In addition, if we take sport fighters into account, the answer will mainly vary according to the rules under which the competition is being held: for instance take amateur Boxing or amateur Muay Thai fights. Athletes are basically forced to concentrate their shots on a higher aim, rather than working their way through the opponent’s body, since it is very unlikely to achieve valuable scores with anything that is not a head shot.
On the other hand, in professional fights (either among thai boxers, boxers or kickboxers) alternating body and head shots is widely accepted.
That being said, under the lens of our analysis most fighters are able to use rather effectively both head and body hitting techniques, and can be considered as ‘hybrids’. But in the history of combat sports, just like in any other human activity, along with the vast crowd of decent and good specimens there sometimes have been particularly gifted individuals who have contributed to the development of actual fields of specialization respectively in each area of expertise.
The first ones are the so called “head hunters”, fighters who focus their strategies on maintaining a certain distance from their opponent so that, at any given time during the fight, they are able to aim at a head shot.
Nose, chin, jaw, temples, and even carotid sinuses (particularly in Muay Thai): these are the targets that the typical head hunter methodically manages to reach with craftiness by causing irreparable damages to whoever dares to face him.
In boxing, classic examples of this technical category have been the great James J. Corbett (aka the “inventor” of the Jab) and (the even greater) Mohamed Alì who have both become two of the all-time experts of the straight lead. Both became famous for their great skills in hitting their unlucky opponents in the head from every possible stance, always causing the same devastating effects (who does not remember the face of the brave Henry Cooper ravaged by the jabs of Mohammad “Butterfly” Ali throughout their second epic fight which even inspired the Rocky Balboa saga?). But both have rarely engaged in body attacks.
In Muay Thai, one of the all-time great was Golden Leg Pud Pad Noi, whom I personally had the honor of training with for several years. He was the typical Muay Thai head hunter; all his actions and movements were always a mean to reach the same goal: landing his epic Tae Ken Ko (or roundhouse neck kick), an extremely powerful blow which did not leave any way out to even the toughest and most-used-to-getting-hit opponents, whether it was a shin or instep strike.
These great athletes based their fighting strategy mostly on Boxing’s “Side Stepping” o Muay Thai’s “Salab Fan Pla”: evasive moves which, once executed with the right timing, allowed them to hit with great strength even when moving backwards. The precision of their actions, developed throughout hours and hours of training with their sparring partners, combined with the superb timing these attacks were led in, made these fighters’ head shots comparable to hammer or club strokes.
The second category includes those who believe in the ancient saying: “kill the body and the head will die”. The classic example in modern boxing is represented by the legendary Mexican fighter Julio Cesar Chavez .
In more remote eras, the heavyweight champion Bob Fitzsimmons became so famous for his body uppercuts (which even managed to defeat the mighty Corbett) that he is now remembered as the ”inventor” of the solar plexus punch.
For all Chavez’s opponents the first round of their fight with him was always a nightmare, since they were forced to go through a relentless body pounding which squished their ribcage and left them breathless, and led the way to a brutal head shot which easily marked the end of the match. In the event that a body shot reached one of the three vital spots (liver, solar plexus, or heart) the fight would easily end in the first few minutes. On this very topic the great heavyweight champion Smoking Joe Frazier (who even defeated Ali) claimed that in his veteran fighter’s opinion, getting punched in the jaw is way less painful and handicapping than getting punched in the liver (you have to try it to believe it).
In Muay Thai the body shots which usually lead to the end of a match are the knee strokes, mostly used during the clinching phase.
As already reviewed in other articles, the greatest representative of Thai Boxing’s knees destructive power of the modern era is undoubtedly Diesel Noi. The extraordinary mixture between his fierce neck grasp and his mighty knee strokes (Chap Ko Ti Kao) made Diesel Noi’s body attacks an extremely efficient method to tear down opponents.
The effectiveness of the neck grab and solar plexus knee strike technique has been reported by a National Geographic Channel team which, using the scientific equipment for automobiles crash tests, demonstrated that Muay Thai’s Chap Ko Ti Kao is the most devastating blow in all combat sports (taking into account all the limits a TV show is bound to).
However, in order to employ Chavez’s or Diesel Noi’s lethal techniques one must have the courage and the skills to close the distance between him and his opponent by constantly shutting down all the breakaways which the latest will probably try to enact in order to take up some space.
‘Not being afraid of the battle in order to overpower the opponent’, this is what is asked from someone who wants to effectively land some telling body shots. But once the close-range fighter has reached the right distance (even by using clinching techniques, like in Muay Thai) and unloaded the full power of his strikes (previously trained with heavy bags, pads, and sparring partners), it will be very hard for those who happen to be facing him to not get knocked out.
Obviously, it would be ideal for every fighter to be proficient in the use of both techniques, by effectively landing head as well as body shots. However, in reality, it is extremely unlikely to find such ‘complete’ fighters even among professionals.
In most cases, every good trainer knows that the best thing to do in order to enable a fighter to win by knock out, is to find his strong suit, work on it methodically and provide him with a ‘secret weapon’ he can always use to be a knock out winner. The ‘secret weapon’ could be a hook to the jaw or a liver knee strike, it does not matter; what really matters is that this blow represents an imminent lethal threat for the opponent – a hidden danger, always ready to crush him and knock him out.