By James Blears
Boxing has never had a lustrous love affair with left handers.
Only in the modern era of Boxing, have we seen a genuinely more representative proportion of Southpaws emerge into the mainstream. But even during the recent decades, many developing youngsters who were natural lefties were discouraged and obliged or persuaded to fight as right handers.
As a boy, John H Stracey was turned around by a coach and asked how he felt favoring the right side, and adapted like a duck to water.
John never carried his right hand as a passenger. It contained real vim! Watch the rematch against Bobby Arthur on YouTube. One tremendous right finished it, and John fanned Bobby, with his left, as he went down in the glare of the arc lights. He won the British Title that night.
Henry Cooper, who famously decked Cassius Clay in their first encounter in 1963 at Wembley, was a converted natural left hander. His right was far from might, but his left carried pure TNT. It caught Clay backing against the ropes, and he was mighty lucky, when he got up on cotton wool legs, there were only a couple of seconds remaining before the bell rang to end the fourth, or he could have ended up as the remains of the day!
No messing around, fooling, sticking out his chin or dropping his hands in the fifth. No Sir! A restored and chastened young Cassius tore into Henry with ruthless urgency, badly cutting his eyes and forcing the Referee to stop, what was degenerating into a bloodbath.
Clay, who subsequently changed his name to Muhammad Ali, often joked in the following years, he`d been hit so hard by “Our Enery” that his ancestors back in Africa had felt it…and shuddered! This was arguably the hardest he was ever decked, including the left hook by Joe Frazier in the fifteenth round of their first encounter.
The term Southpaw is borrowed from baseball, with a left handed pitcher arranging the diamond with the batter facing East, to avoid the afternoon sun, which of course sets in the West.
The list of famous boxers who are naturally left handers but have been converted, goes on, namely: Oscar De La Hoya, Marco Antonio Barrera and Jhonny Gonzalez, to name but a few. Many of their fights ended with their stunning left hooks. Interesting to speculate if they`d have achieved the same success, fighting as southpaws. Also, was it they or their coaches, who brought about the conversions?
Sonny Liston and Larry Holmes possessed the best left jabs in heavyweight history. Both were conventional stance boxers. But it illustrates that the fundamental everything in boxing starts with the jab. Liston`s was a steam hammer. Even though he stood but six feet tall, his reach was an extraordinary eighty four inches, so it was a formidable weapon. Even in sparring it damaged head guards, tearing apart the stitching. Larry`s left was laser like in accuracy, often followed up by earth moving uppercuts. As a sparring partner to Muhammad Ali, some of the Greatest`s wonderful jabbing power and cultured accuracy must have rubbed off.
It`s a right handed world it`s left handers who are the ones who more often than not, have to adapt. Years gone by at school, naturally left handed children had their left arm tied to their side and were forced to go against cerebral nature and learn to write with their right. It did a considerable amount of lasting psychological damage, not to mention appalling scribbled handwriting.
Few right handed boxers have easily adapted to being southpaws. Marvellous Marvin Hagler is a rare success story. Yet in the famous fight against Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin puzzlingly fought right handed for the first two rounds. He lost both of them on all three Judges` cards, before re- adopting his southpaw ways. This early initiative gone wrong, proved a significant factor, affecting the final outcome.
Marvin won the title against Alan Minter who is also a natural right hander, converted to a southpaw. Alan had also successfully made the transition, but on that night, which disgraced British Boxing, due to bottle throwing thugs, Marvin tore into him and the resulting cuts were a frighteningly effective curtain closer.
Switch hitting, which means changing your stance from conventional to southpaw or visa versa is not uncommon. But it seldom seems to be very successful.
An interesting case in point, with the first fight in the Erik Morales Vs Manny Pacquiao trilogy. Erik who opened up a deep gash over Manny`s right eye in the fifth round with a superb right cross and was coasting to a well deserved victory. Yet he switched to southpaw in the twelfth and final round. Big mistake! Manny who`s right hand was more developed than Erik`s left, proceeded to plaster him with both and Erik was close to being knocked down, although he did handsomely win this fight on points. The other two encounters were Manny`s victories.
The only fighter I`ve seen who`s equally confortable and adept southpaw or conventional is Terence Crawford. He will fight as a southpaw in one bout and then in the next as a right hander. That`s from start to finish. It`s an extraordinarily difficult feat to achieve. Being completely and comfortably ambidextrous is a very rare attribute indeed. It`s more than a trait…it`s a treat to behold.