Defending against the haymaker punch is an important strategy if someone is trying to tear your head off.
When the time for talking is done and the fists start flying, if you don’t know what you are doing, you’re going to end up on the deck missing some chiclets.
More often than not, the “go to” move for the bar room bully or the street thug is a punch called “The Haymaker”.
You’ve probably seen it a thousand times either in person, on the news, or Youtube. The big arcing fist that is intended to take you out and finish the fight fast. I know I’ve seen it countless times.
Imagine for a moment. You are part of a Special Service Force like I was back in my Army days and it’s the weekend. Between missions, there isn’t much going around the base and the amount of pent up aggression is high.
With that many combat arms units on a single base, you’ve got a recipe for some good old fashioned fisty-cuffs. So when we would head down to the local drinking establishment, it wouldn’t take long for the fists to start flying.
On occasion I found myself in the middle of the fray instead of being one of the guys trying to keep the peace. I have never been one to start things, but I certainly never minded having to address a physical confrontation.
Sometimes I would come out on top and other times not so much, but there is a lot of value in learning to take a punch.
Without question, the skills I developed then and honed throughout my 20 years of service in both the military and on a SWAT team have kept me safe and relatively injury free.
Let’s take a closer look at defending the haymaker.
The Haymaker Punch Setup – Reading the Body Language
There are some very specific tell tale signs that will tip you off to an impending haymaker.
Remember, your opponent is putting everything they have behind this punch. They are bringing all their weight to bear on the side of your melon.
So to predict a haymaker, you must be able to read body language. There are some critical areas you need to observe…
- Look closely at your opponent’s face. Generally speaking his jaw will be clenched. In fact he could be clenching on and off and you will see his jaw bulging in and out at the sides… MASSIVE CLUE… if you see that the time for talking has all but passed. Saddle up my friend because it is likely you are about to throw down.
De-escalation tip – try not to mirror this behavior. If you don’t want to chuck ‘em just yet for whatever reason, keep your demeanor and face relaxed. Easy blinking, relaxed jaw, just slightly tucked in but ready to roll at a moment’s notice.
- Eyes – if the guy across from you looks like his eyes have glazed over and is staring through you rather than at you… we call this the “thousand yard stare”. It’s a dissociative behavior. Although this was originally coined to reference a soldier who has become battle weary, in the modern fight / law enforcement context it means the guy across from you is no longer responding to rational external input. What I mean is his 5’2”, 95 lb girlfriend telling him to calm down isn’t working.
- Hands – the hands of your opponent will give you a very good indication that something is about to go down. When giving testimony in court around hard takedowns of a bad guy we refer to these indicators as pre-assaultive cues. The cues you will observe related to the hands included clenching or twitching. Your opponent will already have his hands clenched into fists or quickly twitching them while he is preparing to unleash the fury.
Now these are the critical ones that will give you a pretty solid indication that you are about to dance. But there are some others as well. Remember it isn’t each of these in isolation but as you work on your situational awareness, you will be able to better process all of these fragmented pieces of information into one solid picture that gives you the information you need to act.
Chest Puffing: Yes it’s a real thing. Humans preparing to enter physical conflict puff out their chests no different than apes or roosters. It’s in your DNA and you can try to fight it all you like but it happens all by itself. When faced with confrontation, your chest puffs out to make you look as big as possible. Your opponent will do the same thing when getting ready to square off.
Blading: Generally speaking a bladed stance is one foot slightly back from the other offset and the torso twisted slightly away. The torso twist is used to protect vital organs from being injured. If you see the guy in front of you blading, chances are he’s going to swing.
Now, all of these things may happen individually, grouped or all together. Your job is to assess each on its own merits and take the necessary action.
So when the fist finally launches and is coming your way what do you do?
I’m a bit of a contrarian when it comes to defending against the haymaker punch. I’ve seen videos where some dude steps neatly back and does the old slip, slip jab counter.
I’ve never seen that work in real life though. The only thing I’ve seen from that scenario is the dude stepping backwards get smashed in the face because he either wasn’t fast enough or the other guy just kept coming and chucking them.
Instead: You must use a combination of your body’s natural defensive response with a little bit of simple science.
If you would rather watch a video and have a cheat sheet for easy reference – Click Here
Here is your Defense Against The Haymaker Punch:
- Stance: by now you know it’s go time. Your stance should be bladed as I outlined above. One foot slightly back and your torso slightly turned. Knees bent and take a solid athletic stance.
- Receiving the punch: given the nature of this punch it is usually looking to land on the side of your head, in or around your eye or jawline.
Now your natural response to a striking stimulus is to flinch. Your hands automatically come up to your head. So what I want you to do is harness that flinch response and turn it into something useful.
This means as your hand and arm come up to protect your head on the side you’re protecting that you tuck that arm tight to your head and get your elbow up so that the thumb of your hand is almost on your trap muscle and there is no gap that a fist can slip through.
- Absorb the blow: One of the things I love is watching a self proclaimed expert demonstrate defense against a haymaker with his girlfriend who is 5’2”, throwing little baby punches that wouldn’t knock over a cup of milk on a countertop.
Listen, if you get your block in place and still happen to be standing in range of this punch and it connects with you, you are going to be knocked off center, or at the very least your head will move sideways.
This could cause a temporary loss of vision, ringing in your ears or in the worst case scenario, weak knees causing you to buckle.
To properly absorb this punch with your block in place, make sure your knees are bent and your feet are at least shoulder width apart and slightly offset. This will give you a very stable platform from which you will launch your counter measures in the next step.
- Strike: This is the point at which you confuse your opponent with your response. If you think about the force of this punch it is pretty clear that all of the energy is contained at the hand being sent rapidly toward your face.
Using this thought process, it stands to reason that the least amount of energy is at the point of origin, or in this case near the bicep or shoulder area. The mechanics of a haymaker requires your opponent to swing their arm quite wide, and it is exactly this that you can exploit to deliver a devastating response.
Instead of stepping away… you are going to step towards your opponent. Many guys will tell you to slip under or step back but here’s the problem with that. You are still in range of the full force of the blow and if you misjudge your move, it could be game over.
Now, you are in your stance, which is a nice shoulder width stance, knees bent and your feet are slightly offset (one in front of the other). You read all the cues and by now you understand he means to assault you and his first punch is the wild haymaker.
You harness your flinch response and put your block up to the side the punch is coming, so if he is a righty, you are blocking with your left. Now as that is happening you are simultaneously closing the distance between you and your opponent by stepping toward him.
This accomplishes two objectives. One, you are out of range of any meaningful force his fists are carrying and two, you are now within striking range to counter with devastating force. You must move quickly and decisively.
Your strike options are a straight punch to his button (the very end of the nose and upper lip area), an uppercut to his jawline or you can punch to the throat and disrupt his airway.
The mechanics of delivery for any one of these is virtually identical. You will push off your back foot stepping in tight to your opponent as your front foot moves forward. The position of your arm is largely dependent on which strike you choose.
Depending on the level of violence your opponent is bringing to the situation may determine your response. If he is a homicidal maniac, my recommendation is go for the throat. If he is just a ridiculous drunk, punch him in the button to shut his lights off for a while so he can go home and sleep it off.
Whatever you decide, remember in addition to your arm speed, you generate the force from your hips. Take those bent knees and explode up and through the punch delivering as much force as you can possibly generate.
Once you have made the connection, assess the response and decide on your next course of action. It could be some kind of control tactic or another strike, or you may choose to clear out of there which is also a good option.
The best fight is the one that doesn’t happen because you have used your other skills to cunningly evade or dismantle a conflict, and you are to be congratulated. BUT if you are going to be forced to go to blows, keep these things in mind.
To button this up, you should be clear on the fact that the haymaker punch is a potentially life changing punch that will land you on the losing side of the confrontation.
Having said that, given the nature of it’s mechanics, it is easily predictable. You must know how and when to act.
Take the time to mentally prepare yourself and physically go through the motions to prepare yourself against the stress of a confrontation.
If you practice these things, you will come out on top.
And to make that easier for you, I’ve also filmed a quick video that goes over everything we talked about in this article. Plus I want to give you a handy 1-page “cheat sheet” you can print up to make things easy for you.
To get access to both the video and the cheat sheet just click here.