In any sport, we learn and understand how to attack and defend our opponents through repeated movements. In basketball if I know which way players generally like to move to get their shot off, I can anticipate that movement and beat them to the spot. If most of the players I play against are right handed, they probably have certain movements that are done based off of this dominant hand. Now if all of a sudden I face a left handed player, those movements are opposite, creating confusion in how I should attack this problem.
In fighting as an orthodox fighter, you get used to seeing a stance that mirrors your own. With the left foot forward and right foot back, bladed so that their closed side is on our power side.
However with southpaw fighters everything is backwards, their power side is open to your power side, and vice versa. This poses a problem as the majority of fighters are right handed, so the majority of the time you train against an orthodox style opponent. Many gyms may not even have a southpaw fighter and when you do then finally come across a southpaw, it can be baffling how to attack this stance because it seems like most of our normal set ups are negated.
The first thing we need to understand is the centre line and how it plays into hand fighting. In a traditional stance we typically match centre lines, so many people attempt to do this against a southpaw as well.
This however poses a problem, because when matching centre lines against a southpaw fighter, our lead foot faces their foot. This means our jab hand is directly in line with their jab hand and therefore in the way of one another.
Orthodox fighters are typically used to leading with their jab hand, so taking away the weapon that leads the dance can often throw off a fighters whole game.
Outside Foot Position
Fighting is about advantageous positions and quite often if we slightly change the positioning of our feet, we can change the outcome of strikes.
Our lead foot is now to the outside of our opponents lead foot, effectively placing our right cross directly down the centre line where it is very easy to slip the opponents jab. Southpaws typically know this game, they lead with their cross instead of their jab and are in beautiful position to throw a lead hook after the cross, that loops around the guard.
Notice how both the jab and cross of the opponent are just slightly off line, this is the beauty of the outside foot position. If you are in MMA, Muay Thai or Kickboxing, this can turn into a cross, hook, power swing kick or knee combination that lands very nicely onto the open stance of your opponent.
Southpaws typically are always fighting for the outside foot positioning. Vasyl Lomachenko, currently one of the best southpaws and possibly the best boxer on earth, is always fighting for that outside position where he can create advantageous angles and not get hit.
But you don't have to fight for the outside position constantly, you can play with the opponent, let them think you don't have the angle and then step to the outside WHILE throwing the cross.
Understand the outside positioning concept and why it works but don't fall in love with any particular concept and only use the one over and over. Instead, consistently try your best to be inconsistent, as repeated movements can be studied and taken advantage of.
Inside Foot Position
The same way the outside positioning places your cross down the centre line, the inside foot positioning places your jab on the centre line. Here we see Rory McDonald use both concepts, one after another.
His foot is on the outside, he nails a cross down the centre, then his foot position places him on the inside, so he nails a jab right down the centre line. Foot positioning leads the dance.
This fight was an instant classic and a beautiful study of southpaw vs. orthodox tactics. Robbie Lawler, a southpaw, actually likes to fight with his lead foot on the inside. It was fascinating to watch Rory actually fight him for inside foot positioning, something you would expect to be the exact opposite.
Again, watch Robbie use the exact same concept. Inside foot for the jab, outside foot for the cross. It's a simple one, two combination, but it is made elite by the added foot work and cadence.
If your opponent is constantly working for outside foot positioning, they are consistently working themselves into a position that is open to spinning attacks, whether that be spinning back hand, kick or elbow. This is obviously especially true in sports like Muay Thai or MMA, where we have more weapons at our disposal.
As we know, set ups and deception are a massive part of fighting. If I know what attack is being thrown at me, then I can plan defensively for that attack while also knowing how to counter it.
Conor McGregor does this masterfully by using his body type, agility and reactions. Conor's arms are incredibly long for his height and he punches with full extension while managing distance very well, so most fighters he faces have to gain distance to reach him.
Hand fighting begins the process of eliminating the lead hand option for his opponent.
Conor is constantly reaching out to control Eddie Alvarez's hand, pawing at it repeatedly. Eddie becomes increasingly annoyed with the tactic, even trying to smack the hand away. What he doesn't realize is that the option of his left hand is being taken away from him, leaving only the option of a expected right handed strike. Seconds later he plays his card..
It was expected, and the contact is made worse because Eddie has to take a step forward on his cross to even gain the distance to potentially hit Conor. This places him in a terrible position and allows him to be caught with a pull counter.
P A U S E
While we are on Conor, when fighting an opposite stance fighter, our slip cross counter is on the opponents cross and not jab. Something that can take a while to get used to but can be massively effective.
U N P A U S E
Let's say you don't want to step to the outside at all or are having trouble with this position, well then this is where hand traps while hand fighting come into play.
It is very subtle, but watch as Darren Till pulls down Jorge Masvidal's lead jab hand right before he throws his cross. This is done to clear space for the cross to land and is a very easy way to land a cross for a southpaw or against a southpaw.
Vasyl Lomachenko uses the same hand trap in open space, but it is actually his rear handed trap that really shines.
When Vasyl has his opponents using the double block defence he very often reaches out with his rear hand, in turn placing his lead hand into a power position, and pulls his opponents hand down. Opening space up for his lead hook to land cleanly.
This type of hand trap should be used only if you have your opponent up against the ropes or cage in a defensive position, whereas the lead hand trap can be done in open space.
Prince Naseem Hamed was a notoriously slick southpaw. His style was so crazy to watch because he bent and broke all of the 'rules' of striking. Don't jump when you punch.. keep your hands up.. don't dance and taunt while you fight.. keep your feet planted when you punch.. don't start a combination with a lead uppercut. All rules Prince Naz threw to the side. His bread and butter was the lead uppercut into rear cross, commonly known as the corkscrew uppercut.
First step was to step off line with his lead foot.
During this step, the rear shoulder should move forward, placing our lead hand in position to turn powerfully into a shot while also pulling your head off the centre line defensively. This allows him to hit a power lead uppercut, almost while jumping into his new foot position.
At this point he can throw his power left cross on an angle where he can hit his opponent and his opponent cannot hit him. Remember, this is the key to fighting, hit and don't get hit!
The corkscrew uppercut has been adapted into MMA as well, Conor McGregor used this constantly in the beginning of his career, especially against Max Holloway.
Conor's version is actually a pendulum hop step, where his rear foot moves first. This allows him to sneak close to his opponent without giving a tell of the lead foot moving.
Sticking to the outside and pulling your rear shoulder forward to move off line is incredibly important. It is often said never start a combination with a lead uppercut and in this occasion that is because by removing your hand from your face for the uppercut, you are giving the opponent the space to hit you that is typically not there on a orthodox vs southpaw matchup.
If Darren Till had taken that outside step before his lead uppercut he would not have been there to be hit by the Tyron Woodley cross. Fighting is an incredible game of inches, and small lapses in judgement can be the difference between winning and losing.
Open Side Advantage
Now this may sound stupid.. but think of a human back like a turtle shell. It is hard, does not hurt as much when you hit it and the back of the head is prohibited to hit. Their stomach on the other hand is soft, the ribs and arms can be more easily broken and the front of their face is exposed.
If I am fighting a same stance fighter (orthodox vs. orthodox or southpaw vs. southpaw) then my power kick is lined up with their closed side. If I am fighting an opposite stance fighter (orthodox vs. southpaw) then my power kick is lined up with their open side. This is great news!.. but oh wait, your open side is also lined up with their power as well. Therefore it's the fighter who knows how to use these tactics best who will capitalize on the open side advantage.
One of the best southpaw kickers in the game, Yodsanklai, knows this game. Any one of his fights has him hammering in left kicks to the body over and over again.
This is such an advantage because the correct defence to this kick is to check it with your rear foot. And guess who drills how to check kicks with your rear foot? Pretty much no one. Fighters end up blocking with their arms, something that is fine after two or three kicks, but after four, five, six, it really starts to wear you down.
Notice something he doesn't do? Leg kicks, Yod almost never throws leg kicks. If you watched Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman 2, you might know why.
Painful to watch yes, but a great lesson in southpaw tactics. It is much easier to check kicks to the inside than the outside because your knee is already aimed in that direction. All Chris had to do was place his knee in the way of Anderson's shin. So although this does not happen all the time, I would generally stay away from using open side leg kicks over and over against an opposite stance fighter.
In conclusion, what at first feels completely backwards can become strategy through a few different foot placement changes and tactic adjustments. These will later help in fighting against orthodox fighters as you may be able to switching back and forth between stances and change your tactics appropriately. These are only some of the tactics available against a southpaw and they should be drilled and done on pads before tested in competition.