Alternative Boxing Stances 8. The Saddler Style
In our next instalment of analysing alternate boxing styles we are going to look at the style of one of the most devastating punchers in history (ranked number 5 of Ring Magazines top 100 in fact) - Sandy Saddlers "Saddler Style".
Before their world famous "Rumble in the Jungle", Muhammad Ali publicly mocked George Foreman calling him "The Mummy" and imitated his outstretched hand position and clumsy looking footwork. In actuality there was a lot more to this smothering style that catapulted Foreman to the top of the Heavyweight Division as we shall soon see. It was a style taught to Foreman by his trainer Dick Saddler, and overseen by Dick's cousin - Sandy.
Unfortunately Sandy Saddlers name isn't as prominent in Boxing History as it should be and when compared with his contemporaries. He was a gangly, awkward and yes dirty fighter....but what a fighter he was!! With a record of 144-16-2 and a whopping 103 KO's Saddler was a monster. He beat some of the greatest fighters in history including the great Willie Pep 3 out of their 4 meetings. But how could such a clumsy looking fighter best a veritable master of footwork such as Pep?? - enter the Saddler Style!!
When watching Saddler fight (predominantly his tactical use of his guard and hands) I am reminded of a very dear friend - the one and only, late, great Jason "Payak Siam " Kelly (R.I.P Brother). Anyone who had the "pleasure" of sparring with J will know how he had a way of shutting opponents down without even throwing a shot.
His body positioning and use of his outstretched hands shut opponents down by controlling their shoulders and elbows. Ever tried to punch without using your shoulders?? Well it's not very effective let me tell you, and that was your only option when faced with this type of fighter. Like J, facing Saddler seemed to be like drowning in quicksand.
Unlike J however Saddler wasn't known for his prowess on the outside. He would move at distance but similar to a lion stalking it's prey, this was merely a formality. Where he really wanted to be was up close and personal. Long before Randy Coutures "dirty boxing" Saddler made a career out of grabbing, clinching with one arm while simultaneously pounding his opponent with the other.
The way J and Saddler controlled their opponents arms was very effective. It usually began with parrying the opponents hands with their outstretched guard. When an opening presented itself they would immediately close distance and place both gloves on their opponents shoulders. From their they would quickly squeeze their own elbows in and slide their gloves down until they were controlling the opponents elbows. The result was a largely incapacitated opponent who now found themselves in a far less than ideal position to put it mildly.
It has to be said that Saddler was a master of shall we say the less than legal elements of boxing. But it's also worth noting that "fighting dirty" alone did not get Saddler to where he was. He was also one of the best ever when it came to cutting off the ring, and as mentioned earlier had one of the hardest punches in history. To top it off he also had a chin carved from stone. In fact in his 162 fights he was only stopped once and that was in his 2nd fight. I mention this as it is worth bearing in mind before attempting to emulate his style. What we are doing here is examining not necessarily advocating :)
Saddlers aim was to turn every fight into a dog fight and his smothering style and techniques on the borders of legality allowed this to happen in most instances. Although it must be said that it is perhaps unfair how much blame is placed on Saddler for foul ridden fights. It often takes two to tango and his opponents were often more than willing to oblige once the fouls started flowing.
Even the ever graceful Willie Pep descended into the trenches in his 4 bouts with Saddler. Pep had only ever lost 1 out of his 135 fights when he met Saddler for the first time. In case you don't know Willie Pep he amassed a record of 230-11-1 and is regarded as the greatest Featherweight ever (number 2 being Sandy Saddler). How good was his footwork?? Well he once bet a sportswriter that he could win a round without throwing a single punch, just by evading his opponents shots entirely - he won the bet.
However there was none of this beautiful movement in the 4th bout with Saddler, it was war!! In fact there were so many fouls that both fighters were suspended indefinitely after the fight (although this didn't last too long considering their popularity). If you haven't seen the fight some of the fouls include
- Pep sticking the palm of his glove into Saddlers face in an attempt to try and make space
- Saddler held and hit at every opportunity (as was a staple of his style)
- Both men wrestled each other to the ground
- Saddler utilised the over hook and wrenched vigorously in the clinch (perhaps trying to recreate the shoulder separation that forced Pep to retire from their 3rd bout)
- Pep tripped Saddler
- Saddler moved behind Pep and started punching from the back
- The referees instructions were perpetually ignored and he was even thrown to the ground
- Saddler utilised his elbow when "missing" punches and dished out low blows when attacking the body
However amongst all of these infractions, Saddler earned his victory through body positioning, his ability to cut off the ring, relentless pressure and realising that attacking the body was the key to slowing down such a smooth mover. Saddler neutralised Pep's swift feet by taking Archie Moore's advice and sticking to him like glue. Saddler took Pep out of his own game and forced a war of attrition onto him, and here lies an important lesson and forms the basis of this article.
While I am not saying that the Saddler Style is something that one should necessarily directly aspire to recreating, there are some extremely important lessons to be learnt if we delve a little deeper than what we may see on the surface.
Saddler's style is a style that involves more than just the physical. While there are undoubtedly physical elements which are extremely useful such as the arm and shoulder control and effective cutting of the ring, I believe another important element of his style is all too often overlooked and with it an important lesson missed.
Saddler realised his weaknesses, but rather than being limited by them, he was a master at playing to his strengths. Rather than being lulled into his opponents game plan which would undoubtedly exploit his short comings, his rugged in your face approach often left his opponents with little choice but to engage. Rather than chasing his opponents and their superior footwork he merely waited until he could get a hand on them, grab them, force them onto the ropes and unload on them. Footwork is far less effective from this compromised position :)
The old adage "styles make fights" is very often true with the "better" fighter sometimes losing to a "lower level" fighter who has a style that seems to be their kryptonite. In actuality this happens when a fighter refuses to engage in what the "better" fighter is better at and forces them to fight in a manner that they are not accustomed to. Remember this when you train, spar and fight. There's a difference between being adaptable to what your opponent throws and becoming a pawn and falling victim to their game.
We don't necessarily need to make Saddlers fouls a staple of our game, we will almost certainly not have Saddlers power, nor his ability to cut off the ring, however we would do well to try and recreate his will and desire to win and his ability negate his weaknesses by playing to his strengths.