Boxing Technique: Rocky Marciano’s Phantom Overhead Punch

sb-rocki-marciano-phantom-overhand-logo-150px-jpg We discuss the punch called “Rocky Marciano’s phantom overhead”. The article shows how to execute, defend from and effectively counter this punch.






1. Technique

2. Defense

3. Counter

4. More Variations



This maneuver may help shorter fighters to get inside as an alternative for the jab. The punch can be effectively thrown from a distance that is usually unthinkable when throwing a classic overhand [1].The taller fighters need to learn what to expect from shorter fighters and what to do about it.

Below you see three examples at different angles how Rocky Marciano (white trunks) used to throw this punch against Joe Luis (black trunks). In the beginning, Rocky as a shorter guy, is too far to reach Joe with any punch. This is why Joe confidently keeps his left hand low. Rocky starts the move by stepping forward under Joe’s left while looking at the body. It appears as if he is going to punch to the body:


Rocky Marciano demonstrates a phantom overhead punch against Joe Luis

Why phantom?

Unlike the straight right hand, the phantom overhead initial move is invisible to the opponent = phantom. In the middle stage, when Rocky swings, the hand goes like high hook, so the opponent can notice it with his side vision only:


Rocky Marciano explains why the punch is phantom

Why overhead?

Partly because the fist has a distinct flight trajectory. The trajectory makes an ark that goes above the eye-level as if aiming over the head of the opponent, and then comes downwards. In the finishing phase, the fist may go almost straight as the classical overhand. This is shown in two example above. Another finishing trajectory is almost like a high hook with a purpose to travel over / around the guards = overhead:


Rocky Marciano explains why the punch is overhead

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Adjust the distance

Look at your opponent’s eyes till you start the move. Pay attention on the relative distance between your foot and your opponent’s foot. This is something you should figure out when working on mitts/heavy bag or doing sparring: where to place your front foot so you know that the striking distance is just right. Change your sight to the body as you step forward with your front foot.


First phase of the punch: stepping in

Charge up

When you are stepping in, bend your body inside to your right, leaving the attack pyramid of your opponent. Bend your knees a lot, drop your right elbow, relax right shoulder, and move right fist to the right thigh. The fist should be invisible to your opponent. By these movements you store the energy that will allow you to throw the haymaker. Moreover, this preliminary move makes your opponent suspect an attack low or to the body. This causes him to react and open up further falling into the trap of your real intentions.


Second phase of the punch: charge up


Make sure your front foot is completely on the ground. Push with the legs violently. Shift his weight from the right to the left side by bending your body to the left. By doing so, you bring the right shoulder up and pull the right fist with it. The fist should get the momentum from the shoulder, not by simple raising your arm. Concentrate on your shoulder, not on the fist. At this phase, you can look at the opponent head to target your punch.


Third phase of the punch: swing

Overhead punch

Rotate your body in horizontal plane without loosing balance [2]. For that, make sure that your head does not go much further than your front foot [3]. Raise the elbow high to land overhead punch. Usually, the fist twists horizontal in the final stage.


Final phase of the punch: direct the fist over the head


If you are chasing your opponent who shuffles back creating more distance, you may throw a leaping long hook by raising your back foot and making the punch land further like Rocky Marciano in the second example.

All together

To sum up, this complex punch requires from you an execution of sequence of several moves /rotations in different planes:


All phases of the punch together

You cannot throw such a punch all the time, because your opponent will get used it. To keep the element of surprise, swap the punch with something else, for instance, a body shot. When you are down low in the charge up state, instead of going up, stay low and throw the looping right hand to the body.

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In the middle of the ring

As a taller guy you should capitalize on the height advantage. So, just pull backwards, keeping the distance, like Joe Luis in the second example above.

At the ropes

Pivot on the left foot like Jersey Joe Walcott:


Jersey Joe Walcott pivoting on the left foot near the ropes to avoid the overhead by

In the corner

If you cannot slip or duck the punch, use George Foreman’s cross hands defense:

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If you catched the punch

If you catch the punch on your left arm or shoulder, instinctively, you will shift the weight on your right leg. That puts you in a good position to throw long right uppercut.

If you slipped the punch

If you slipped the punch by stepping backwards or ducking, the opponent will be carried away by the inertia of the punch and get off-balance The left side is wide open for the straight punches, left or right, to the ribs or liver.

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More Variations

There have been other fighters who have used successfully such punches: “Iron” Mike Tyson,Tommy “the Duke” Morrison, and recently Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. We will discuss in details precise techniques in later entries, here is just a glimpse. What is typical for these examples that you must be confident that the opponent cannot hurt you with his punches. For instance, the opponent has just got up after a knock down and you are going to finish him.

Home-run hook by Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson (black trunks) used to fight Henry Tillman (white trunks) in amateurs twice. He knows what to expect from the guy in terms of punching power. Tillman made a mistake by having his left too low. When Tyson stepped in, he made Tillman react to the front low jab. The left hook was a bit too late and Tillman exposed himself to the right hand.


Mike Tyson floor Henry Tillman with the overhead punch

Right overhead by Tommy Morrison

Tommy Morrison(black trunks) just knocked his opponent in white trunks down. His goal is to make an opening and deliver a finishing blow. He gets low and steps in. As soon as he feels the glove on his face, he throws the right cross. Thus, this would be a counter punch, while in Tyson and Marciano case they step inside with the punch.


Tommy Morrison finishes his opponent wit the overhead punch

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1. This entry begins our series on several boxing tricks and techniques, inspired by Jesse’s Boxing Manual. You may find a thread with the original entries here. In this article, we redo the illustrations and update the content.

2. RING SMARTS: Episode 3 – The Cross – Saul “Canelo” Alvarez

3. Title Boxing DVD, Vol 08, How To Box – The Basics

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6 Responses to Boxing Technique: Rocky Marciano’s Phantom Overhead Punch

  1. KrusherKovalev says:

    Great Article, I don’t think anyone will come close to throwing with the same bad intentions as Rocky did which made it so effective though

    • SugarBoxing says:

      thank you for your comment

      The technical aspect of the overhead right is not very well explained in this old article.
      Stay tuned for more updates on punching principles in our Mike Tyson series

  2. eddie russo says:

    Fighting is a game of timing, tactics, bluff and “guts,” according to Bruce Lee, who, along with Rocky Marciano, were both masters of these attributes in their respective art. It’s amazing to watch these guys in action.

  3. steven gomez says:

    very good technique, i am a shorter fighter so it a a great tip for me,especially when boxing taller oponents

  4. Gary Bargwanna says:

    Great explanation on punch technique and application. Love your site. My I suggest that another fighter you should look to for analysis is Henry Armstrong. Like Marciano his use of the shoulder and head to set up various punches is an art that needs more attention. Keep up with the great work .

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