What Does Southpaw Mean in Boxing?

“Southpaw” is used in boxing, kickboxing, MMA, and other sports. In combat sports, it means that the fighter has their right hand and right foot forward. They throw jabs with their right hand, and straights with the left.

As a stance, it’s much rarer than the standard, or “orthodox” which is when a fighter has their left hand and foot forward.

Southpaw is usually used by left-handed fighters, and it offers several advantages. This is why many right-handed fighters try to use it as well.

Where Does the Term Come From?

Not a lot of people know this, but as a term, southpaw comes from baseball. It was invented in the 1880’s by Finley Peter Dunne – a reporter for the Chicago Daily News.

Finley Dunne was famous for his wacky, colourful commentary when writing play-by-plays, and one such series of commentaries was his coverage of the Chicago White Stockings Games. Whenever a left-handed pitcher came on the field, he referred to him as a “southpaw”.

This is because of the orientation of ballparks at the time – they faced east to west, while home plate was west. So, a left-hander would pitch from the south, using his “paw”. Thus, Dunne coined the term “southpaw”.

Over the years, it spread to other sports as well, and today it’s most often associated with boxing. There’s even a boxing movie called Southpaw, with Forest Whitaker and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Do Southpaw Boxers Have an Advantage Over Orthodox Fighters?

Southpaws definitely have an advantage over orthodox fighters. Of course, this is true for many sports, not just boxing.

But in boxing it boils down to the fact that everything southpaws do comes from the opposite side that an orthodox fighter is used to dealing with.

It’s like having driven a car on the right side of the road your whole life, and then going over to Britain, where you need to drive on the left. Actually, it’s even worse than that! 

It’s more like driving on the right side of the road in a car made for driving on the left side. In those cars, the steering wheel and pedals are on the right, instead of on the left. Not only do you need to fight the years of muscle memory you’ve built up, but you also have worse visibility in most situations.

There are many cases where a southpaw beats an orthodox fighter, even if the latter is more skilled. You can see that in professional boxing as well – famously, Roy Jones Jr got knocked out for the first time in his career by the southpaw Antonio Tarver.

The data supports this as well – in a study of over 10,000 combat sports fighters, on average left-handers had a 54% higher win rate than right-handers.

Let’s take a look at the various possible matchups in boxing, and see exactly why southpaws have an advantage.

Orthodox vs Orthodox or Southpaw vs Southpaw

Orthodox vs Southpaw

Ignore my crappy drawing skills. The idea is that when you have a mirrored matchup, the angles of attack are perfectly balanced. In the case of two orthodox stances, the fighters can use a single guard to defend themselves from all angles. The opponent’s jab and left hook will land in the same place, and they can be blocked by your right glove.

An opponent’s right cross and right hook also land in the same place, and you can block them with your left hand or shoulder.

The same is true whenever two southpaws face off. The right jab and right hook of the first fighter can be easily blocked by the other fighter’s left hand. And their straight and back hook can be blocked using the right hand.

Orthodox vs Southpaw: Overview

Orthodox vs Southpaw

In boxing, you usually move away from your opponent’s power hand. In an orthodox vs orthodox matchup, that means moving to the right. But if you move to the right when fighting a southpaw (drawn in red, here), you’re moving into his power hand, which is exactly what he wants!

As you can see from the drawing, the orthodox fighter is open to many angles of attack. Most importantly, he can’t defend against them with a static guard. The orthodox’s head is open to the southpaw’s jabs and lead hooks.

The only way he can block the lead jab is by adjusting his guard, which leaves him open to other angles. Evasion is also tricky. Slipping the southpaw jab leaves him wide open for a lead hook.

The same is true for the southpaw’s back hand strikes. Blocking them requires the orthodox fighter to constantly shift his guard, leaving him open for other strikes.

Orthodox vs Southpaw: Angles of Attack

The race in Orthodox vs Southpaw

Faced with this situation, most orthodox fighters will try to match the southpaw blow for blow. Almost always, this devolves into an uneven exchange. The orthodox will trade right for right, and left for left.

In other words, the orthodox will throw a left jab against the southpaw’s left straight, and a right straight vs the southpaw’s right jab. Here’s why this is bad for the orthodox fighter:

  • If the orthodox lands a left jab (his weaker punch), the southpaw, can land a power shot – either a left cross or a left hook
  • If the orthodox throws a right straight or hook, not only does the southpaw have a lot of room to evade it, but he can use the opportunity to land a right hook
  • Since orthodox boxers rarely fight against southpaws, they’re too used to watching out for other orthodox fighters’ straight rights. So, they’ll often forget about the southpaw’s devastating right hook
  • Even if the orthodox tries to land a left hook, on average, he’ll get beat to the punch by the southpaw’s right jab

Everything comes down to angles. When orthodox boxers face off, they’re used to parrying light jabs, and watching out for their opponent’s straight right.

But a southpaw turns that dynamic on its head! If you’re orthodox, you’ve suddenly got heavy crosses coming from where you’re used to seeing weak left jabs. You’ve got fast jabs coming from where you’re used to seeing slow left straights. And a southpaw’s lead hooks come from an angle you’re not used to defending against.

And if you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the hapless orthodox fighter, just wait until we get to the advantage a southpaw can get with positioning!

Orthodox vs Southpaw: Positioning

T-Position

One of the best tactics a southpaw can use is to step on the outside of the orthodox fighter. Southpaws are very used to fighting orthodox fighters, so this is one of the moves they naturally gravitate towards. This gives them several advantages.

First, it cuts off the orthodox boxer’s left hand. As you can see from the picture above, unless he pivots, the orthodox boxer can’t reach the southpaw with his front hand. His only option is to throw out a right straight or hook, both of which come from a similar angle. This means that the southpaw doesn’t need to adjust his guard in order to catch it. 

On top of that, while he’s on the outside, the southpaw can hit his opponent with either of his hands. 

Another advantage you can exploit as a southpaw is the fact that your back hand can go straight to your opponent’s liver. Even without stepping on the outside, you have a very good shot to get your body shots inside your opponent’s guard. 

Of course, if you want to go for that, you need to be careful not to expose yourself against the orthodox opponent (but we’ll get to that in the next section).

Reverse T-position

The southpaw can extend his advantage even further by going behind the orthodox boxer. This can happen when the southpaw slips a lunging left jab, and steps into his opponent’s back. 

As a southpaw, you can do it by placing your right foot behind your opponent’s left, and pivoting. Since your foot is on the outside, it prevents him from pivoting with you. And even if he pivots with you, he’ll probably be too late to recover, because his pivot began after yours.

Some other techniques you can use as a southpaw:

Beating a Southpaw as an Orthodox

As we already saw, orthodox fighters are at a great disadvantage against a southpaw. Still, there are some things an orthodox fighter can do against a southpaw.

Switch Stances

As an orthodox, one of your options is to switch stances. Put your right leg forward, and turn the fight into a southpaw vs southpaw. Chances are, he’ll be out of his comfort zone, too. Most southpaws are used to fighting against orthodox fighters, so going up against another southpaw could catch him off-guard.

Still, if you haven’t practiced fighting as a southpaw, switching mid-fight is a bad idea. Try this technique only if you have some experience using your right hand as your lead.

Catch him on the outside

If you don’t want to change stances, you can try catching the southpaw mid-transition, and capitalize on his efforts to exploit his advantage.

Like we covered in the section on the T-position, as an orthodox, one of the scariest things a southpaw can do against you is sidestep with his front foot, and go to the outside of your stance. That way you’re open to his jabs, lead hooks, and back hand.

The first thing you can do is step with him, so you’re outside of his range. You can even do it while he’s throwing a jab. Step on the outside with your lead foot, and intercept him with a right cross. You can even pivot on your lead foot, and follow up with a left hook.

Southpaws will naturally want to move to the outside of your leg, and you should try to take advantage of that. Whenever they feint, or pepper you with jabs, 9 times out of 10, they’re just doing it to set up their step to the outside of your stance.

Once you learn to anticipate it, you’ll be able to catch them with a lead hook, mid-step. A good tactic is to bait them out with a jab that goes into a lead hook. Once the southpaw sees the jab, he’s very likely to try and kill two birds with one stone – slip the jab, and get to the outside. That’s when you catch him with the left hook, which you can then follow up with a combination.

But like all things in boxing, this is much easier said than done. Very often you know what your opponent wants to do, and you can even sense when he’s about to do it, yet he still manages to execute his plan.

There are three ways to prevent this from happening. And they are: training, training, training! Make sure you have solid fundamentals – good stance, movement, striking, and a lot of sparring experience against both orthodox and southpaws.

Train Southpaw Yourself

Conventional wisdom states that you should train only one stance. If you’re right-handed, you should train orthodox. And there’s definitely some points to be made about this line of thinking.

For one, training in one stance all the time means you’ll spend more time in that stance, and it’ll make you much more comfortable with it. It’s like a craftsman, meticulously using the same tools for years on end, constantly refining his craft.

As a right-handed boxer, this means always training orthodox, and strictly dividing the functionality of your left and right hand. Your left hand will always be your lead, throwing out jabs that act as a set up for your right hand, which – in turn – delivers your power shots. 

That way you can focus on making your left hand quicker, more nimble, and more dexterous, so that your jabs can test your opponent’s defenses, and keep him on his toes. You can use the rest of your time to make your right hand’s power shots stronger, more accurate, and more powerful.

That’s a very good reason to only train orthodox. However, there are many advantages to training southpaw as a right-hander.

While there are many benefits to being proficient with a stance, versatility is something too many people overlook. Because training both orthodox, and southpaw gives you exactly that – versatility.

First of all, having your dominant hand in front, means you have your strongest weapon closest to your opponent. Conventional wisdom states that you can’t get the maximum amount of power if you have your right hand as your lead. And I agree – it really is more difficult. 

However, if you have proper technique, and learn to put your bodyweight behind your strikes, you’ll be surprised at the amount of power you can generate with your lead hand.

Being comfortable in southpaw brings other advantages, as well. One of them is the ability to switch stances on the fly. This can really throw your opponent off. Not will he have to defend from angles that weren’t available just a second ago, but the angles he has to attack you from are suddenly different. Unless he adapts quickly, it can make it really easy for you to gain the upper hand.

Dynamically changing to southpaw can also allow you to change the angle of your attack. For example, if your opponent is coming forward, you can throw out a right hook, pivot on your back leg, and switch to southpaw. This can not only make your hook stronger, but it will get you away from your opponent, giving you a chance to recover.

In general, training both stances gives you a lot of options, and it’s something a lot of pros do. Still, you shouldn’t do it before you’ve got some solid fundamentals.

Pros who Fight in Southpaw

There are many successful professional fighters who fight using southpaw. This is the case not only in boxing, but in other fighting sports, as well. Here is a brief list of some of the more high-profile southpaw fighters in boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, and MMA.

Boxing

Manny Pacquiao

Marvin Hagler

Hector Camacho

Pernell Whitaker

Joe Calzaghe

Vicente Saldivar

Tiger Flowers

Young Corbett III

Gabriel Elorde

Sergio Martínez

Ivan Calderon

Freddie Miller

Victor Ortiz

Sultan Ibragimov

Naseem Hamed

Lucian Bute

Vasyl Lomachenko

Zab Judah

Ruslan Chagaev

Adonis Stevenson

Oleksandr Usyk

Shakur Stevenson

Muay Thai, Kickboxing, K-1

Mirko Filipovic

Saenchai

Giorgio Petrosyan

Raymond Daniels

MMA

Conor McGregor

Stephen Thompson

Luke Rockhold

Anthony Pettis

Darren Till

Nick Diaz

Nate Diaz

Anderson Silva

Holly Holm

Robbie Lawler

Matt Mitrione

Vitor Belfort

Benson Henderson

Sam Alvey

Marcus Brimage

Conclusion

Historically, fighting against southpaws is one of the most difficult things in combat sports. Being able to fight as a southpaw is a very useful skill to have, even if you aren’t left-handed.

But like most things in martial arts, it really depends on you whether you want to train like that or not: