The media training sessions is a staple of fight week in professional boxing. The fighter does some skipping and a bit of padwork even as photographers and TV cameras capture the action and convey the strenuous nature of the exertion to an impressionable audience. Beyond the obvious platitudes though, a media training session can also hint at the nature of the contest the boxer faces.So was the case with Vijender Singh’s media session at a gym in Gurgaon. As they held up their pads. trainers Lee Beard and Haroon Headley were standing in mirrored stances to the way they had done for nearly all of Vijender’s fights till that point.Right pad forward, left closer to their body, they mimicked the staggered stance of Kerry Hope, Vijender’s opponent on Saturday. Vijender listened to their instructions carefully and followed suit. His fight against Hope for the WBO Asia Pacific Super middleweight belt was going to be his toughest one yet, not simply because of his opponents experience (23-7-1) and pedigree (former EBU European belt holder). It’s also due to the fact Hope leads with his right jab and follows with a left cross, as is the nature of a southpaw.When it comes to professional sport, being left handed has obvious and demonstrable advantages especially against right-handed opponents. In cricket, left-arm spinners fare well against right-handed batsmen because they naturally turn the ball away from them. And while right hander Andy Murray may have won Wimbledon this time around, left handers have won 23 percent of singles titles at the All England since the open era despite making up just an estimated 10 percent of the population.VS Kerry Hope has an advantage in boxing as well against Vijenger SinghIts no surprise that the southpaw has an advantage in boxing as well. When two orthodox (right handed) boxers face each other, they often circle to change the angle of attack. Against a southpaw, to turning right means to walk into the opponent’s power punch. The two right handers also have mutually assured defences. When they face each other, the angles of attack are relatively narrow simply because each fighters lead left will land in roughly the same space and be blocked by the right hand held close to the body. The opponent’s right hand and overhand right also generally land in the same place and can be blocked by the left glove.Orthodox versus southpaw makes this static defense impossible. Because of the fighters’ mirror stances, the head and body are exposed from multiple directions. The southpaw’s left cross invariably seems to travel a shorter distance. By mixing up his jab with right hooks and the straight left with an overhand left, the south paw can confuse and possibly overwhelm his opponent’s defense.Then of course you have the unintentional headbutts, and the tripping over of feet and the general tactical and cognitive uneasiness of having to face a reversed version of what you have been used to.It’s no surprise that some of the best orthodox fighters have had trouble against southpaws. Roy Jones Junior suffered the first knock out of his career against the southpaw Antonio Tarver while Floyd Mayweather’s otherwise impeccable defence was opened up by Zab Judah. Vijender too suffered one of his career’s hardest losses – in the quarterfinal of the London Olympics against the Uzbekistan southpaw Abbos Atoev. Theoretically, the orthodox fighter has the same advantages as the southpaw does over him but it doesn’t always work out that way. The left hander’s rarity in the general population comes to his advantage. “You simply don’t get a lot of chance to face them. On the other hand, southpaws face orthodox boxers all the time. So they know what strategies work against them,” explains Beard.
This is why for the last month at Beard’s academy in Manchester, Vijender has been sparring exclusively with southpaws. And while southpaws are hard to fight they are also beatable. While Beard has a number of strategies that Vijender has been practicing, the key is to keep the opponent off balance as much as possible. The best way to do this is for a Vijender to keep his lead (left) foot on the outside as much as possible.“This will give him the opportunity to throw punches with both hands while making it hard for Kerry to throw his power left hand,” says Beard. Indeed in Vijender’s third professional bout, against Alexander Horvath – the only professional southpaw he has faced so far – the Indian executed the plan perfectly. He made Horvath constantly have to reach out for him while leaving himself open for counters. The Indian has another option of using the southpaw’s own momentum against him.“Vijender needs to use his jab not only as a punch but simply use it to parry Kerry’s own jab,” he says. By turning the southpaw away from him, the Indian opens up the Australian’s body to the combination.The strategies Beard suggests need perfect coordination to pull off. While they may have worked against Horvath, Beard admits, it will be harder to pull off against a quality opponent like Hope. But Beard isn’t particularly worried. He says with Vijender’s power, he needs just a single opening to determine the contest. “Kerry is a busy fighter and I’m sure he would have his plans for this fight. For the first couple of rounds, I think Vijender will look to take control of the fight and the moment he lands his right hand, the fight will be as good as over,” Beard says.