Boxing can be a barbarous affair, but like many things there is a duality to the sport; there is another side that compliments the power and aggression so often seen. There is a side of boxing that employs finesse and grace—the check hook is the epitome of this aspect.
There is some debate as to exactly what a check hook is, disagreement stemming mostly from the footwork, the timing, and the differences (if any) from a traditional counter hook. Semantics aside, for the purpose of this article a check hook is simply a quick dodge, followed by a hook. The French phrase for this action sums up its essence succinctly: “crochet en riposte, lors du relâchement post-attaque” or “hook in response, during the post-attack release”.
The adroit maneuver is extremely difficult to execute, but when done correctly the punch can provide a lethal surprise. An example can be seen last year, in the first round of a Valentine’s Day bout between Ryan Garcia and Francisco Fonseca. Garcia baits Fonseca early into the fight with a high guard, asking for aggression from his opponent—setting a trap. It’s instinctive to respond to a defensive position with an offensive flurry; Fonseca, following suit, throws a lunging jab at Garcia’s guard. Garcia capitalizes on this aggression and with a deft dodge backwards watches the jab stop short in front of his face. In this instant Fonseca is a raging bull that’s caught nothing but cape, lying at the mercy of the matador—Garcia shows none, unloading a left hook haymaker on Fonseca’s chin, sending his opponent reeling to the canvas, eyes in the back of his head.
At first glance, the check hook seems like nothing more than your run-of-the-mill counter punch, but the beauty of the act is in the details, in the story of the fight. The check hook takes patience and premonition, but most importantly it requires asynchronous motion from both fighters, a dance of cause and effect taking place within the fractions of a second. The fighter arranging the hook must understand his opponent’s timing, anticipating each sway and stride, dancing off rhythm on the last beat to open up a window for that fatal touch. When timed correctly, it can appear effortless, the momentum of the dodge flowing quickly into the momentum of the strike, like a spinning top. The aggressor can do nothing but acquiesce to the physics of this moment—his body off kilter by a punch thrown but not landed, his side exposed to the oncoming freight train of pain, delivered in the form of a waltz-like step and swing.
The check hook is evasion and deception, a loaded gun in the guise of a passive guard. It is a punch that is nothing if not evidence of the complexity of this Sweet Science. It teaches the importance of footwork, of spatial and temporal awareness. With a sting it teaches the consequences of neglecting your non-throwing hand. With grace in movement it puts the full power of perception and prediction on display. This is an overdue ode to a punch misunderstood, homage to one of pugilism’s most artful motions. The check hook is a warning, admonition to the belligerent brawlers, warmongers in the ring—pain is the punishment waiting at the end of a punch miss thrown.
Photo courtesy of Johann Walter Bantz