The Shoulder Roll Masters


The Shoulder Roll. The Philly Shell. The Michigan Style Defence. Only a select few have truly mastered the old-school style defensive guard.

BOXRAW look back at the legendary fighters who were able to perfect the technique at the elite level throughout boxing history.

Floyd Mayweather Jr.

The man who popularised the shoulder roll in the modern era. Floyd Mayweather Jr. mastered the craft to become one of the greatest defensive fighters in boxing history.

While several greats before him used the old school technique to much success, Mayweather Jr. was arguably the most effective from a purely defensive approach.

Ultimately finishing his illustrious career with a 50-0 record, the unbeaten five-division world champion made many world champion opponents look almost ordinary in the ring with him; as he caught, parried, blocked and rolled a barrage of shots from plenty of dangerous punchers.

From the Grand Rapids, Michigan area, ‘Money’ Mayweather learned his defensive trait from his father Floyd Sr; who utilised it throughout his own professional career.

James Toney

A throwback fighter with an old-school style, James Toney honed his defensive skills from countless hours studying past greats such as Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles alongside his former coach Bill Miller.

Toney’s method of using ‘The Philly Shell’ was as good as it's ever been seen inside the ring; seamlessly flowing from defence to attack with his elusive in-fighting and devastating counter shots.

James Toney was one of the true shoulder roll masters in his career (Image: Getty).

Born in Michigan, the three-weight world champion was able to comfortably stand in the pocket or up against the ropes and still avoid any incoming threat.

A testament to his shoulder roll skills, Toney was never once stopped in his career, despite moving all the way up from middleweight to heavyweight.

George Benton

A defensive genius and a true master of the shoulder roll. One of a long line of great fighters hailing from the Philadelphia area, George Benton is considered by many as the Godfather of ‘The Philly Shell’.

Refining the old crouching defensive tactics, or the ‘crab style’ of fighters before him (most notably used by Archie Moore), Benton rose to prominence in the 1950s with his slick defensive abilities and overall fluidity in the ring.

George Benton became an all-time great coach after a brilliant ring career (Image: Philly Boxing History).

Such was his mastery, it took a bullet rather than a punch to finally end his career after 76 fights across 21 years; being shot in the back in a revenge attack, with the bullet having remained lodged near his spine for the rest of his life.

Benton later used his ring knowledge to become one of the sport’s greatest ever trainers and was known as ‘The Professor’; overseeing the careers of world champions Mike McCallum, Evander Holyfield and, another all-time defensive wizard, Pernell Whitaker.

Ezzard Charles

Widely considered one of the top pound-for-pound prize-fighters in history, Ezzard Charles was a complete technician in the ring and known for his slick defence.

Ezzard Charles was one of the greatest fighters in boxing history (Image: The Enquirer).

Regarded by many as the greatest light-heavyweight ever too, ‘The Cincinnati Cobra’ also reigned as world heavyweight champion in his illustrious career which spanned nearly two decades; securing victories over numerous Hall of Fame greats across three weight classes.

Due to his mercurial ring abilities, Charles was able to compete with some of the biggest punchers of all-time; including outclassing the legendary Joe Louis and being the only man to ever last 15 rounds with Rocky Marciano.

Charley Burley

A member of the infamous Black Murderers Row, Charley Burley was one of boxing history’s most avoided fighters. It’s believed even the greatest of all-time, Sugar Ray Robinson, was among those that steered clear or priced himself out of a bout.

There is little remaining footage of Burley today, with only snippets available of his ring excellence that led many iconic boxing names to label the best fighter they had ever seen - including legendary trainer Eddie Futch and former light-heavyweight ruler Archie Moore.

Charley Burley was one of the most avoided fighters ever (Image: Teenie Harris Archive).

From what can be seen and from first-hand accounts of his greatness, Burley was defensively brilliant and possessed elite counter punching abilities; using the shoulder roll to evade blows with ease. In 84 professional fights he was never once stopped in the ring (despite facing many all-time greats), further proving his defensive prowess.

Due to his unwillingness to mix with boxing’s underworld at the time, Burley was never granted a deserved shot at world honours, making him one of the greatest fighters to never hold title recognition.

Jersey Joe Walcott

Combining his shoulder roll and defensive talents with his unorthodox footwork, Jersey Joe Walcott was a dynamic fighter that eventually claimed the world heavyweight crown.

Jersey Joe Walcott was a defensive master in the ring (Image: Getty).

Walcott epitomised never giving up and was the picture of perseverance. After defeats to Joe Louis and Ezzard Charles in his pursuit of the heavyweight title, it took him until his fifth attempt to finally become champion.

With a stunning knockout triumph over Charles in their third match-up, Walcott would finally reign supreme. The slick defensive champion would get the better of his long-standing rival again in their clash for his maiden title defence before retiring after back-to-back losses to Rocky Marciano.

Archie Moore

‘The Old Mongoose’ was a pioneer for what would later be known as the shoulder roll. Archie Moore’s incredible longevity in the ring was made possible by his technical and defensive attributes.

Honing his craft at a time when fighters maintained a relentless schedule, Moore finished his career with a surreal 220 bouts which spanned almost three decades.

The legendary Archie Moore mastered the shoulder roll to enjoy a long career.

The former light-heavyweight champion was a master at rolling and deflecting incoming shots off his shoulders to safely come away unscathed, while also comfortably turning defence into attack.

Moore holds the record for second-most knockouts in boxing history, having made his counterpunching a dangerous weapon in his overall arsenal.

Pernell Whitaker

Learning his trade and being schooled by the aforementioned legend George Benton, Pernell Whitaker went on to cement himself as arguably the best defensive boxer of all-time.

It was clear that ‘Sweet Pea’ was set for a stellar career from his amateur days, having rallied to an Olympic Gold medal at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Pernell Whitaker was arguably the best defensive boxer in history (Image: Yahoo News).

As a professional, Whitaker learned the old school defensive methods from Benton. This saw him become a nightmare opponent for anyone he faced in the ring; being seemingly impossible to hit clean on his way to world titles across four divisions.

Implementing the shoulder roll among his defensive manoeuvres, Whitaker also used somewhat unorthodox movements to avoid attacks but it was effective, as he reigned as the pound-for-pound king 1990s.

Nicolino Locche

A native of Argentina, Nicolino Locche forged a Hall of Fame career through his remarkable defensive talents.

The former light-welterweight world champion fought 136 times and became one of the most eye-catching defensive masters in history; utilising the shoulder roll and relying on his incredible reflexes to make opponents miss.

Nicolino Locche was known as 'The Untouchable' (Image: Glory of National Boxing).

Despite his ring talents, Locche’s commitment and work ethic outside of the ring came under the spotlight - lacking the usual discipline and boxing lifestyle expected of a champion. In between rounds, Locche was often noted to have smoked cigarettes on his stool while his team crowded around him.

The South American was one of the greatest defensive fighters in history nevertheless; fittingly being known as ‘El Intocable’ (The Untouchable).

Bernard Hopkins

A modern day great who used every old-school trick in the book to enjoy a hugely decorated career. Bernard Hopkins competed from 1988 to 2016; reigning as the undisputed middleweight ruler and claiming light-heavyweight world title honours too.

Bernard Hopkins mastered the shoulder roll as part of his old-school style (Image: Getty).

While not constantly standing in the shoulder roll stance or position, ‘B-Hop’ used it when needed as a key defensive tactic on his way to becoming the oldest ever world champion in history.

Another product of Philadelphia’s esteemed boxing production line, it was Hopkins’ use of old school practises that helped him sustain a long-standing career at the top.

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