Part of landing a knockout punch requires power (of course), but the other part requires timing. In addition to landing a knockout punch, landing a counter also requires timing. You may hear of references to a boxer’s timing, and you certainly know good timing when you see it, but it is rather hard to explain exactly what timing is and how a boxer’s timing is good (or bad). Simply put, timing is when to punch and having good timing is knowing when to punch (and punching at those moments). Having good timing can make a bout much easier, and it separates rookies from the more experienced boxers.

What is Timing:

When someone says “time his punch,” this usually means that you should throw your counter to your opponents punch when the time to throw it is right. The right time to throw a punch or combination varies from situation to situation, but a simple example of timing an opponent’s punch is Mayweather’s check hook. With his lead hook, he times his forward-moving opponent, and he successfully lands it often because he’s very good with timing. From this example, timing is not only when to throw a punch but knowing when to throw a punch. These are different as knowing when to throw a punch requires experience or a lot of practice, but you can throw a punch at the right time by mere drilling with the appropriate drills.

How to Use Your Timing:

Since timing is a very general aspect of boxing and is determined by talent and practice, I will not attempt to describe how to use timing. But, I will list some common and some not-so-common examples of when you can use timing to your advantage. Hopefully, with these examples, you can get a feel for how to use your timing.

  1. A straight from a boxer of the same stance can be timed by throwing your own straight while slipping outside.
  2. A hook to the body while fighting in the pocket can be timed by throwing, from the same side as the hook, an uppercut through the middle.
  3. A boxer’s moving inward head-first can be timed by throwing a check hook. (Think Mayweather’s KO of Hatton)
  4. A boxer shifting her weight forward can be timed by throwing a punch when her weight is moving forward. See the post about rhythm (forthcoming).
  5. A boxer with the opposite stance throwing a straight can be timed by throwing a rear body hook. (Think Rigondeaux vs various opponents)

How to Improve Your Timing:

Only through sparring and regular application of timing will you improve your timing. Timing can be improved passively or actively. Passively working on your timing is easy. Ideal are simple counter-punch drills meant to provide you the muscle memory of correct timing. Such a drill may be: jab-jab-slip outside-straight; this drill helps you establish the muscle memory for timing an opponent’s straight. Another way to passively improve your timing is to work a double-end bag or something similar. The double-end bag requires you to time your punches to hit a fast but predictable target.

To actively improve your timing, you should be doing more complex counter-punch drills which require you to react and punch accordingly. These drills will have you react to some maneuver of your partner and counter accordingly. But timing can also be improved actively by focusing on these three things: 1) speed of punches, 2) tempo, 3) rhythm.

  1. Speed of punches: Vary your punching speed on mitts, the heavy bag, etc. Some punches should be fast, others not as fast. This primarily allows you to gain more control in throwing with the right speed at the right time against various kinds of opponents.
  2. Tempo: Vary the interval between your punches both in an exchange of punches and in initiating exchanges. In a combo, the time between punches does not have to be as short as possible. In a round, the time between each exchange can be very short or long. These variations primarily allow you to get accustomed to adjusting to any opponent. For example, a quick but sloppy opponent may require you to be quick with your last punch in an exchange.
  3. Rhythm: Rhythm is related to timing; it is hard to explain and it requires its own article. In a sentence, rhythm is the flow of a boxer’s maneuvers, his beat. Watch your opponent or sparring partner and punch at the best time. For example, if you can count on your opponent shifting her weight slightly forward in a predictable way, then throw a jab when she shifts forward. It will land, and you will have timed a punch and used her rhythm against her.

It is important to remember that a large part of boxing is subconscious movement. Only by practicing your timing actively or passively will it improve. Note that actively working on your timing mostly involves you watching and adjusting to your opponent. Rookies often do not do this and are preoccupied with thinking about themselves doing X, Y, and Z.

When to Use Timing:

All the time. But, if you cannot yet use timing all the time or your opponent is such that you need to adjust your timing to land, then you should use timing especially when your opponent is fast and quick or an out-boxer. One way to overcome a boxer’s speed and quickness is to time her punches, otherwise those fast punches will hit you and you won’t successfully hit back. One way to overcome an out-boxer is to time her punch or footwork to close the distance; it is time to counter or move in when she plants her feet.


Simply put, timing is when to punch and having good timing is knowing when to punch (and punching at those moments). A simple example of timing an opponent’s punch is Mayweather’s check hook; he uses his superb timing to land his lead hook against opponents moving-in. You can improve your timing passively or actively, but the right time to throw a punch or combination varies from situation to situation. So, timing will require adjusting to your specific opponent in order to successfully time her.

Author: Loc Ho

Loc Ho was assistant coach, team captain, and boxed at 139 lbs, 132 lbs, and 125 lbs for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s boxing team from 2016-2019. He has trained hundreds of novices and seasoned athletes and created the program’s year-long training curriculum that has taken complete beginners to elite collegiate competitors. With Loc as assistant coach for three years, the program placed six athletes regionally and nationally, including the program’s first men’s national champion at 119 lbs and a national runner-up at 195 lbs. Loc is currently studying law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

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