How to Counterpunch in Boxing and MMA – Big Mistakes to Avoid

In boxing and MMA, a counter punch is defined as a punch thrown in return for one received. This does not mean that you necessarily have to eat a punch before returning the favor.

Martial arts vary in styles, and some of them allow you more freedom. There are counters with all kinds of strikes: punches, kicks, knees, elbows, etc. 

What makes the counterpunch so dangerous is because it uses the opponent’s force against them. Almost all counter punches are delivered when the opponent is advancing forwards.

Counter shots are usually the most brutal knockouts, especially in boxing, kickboxing, and mixed martial arts.

Let’s get to know the philosophy of counterpunching  

What makes a counter-puncher?

A counter-puncher is usually a patient person who waits for the perfect moment of an opponent’s opening to deliver the fatal blow. 

Those types of fighters are mostly featured by fabulous reflexes, world-class timing, and a tremendous ability to move out of the opponent’s line of attack. One of the best ways to train your reflexes is the reflex boxing ball.

A counter puncher never goes backwards with no valid reason, only novices retreat in linear movement. 

Moving backwards repeatedly instead of circling might get you stuck against the ropes and by consequence get you in trouble. Instead, moving laterally is one of the most basic skills a counter puncher can have in his or her arsenal.


There is one tiny secret here – watch your opponent’s shoulders. Not eyes, but shoulders. 

It would be best to react as soon as the shoulder makes a movement. Choose faster techniques for a counter on a pattern you have already chosen. 

Sometimes the opponent will feint to confuse you, so please don’t show your best strikes immediately. Good timing means a superb ability to analyze the opponent, predict the incoming strike, and deliver a fatal blow.

You have three options:

  1. Move away and punch
  2. Block the attack with your guard and deliver the counter at the same time. 
  3. Eat a shot (while keeping another hand in the block) to deliver one

It purely depends on the situation. 


Mistakes to avoid when counter punching

Try to stay away from these mistakes if you want to be a great counter puncher:

  • Don’t telegraph it – try to look as natural as possible. A good opponent might read your extra movement. For example, if your shoulder goes down all the time, or your knees are too flexed, the opponent might think you are preparing for an attack.
  • Reaction – you have less than half a second to react. Just don’t be too slow.
  • Think and read your opponent – many fighters randomly counter the opponent and get knocked out instead. The fight is a chess game, look for their weaknesses.
  • Let your opponent show their best skills and signature moves – everybody has a specefic pattern they opperate on. You will rarely see an opponent who has 10+ techniques in their pattern. Be patient and read your opponent’s pattern, if you have a good cornerman he will help you read these patterns between rounds with ease. Your patience might get you to eat a couple of blows, but if you have a high fight IQ and you know how to analyse your opponent, it is just a matter of time before you deliver the fatal counter punch.
  • Don’t retreat all the time – if you are fighting a brawler like Vitor Belfort you will get knocked out in no time if you are going straight backwards. Circle around the aggressive opponent to make them tired.
  • Avoid using the overhand as a defensive technique as it requires charging, which makes your opponent see it coming a mile away. If you try to counter an attacking opponent with an overhand, you will have a hard time landing and the consequences of you missing could be dire.The only two cases you can use an overhand as a counter technique are –when you have a big reach disadvantage, or when your rival is not missing “by a hair” all the time.

  •  Don’t counter with a jab to the body. This technique is perfect to create an opening, but it is very dangerous, especially in Muay Thai, because you can easily get countered with a knee. 

Learn head movement first

Head movements are the bread and butter of counter punching. Before delivering a counter punch you have to learn how to dodge it first.

The mechanics of head movements will mostly save you from brutal punches. But only if you are fast enough. 

This is how you evade punches (assuming you adopt an orthodox stance/Right-handed):

  • Jab – move your head to the right
  • Right cross – move your head to the left
  • Right hook – duck under to the left or move your head back
  • Left hook – duck under to the right or move your head back
  • Right uppercut – move your head to the left or backwards
  • Left uppercut – move your head to the right or backwards
  • Overhand punch – head movement is very risky as it is a long range technique, we recommend you to keep your blocking arm up, and clinch up or move backwards, but do not drop your arm
  • Reverse spinning backfist – duck under to the left
  • Right spinning backfist – duck under to the right;
  • Superman punch – you can move the head to the side but it is a bit risky as the technique is a long range technique, so we recommend you to move away from the line of the attack – go left for your opponent’s right punch, and right for their left punch.
  • Body shots – head movement won’t help you, drop your hands or move backwards.

How to counterpunch when you are an orthodox?


If you are right-handed and you adopt an orthodox stance here are some counters you can use:


Do you think it is impossible to end the match with a jab? Wrong! Alan Karaev was moving too slow towards Bob Sapp, his arms were down, so a chin shot ended the fight.

Straight Right/Cross

Using the Peek-a-boo style against Deontay Wilder was certainly not a good idea for his opponent. In this clip Deontay Wilder ducks slightly backwards and slams his opponent’s chin with a nasty right cross, which resulted in a brutal knockout.

Right uppercut

This technique is brutally effective when your opponent is keeping a high guard but still open. Mark Hunt notices that Roy Nelson’s head is too tucked while the guard is still wide open, he capitalizes on it with a perfect right uppercut.


Left uppercut

Is your opponent ducking down all the time? Is he staying away from your left hook by flexing his knees? Well, that is fantastic. He or she wants to eat a left uppercut. Here is a perfect example of “fulfilling their wish”.

Left hook

Sometimes you’ll meet an opponent who constantly attacks with a right cross and goes for a combo.
That is excellent, because they give you the ability to move your head to the left and wreck their chin apart with your tremendous left hook. But the timing has to be perfect.

Right uppercut to the body

Very effective against the left hook. Duck under, pass to the right, and bang to the spleen.

Left uppercut to the body

Superb defensive technique against a right hook. Lean to the right duck under and attack the liver.

I know it is just a video game but it is a great example as Hitman is right-handed


Overhand right

Although it is stated above that the overhand is not typically an ideal counterpunch technique but sometimes in rare cases it works.

Mike Wilkinson made one of the biggest upsets in the history of UFC when he put the Swedish competitor Nicklas Backstrom to sleep.

As the fight opened, Backstrom was constantly attacking with a front kick, leaving his chin wide open, thinking his reach advantage will disable Wilkinson from delivering a fatal blow. But Mike ate a front kick to deliver a brutal overhand right, which ended the match.

Superman punch

In the heavyweight division, there might be a huge height difference between two opponents, so a superman punch might resolve the“reach issues”.
When Travis Browne met Stefan Struve, he was unable to counter Struve’s kicks due to Struve’s enormous reach. Yet, “Hapa” noticed Stefan’s kicks were very slow, and as soon as the knee went up, he flew through the air and delivered a fight-ending Superman punch to the chin.

How to counterpunch when you are a southpaw

A southpaw fighter’s lead leg is right. It means they are generally vulnerable to the opponent’s right hand, but they will usually answer with a big left to a jab or a left cross.

Southpaw fighters by default move to the right, so it is easier for them to duck under or react to the left hand. 

If you are a southpaw your best chances for a counterpunch would be: right hook, left straight, and left hook.

Here are some examples:

Right hook

Try it out against the opponent who has a great low kick. Park Young Soo attacked Le Banner’s legs, but Jerome ate a low kick and countered via a brutal right hook for a KO.

Left straight/Cross or Left hook

It can be very useful against a very annoying opponent who throws a right cross all the time.

You can see that in the match between Conor McGregor and Ivan Buchinger. Buchinger was throwing a right hand two times in a row, so McGregor slipped to the left and knocked him out cold with a tremendous left cross.

It is also one of the most brutal counters against the left low kick. When you are a southpaw, a right-handed opponent will attack your front leg very often. It creates a potentially great situation for a spectacular left straight punch.

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