How To Shoulder Roll (Boxing Defense)

February 27, 2022

One of the most recognizable and specific to pugilism moves is the shoulder roll. Out of the many different defensive maneuvers in boxing, the shoulder roll is one of the most effective and interesting.

In essence, the shoulder roll is a defensive technique that uses the lead shoulder to deflect incoming shots and the rear hand to parry punches coming from the other side.

While blocking is the most straightforward defense, it still transfers the impact through the gloves and into your head. The shoulder roll takes care of that and deflects power shots, completely negating their force.

Don’t think that the shoulder roll is easy, though. While the technique is not difficult to execute, it requires lighting fast reflexes, and precise timing to work effectively. Read on to learn all about the shoulder roll in detail and how to use it.

History Of The Shoulder Roll

The man who popularized the shoulder roll technique to the masses was Floyd Mayweather Jr. He extensively used it thorough his career. It allowed the fragile-handed boxer to retire undefeated and become one of the best defensive boxers of all time. But by no means did he invent the technique.

While the move has been used for as long as people have been punching each other, the first fighters to extensively use their shoulders to deflect shots and use the momentum to counterattack are Archie Moore and Jersey Joe Walcott.

A Philadelphian fighter named George Benton took this knowledge and perfected the shoulder technique creating a whole style that revolves around it that later became known as the Philly shell.

Why Do Boxers Roll Their Shoulders?

The shoulder roll is primarily a defensive move used to deflect shots, providing excellent counter-strike opportunities. It is a perfect example of the nuances that make boxing so exhilarating to the people that are well versed in the art of pugilism.

There are different ways to defend punches- blocking, parrying, ducking, slipping, pulling, and more. Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages, but the shoulder roll keeps the balance heavily on the positive side while providing the best base for counterattacking. 

All the boxers that managed to master the shoulder roll are well known for their longevity which is mainly attributed to their impeccable defense. Blocking punches with the gloves will inevitably rattle the head, and especially against powerful punchers, it should be only a last resort defense.

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On the other hand, deflecting strikes away from the vulnerable parts spares the body almost all the stress. The best way to deflect is to use the shoulder.

Now, the shoulder roll is not a single move. It’s the combined use of the lead shoulder, upper body movements, and rear hand parries to defend whole combinations of punches with little effort.

And now it’s finally time to learn how to do it.

How To Do The Shoulder Roll

Here are all the points of how to correctly execute the shoulder roll. The main goal is to deflect the opponent’s rear-hand power shots with the shoulder, and his lead hand strikes with your rear hand. The following instruction is from an orthodox stance.

  • Use a more sideways/bladed stance to minimize the target area of your body
  • Tuck the chin behind your left shoulder
  • Place your left hand across the abdomen to guard against body shots
  • Your right hand should be glued to the head, ready to parry and catch lead hand strikes
  • Roll with incoming punches, turning away with the strike while leaning back slightly.
Why Do Boxers Roll Their Shoulders

It’s all about the rhythm. Once you’ve got your opponent’s rhythm, you can easily defend whole combinations just by rolling with the shots.

Advantages of The Shoulder Roll

Start implementing counterattacks once you feel somewhat comfortable with the mechanics. Rolling away from a right-hand loads up your right hand to fire a fast straight or an uppercut. Remember, these counter rights are one of the most significant advantages of this defensive style.

Disadvantages of The Shoulder Roll

Advantages of The Shoulder Roll

Requires Little Energy

The shoulder roll is very energy effective. Other evasive maneuvers like the slips and rolls require more movement in the upper body and the feet. Rolling under shots is a great way to defend and counter, but it requires more overall movement and precise footwork. Rolling is also much more effective than blocking, the other “easy” defense that can be done even when tired.

It’s An Excellent Base For Counters

While rolling punches, the body rotates away from them and thus loads the rear hand. When the opponent hits the shoulder, he is often overcommitted and destabilized. This is the perfect moment to fire back with a right straight or an uppercut while he is exposed.

Can Defend Whole Combinations

The Philly shell stance is all about feeling the opponent’s rhythm. Once you have it down, entire combinations can be easily deflected by just rotating both shoulders in the rhythm of attack, receiving little to no damage in the process.

Disadvantages of The Shoulder Roll

Not Useful In An Open Stance

As great as the shoulder roll is in a closed stance (both fighters are either orthodox or southpaw), it is constrained when fighters are in an open stance. The primary purpose of the lead shoulder is to roll power rear hand punches.

When fighters have an opposite stance (imagine you are orthodox and fighting a southpaw), their backhand is now on the opposite side and is a prime position to land. The best way to avoid the left straight in this scenario is by ducking and not parrying, as usual in the Philly shell.  

It’s Hard To Be Offensive

Very few fighters managed to move forward while in a position to do the shoulder roll. Perhaps only Floyd Mayweather was able to use it offensively. Usually, it’s reserved for defense and counters and if you want to be the aggressor, better choose another guard.

Boxers That Successfully Use The Shoulder Roll?

The best boxer to use the shoulder roll is undoubtedly Floyd Mayweather. Early in his career, he had multiple hand injuries and had to find a way to beat the opposition while preserving his hands.

So he based his entire style around the Philly shell and became one the best defensive masterminds in history. On top of that, countless videos and breakdowns dissect his style, so it’s easy to watch everything he did in the smallest detail.

But a great misconception is that he invented the shoulder roll. Like all great boxers, Floyd was a student of the game and extensively studied the one that came before him. The shoulder roll is an old-school technique used with great success decades ago.

From the early adopters like George Benton to later defensive magicians like Nicolinno Locche and Pernell Whittaker, you can find a whole ocean of knowledge and mastery by watching these man box.

If you want a little more recent footage but are tired by Mayweather, James Toney and Bernard Hopkins were great throwback fighters with old-school styles that often used the shoulder roll.

The shoulder roll is not lost to the current crop of fighters. A prime example is Philadelphia boxer Jaron Ennis, who is currently taking the welterweight by storm. He blends flashy footwork and slick defense with great counterpunching timing and serious power in his hands.

Summary

If you are a fan of the sweet science, this short guide on the shoulder roll should give you another layer of understanding of what you are watching. And if you frequently lace-up boxing gloves, hopefully, we’ve given you an excellent base to start and implement this great technique into your game.

But make no mistake about it. While it may seem simple on the surface, the shoulder roll will require a lot of training before becoming a trusted tool.

About the author 

Plamen Kostov

Plamen has been training for the last 14 years in karate and kickboxing, before settling in for MMA for the last 5 years. He has a few amateur kickboxing fights and currently trains with and helps a stable of professional and amateur MMA fighters.


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