When you’re first learning to fight, one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is learning how to block a swift punch to the face.
Blocking a punch involves ideal positioning using footwork, having an improved reaction time and sensitivity, and knowing how to position your hands as the final line of defense against any incoming strikes.
Improving your blocking abilities comes down to having a strong understanding of the attacks that can be thrown at you, as well as their defenses and counters.
In the rest of this article, I’ll break down how to block a punch — which is helpful for MMA and boxing matchups.
Table of Contents
How to block a punch
When you’re going from a beginner to an intermediate in boxing or MMA, you’ll have likely started sparring with partners.
Sparring is a critical part of the learning process in any fighting sport, especially MMA since the strikes can come from many angles. It’s where you will learn the most about how to block in MMA.
Blocking a punch in MMA, Muay Thai, or even regular boxing is typically knowing the same factors. Let’s crack on with what those are.
Keeping up your guard
It’s so simple but so important. Look, if you want to stop getting bonked on the nose or caught on the chin with every movement you make – keep your damn guard up!
You will always face a better fighter than you. If not now, later.
Maybe they have better movement or lucky predictions. You can’t continue fighting it with your face. You need to strategize with every single encounter and figure out how to overcome each challenge.
If you’ve had even a half-decent boxing coach, you’ll notice they keep gesturing to you to keep your hands up during your beginner stages.
I know that has been my experience because it took the majority of my first year of regular boxing even to build up the stamina in my muscles to keep my hands up and remember to keep them placed there, too.
Get better and more resistant by keeping your hands up.
Just that extra inch of the tip of your gloves protecting your face can count for milliseconds of additional reaction time for you to parry or successfully make a block.
So keep your damn hands up!
Learn punch variations and their counters
You can drastically improve your ability to detect and deal with punches once you understand what they all are.
I’m talking about the essentials in a fighter toolkit, like:
These are the absolute basic punches that you should know inside out to start learning how to deal with them.
You’re also going to want to learn about the variations of these and common combinations.
Variations are using these form-fitted punches in new ways, such as:
- Feints — mostly on jabs
- Body shots — most commonly on jabs when at a distance and hooks when in close
- Switched stances — great fighters can switch their stance (e.g., from orthodox to southpaw) and suddenly completely change the dynamic of defending it
And that’s not all. There are, of course, limitless combinations of those essential punches and these variations.
Here are some of the most popular combinations that get thrown, which you should definitely practice yourself both in attack and defense (drilling with a partner is perfect for this):
- Jab-Cross (1-2)
- Jab-Cross-Hook (1-2-3)
- Jab-Body Cross (1-2B)
- Jab-Body Jab-Feint Body Jab-Cross (1-1-Feint-2)
That last one is a personal favorite. It always works.
The more practice you put into learning these punches, like how to deal them out and getting awareness for how to deal with them on defense, the better you’ll get at blocking or even avoiding hits altogether.
Blocking body punches
Intelligent fighters will use the body punch to vary their shots but, importantly, make you change the way you guard to find an opening.
A body punch usually comes in two forms, from the side or straight to the gut.
Blocking jabs and cross to the body
Defending the jab or cross to the body is relatively the same tactics because it’s a straight shot that is usually intended to distract you more than anything.
Most straight shots to the body require the attacker to bring their own head closer to you, which does put them at risk.
But it’s usually too tricky to reliably detect when that kind of strike is coming to be able to counter on it.
Their head can appear right there in front of you and ready for a swift hook to the jaw, but a good fighter will throw those shots so fast that they’ll clear the space and exit too quickly for you to react.
That being said, if your reactions are good enough, then a defensive jab toward where their head is moving to (usually around your chest height) is a good strategy.
What they are trying to do is make you react.
The straight body jab or cross is intended to make you shell up lower and bring your arms close or further down to your body, dropping your guard and revealing your head.
It takes some training and experience, but having a minimal reaction to this kind of strike is crucial so as not to put yourself in a precarious position after it.
So having a strong core that can withstand body shots is probably one of the better defenses to this.
These shots will happen, and being less reactive is usually the best defense against them.
Aside from that, the last option would be to get good at moving backward or circling to one side when they are taking their in-step for the jab or cross.
This creates those few inches of distance that take away any punching force for you to worry about.
Blocking hooks to the body
Blocking a side-body punch requires you to have trained reactions and a solid guard with elbows tight to the ribs.
If your elbows are tight to your ribs and without any space, then you have better protection for taking a side body punch into your arm rather than into your ribs where they do the damage.
You have to be aware of how it can be challenging to predict whether your opponent’s hook is coming at your head or your body. Getting that wrong can be very risky.
The way a fighter winds up their body for a hook looks the same at its starting point, and you won’t know whether it’s directed at your head or body — and sometimes it changes mid-throw based on your reaction.
So you have two responses in dealing with the hook
- Keep a very tight guard with elbows tucked in while maintaining glove-to-chin protection
- Predict the hooks by learning the opponent’s patterns and footwork out of the way entirely
You want to have a very tightly compacted guard to deal with the incoming hook, as it’s one of the most powerful close-range shots.
Or get the hell out of the way and use your smarts and footwork to maneuver to angles that the hook is less dangerous — like circling away to their opposite, non-lead hand.
If you’re tucking in your guard to take the punch, part of the reaction is to sway your body into the punch.
This allows you to brace your core and body by gesturing into the punch and offers more protection from your elbow and arm to block against the hook.
So let’s say your opponent throws a left hook:
- Your defensive reaction should be to have a tight guard and sway from the waist to your right
- Bring your elbow further down the right side of your body while still protecting your head
- Brace for the impact, which should hopefully be mostly against your arm and not your head or body
This one can take a lot of practice and repetition and can only be developed with a good coach or in drilling and light sparring.
Blocking wearing MMA gloves
Wearing MMA gloves during the fight means less overall material to cover your face. Boxers just don’t understand how good they have it, do they?
With boxing gloves, the extra padding creates a much weightier and bigger surface area with which to cover your face.
The classic MMA glove barely adds a couple of inches extra of coverage, and that’s only over the knuckles to avoid damage to the fighter’s hand.
Blocking with MMA gloves requires you to be more creative with the additional options you have available. For starters, an MMA glove lets you open your palm because of the need for grappling in the sport.
An open hand equals more surface area to protect your head.
It might mainly consist only of small finger bones, but the padding around the knuckles and the back of the hand act as a much-needed extra layer of defense.
Holding your open palm to the side of your head is a typical way of defending your head from blunt force during an MMA fight.
You can do it by holding your hands flat against the side of your head like a boxing guard.
For every other kind of block, it’s essentially the same as it would be in boxing or while wearing a full boxing glove. Keep the elbows tight to the ribs and hands high, then wait for your openings to counter.
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