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What Is A Haymaker Punch?

In boxing, there are many different types of punches, one of which is referred to as a haymaker. You may have heard this mentioned by a commentator while watching a fight, and perhaps wondered what they meant by ‘haymaker’. So in this post, I am going to answer that question for you. What is a haymaker in Boxing and MMA?

In short, a haymaker is a very wide and predictable punch with a lot of power behind it. It is usually a hook that the fighter pulls back and then throws all their momentum into, in hopes of ending the fight by knockout. Because of how wide a haymaker is, it is easy to see coming, as it travels a large distance before landing.

Although it is usually an easily avoidable shot, a haymaker is often thrown in the hopes of ending a fight. Let’s take a closer look at why haymakers are thrown, and how to react when you see one coming.

How To Throw A Haymaker

Let’s talk about what a haymaker actually looks like. As mentioned earlier, a haymaker is basically just a really obvious yet really powerful punch. It usually comes in the form of a hook, and is meant to end the fight. Below you can see an image of Deontay Wilder, known for his haymakers.

Deontay Wilder misses a wild haymaker, leaving him off balance.
Deontay Wilder (left) misses a wild haymaker, leaving him off balance.

Traditionally, a hook holds a lot of weight and momentum. If you’ve ever taken a boxing class, you’ll know that the most important part of a hook is putting your hips into the punch. You are also shown to not ‘telegraph’ the punch, or in other words to not make it obvious that you are about to throw a punch.

This makes the hook one of the strongest punches in any fighter’s arsenal. However, throwing a haymaker is basically taking the mechanics of a hook a few steps further.

When you throw a haymaker, you ignore the idea of ‘hiding’ your punch. Instead, you make it plainly obvious that you are about to throw a punch, with the tradeoff being an enormous increase in power. This means that an opponent can time a clinch to avoid the punch (see Why Do Boxers Hug? for an in-depth explanation).

The way to make your hook stronger is by bringing it out wider, and pulling it back further before you throw it. This means that the hook travels farther before it hits, meaning more time for it to accelerate, creating more power. Below you can see a perfect example of this by Deontay Wilder.

Deontay Wilder loads up on a right hand, making it very obvious that he's about to throw it.
Deontay Wilder loads up on a right hand, making it very obvious that he’s about to throw it.

Deontay Wilder has an infamous style due to the way he throws his punches. When you look at the picture above, you immediately know what he is going to throw. However, Breazeale (his opponent), seems unsteady at this point, so it is possible that he is dazed and does not notice the punch coming.

When you throw a haymaker you put a lot of your weight into it, so much so that missing the punch could leave you off balance. The fighter expects to land the haymaker and transfer the weight into the punch, regaining their balance.

For example, if you throw a very hard left-hand haymaker, your left foot may come off the ground due to the transfer of weight. Now I know all the pictures so far have been of Deontay Wilder, but he is the most well-known fighter with prolific haymakers that continue to end fights. Below is him on one foot.

Wilder throws a left haymaker so hard, that his left foot comes off the ground.
Wilder throws a left haymaker so hard, that his left foot comes off the ground.

This is one of the biggest drawbacks of Deontay Wilder’s style. His method of punching devastates his opponents, but it also puts him in a vulnerable position when he misses. Regardless, Wilder wins most fights by KO.

Why Do Fighters Throw Haymakers?

As I’ve already mentioned, there are drawbacks to throwing a haymaker. The biggest one is probably compromising your defense either while throwing it, or after throwing it.

This is because when you pull your arm out wide to throw a haymaker, it leaves your face exposed, giving your opponent a chance to strike. If they don’t strike you first and instead choose to dodge the haymaker, then it’s worse for you, because you are then exposed to a counterpunch while you’re off balance.

But of course, with the risk comes a reward. And as already mentioned, that is the tremendous power generated by winding up shots. Just look at Deontay Wilder’s 97.5% knockout to win ratio if you questioned the effectiveness of his style.

The thing about throwing haymakers is, you have to be sure that you are going to land. As already mentioned, missing a haymaker has its consequences, so it is in your best interest to ensure your punch lands.

There are three optimal scenarios when throwing a haymaker makes sense. The first is when your opponent is covering up and therefore blocking their own line of sight, a scenario which you can see below.

Bermane Stiverne (right) is covering up, making him unable to see Wilder's punch coming.
Bermane Stiverne (right) is covering up, making him unable to see Wilder’s punch coming.

Because Wilder’s opponent is covering up, Wilder can charge up his punch without Stiverne noticing. This ensures that Wilder will land his punch. This usually applies to boxing, where the gloves are big enough to actually be used as protection.

In MMA, the gloves are too small, and the person covering up would more than likely try to improve their position before you could land. The second best time to land a haymaker is when your opponent is dazed or wobbly.

This is how Michael Bisping managed to knockout Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 for the Middleweight Championship.

Bisping (right) kept his composure after wobbling Luke Rockhold, timing his shots perfectly.
Bisping (right) kept his composure after wobbling Luke Rockhold, timing his shots perfectly.

In the image above, you can see the moment Michael Bisping wobbled Luke Rockhold. However, Rockhold was still in the fight, and attempted to clinch up with Bisping.

Bisping kept his composure, and took advantage of the fact Luke Rockhold was already hurt by throwing a haymaker with his left hand, dropping Luke and ending the fight.

The last scenario of the three when you might throw a haymaker is when you are trading blows with your opponent. This scenario is very risky and depends on a few factors. The first is that you should be able to hit hard. The second is that you should be able to take a punch or be able to slip your opponent’s punch as you land yours.

Pedro Munhoz (left) and Cody Garbrandt exchange hard hooks, with Munhoz being first, winning the fight.
Pedro Munhoz (left) and Cody Garbrandt exchange hard hooks, with Munhoz being first, winning the fight.

A perfect example of this scenario took place during an MMA match between Pedro Munhoz and Cody Garbrandt. At one point during the match, the exchange shown in the image above took place.

As you can see, they are both leaning into their hooks, with no attempt to hide their intentions. This is a scenario in which you have to know for a fact that you are either faster or more durable than your opponent.

It seems Pedro Munhoz realized that Cody was prone to being knocked out, following back to back knockout losses. Munhoz himself had never been knocked out. Given these factors, the exchange was favorable for Munhoz, as evidenced by his victory by knockout.

How To Avoid A Haymaker

So I’ve mentioned already how obvious a haymaker is when you see it coming. But how exactly do you avoid one? I must say, this is something difficult to do, as it feels safer to just block as much of it as you can, but this is ineffective when dealing with someone who has incredible punching power.

I would look at the fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury to get an idea. Tyson Fury has excellent defensive boxing, and moves very nimbly for a 250 pound man. He made Wilder miss many of his shots that night.

Fury (right) avoids a left hook from Wilder.
Fury (right) avoids a left hook from Wilder.

The key is to pay attention to your opponent’s movement. Fury could see when Wilder was about to throw a shot because he was paying attention to Wilder, and wasn’t afraid of getting hit.

Fury has a hands-down fighting style, which allows him to see punches coming. Instead of blocking them, he just moves out of the way using footwork and head movement. Fury’s style is the kryptonite to Deontay Wilder’s style, as Fury made him miss his big shots.

In conclusion, despite a haymaker being wide and predictable, they generate an enormous amount of power. Throwing them haphazardly can leave you exposed and off balance. But when you time them right, a haymaker can effectively end a fight.

If you have any training-related questions, check out the Training Tips page, where I have posts covering techniques and training philosophies. Thnks for reading!