Southpaws: A Cheat Sheet To Defeat The Elite
If you train for any length of time, eventually the day will come when you face a southpaw.
They’re a confusing breed of creature; everything they throw seems so backward to you. Not only that, but they’re entirely used to fighting orthodox fighters like you. They’ve got far more experience dealing with you, than you have dealing with them.
So how do you beat a southpaw?
Allow me to betray all my fellow southpaws by giving away our secrets. The way to fight a southpaw is far easier than some folks make it out to be. Everything that a southpaw does to you, you can do right back to them.
There is a lot to touch on, but for now let’s get to a central concept: the location of the liver.
The liver is the most important organ to understand in an open guard (southpaw vs. orthodox) match-up.
The liver sits underneath your right pectoral, just below your rib cage. Strikes to it can be absolutely debilitating — some say even deadly.
The southpaw can target your liver very easily with a powerful left kick to the body. The downside is that if the southpaw wants to hit the liver with a punch, they need to pivot outside and throw long hooks to the body.
On the other hand, if an orthodox fighter wishes to strike the same region, he can do it more or less the same way as he would against an orthodox fighter, albeit from a more awkward angle.
Remember the liver.
The first thing to understand about fighting in the open guard is understanding the footwork.
You will often be advised to circle away from your opponent’s lead hand. In an open guard match, this means that the orthodox fighter needs to circle in the direction opposite of his normal movement. This prevents his opponent from circling headlong into the southpaw’s left hand and left body kick.
Stepping outside of the opponent’s lead leg to throw a rear straight is the best way to counter your opponents jab. When you step to the outside, you set in motion two actions:
- You bring your rear shoulder directly in front of your opponent’s face
- It shortens the path that the hand needs to take in order to find the chin
This also brings your opponent’s body closer to your rear leg. This means that your kick will meet your opponent’s gut in the middle of its arc. While a step in before a body kick is not necessary, it is certainly beneficial if you’re looking to pack more power into that kick.
Knowing when to step to the power side or step straight forward is mandatory for winning a fight in open guard. If you constantly step towards a southpaw’s right side, eventually he’ll use the opportunity to slam your spleen with switch kicks. Alternatively, he’ll let you step outside his lead foot and use that inside angle to land a lead hook.
Let’s elaborate on the inside angle. When a southpaw is looking to land a lead hook and wants to take an angle to do so, he has two ways of going about it:
- Take an outside angle, pivot around, and throw a hook from the opponent’s blind spot
- Step inside the opponent’s lead foot
The latter options brings the lead hand directly in front of the centreline, allowing the jab or lead hook to easily land without having to worry about a counter right. In boxing, this was how Miguel Cotto decked Sergio Martinez multiple times.
When your opponent steps outside your lead foot in punching range, he will always give up a potential inside angle to do so. This means that if you time it right, you can step straight in with a hook or jab.
It’s often said that a jab is useless on a southpaw because of the open guard match-up.
This is patently false: a fighter who understands footwork is completely able to make use of a good jab, even as a southpaw. As a matter of fact, most of the best southpaws have historically sported jabs.
Using the inside and outside angles to land strikes is what we refer to as a double attack (when you use two tactics, one setting up and seamlessly flowing to the next). Having a good lead hook + rear straight, along with the footwork to put them to good use, is a good example of having an opposite side double attack.
You will also want a same side double attack, preferably the famous southpaw combination of the rear straight + body kick. Using the outside angle to land rear straights to the face will force your opponent to bring up his guard (if he has any sense), allowing for easier access to the body. If your opponent wises up and begins to block the body, you can land that shot to the head again.
If your opponent takes to slipping to the outside of your punch, this will allow you to bring up a left high kick, which quite possibly will bring the knockout. This is the same combination of techniques that Mirko Cro Cop used to beat more or less everyone.
The beauty of the open guard match-up is that the normally rare rear body kick is readily available. It’s more powerful than a switch kick, plus southpaws get to use them all the time. If you want to keep up with a southpaw, you’ll ideally want to kick him backward to the body, or be ready to kick his standing leg as he throws it and move them back.
Anything a southpaw can throw at you, you can throw back.
When it comes to defensive tactics, fighting a southpaw isn’t too dissimilar from fighting an orthodox fighter. The same principles remain: you parry or slip outside of the punch depending on the side. If you are adept at slipping, you can move your head to the outside to defend a left straight the same way you would a jab.
While learning the best time to slip is certainly valuable, it is better to learn how to physically stop your opponent from striking you. Giorgio Petrosyan is generally regarded as the best kickboxer alive today, possibly the greatest to ever compete. He has been able to shut down nearly all of his opponents via a combination of physically pushing his opponents with his arms, as well as being very quick to teep.
A lead teep is one of the best techniques you can use in an open guard match-up. Everyone knows the concept behind the teep but so few fighters make good use of it. While a rear teep is great for shoving opponents back to the ropes, a lead teep is the best tool a fighter can have for quickly stopping an opponent’s advances.
A southpaw’s main weapon is the left kick to the liver. While it’s a thunderously effective technique, it’s also one that you can see coming a mile off when not properly disguised. The kick takes so long to reach the target that even a lightning fast body kick will be beaten by a quick teep. It will only take one push kick to shove an opponent over and discourage him from kicking you again.
Framing is another way to stop your opponent’s strikes dead in their tracks.
An outstretched, stiff arm smothering the opponent’s shoulder can break potential clinch attacks, stop punches, and provide ample opportunity for you to surprise with a quick counter. When you use this frame along with a tight block, it becomes very difficult for your opponent to hit you.
From the frame, you have the opportunity to throw a surprise kick counter, punch, or even fold into a sharp elbow strike depending on your distance. British Muay Thai fighter Liam Harrison frequently uses the frame as his go-to defense for many techniques.
When training against a southpaw, it’s often more beneficial to train these catch-all defense techniques than specific defensive maneuvers. While it’s great to know exactly when to slip and counter a southpaw’s strikes, the quickest way to get comfortable dealing with counters is to be adept at the sort of defensive techniques that give you success regardless of your opponent’s stance.
Fighting southpaws is tricky — really tricky. It can often lead you to feeling like you have no edge.
Likewise, it’s very difficult to learn as a southpaw, as very few coaches know how to properly make the most out of training them. The open guard is a peculiar situation in fighting, one where a fighter will have to teach themselves a lot in order to be successful.
Against a southpaw, it’s best not to overthink. Work your double attacks, teeps and frames, and you’ll be sure to find more success against those pesky lefties.
- Andrew Bryan is an actor, writer and martial artist based in the UK. He likes long walks on the beach, fighting technique, and history.