Nailing It Down: How to Portray Boxing Accurately in Your Fight Scenes

by J. D. Harlock

Boxing (pugilism) is a martial art and combat sport in which fighters trade punches for a predetermined amount of time on a raised platform (boxing ring or squared circle). Forms practiced today include bare-knuckle boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai, and show up in SFF ranging from the grit of Richard Matheson’s Steel and TMS Entertainment’s Megalobox to the farce of Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville and Donald P. Bellisario’s Quantum Leap.

Here’s an overview to help you nail down boxing minutiae.

Origins and History

The precise origins of boxing as a sport remain uncertain. The earliest evidence of standardized rules dates back to 688 BCE in Ancient Greece, where boxing was established as an Olympic sport. However, modern boxing originates in Great Britain, where the introduction of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules in 1867 codified the rules that professional leagues are based on.


Fighting stances determine where to throw a punch from.

  • Orthodox Stance: Standing with the left foot farther out in front than the right foot.
  • Southpaw Stance: Standing with the right foot farther out in front than the left foot.

Default (Guard)

Hands and arms are held high or low to protect the head and torso, while preparing the fighter to throw punches. The default position varies based on personal preferences, coaching styles, and situational requirements, but there are standard principles.

In the Orthodox Stance, the left hand leads, held to the height of the cheek, protecting the jaw and readying the fighter to jab. The elbow is positioned low in front of the body, protecting the ribs and midsection. The right hand, in this case the dominant hand, is held higher, closer to the face around the cheek or temple. This shields the fighter from hooks and punches to the right of the head, while prepping their dominant hand to throw punches.

In the Southpaw Stance, the right hand leads and the left hand is dominant.

Either way, a fighter must:

  • Keep their chin tucked toward their chest, protecting the neck while reducing target area.
  • Keep their eyes locked forward on their opponent, alerting them of punches and openings.
  • Keep their shoulders slightly hunched, protecting the chin and both sides of the face.


In the Orthodox Stance, the lead hand is the left hand; in the Southpaw Stance, the lead hand is the right.

  • Jab: Thrown with the lead hand straight ahead; the arm is fully extended to connect with the target at the first two knuckles.
  • Cross: Thrown with the rear fist straight ahead.
  • Lead Hook: Thrown with the lead arm raised in a hook shape; the elbow is parallel to the floor. To perform, the weight is shifted to the lead foot; energy is pivoted through that foot to the hip, torso, and shoulder, then the punch is thrown while the lead arm is kept at the level.
  • Rear Hook: The mirror image of a Lead Hook. To perform, weight is shifted to the rear foot, pivoted, and the punch is thrown with the rear hand.
  • Lead Uppercut: Thrown upwards at a slight angle with a lead hand, aimed just beneath the chin.
  • Rear Uppercut: Thrown with the rear hand at a vertical angle, aimed under the chin.
  • Feints: The aforementioned punches can become feints if used as mock punches to distract from the real attack.
  • Bodyshot: The aforementioned punches can become bodyshots by bending knees to deliver punches at the torso (front and sides).


A combo is a series of punches performed sequentially to distract one’s opponent and find an opening for a knockout. Refer to combos by one of their popular nicknames if possible; otherwise, string along the numbers next to each of the punches above.

For example, the One-Two Combo (i.e., the Jab Cross) is a fundamental combination all boxers learn. It is relatively easy to master but effective at any level of boxing. Initially, beginners throw the combination as fast as possible. Once the combination is mastered, the speed of the jab can be experimented with. Since follow-up shots are expected to be the same speed as the jab, throwing a jab at a slower speed and following it up with a faster cross lulls your opponent into making a mistake. Its uses include gauging the distance between fighters with a jab before following up with a hard cross and forcing the opponent to open up their guard to land a cross.


  • Bob and Weave: Moving the body up and down by bending at the knees; the head is moved in a V-motion to avoid punches.
  • Boxer Bounce: Alternating weight between the back and front legs to maintain motion.
  • Shoulder Roll: Sliding the opponent’s punches off a shoulder by bringing the lead shoulder to the chin, turning the hips away from the punch, and using the shoulder as a shield.
  • Slip: Leaning and twisting the head to avoid punches while maintaining balance and protecting the face with the gloves.
  • Head Fake: Nudging the head in a certain direction to deceive the opponent about the next move.

Boxing Styles

While there are several sub-categories for these four major styles, every boxer will fall into one of the ones listed here.

  • The Pressure Fighter: A fighter who overwhelms the opponent with attacks until they are worn down to prevent effective counters. Other names include swarmers, in-fighters, or crowders.
  • The Out-Boxer: The inverse of a pressure fighter, an out-boxer is a fighter who stays outside the opponent’s punching range when disengaged to land long-range punches. Other names include out-fighter and boxer.
  • The Slugger: A fighter whose ideal mix of balance and punching power allows them to land effective punches from every angle, while maintaining defense without leaving their opponent’s punching range. Other names include brawler and puncher.
  • The Boxer-Puncher: A fighter who is a mix of a slugger and an out-boxer. Like an out-boxer, the boxer-puncher can pull off attacks with speed and power while maintaining better defense and accuracy. However, they also lack the mobility and defensive expertise a slugger will possess.


  • Rope-a-Dope: A technique in which one fighter draws punches while keeping up their defenses to tire the opponent.
  • Peek-a-Boo: A technique in which one fighter, typically a swarmer, places his hands in front of their face to defend it, making it easier to jab the opponent’s face by closing the gap between them.

Technical K.O.

Nailing the portrayal of pugilism necessitates extensive research, and that could tempt you to slide as much jargon into a fight scene as possible. However, writing is still a craft. Maintaining your footing between know-how and creative liberties is essential to enhancing thrills without bogging them down with technicalities.

Remember, it’s all in the legs.

J. D. HarlockJ. D. Harlock is an American writer, editor, researcher, and academic pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of St. Andrews. In addition to their work at Solarpunk Magazine as a poetry editor and at Android Press as an editor, Harlock’s writing has been featured in Strange Horizons, New York University’s Library of Arabic Literature, and the British Council’s Voices Magazine. You can find them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Threads, & Instagram.