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The Vertical Fist Punch
A Man Question from Baruch

‘What do you think about punching with a vertical fist? It feels more natural to me, but the thumb seems exposed.”


Excellent question, Baruch.

This is the primary concern of the man who wishes to use his bare fist or an MMA glove to punch a man who knows how to guard against a punch. I did this work in The First Boxers which begins with an illustrated section on fist orientations and body postures as an analytical tool for determining the conduct of ancient prize fights depending on single frame pictures. I will go into the uses of the vertical fist here, which is the fist with the thumb side of the hand toward heaven as the Gung Fu guys would say and the pinkie side of the fist bottom most. The dangers of this punch are related to throwing it low, so don’t throw it low. It’s a good tall man punch. These dangers are having the thumb broken by a descending elbow or in hitting a higher target and having the nerve behind the thumb compressed.


One either aims with the ring finger knuckle like Dempsey or the middle knuckle like the ancients, primarily to strike the nose between the hands. We call this the sneaky jab. Among heavyweights the best example was Jameel McCLine from about 15 years ago. The bareknuckle men called this the “nobber”. The reach and power is less than the pronated power punch since the shoulder is not rotated, but the thumb is in less danger going through or over the opponent’s hands.

The safety jab is done with a weak pivot crossing over the opponent’s closest hand, with the ulna bone of the forearm depressing his arm or, if thrown first the radial, thumb-side bone of the forearm deflecting his cross.


Like the sneaky jab the sneaky right slides between the hands, getting through and avoiding thumb contact with his guarding hands. I have had my chest compressed in a fight by this punch thrown by a smaller fighter who also split the sternum of another larger man with one of these blows. If you land this punch lower than your shoulder, especially on a bucking heavy bag, you may sprain the base of your thumb. Do not throw it under a man’s elbow to the body, or his descending elbow may snap the thumb.

Also, this short straight hand, short of reach and power for the same reason as the jab, lack of shoulder rotation, may be used as a cutoff check or rake with the forearm against your opponent’s guard. The Great John L. Sullivan used this method to clear his opponent’s guard. See Roy Jones Junior using this against John Ruiz and for that matter, Ruiz’s use of it. It is a good punch when men are not of the same height, effective for either party for accessing chest, chin and nose.

Against shorter men, this punch risks breaking the pinkie knuckle on his ducking head rather than the thumb, so has some application against a bob-and-weave fighter.


When throwing the hook the thumb up always increases power by fully utilizing the arm by engaging the bicep and shoulder, achieving perfection when the elbow fist and target are all perfectly in line. Also, when engaging a target higher than the shoulder it protects the thumb and base of the thumb.

However, when hooking to the body, the thumb is fully exposed to the descending elbow and may be easily broken even with full gloves on. “Smokin’” Joe Frazier, master of this punch, for whom it is named the “Philly” hook, once had his thumb broken in sparring from an elbow drop. Be careful throwing low hooks with the thumb up, even to the bag. If you do throw it low keep it in line with your shoulder by dropping your shoulder, best accomplished by bending the knee, not bending at the waist.


Baruch, as a big man [I think I recall you being 6’ 4”, and the fact that you will be sparring with monstrous Russian heavyweights, the sneaky jab with the thumb up would serve you well when they get you against the ropes and go to the body. You can use this punch to get under their chin and straighten them up for your rear straight hand and when you throw this jab and they slip it, which they will, you can use the bone that runes from your elbow to the pinkie-side of your jabbing hand to press down on their neck or head or [if you have the bad sense to piss them off] cross face them.

Be slick and nice and the veterans in the gym should appreciate that.

The Punishing Art

Add Comment
ShepJune 12, 2018 3:40 PM UTC

Wow—that will be interesting!
ShepJune 12, 2018 2:13 AM UTC

This is the kind of skill that the boxers in that recent bare-knuckle card in Wyoming had no clue about. From the clips I saw, they were just trying to do gloved boxing without gloves.

Wish some promoter would go all-in and have a London Prize Rules card...and that the boxers would use these "ancient" techniques. Plus "choppers", pivot punches, and upper-body wrestling throws.

It wouldn't hurt if the contestants would actually get in shape, either.
responds:June 12, 2018 7:31 PM UTC

Sean and Erique will be doing an authentic LPR bout on grass, with golfing cleats, according to the actual rules in about 1 year.