By Jillian Bullock
Although several MMA fighters, including Vitor Belfort, Kenny Florian, Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin, Chris Leban, Cung Le, and Nick Diaz, fight as southpaws some of these guys were born a lefty and some are “deliberate southpaws.” They taught themselves to fight as southpaws because they found it to be an advantage to their mixed martial arts career.
Looking back in history, however, many cultures considered a person evil if he was left-handed. In fact, in Latin the word for left is sinister. Over the years the stigma surrounding being left-handed grew. Re-education of lefties was promoted by everyone, including clergy, parents, the media, and others. And how many adults can remember growing up and attending Catholic school where nuns swatted their knuckles if they even reached for a pen or pencil with their left hand? Today, with ten percent of the population being left-handed the stigma has waned in most countries. And in sports, especially boxing and martial arts, being a southpaw can be advantageous.
Disadvantages For Orthodox Fighters
Many orthodox, or right-handed, fighters don’t like being matched up with a southpaw fighter because it takes more studying and skill to defeat them. Part of the problem is that a lefty’s lead foot – their right foot – is directly in front of their opponent’s lead foot. Sometimes during the match they step on each other’s foot because they’re in an open stance and constantly jockeying for position. It’s a battle for this optimal position, which allows either fighter the ability to throw effective punches and defend himself. Therefore, it takes more time and effort for a right-handed fighter to deal with a lefty because he isn’t used to training with them. An orthodox fighter must always be aware that he needs to position his lead foot on the outside of a lefty’s lead leg. If he doesn’t do this, the right-handed fighter leaves himself open and he may find a southpaw’s left hand coming straight down the middle and clocking him.
Even if an orthodox fighter trains and spars with left-handed combatants in order to build his offense and defense he’s still at a disadvantage. Therefore when it comes down to real bouts with southpaws right-handed fighters often over analyze matches. Orthodox pugilists also know they have to be more cautious when going up against southpaws because the foot placement can cause them to trip, or they don’t see the strikes coming until it’s too late. In fact, some southpaw fighters may be slower, weaker, and even less skilled than their right-handed opponents but they end up winning. This can happen simply because most orthodox fighters are less accurate, less effective, and will throw punches with less power because an unorthodox fighter throws them off with different angles. Actually if you were to ask many MMA fighters they would acknowledge that some of their most demanding fights were against southpaw warriors. This is another reason why some naturally born right-handed fighters will take the time to learn how to fight as a southpaw.
Another disadvantage for orthodox mixed martial artists is southpaw fighters will always be more comfortable fighting a right-handed opponent because his offense and defense has been designed to do so since he started training. The same isn’t true for orthodox fighters.
Bruce Lee may have been one of the first martial artists to train to become a southpaw fighter. His philosophy was that a fight should be over as fast as possible, so to give yourself an advantage you need to fight in a way that will throw your opponent off his timing or confuse him – becoming an unorthodox fighter will do that. Fighting as a lefty means putting your strong side forward and jabbing and kicking with your right hand and foot which are now closest to the target. The right-sided stance will also allow you to have more power in your strikes and possess dominance.
Southpaws circle to their right so there is distance from their opponent’s right hand and allows their left hand to move closer to the face or body of the unorthodox fighter. It’s also easier to do other strikes (hooks, elbows) from a right lead position.
Lee disagreed with boxing tradition where the lead hand set up the opposite hand, which was thought to possess more power. Through his training in Wing Chun, Kung Fu, and fencing Lee realized that all three disciplines used the lead hand as the main power tool. To prove his point of just how powerful the lead hand could be with the proper leverage and training Lee often demonstrated his famous one inch punch. Many martial artists studied Lee’s teachings and made the switch to southpaw.
Today, about 60 percent of MMA fighters lead with a right stance, which they have adopted from their training as wrestlers, grapplers or Jiu-jitsu practitioners. Those who transitioned to MMA were already comfortable in a right stance because as a rule, shooting (seeking takedowns with leg shots) is taught from the right side.
The bottom line is that you can become a great fighter no matter what foot or hand leads. However, if you do decide to make the switch to southpaw make sure you have trainers who are comfortable with a left-handed fighter. Also, dedicate yourself to developing your weaker hand. Constantly spar with orthodox fighters while you maintain a southpaw stance. Practice your foot movement and constantly circle to your right. Watch and study fights between right-handed and left-handed combatants. Most important, make sure you’re confident of your skills as a southpaw fighter before you book a bout.
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