JOEL DIAZ, the trainer of former world champion Timothy Bradley, extols the virtues of footwork.
“I think a fighter’s footwork is his best defence; if you can learn to manage your feet in the ring, you’ll be in good shape,” the California-based coach explains. “The feet protect every single fighter and they set you up for every shot, by moving you into position and changing angles. Footwork is the most important thing in a fighter. The feet can get you into range and out of problems.”
Footwork goes both ways
Anyone who has seen Bradley fight will know how crucial footwork is to his overall strategy. Whether rolling forward as a busy aggressor against a Devon Alexander or taking evasive rearguard action versus a Ruslan Provodnikov, Bradley uses arguably his two best assets, his feet, to set up the rest of his arsenal. They serve to create openings offensively and to carry him rapidly out of the danger zone when on the retreat. Diaz is keen to place a little more emphasis on the defensive side.
“Timmy always had good footwork because in the amateurs he was a great mover, a good boxer and we have implemented a lot more defensive footwork since he’s turned professional,” Diaz reveals. “So we worked on staying low and using angles, and he started getting better.”
Given Diaz’s staunch believe in the importance of footwork, it comes as no surprise that this basic but vital skill is one of the first things he examines when a boxer arrives at his facility.
“When a fighter first comes to my gym, I assess their footwork,” he tells us. “In the ring, I stand in front of them and move forward – towards them – back, side-to-side. I want to see their motion and most get confused. If I have them in the ring, if I go forward, I want them to move back – sometimes they go forward, because they can’t stay in the same spot – and if I move to the side, I want them to move with me. When they don’t do that, I know I need to work on getting them to move their feet; I don’t like flat-footed fighters.”
The next steps
The initial assessment is only the beginning of a gradual and perpetual learning curve. Diaz’s approach to footwork could be termed holistic, because even when it appears his fighters are working on other areas of their game, the perceptive trainer always has one eye on their feet.
“We do a lot of different drills, in the ring and outside the ring,” he notes. “We have a lot of ways, different strategies and workouts, to sharpen footwork. For example,
I have my fighters always bouncing on their feet, even when hitting the heavy bag. Yes, they need a solid foundation in order to hit hard, but to dominate with angles you need good footwork and to hit harder with speed and accuracy is much better.
“When I take my fighter on the mitts, I look at him from every angle, to make sure his footwork is good, his handspeed, good power, everything.”
Climbing the ladder
Footwork ladders are no longer a secret in boxing. Many fighters use them – darting in and out of the small boxed sections – to improve speed and coordination, and Bradley is no exception. But Diaz is eager to point out the reasoning behind doing these drills in the ring, rather than on the gym floor.
“We have 15-20 different ways of using a ladder in the ring,” he details. “I prefer fighters to do ladder drills in the ring, rather than on the gym floor, because the padding gets your legs more tired. When you work on your feet on solid ground you get less tired than on padded ground, and of course in an actual fight you’ll be on the canvas.”