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How to Use the Dempsey Roll in Boxing

C.J. McAllister is extremely passionate about his training as a professional MMA fighter and teaching martial arts and physical fitness.

At 187 pounds with a 77-inch reach, Jack Dempsey was far from the largest man to compete in boxing's heavyweight division in his day. But he was able to rule that division with a combination of toughness, ferocity, and an incredible understanding of how to use his frame to his advantage. One of his favorite techniques came to be known as the "Dempsey Roll," which he used to overwhelm much larger opponents. Other athletes from a variety of combat sports, including Mike Tyson from boxing and Mike Zambidis from kickboxing, have also used the Dempsey Roll with devastating results.

The Stance to Take for a Dempsey Roll

To perform the Dempsey Roll, first, assume a stance that is lower and wider than a traditional boxing stance by bending the knees and widening the feet. The exact distance will depend both on your height and build and that of your opponent, but on average, your feet should be spaced about 1.25 to 1.5 shoulder-widths apart.

  • Do not lean forward more than a few degrees at the waist or you will be vulnerable to an uppercut counter.
  • Before you start moving, keep your weight centered over your hips and your feet. You should feel comfortably balanced.
  • Keep your chin tucked, but your eyes forward. Look at the center of your opponent's torso, not his feet.
You will need a wide stance to use the Dempsey Roll.

You will need a wide stance to use the Dempsey Roll.

Guard and Range

The Dempsey Roll is designed to allow you to land a very fast, very powerful series of hooks. By definition, then, you must be fairly close to your opponent for it to work—either because you have crowded him into the ropes or because he is playing an aggressive, heavy-pressure game.

For this reason, you should maintain a tight guard before, during, and after you use the Dempsey Roll. Tyson's use of the Peekaboo Guard was one example of this type of defense, but you can also use a more traditional tight guard by facing your palms together, placing your gloves just below your eyes and pulling your elbows into your sides.

A tight guard will help keep you safe in the close range required to use the Dempsey Roll.

A tight guard will help keep you safe in the close range required to use the Dempsey Roll.

The Shifting or Weaving Movement of a Dempsey Roll

With your stance, range, and guard established, begin weaving your upper body and head in a figure-eight motion. As you weave to your left, drive off your right foot and pivot your right hip forward; as you weave back to your right, drive off your left foot and pivot your left hip forward.

  • Your weight will shift about 70 percent to your left foot as you weave left, then about 70 percent to your right as you weave right.
  • Make sure that the average position of your weight throughout the motion is centered over both feet; do not allow your weight to over-commit past either foot as you weave, or you will fall off balance, lose power and be vulnerable to counters.

Dempsey Roll Damage

Finally, when you feel comfortable with the figure-eight motion, add a fast series of hooks to it, one hook at each end of the figure-eight. Begin with body hooks until you get the rhythm of the technique, then mix head and body hooks as you wish.

  • The power of the hooks in a Dempsey Roll is driven primarily by the momentum of your body weight moving through the figure-eight weave as your hip, core, and shoulder rotate, rather than by a simple pivot, as in an ordinary hook.
  • Drill this movement slowly in a mirror at first.
  • When you feel comfortable in the mirror, begin training the roll on a heavy bag. Gradually increase the speed and power of the drill until you feel comfortable, smooth, and balanced at full speed.
  • When you feel comfortable on the heavy bag, begin experimenting with the Dempsey Roll in sparring.

Tips for Perfecting the Dempsey Roll

The hardest part of the Dempsey Roll to learn is coordinating the motion of your body with the timing of your punches; practice the figure-eight weaving motion without punches until you feel very comfortable with it. The hook should be thrown just as you are rounding the bend of the figure-eight motion to come back the opposite direction.

Remember, do not weave in one direction, stop, and weave back the other direction—you will lose all your momentum. The force of your bodyweight weaving one direction, then continuing around a tight circle and back the other direction, is what gives this technique its incredible speed and power.

Mike Tyson was known for his use of the Dempsey Roll.

Mike Tyson was known for his use of the Dempsey Roll.

The Dempsey Roll in Action

Disclaimer

Remember, to minimize the risk of potential injury, boxing should only be trained in a proper facility under a qualified coach's supervision.

Is the Dempsey Roll still an effective technique? Why or why not?

Milton Maxwell on November 26, 2019:

Very Big Advantage against bigger taller opponents

F. C. on October 12, 2019:

To expand on my earlier point, the straight blast has several advantages over the Dempsey roll:

1. Range - because the straight blast uses straight punches instead of hooks, its frontal range is superior to that of the Dempsey roll

2. Learning curve - all that is required for the straight blast is an onslaught of rolling straight punches, and as such it requires less coordination than the Dempsey roll and can be learned and mastered much quicker and easier.

3. Focus - the straight blast is to the Dempsey roll as a rifle is to a shotgun. That is to say, it's a barrage of centrifugally forced punches focused towards the center of the target's mass. The Dempsey roll, though powerful, doesn't focus on any specific part of the body.

4. Versatility - the straight blast can be used from a forward stance, Bruce Lee's signature sideways horse stance, or a crouching stance, while the Dempsey roll has strict requirements for stance.

F. C. on October 12, 2019:

If you ask me, Bruce Lee's straightblast technique is a far more practical alternative to the Dempsey roll.

the next american featherweight champion on June 06, 2016:

honestly the dempsy roll is a bunch of consecutive hooks coming in an out of a boxers peripherial vision but the downside to all of those power punches is that it can be easily countered because it is a repetitive motion that more or less never changes so adding the damage to the counter of a powerblow such as the dempsy makes it an iffy choice move but if the punch were to land first the match would be over in an instant

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