Orthodox vs. Southpaw: How To Decide Which Is Best For You

October 2, 2022

Each striking martial art has a fighting stance, and the common thing among almost all of them is that the stance is staggered, and either the left or right foot and hand are in front. This determines if the stance is orthodox or southpaw.

The orthodox stance places the left hand and foot in front, while the southpaw is the opposite, with the right limbs leading

While it’s straightforward to differentiate between orthodox and southpaw, deciding which one to use and how to fight against the same and the opposite stance is not that simple. We are here to help you with all that and more.

What Is The Orthodox Stance?

The orthodox stance in combat sports and martial arts is when the left foot and hand are in front, and the right limbs are in the rear. Most right-handed people fight as orthodox. 

What Is Southpaw?

The Southpaw stance is the opposite of orthodox, with the right hand and foot in the lead and the left at the rear. Most people who fight as southpaws are naturally left-handed, but some right-handed people choose to fight as southpaws.

How Do You Know If You Should Fight Orthodox Or Southpaw?

Boxing Orthodox vs Southpaw

The main factor determining whether you should fight southpaw or orthodox is which hand is your dominant one. For most people, this is the right hand.

This is usually the hand with which you write, draw, brush your teeth, and do most of your daily activities. The legs correspond to the hands. If you kick a ball better with the right foot, that is your dominant one.

This rule does not strictly apply when a left-handed person has been forced to write with their right hand, for example.

As people say, this is a right-handed world, and some people are forced to go against their nature. But then they still know that their stronger hand is the left one and a southpaw stance is the better choice.

The reasoning behind placing your strong hand on the back includes a few points. The rear hand has more room and can generate much more power just by body mechanics.

But at the same time, it has to travel more, and it is harder to land. The lead hand is more used for measuring distances and setting up more powerful strikes and serves as the first line of defense.

This makes it reasonable to use the more powerful hand to deliver hard strikes and the weaker hand to set it up. Putting your strong hand on the front without the skills and power already developed in your weaker hand will essentially turn you into a one-handed fighter.

Of course, there are some notable exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, when learning the fundamentals of boxing, most people should stick to the “textbook.” 

Well-Known Southpaw Boxers

Southpaw boxers are much rarer, and making a list of some of the most accomplished ones is not that hard. Especially in the past, fighting against a southpaw was a thing to be avoided if possible, and it’s only natural that some of the best champions had their left hand on the back. Each boxer will provide hours for the highest caliber boxing to study as a southpaw.

Pernell Whittaker

One of the greatest boxers to ever step into the ring, and perhaps the finest defensive master in boxing, was also a southpaw.

Whitaker was an Olympic champion and four-weight world champion as a professional. Sweet Pea was an elusive counter puncher and considered one of the best pound-for-pound boxers.

Manny Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao needs no introduction as the only eight-division champion and has won twelve major world titles. He is a strong leftie, known for his blinding speed and spectacular combinations and the only boxer to hold major titles in four decades.

Marvin Hagler

One of the greatest middleweights in history, Marvin Hagler, was a prominent southpaw. It was also an excellent switch hitter and could move seamlessly between stances. Hagler won the middleweight title in 1980 and held it for 6 years, defending it against the best of his time.

Well-Known Orthodox Boxers

Compiling a list of the best orthodox boxers is much more difficult. Most boxers are orthodox, meaning most great champions are right-handed. Here are a few notable names, to which you can add many more.

Muhammad Ali

The Greatest was an orthodox boxer with a stinging jab and a powerful and accurate right cross. He changed the game drastically, both in and out of the ring, and has earned his nickname.

Sugar Ray Robinson

Many boxing pundits considered him the greatest boxer ever. Sugar Ray Robinson was an orthodox fighter who had an answer to all threats against him in both stances. Robinson was way ahead of his time and was untouchable in his prime, ending his career with a ridiculous official record of 174-19-6 with 109 knockouts.

Floyd Mayweather

A modern-day great, Floyd Mayweather, used the orthodox stance but also made the Philly shell guard famous. One of the few world champion boxers to retire undefeated, Floyd was a walking defensive and countering masterclass.

Can You Be Orthodox & Southpaw?

True ambidextrous people are scarce, and even more so amongst fighters. With that said, some high-level fighters master both the orthodox and southpaw stances and learn to switch seamlessly depending on the situation.

These fighters are called switch hitters. Some switch between stances often in a fight, while others pick the one they think is best against the current opponent and stick mainly to it.

Fighting effectively from a particular stance means much more than punching hard enough with both hands. A switch hitter must possess great footwork, agility from both stances, and the ability to switch fluidly at the right time.

Boxing has seen a fair share of switch hitters. Mastering such a complex feat usually means that these fighters are amongst the best ever to grace the ring. 

Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Mike Tyson are two of the greatest boxer switch hitters, with more recent masters of both stances including Andre Ward, Tyson Fury, and Terence Crawford. MMA has also seen its fair share of switch hitters like Dominic Cruz, TJ Dillashaw, Demetrious Johnson, and Israel Adesanya.

Is Orthodox or Southpaw More Common?

According to research, most people on the planet are right-handed, and only around 10–12% of the population are left-handed. The percentage amongst martial arts practitioners and fighters is even smaller, so most people use the orthodox stance, which places their dominant right hand at the rear.

Is there a Right Handed Southpaw?

Can You Be Orthodox And Southpaw

Most people’s instinct is to put their dominant hand in front because the lead hand throws more punches, which feels like a first defensive line. It just feels more comfortable. But this instinct is wrong.

You should place the dominant hand in the back for a reason. First, the rear hand can generate a lot more power, and it’s reasonable to use your powerful hand to deliver strong punches.

The other main reason is that placing your non-dominant hand as a lead forces you to learn how to use it effectively. Most so-called “right-handed southpaws” end up fighting essentially one-handed.

This principle is valid for left-handed people who don’t use a southpaw stance and fight orthodox. Each fighter should learn how to fight with his dominant hand on the back, forcing him to learn to use both hands.

As with everything else, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oleksander Usyk are right-handed but dominate boxing as southpaws. Many “rules” are frequently broken on the highest levels of combat. Still, until you get there, it’s usually better to follow what is proven to work best at all levels.

Southpaw vs. Orthodox: Who Wins?

There is a thing that is called the southpaw advantage. It is an advantage that southpaws have against orthodox fighters. When both fighters fight in the same stance, this is called a closed stance.

The fighters are in an open stance when one is a southpaw and the other is orthodox. Both fighters can now use their rear kicks and punches to attack the body more effectively. Still, the southpaw has the advantage because they can target the liver on the open side (with their strong left kick).

Fighting in an open stance makes some new angles for attack available for both fighters. Still, the biggest advantage southpaws have over orthodox fighters is that they are much more used to it.

Since most fighters are orthodox lefties, they train and compete against them all the time, while the opposite is never the case. In fact, a southpaw usually has a harder time fighting against a fellow southpaw than against an orthodox.

Of course, this advantage does not mean the southpaw always wins. Ultimately, it’s all decided in the ring, and every match-up can play out differently. Then there are those orthodox fighters that are amazing against southpaws, like the great Bernard Hopkins.

In Muay Thai, there are many more southpaw fighters than in any other combat sport. It’s a long-term strategy to teach right-handed kids to fight as southpaws, so they have the advantage against foreigners that almost always are orthodox.

In the end, you can be great as both a southpaw and an orthodox. There are legendary fighters in each group, as well as switch hitters. So the winner is the better overall fighter, not the better stance.

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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