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  • Ian Streetz

Alternative Boxing Stances 5. The Cross Arm Guard & The Lock

The Evolution of the Cross Arm Guard

Elements of the cross arm guard can be found dating back to at least 1825 as the picture below illustrates. Boxing was a very different sport back then where rather than flurries of combinations, single shots with full commitment of body weight were common practice.

The technique in the image below was known as "barring" and was tailored to defend against the style of full commitment punching. By barring a blow, the pugilist aimed to defend against the shot, hopefully off balance the attacker (easier due to the commitment of the bodyweight) and open them up to counters.

Boxing began to change towards the end of the 19th century where boxers became wise to the fact that they could bypass their opponents defence by throwing more than one punch in succession. As such a more double guarded position began to emerge as you can see in the picture below catered to defending sequential shots to the head and body.

The person demonstrating the guard iin the picture below s Gus Ruhlin who fought the likes of Bobby Fitzimmons and Jim Jefferies (who interestingly used the "Crouching Crab Guard" which will be featured in our next post). As the sport of Boxing and the rules which governed it changed over the years, so too did the styles of fighting.

A well known user of a Cross Arm Guard was the legendary "Old Mongoose" Archie Moore. He demonstrated modifications of this older style that were better suited to the style of the times. He utilised crouching and rolling along with the modified guard to defend shots and set up counters. His motion made it difficult to see what punch was going to follow. The guard allowed him to cover his jawline behind his elbow and shoulder, and with an almost battery ram type efficiency enter into striking distance. A brilliant article on Archie Moore's style which provided much of the historical content for this piece can be found here

A true testament to the guard of a Moore can be found in the one and only Rocky Marciano's comments following their tremendous fight “I don’t think I ever threw more punches in a fight than I did tonight, I just couldn’t seem to get a clean shot at him. He’d hide beneath those arms and bob and weave and roll with the punches, so the only thing I could do was keep pitching them.”

Tony Anthony, One of Archie Moore's vanquished opponents once called Archie Moore the "Einstein of Boxing". Moore showed great adaptability and ring intelligence which was a deadly combination when used in conjunction with his well executed guard. If we look a little deeper we find that one mans name seems to be largely responsible for a great many of Archie's great attributes including his Einstein like boxing mind and effective guard, yet his name is largely missing from Boxing history books- that name is Hiawatha Grey.

Finding information on Hiawatha is a tremendous task in itself. What I could find out about him was limited to a seemingly incomplete BoxRec record, a very interesting internet post and some excerpts from Archie Moore's book. This is a crying shame considering his role in the careers of such greats as Moore and Charley Burley (who is also very much an unsung hero considering his phenomenal skill set)

What is known is that Hiawatha Grey was a bareknuckle boxer, and a seemingly brilliant boxing mind. "Back in the day" many trainers simply trained their fighters and left others often of questionable experience levels to do their corners (or more appropriately to towel them off, hold the spit bucket and do their cuts in between rounds). Hiawatha's role in Moore's career seems to be that he was brought on board whenever Moore felt he was up against a real challenge that he needed help to overcome. It should be noted that the aforementioned Charley Burley (pictured below) who was one of the few to beat a prime Moore was also refined by Hiawatha Grey (although Burley was already given much of his technical brilliance by his amateur trainers Leonard Payne and Howard Turner).

Hiawatha's background in bare knuckle boxing seems to lend itself to the cross arm elbows out position that Moore displayed. With no gloves, or the minimal protection of horsehair gloves, punching and repeatedly hitting someone's elbows when you were intending to hit their face was a less than appealing prospect as it could easily lead to broken hands.

It seems that Hiawatha taught this cross armed style of defence to Archie Moore who in turn passed on to his son Billy, George Foreman (in his later career, shown in the pic below) and Gilbert Baptist. The Moores titled this defence "The Lock".

One of the criticisms of the cross-armed guard and "The Lock" is that it leaves the hands in poor positions to counter. While this can be true Archie Moore showed that this was not always the case as he was an excellent aggressive counter puncher. What made fighters successful with this guard were

1. Slight forward bend at the waist with weight loaded on the lead left hip (leading to a squared body position

2. From the squared upper body position the guard lends itself to effective use of powerful hooks as a counter to the right hand.

3. Active defence is paramount. Without this the guard becomes a relatively easy obstacle to overcome for combination punchers, and those with good uppercuts due to the forward bent position.

If we move the weight from over the lead hip to the rear hip we notice that the cross arm guard begins to resemble another famous guard as we shall see in the next post on The Philly Shell, Crouching Crab and Crab Guards. While the cross arm guard is rarely seen today, certain elements are still used and its effect on boxing history is both undeniable and dramatic.

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