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A Man Question from Craig
How Did George Benton’s Defensive Skills Compare to Today’s Boxers?
© 2014 James LaFond
“What do you think about George Benton’s defense compared to the people who are widely considered defensively proficient in the current boxing era i.e. Mayweather, James Toney, etc...”
I have watched about ten minutes of Benton and that is all I need to tell you that he was on another level than anyone fighting today. First of all, Benton’s defense and offense were so beautifully intertwined as to be indistinguishable and inseparable. One would not work without the other.
What to watch for primarily is tactile shell sensitivity. Benton can box on the outside. He also uses a ‘tall’ version of the Philly shell. Mind you this is not an ideal style for dealing with a long range rapid fire puncher like an Ali. They are not however mutually exclusive styles. Ray Robinson, who I believe is boxing’s all time best, had all of Benton’s skill set and all of Ali’s skill set, and then some, and wove it together.
The closest modern guys to Benton’s movement and angulation are coming out of the Wild Card gym and using the ‘follow hook’ that you see him execute while stepping right against Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter. We do this with lateral forehands in stick-fighting. It is much more challenging to do it in boxing because of leverage requirements and proximity.
You will notice him dropping in upper cuts and hooks instead of reaching. He is using zero gross muscular action, no arm push whatsoever—he is all wheel-house.
He is also vectoring a shovel hook thrown with the whole body into a straight delivery. It takes a little pop off but gets it in with power. Almost nobody practices punching at this level since body building came into prominence in the 70s. Since then athletes have been much more caught up in gross mechanics.
Benton has sick power punching with full body leverage with minimal commitment. This derives from timing, tactile sensitivity and rhythm sense.
Today’s boxers largely skip this, and zoom through the entire tactile range with power or speed and then grab. This is very crude.
For another understanding look to wing chun. I am not a wing chun man, but have cross trained and watched a lot of it. Most of that sticky hands trapping that you see is with the hand/wrist, with some being with the forearm; the bong, which you see Benton use a relaxed version of, which is called a wing block in boxing. Benton is doing something conceptually similar to wing chun and the Filipino empty hand trapping with his shoulders, and forehead and hip, etc. A military analogy would be he has two guns and six radar dishes all synchronized, where most boxers just have two and two.
Benton was not the only man that did this. Archie Moore was even better. You are talking slick defense that is rooted in high power leverage for punching. It only really derails when you run into a Marciano type chopper with natural power who can fry your circuits. As far as MMA it is of course not ideal in the context of grappling. However, Benton’s style of Philly shell is far less susceptible to grappling than most striking methods due to the level of finesse he uses, which is another way of saying intelligent micro movement.
What I’d like you to look at here is how Benton uses his head and shoulders and elbows and hips and arms to brush the man just to read rhythm and commitment. He throws from a safe timing zone. His shoulder sense is unparalleled, both with his shoulders and the other man’s shoulders. Watch him and Carter for that. What we are discussing here is the area of boxing that is not even imagined by martial arts people as they all got interested in boxing after it devolved to its modern denominator.
Benton’s ability is no secret. He fought in an era when the best fighters fought a lot, and fought the other best fighters, and fought them again; an era when a perfect record was not the meal ticket it is now. This expanded on the job learning opportunities exponentially and qualitatively. Not only where the guys you fought more experienced, but you might fight them five more times.
In that way, as far as the strategic rhythm of the sport, boxing was more like baseball in the Golden Age, with teams really honing each other. Boxing today is more like football, which is more of a remote scouted gamble than a situation where the fighter is like, ‘Yeah, I know Rubin.’ In the NFL a team might play the same team three times before it changes the line up—maybe. This makes for more blowouts and a more disastrous adaptation curve in football. Equating Golden Age boxing with baseball and current boxing with football is not a perfect analogy but can be useful.
As far as Toney goes he has the defensive end of the game down but doesn’t crack like Benton did because the micro mechanics and sensitivity aren’t as well developed. Floyd is like a might have been Benton who just decided to grab people and game the rules instead. I think we are going to see some resurgence of this type of finesse, and have, with the Filipino, Russian, and Argentine fighters.
Count the clinches in any Benton clip and compare them to the number of clinches you count in a same length Floyd money fight. You will probably be looking at a 10 to 1 ratio. What a lot of people don’t understand is that Benton’s type of full body boxing sense makes defense against the clinch a possibility. The only defense against the clinch most current boxers practice is to look at the referee and ask for help.
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