A Shifting Phenomenon: A Look at Gennady Golovkin


As time passes, Boxing trends come and go and certain fighting styles fall in and out of the common perspective. Fans today tend to think that the sport has evolved over the decades into the best possible application of science, technique, and skill, that the sport has ever seen. For the most part, they are correct. But every once in a while, someone comes along to remind us of the greatness that hides in the past.

Kazakhstani-born Gennady Golovkin was a silver medalist in the 2004 Summer Olympics and holds the unified WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO Middleweight titles. He has the highest knockout percentage in Middleweight boxing history and is currently ranked among the top 3 best pound for pound boxers in the world by multiple sources. Gennady has amassed 32 KO’s in his 35-0 record and has managed to do so using a boxing technique that hasn’t been widely used since before World War II.


Most boxers today slide forward with their punches transferring their weight between the legs in a linear fashion. “Shifting” uses the natural bipedal motion of the body to create power and bring additional momentum, while simultaneously allowing the boxer to move in unorthodox directions and rapidly close the distance and cut off the ring. Simply put, instead of sliding forward, the shifting boxer will walk forward into the opposite stance as they punch, or to set up ensuing punches.

Shifting was a technique popularized in the early 1900’s by fighters like Robert Fitzsimmons, who was the sport’s first three-division world champion, The Michigan Assassin, Stanley Ketchel, and the great American icon, Jack Dempsey. They each hold specific shifts that have become the most universally studied and the most commonly known.

“The Fitzsimmons Shift” is characterized by when a boxer throws a rear straight punch accompanied by the step through of the rear leg to put the boxer into position to throw a rear low hook aimed at the solar plexus from the opposite stance.

image credit: Fightland.vice.com
As his hip in the second and third image shows, he’s moved his rear leg forward as he threw the right straight and lands in a southpaw stance. In the 4th picture, he rips the rear southpaw hook to the liver of his opponent.


“The Ketchel Shift” is when the boxer throws the rear overhand, steps through and throws another rear overhand with the other arm from the opposite stance and then steps through again to regain the original stance. Technically a double shift but that name is reserved for–

“The Dempsey Double Shift”. Which is when a boxer shoots the rear straight punch and steps through for another rear straight punch from the opposite stance, to step through again to regain the original stance, covering massive distance and basically running his opponent right into the ropes.

Gennady has proven to be so fluent in these techniques that he has been able to add layers of technical complexity that have never been seen before.

Here we can take the above image one step further and see Gennady performing a drop shift to control the distance on his opponent:

As Gennady completes the Fitzsimmons shift with his rear left-hook to the body, his opponent pushes back into him to close the distance and hold. Gennady then takes a step backward with his right leg into his orthodox stance using what’s known as a “drop shift” to create the space needed to deliver a punishing lead left hook.


Shifting adds a lot to Gennady’s game. It gives him the ability to control the distance with stepping back and forth like we can see in the above image. It also allows him to close the distance and bring an incredible amount of momentum with his punches. So in that way, it adds power in a way that no other technique can. Almost like getting a running start into the punch. It also allows him to cut off the escape routes and maintain dominance over the ring with superior angles.

Here we can see how he cuts off the escape route for Adama with a “Ketchel Shift”

As Gennady catches Adama with the lead left-hook, the obvious move for Adama to escape the pressure is to move back and to his left. Gennady cuts off the escape route by shifting forward with his right leg into a southpaw stance as he throws the overhand which lands clean and keeps his opponent trapped in his pressure.


It also allows an unprecedented advantage against southpaws. Typically, southpaws see fewer southpaws in sparring because they are the rare breeds in the boxing world. So as it goes, southpaws are typically more experienced against orthodox fighters than orthodox fighters are against southpaws, for the same reason. A boxer that’s proficient in shifting can take this advantage away and fight the southpaw as a southpaw in the body position that the orthodox fighter is used too without having to take an unfamiliar stance for longer than the few moments that the shifting technique requires. It puts the southpaw in unfamiliar territory and allows the orthodox boxer a momentary advantage that can change the course of the fight.

Negotiations for a Canelo bout in Septemeber have resumed and we may get a chance to see the Kazakhstani God of War put his shifting prowess to use against one of the sport’s top fighters. Can Canelo see it coming? Will he be able to stop it?

Lead image via: GGGboxing.com

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