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Tale of the Tape
Why HBO Sports has it Wrong

I watch a couple HBO fights a month, and must say I like their match-making. I like their unofficial scoring and commentary. However, at some point over the last few years, HBO dispensed with the reach measurement in favor of an arm-length measurement. In the early years of modern gloved boxing the fighters were measured like racehorses, and their anatomy even became the subject of newspaper articles. Remember, boxing was the premier sport of the day, and the only other popular sport was baseball, which was obsessed with [and still is] player statistics.

In 1908 a fighter would be measured like so:

1. Age

2. Height

3. Weight

4. Reach

5. Forearm

6. Biceps

7. Neck

8. Chest

9. Waist

10. Hips

11. Thigh

12. Calf

Additional measurements often included:

13. Wrist

14. Fist

15. Length-of-arm

Fist and length-of-arm were usually considered sub-measurements, included as they were in the wingspan measurement defined as reach. Of these 15 particulars eventually only the four most important were retained, being: age, height, weight and reach. Now reach, to a non-boxing arm-chair expert, is perplexing. Reach in boxing and MMA terms, is not arm-length. Arm-length is just a component of reach. Reach is a fingertip-to-fingertip measurement taken across the chest with the fighter’s arms spread. In terms of boxing, power and durability means as much as placement. Reach encompasses three factors:

1. Arm-length, indicating punching range

2. Shoulder width, indicating punching power

3. Hand size, indicating additional punching impact and fist durability [Dempsey and Foreman had notoriously large hands and ridiculous KO rates.]

If you are going to consider a boxer’s basic anatomical equipment for the sport, ‘wingspan’ reach is the single greatest factor, meaning more than height or weight, although all three are interconnected. The average person should have a wingspan or reach equal to their height. Most boxers have reaches that exceed their height. Thankfully MMA has retained reach as a measurement and not adopted arm-length.

For the supreme example of reach in action see the famous photo of Ali hitting Foreman with a right. In this particular photo Ali’s ‘wingspan’ comes into play as he fully rotates his shoulder through the punch after his foot push and hip pivot, amplifying and extending the duration of the shockwave travelling through Foreman’s brain. The hardest hitting boxers typically have slender frames, topped by wide shoulders, sometimes appearing, like Thomas Hearns, as if they are flesh-and-blood stick-figures with coat-hangers for shoulders.

The HBO nerds just don’t get it; have no idea how foolishly smug they sound as they sanctimoniously stress the superiority of their modern arm-length measurement over the archaic wingspan as a method for measuring a fighter’s raw material. This small thing is a measure of our contemporary arrogance. Boxing today is a mere fragment, a wisp of a reminder that it was once the single most popular sporting activity on Planet Earth. How can this small cadre of elite announcers, covering four fights per month out of a sport that is now a post-apocalyptic remnant of its former self, seriously think they are qualified to second guess the newspapermen of the 1920s and 30s who covered dozens of fights every week?

ArmandJune 12, 2016 10:32 PM EDT

Rocky Marciano-5'10"-reach-68", Joe Frazier-5'11.5"-reach-73", Mike Tyson-5'11"-reach-71"—-3 of the most devastating punchers of all time, all with short arms,not overly wide across the shoulders,and of course short reaches.
responds:June 13, 2016 8:28 AM EDT

Great Point, Armand

Short reaches, but strong shoulders anywhere south of a bodybuilding or powerlifting setting. Frazier—I think—had the narrowest shoulders for his build of these three. The more skill and synchronicity a fighter has the less the shoulder width matters for power punching. Also, a fighter with wide shoulder and bad hips might very well fail to use those wide shoulders.

Tyson and Rocky had cannon ball shoulders. All of these men had thick hips. Shoulders that are more in line with the hip width make synchronizing hip and shoulder torque more precise. Note how often narrow-shouldered fighters favor the shovel hook, which does just this, transferring hip torque [enabled by the close elbows].

Of course, wide-shouldered, long-armed fighters tend to tire easily and are often hard to coach, where guys with stature disadvantages like the three you mention get the value of training effectively impressed upon them early on. In ancient Greece, where jabbing was at more of a premium than in the modern game "a sturdy thigh" was considered the most important attribute of the boxer. During this period sculptures of boxers favor strong but not wide shoulders, with longer arms and thicker jabs, the hand gear they used permitting KOs with the jab.

The source of the power with such short-armed punchers is based on training and natural ability, with their shorter arms helping them calibrate the punches' landing more precisely than a rangier fighter. Punchers of this caliber throw punches that seem slow and somehow crush people. Conversely speedy punchers often lack stopping power. This would seem to fly in the face of physics, until you consider that their punches speed up at impact as a quicker puncher's strike often slows at impact.

Thank you, Armand.