of a boxer prior to the 1930s, and you’re going to see this stance. Palms up, left hand way in front, with the right sometimes being closer to the body. Right now, after so many years of watching boxing fights, this stance seems silly at best.
The jabs you land with that left won’t be nearly as strong, and how on earth are you supposed to cover your head when you are getting the punishment? However, this stance that was described in detail by a British fighter Daniel Mendoza wasn’t as silly as it appears to be. In fact, it may be making a comeback in modern MMA.
Why the fisticuffs stance?
During Mendoza’s lifetime, late-18th century, boxing wasn’t anything like the modern sport is. It was much more like a crueler, bloodier version of MMA. It was common for pugilists to gauge an opponent’s eye, headbutt, and grapple. Mendoza himself suffered a much-publicized defeat when his opponent grabbed his hair and pummeled him for ten minutes straight until Daniel gave in.
These fights attracted large audiences and promised wealth for the prizefighters. People who want thrills today will search for the best Australian casinos to play in 2021, people who wanted thrills in the 1790s went to the nearest boxing ring. And those people believed Mendoza was one of the best during his lifetime.
This 5’7” man wrote a book about boxing and taught his style after becoming the middleweight champion in England. One of his main improvements was introducing ducking and side-stepping, moves that were taunted by his contemporaries for cowardice. One thing that he didn’t change is this stance.
Since boxing in those days allowed for grappling and gloves were not invented yet, leaning back instead of ducking and weaving like in your typical boxing match today was much better. This way, you don’t run the risk of getting body slammed when ducking from a haymaker and can try to block punches when they’re coming in.
Before the Marquess of Queensberry rules that banned grappling were introduced almost a hundred years after Mendoza’s championship, this was the way to fight. With headbutts and wrestling being out of the sport of boxing, athletes developed the modern fighting stance along with more advanced defensive techniques.
In MMA, however, you can’t dodge as tightly as in boxing unless you’re asking for a takedown or a knee to the face. This is why some MMA athletes are going back to a variant of Mendoza’s old boxing stance.
Lyoto Machida’s style is considered rather unorthodox for MMA. It would be a far stretch to say he fights like the old-time boxers, but he sure did end up with a stance that looks a lot like the one pugilists of the 18th century had. Lyoto keeps his head away from danger, ready to quickly counter-strike and reach his opponent with a jab.
Keeping his hands lower doesn’t really hinder Lyoto as he’s quick to side-step away from a punch or shorten the distance with a kick. When the kicks do come towards his opponent, they’re often deadly as Lyoto holds a black belt in Shotokan karate. His background in Brasilian jiu-jitsu helps the man be proficient in all areas of the octagon.
Unlike Machida, the cocky Irish lightweight might have actually been looking at the pugilism treatises of the 18th century since his home country was one of the first adopters of boxing. His background in karate probably contributed to a wider stance as well. One thing that both Connor and Lyoto share is a background in capoeira. This discipline teaches avoiding punches rather than slipping or blocking them — something that calls for such a stance.
One of McGregor’s unique moves is that he sticks his left way in front of him — just like Medoza did. He later uses jabs to gauge distance or sticks his hand into the opponent before throwing a straight.
Connor is considered one of the best in his weight, but this didn’t stop the next guy on the list from choking him out.
Nate’s stance and style don’t exactly copy that of the old prizefighters, but it’s perfectly in their spirit. He has a relaxed, sort of lazy style of boxing. Most of the time Nate throws punches that don’t hurt much just to keep his opponent busy, gauging distance. He also leans into the shots when means to hurt someone, a move looked down upon in modern boxing.
But it does a great service for Nate — using bodyweight instead of effort saves energy for the time he can use it properly. In the McGregor fight, it served him well as Connor is known for getting tired fast. When he did, Nate quickly swarmed him with punches, put him to the ground, and put a textbook chokehold on the Notorious Irishman.
Nate’s brother Nick is the original inspiration for this topic being brought up. His lazy, cocky style of fighting was commented all over the internet after getting an appraisal of arguably the most important figure in MMA discourse, Joe Rogan.
Just like Nate, Nick keeps his hands low, often keeping them down just to taunt his opponent. Unlike his brother, though, Nick is more of a brawler than a grappler. He steps back to avoid a shot or just eats it. His jaw is notorious for taking hits from powerful MMA fighters and not giving in.
Nick did lose in his MMA career, but only once by knockout.