A few years ago, I suffered an ACL injury which prevented me from training properly. I subsequently gained weight and lost a lot of physical strength. This has proven to be a blessing in disguise, as it has allowed me to discover many new things and experiment in ways I would never have allowed myself to do in the past.
I'm as addicted as any fighter to trading punches in the ring, and even my diminished physical capacity did not stop me from entering the ring for sparring matches. I sparred whenever I had the chance, without headgear and a mouthpiece. I don't do this to be macho, but because I don't plan on getting hit.
Old time fighter, featherweight champion Abe Attell, was critical of the use of headgear. "The way fighter’s train today is all wrong. They wear headgear in the gym. You never see one of them throw off a left jab in training. They just duck their head and know it wont hurt them, but then they get into the ring with the same habit."
I realized this was true. I had done this several times in sparring once I was exhausted. I just tucked my chin and let the other guy hit me on the forehead. No damage done, but bad habits born. I learned to slip punches a lot better without the headgear.
Anyway, since I could no longer compete with my opponents physically, I had to find other ways to stay in the race. Since I was now much heavier than before, I learned to use my weight to my advantage. I learned that it doesn't really matter how heavy you are, only the way in which you employ what you have is important. For example, ducking under a punch and shoulder-slamming into the opponent momentarily is something I learned to use to smother the opponents follow-up attack.
I used to be a speedy, dancing counterpuncher, but I now had to settle for shuffling carefully around the ring. I learned a lot about counter-pressure. Counter-pressure is the tactic employed by Ken Norton to beat Muhammad Ali (via Eddie Futch) and more recently by Antonio Tarver to beat Roy Jones (via Buddy McGirt). It means that you press forward in middle range with a steady jab, make the retreating opponent lead (you feint him, though he will often punch out of impatience) shift over and counter. The key here is to stay exactly in middle range, not too close and not too far away.
"Roy is like a gunslinger who comes to town and he's the fastest gun in the west. When he's shootin', no-one is shootin' back because they're running."
- Buddy McGirt on Roy Jones Jr.
This tactic not only gives you an advantage when it comes to countering but often allows you to beat the opponent to the punch. You can sense his intention and throw simple deadweight punches (called stop-hits) directly into your opponent's initiation. This will disrupt his rhythm and allow you do catch him with more powerful punches.
Roy Jones tried to use this same tactic in his rematch with Tarver, but was too content to lead and did not employ his jab. The absense of the jab in the latter stages of Roy's career is seen by some as a testament to his skill, but by others as an unfortunate side-effect of finding so few challenges in the ring. Roy made good use of his jab in his early career as a professional.
Jones is compared to another great fighter, Charley Burley, by Burley's old sparring partner A.J. "Blackie" Nelson. Burley is often recognized as the greatest fighter ever who never won a world title. He was a small middleweight who fought everybody, even heavyweights.
"I see a lot of Charley in this kid, Roy Jones Junior. Both had unorthodox styles, could hit you from any angle, both hard to hit. Charley jabbed more than Jones, if Jones would concentrate on boxing as Charley did, he would become an all-time great."
- A.J. "Blackie" Nelson
Charley Burley and The Black Murderers' Row
Another thing I learned was to how to work with a less skilled training partner. NEVER use your advantages. Give them away and make things intentionally difficult for yourself. You might work on controlling an aggressive opponent without throwing hard or opening up a timid one. My mastery of slipping came about only due to the fact that I worked with people I was 100% confident couldn't put a dent in me. Also, since most of your time is spent in training, not in an actual fight, you shouldn't forget about courtesy. Help your opponent be a better fighter. You only stand to gain if there is a demand for you to raise your game.
When you have no physical advantage, if your opponent is stronger, faster and/or fitter, you must eliminate these things from the equation. For example, a quickfisted opponent who relies on his fleet feet to stay out of range, depends on the opponent to come forward to make his counters effective. By refusing to attack and showing patience, you force your reluctant opponent to lead. This is where you pick him apart with straight punches. You might also feign surprise, play possum and retreat. This will make him come forward even more confidently, taking him out of his element. If you make boxing a game of POSITIONING, instead of a game of SPEED, you can hold the advantage.
The legendary boxing teacher, Ray Arcel, would say that his hero Benny Leonard had more mental energy then anybody he ever saw, the fastest-thinking fighter that he ever saw. You must understand the direction the fight is taking. Why the opponent might have the advantage, and how you plan to take it away from him. NEVER play into your opponent's gameplan. "When you lose your head, you lose the best part of your body," he (Arcel) would say.
"Ring sense is an art, a gift from God that flows out of a fighter like a great painting flows out of an artist, or a great book flows out of an author. Ring sense is a natural ability to cope with any situation in a fight. It cannot be taught."
- Ray Arcel