Feinting For Boxing, Muay Thai & MMA
From hiding an injury to camouflaging a kill-shot, there are plenty of reasons we lie in the ring. Today, we focus on feinting.
It has been said that boxers excel at disguising their punches, and I agree: with fewer weapons, you have to get creative with your setups. But this isn’t about “boxing feints.” Though this breakdown draws from boxing experience and Canelo/Cotto film study, it’s about feinting tactics that work across all combat sports.
In order for any of the feints covered in this article to work, you must establish real threats. Maestro Charles Selberg explains from a fencing perspective, but the combat sports carryover is clear:
“My policy is to give them a smashing, fast, direct attack, straight at the target [and] meant to land, in the very opening moment of the bout. I make it, fine; if I don’t make it, fine. The idea is not necessarily to score on your opponent, but to serve notice that I’m crazy enough to try. If you DO score in that initial attempt, that’s all the better, because then they’ll have a sensitivity… and be more prone to defend that spot.”
Sound familiar? It’s all about establishing the shot, like Paul Banasiak says. Your opponent will be much more reactive to you lifting your lead leg if you already “served notice” with a hard front kick in the first round. Until you do, you’ll get a measured response to feints, if any.
With this in mind, let’s get into three ways you can use your feints once you’ve established your attacks.
#1: “Covering Fire” Feints
This type of feint is used to cover your exit after a combination or counter-punch. The application is simple: you feint the moment you stop punching, then disengage while the opponent’s busy reacting. By the time they stop defending, you’re gone.
Covering fire feints have a number of different functions. They’re ideal for slow-footed fighters who want to hit and not get hit; rather than having to dart away faster than your opponent can counter, your feint buys time for a smooth step back. They’re also safer and easier than punching out of range, since they leave fewer openings and require less energy. Of course, your “covering fire” can be used to reposition for follow-up offense – instead of disengaging, you use the “defensive beat” to create a new attack angle.
As with every feinting tactic discussed today, covering fire feints work equally well using your hands, feet, eyes, and head.
Here we see Cotto a foot feint to cover his escape after a four-punch combination:
ABOVE: Cotto double-jabs his way inside and attacks the body, then backs Canelo off by feigning forward pressure. As Canelo pulls back from the potential threat, Cotto skips safely out of range. Cotto’s work here is all the more impressive because Canelo was actively looking to counter-punch that night.
Switching sports, we see Albert Kraus having success with a different covering fire feint against Buakaw at the K-1 World MAX tournament back in 2008:
ABOVE: In this case, Kraus stymies Buakaw’s counter attack with a probing hand feint. The jab is “shown, not thrown,” meaning it was only meant to get Buakaw’s attention. Though Kraus lost that night, this feint worked – Buakaw chooses to parry the jab instead of following up on the low kick.
Once you understand the concept and the timing involved with this feint, the possibilities are endless. Let us know some of your favorite covering fire feints in the comments section.
#2: Drawing Feints
Drawing feints use deliberate movements of the hand, foot, eyes, or head to imply offense, which “draws out” the opponent’s counter attack, thereby creating an opening for you to exploit.
Understanding the theory of drawing feints will completely change the way you watch fights, especially the “boring” ones.
A typical Floyd Mayweather round may see only 30-35 punches thrown, but a hidden war is being waged, each boxer trying to pry the other open with feints. I encourage you to watch some of your favorite counter fighters with these techniques in mind – you’ll be blown away at how often they’re used in boxing, Muay Thai and MMA alike.
Here we see Canelo use a drawing feint to create a counter-counter opportunity against Cotto:
ABOVE: Canelo leans left and drops the right hand, faking the cross, which coaxes a jab out of Cotto. Anticipating the jab, Canelo slips and then fires his left uppercut. In doing so, he has successfully drawn out Cotto’s counter jab, then countered it himself. For clarity, the GIF ends with Canelo showing excellent defensive responsibility, dipping immediately to get outside Cotto’s second jab – the drawing feint happens a beat earlier.
Jumping back to our K-1 case study, Kraus uses a similar hand feint to draw offense from Buakaw:
ABOVE: Staying upright, Kraus flirts with forward motion and drops his right hand down an inch, looking to draw a reaction from his opponent. Reading the movement as offense, Buakaw sticks out a jab to counter, then reaches with a left kick from range. Kraus, however, is ready: he fades back, bats down the kicking leg, then counters with a cross-uppercut.
On top of creating opportunities for offense, drawing feints can keep you safer against counter-punchers, who won’t be able to tell when you’re committing to an attack until it’s too late. This uncertainty forces them to pick their counters more carefully, effectively lowering their offensive output. In this way, drawing feints help you control the pace.
#3: Cloak & Dagger Feints
“Cloak and dagger” is a nerdy, fencing-inspired term that I’ve used in the past to describe off-hand (or off-limb) feints that set up power strikes. Fencing maestro Achille Marozzo discussed this method in his manual Opera Nova, noting how a cloak wielded in the front hand could obstruct the opponent’s vision, entangle their sword arm, or mask the movement of the dagger.
Simply put, these feints create openings for power shots with off-hand diversions – the cloak distracts, then the dagger stabs. Of course, as mentioned previously, we’re never limited to one kind of feint; the head, hand, eyes, and feet can all act as your “cloak.”
That said, hand feints are particularly useful here. Extending a hand towards the opponent helps measure range and timing, increasing your odds of landing the power shot after you’ve occupied their defense.
Here we see two different cloak and dagger feints from Canelo:
ABOVE: Canelo feints a jab, then changes the lead-hand angle of attack to land a solid 3-2. Cotto was busy defending the jab lane, which allowed Canelo’s daggers to stab home.
The speed of Canelo’s transition from feint to punch is important here, as is the “length” of the movement. Canelo’s feint is short and fast, which allows him to double-up from feint to hook. This isn’t your only option.
ABOVE: In this instance, Canelo feints a body jab, drawing Cotto’s attention down to land a hard right cross upstairs.
Unlike the previous example, Canelo fully extends the body jab, despite him having no intention of landing it. Both options work, for different reasons. In this case, Canelo’s long feint would make it much harder to double-up with the left hand, only he’s holding the dagger in his right. Now he gets way more of the “measuring stick” effect mentioned earlier, while still occupying Cotto’s defense.
Turning back to Buakaw, we see a mix of short and long hand feints used to set up a big left kick:
ABOVE: Exemplifying that classic “Sagat” rhythm, Buakaw pours on hand feints from the high guard. He also mixes longer probing jabs. It makes for a great cloak; the opponent focuses on punch defense, giving Buakaw the time to launch a kick.
What are some of your favorite feints? Share a few in the comment section below – I’m always on the lookout for more!