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The Greatest Man Question
Shep and James Plumb the Mystery of Man’s Heaviest Hands

How in the name of Steve Costigan did George Foreman score so many paralyzing knockouts? To me, his punching form looks like he’s never had a lesson – strictly an arm puncher who seldom rotates his hips and never pivots up on the ball of his back foot. His balance looks wonky even when he connects. He swings looping haymakers with both hands – and lands them.

So, considering that he punches like a grizzly bear swatting salmon up out of a river, how come he knocked out 90% of his opponents? Sure, he’s big and strong, but a lot of heavyweights are just as big and strong. Is there something mystical about “heavy hands” that defies analysis?


PS – I’ve liked George ever since the ’68 Olympics. I just can’t figure out how a guy who fights like an Irish village drunk could have been so overwhelmingly successful.

Throwing Boulders

As Holyfield put it, he was throwing rocks and “that old man” was “throwing boulders.”

Shep, Foreman did not have perfect form, did not have the form a smaller fighter needs to hit hard, but he nevertheless hit harder than any other man to step in the ring, though many were larger.

Watching Foreman from my jealous, eggshell perch, I have observed some remarkable mechanics, just not the usual kinetic suspects in the usual way.

What are these factors?

1. He had heavier hands, literally had more pennies stuffed in his sock than men his own size and larger. He had Brock Lesner hands on a smaller frame.

2. Relaxation. I have never seen a more relaxed heavyweight in the ring. Foreman’s level of relaxation was about at Joey Pep’s level. This means those heavy hands were on the end of loose arms. I can hit harder with my 13 inch arms than most body builders with 23 inch arms can hit, because those arms are loose. If only I had catcher’s mitts for hands I could have been somebody in the ring.

3. Forman’s elbows rarely get far from his hips, and if they do, it is deliberate, against bob and weave fighters. Even so, when swinging against Frazier, Roman & Norton, his punching mechanics are muck like knife and stick fighting mechanics, when he is always pulling his stroke inward toward his center, engaging his torso muscles to accelerate the punch toward his own center line. Roman was the best defensive shell fighter he faced so Foreman swinging against him was smart. Instead of missing over a shoulder he was scything through the entire wheel house, leaving Roman no place to bob u to safety. In stick fighting converted shell boxers and Gung Fu people who are used to making you miss by inches typically get eaten up by X pattern combos in this way.*

4. Foreman does engage his hips by flexing his knees and rotating his torso at the same time when younger. When he gets older he brings his elbows closer, swings less and walks into his punches.

5. In some of his younger fights he actually bounces off of both feet while punching with one hand, just like Ali versus Wepner and fighters like Shane Mosely and Ray Leonard. It is not apparent because of his plodding appearance, but he is doing it.

6. George does walking punches, just like a weapon fighter would synchronize a stride with a thrust. His walk through uppercuts are ridiculous and might be the hardest punches ever thrown to the chin. George’s best walking punch was his left uppercut that paralyzed Cooney at the beginning of this clip.*

7. Foeman showed remarkable knee, hip, shoulder torque continuity even when he swung and when he did swing, he usually brought the elbow back across his center, pulling the punch through with his core muscles. *

8. George was willing to arm punch, as in the kidney shot against one of the victims in this reel. But even when he did, he did not throw it away or around, but brought it home. I think you could teach baseball players to punch most easily by having them study George Foreman. See the overhand right finishing Hitz and how Foreman is pulling that punch at such an angle that if he had a knife and Hitz wasn’t there he’d stab himself in the pelvis, hip or or thigh.*

9. Foreman, when he is not swinging, keeps his feet close together and uses them for pushing and punching leverage. In many instances, I think he pushed off with both feet when standing toe to toe. See Frazier II the finishing sequence. Also, see him literally jumping into finishing upward punches on Norton. He was using calves and thighs to punch with these rising shots. It made him look off balance the way he almost fell over the men he KO’d like this but he was actually pushing off with both feet, actual, real superman punches heading up, not falling down like in MMA. See how he seems to bounce-float after the falling Norton. If Norton would have stayed up he was eating more superman punches.

10. Hip rotation was an overlooked aspect of George’s punching. Look at the rotation against Rodrigues, with the plunging right to rotational hook, fully loading the lead hip with the right and then rotating that back around.

11. Finally, Shep, as you will see if you study his knees, Foreman did push off with the foot that should be driving the shot with more consistency than most power hitters and all boxers. It was not apparent to us because of the way his old fights were filmed, with the video line cutting above the ankles most of the time. But you can find it if you look for it. Go to Frazier II to see the driving foot perfectly in line with the punching arm, tracing a power line from foot, to knee, to hip, to elbow to fist.

12. As a tall man George owned the best rear hand uppercut in the business in an age when a handful of top fighters were peek-a-boo men. Foreman’s pitching of the right uppercut in Frazier I is sickeningly beautiful.

13. Timing was probably George’s best asset and I mean micro-timing, the use of a hard to see hip twitch at the point the punch lands, which to me is noticeable in the shockwave across his own back and in the knee.

*Shep, I think that I’m only picking these particular points up because of developing power and convergence in stick and knife work.

Cooney was the best KO of his career and it includes a walk through punch followed by the tightest torso pivot I ever saw.

Also, George had a huge capacity to take punishment, with no one really able to KO him. Look at Holyfield ripping a dozen unanswered shots into his face. George self-destructed against Ali and Young and essentially failed his drive check. In his other fights he was highly resilient. I think his ability to take unparalleled punishment from men like Lyle and Holyfield and later against huge young heavyweights like Severeese and Briggs, without losing composure, goes back to his best asset as a puncher, his relaxed composure—his elephantine grace.

The Punishing Art

American Fist: A Fighter’s View of Boxing

The Greatest Boxer: An Objective Ranking of the Top Boxers

Add Comment
JApril 11, 2018 11:02 AM UTC


Here is a new interview between Joe Rogan and Bas Rutten

In the first 20 minutes or so, they're talking about this new "karate combat" event. It reminded me of your talk on myth of the 20th century, discussing pancrase, because there's no cage, it's more of a fighting pit.
responds:April 11, 2018 4:01 PM UTC

Thanks, J

I will use this as an article starter.
BobApril 7, 2018 1:23 AM UTC

No horse to dead to flay:A rubber band or two in the pocket makes waiting in line, at the traffic lights or on the phone productive. Multi-tasking even easier than the squeeze-ball.
BobApril 7, 2018 1:19 AM UTC

@ Shep:

Sure. I like this particular one with high rubber content and maximum stretch. A box just shy of twenty bucks will last until your hands are Foreman's.

Anyone who works with their hands probably gets plenty of flexor exercise. Extensors really are the unloved set.
ShepApril 5, 2018 10:14 PM UTC

Bob, the extensor exercises look good. I am a cheap bastard, so I guess I'll just try using regular rubber bands.
ShepApril 4, 2018 2:28 AM UTC

James, that is an exceptional analysis! You saw a lot of things that I never considered. So, I guess the bottom line is that these things that seemed like glitches in his program were features and not bugs. Is it safe to say that George was one-of-a-kind, and that it would be unproductive to consciously try to coach a similar-sized man to fight the same way?

I had never thought of hand size itself as actually adding ounces to the glove. I would have thought that a large fist spreads out the impact over a greater area, and that punching power would best be amplified through a smaller impact surface. (Of course, a power puncher with small hands might be more likely to suffer hand injuries, so...)

Great point about his relaxed physical and mental state. George always looked almost serene in the ring. Zen-like. Come to think of it, I can't recall ever seeing a non-Oriental fighter (in any sport) with that same flat affect.

Thanks for the education!
responds:April 4, 2018 7:04 AM UTC

Shep, I would have not looked so close to Foreman without you sticking it in my face.

Now, in bareknuckle boxing the hand is more durable when big and dense. in gloved boxing it is the sand or lead in the sap, the density that stretched out the glove to render the padding less effective.. Hand size makes more of a difference in gloved boxing.

I learned this when trying to pad sticks and finding out that the denser sticks became clubs and the lighter sticks boffers.

BobApril 3, 2018 11:05 PM UTC

Or, if money's no object and you really want heavy (Baoding!) balls, tungsten carbide:
BobApril 3, 2018 9:43 PM UTC

Here's another pair of 2 1/2" Baoding in solid steel for palm, finger exercise (again, no particular vendor endorsement).
BobApril 3, 2018 9:33 PM UTC

My hands - not large - have become significantly meatier and heavier (muscle, tendon) from extensor exercises with rubber bands. (Thicker ones than in this video ).

2 1/2" solid steel balls to use as *silent* Baoding balls, so you can multi-task. By way of example only:
Jeremy BenthamApril 3, 2018 5:06 PM UTC

This is a fascinating analysis James. Yes, one observes that dominant athletic champions are often freaks of nature. Regardless of race. They are able to perform in certain sports and in certain activities at levels that normal people simply cannot. They perform their feats in ways that average people could never learn to replicate. It’s like the fact that according to our understanding of the laws of aerodynamics, bumblebees should not be able to fly. Yet they do. Quite well too. Likewise we see a select group of dominant athletes, who should by all logic and experience not be capable of doing what they are able to do in their sport, and yet they do it. Another one of those knockout-punching ‘bumblebees’ in the sport of boxing of course was Rocky Marciano.

“When Rocky first came to New York in June 1948 he was given a tryout at the Catholic Youth Organization gym on 17th Street by Al Weill, a fight manager, and Charley Goldman, a trainer. They had heard a little about Rocky and now they wanted to see what he had before taking him on in their stable of boxers. Rocky’s tryout opponent was Wade Chancey, a huge heavyweight from Florida who out-reached him by nearly a foot. At the time Rocky had had only one professional fight.”

“Charley Goldman has often told the story of Rocky’s tryout.”Marciano was so awkward we just stood there and laughed,” says Goldman. “He didn’t stand right, he didn’t throw a punch right, he didn’t do anything right. Then all of a sudden, he hit Chancey with a roundhouse right and the big guy went out like a mackerel. That did it. We agreed to take him on and see what we could teach him. Well he learned fast. It’s a long jump from the C.Y.O gym to the main bouts at the Garden.”

-The Heavyweight Champions by John Durant (1973), Chapter 10 - ‘The Brockton Blockbuster and Others’
Sam J.April 3, 2018 1:14 PM UTC

My apologies for being a bit off topic but I found another gun fact that astounded me. It seems there is NO correlation on the number of homicide and the percentage ownership of guns. Maybe the reason we never hear about this is both sides don't want to talk about this.