COTTO: Made For Muay Thai

Adapt Miguel Cotto’s Boxing To Your Muay Thai

There is a world of difference between punching and boxing. Any man or woman with fists can throw a punch, but it takes years of training and strategy to say that you can box. Someone can be a big puncher – the vast majority of Dutch kick boxers can boast big punching power – but I would hesitate to call the majority of them “boxers.”

Boxing is not the act of punching, but everything that happens in between the punches. It’s setups, counters, planning and footwork. Ironically despite not being known for their hands, fighters from Thailand tend to demonstrate more boxing strategy than most Dutch fighters. While the Dutch tend to have good power, their boxing typically doesn’t extend beyond a three-punch combination followed b a leg kick. Nak muays, on the other hand, quite often have competed in pure Western boxing; several of the greats of the sport have been Olympic gold medalists or professional WBA champions.

So how can an aspiring Muay Thai fighter learn to improve their boxing? Studying Miguel Cotto is the answer.

Keys To Cotto: The Basics

Miguel Ángel Cotto is a boxer’s boxer. He wins fights with an old-school approach, operating in grey areas that are typically forgotten by most modern boxers. First, let’s have a look at the basics of Miguel Cotto’s style that seem tailor-made for Muay Thai.

First is Cotto’s high guard. If you’ve been in the gym long enough, you’ve probably heard someone tell you to keep your hands up. While it’s true that having your hands up aids your defense, the main reason you want your hands by your head is to maximize your offence. While low hands can come from interesting blind angles, having your hands low in Muay Thai can lead to your arms getting kicked and deadened. Adopting Miguel’s high guard will keep your arms safe.

Cotto nails Margarito with several jabs, all out of his high guard.

The second is his use of head movement. Head movement in Muay Thai is commonly misunderstood. It’s often said that head movement in Muay Thai will cause you to duck into knee strikes. This is certainly a possibility, but there is no knee strike in the world that can hit you as quickly as an uppercut from the same angle. Head movement is still a valuable skill in Muay Thai and most of the top Thais from Saenchai to Sangmanee use it.

Miguel Cotto rarely bends at the waist when evading punches, and tends to keep his head movement relegated to subtle slip straight punches, and saving small weaves or when he anticipates a hook.

The final basic trait of Cotto is that he tends to stand half-crouched, bringing his center of gravity lower to the ground and allowing him to sit down on his punches far easier than if he were standing straight-legged.

Keys To Cotto: Punching Technique

As a boxer, Miguel Cotto is known for a thudding jab and a vicious left hook. These two punches can’t really be without each other. Cotto is able to land his brutal left hook because of the power and unpredictability of his jab. While most boxers use a jab simply as a range finder, Cotto jabs with an awful lot of authority. Regardless of whether he jabs on the half step, or takes a full step followed by a jab, Cotto is always able to hit the center line and hits hard enough to even knock opponents down.

He is prone to throwing a triple jab, something that is seldom seen even in the higher levels of boxing. While it seems commonsense to throw two jabs in succession to land a power punch, Cotto knows that a third jab can keep his opponents guessing about what punch is coming.

When Cotto throws his left hook, he starts it with the same motion he makes when he throws his jab. This usually prompts the wrong reaction from his opponent, who will attempt to parry or counter a jab that’s not coming only to be hit upside the head with a thudding left hook.

As a Muay Thai fighter, you will typically fight opponents who are not used to this sort of deception, especially where hands are concerned. All too often kick boxers and Thai boxers will rely on their power and athleticism to try swarming their opponents with punches that are far wider than that of a boxer. The sort of crafty deception that Cotto uses would give most opponents fits.

Lastly, any good fighter needs to work the body. The old saying goes that if you kill the body, the head will die. Miguel Cotto constantly works left, right and shovel hooks to the body – slowly sapping the energy of his opponent away. Going to the body not only drains your opponents energy, but changing levels will make it far easier to land punches to the head, as the opponent tires and becomes paranoid about attacking the body. You don’t necessarily need punches to the body to be successful in Muay Thai, after all kicks and knees to the body are brutal, but none will be quite as quick and efficient as a hook or uppercut to the body.

Keys To Cotto: Denying The Clinch

In the introduction, we talked about grey areas. What’s commonly forgotten in boxing is the importance that wrestling can have in determining a fight. Boxers like Muhammed Ali and Floyd Mayweather Jr. have had immensely successful careers thanks to their ability to tie up and wrestle their opponents. Similarly, kick boxers like Ernesto Hoost use punch-and-clutch tactics to tire their opponents down, forcing their opponents to carry their weight and shrug them off. While the boxer on the receiving end of the clinch typically waits for the referee to break the clinch up, Miguel Cotto actively denies the clinch and punishes his opponent for using it.

This is the final aspect of Cotto’s game that can be really beneficial for a Muay Thai fighter. While nearly everyone knows how to escape from the standard double collar tie, the popularity of that clinch hold (despite how hard it is to maintain) leaves a lot of fighters unsure of how to escape other holds.

When caught in the clinch, Cotto will usually get his head lower than his opponent’s and punch his way out of the clinch. This works very well for boxing and quite well in MMA, where clinch fighters are a rarity, but in Muay Thai punching your way out of the clinch can be a risk, especially because elbow strikes are so much faster. Keeping your head lower than your opponent in a situation where your opponent can knee without fear of a single or double leg take down, can be risky.

The clinch should be an uncomfortable hell, not a place to rest. Cotto makes opponents work the whole time.

Cotto’s other anti-clinch tactics on the other hand are savage and great for dissuading opponents from trying to grab you. In his fight with Yamegai, Cotto would brutally turn and twist his opponent around with double underhooks. By turning your opponent and off balancing them, you open up plenty of opportunity to attack. This is not some secret technique unique to boxing since Thai fighters use similar grappling tactics, however they typically do not use it in conjunction with short hooks the way a boxer like Cotto does.  If an opponent clinches the Puerto Rican boxer, they also risk getting caught in a cross face, something that Yodsanklai does frequently against larger opponents.

Next time you’re thinking about improving your boxing, don’t think of it as improving your hand speed and your combination power, think of the clever ways that you can set up your punches, and how you can use those skills to deny and engage with the clinch. Boxing should be a supplement to Muay Thai but in order to be effective, you need to improve your skills, not just your athleticism.

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Andrew Bryan
Andrew Bryan is an actor, writer and martial artist based in the UK. He likes long walks on the beach, fighting technique, and history.

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