What Is a Bolo Punch In Boxing/MMA? (Origins, Effectiveness)

Conor McGregor loading the left bolo punch vs Marcus Brimage

Are you wondering what a bolo punch in boxing and MMA is?

In this article, we’ll look at what a bolo punch in boxing and MMA is, who invented the bolo punch, the history of the bolo punch, how to throw a bolo punch, whether a bolo punch is effective in MMA, and more.

What Is a Bolo Punch In Boxing/MMA?

A bolo punch in boxing/MMA is an unorthodox looping uppercut thrown with a wide circular wind-up and a whipping motion from hip height. 

The motion of a bolo punch imitates the technique Filipino farmers used to cut sugarcane using a bolo (machete) knife, and is also similar to the looping, whipping motion used to skim a stone.

Who Invented the Bolo Punch?

Ceferino Garcia is credited with inventing the bolo punch in the late 1920s and introducing it to western boxing. Ceferino Garcia was a Filipino boxing champion who remains the boxer with the most wins in his country’s history and the only Filipino to become a middleweight boxing champion in America.

Ceferino Garcia learned the technique during his time spent cutting sugarcane with the bolo knife and further refined it when training in panantukan.

While Ceferino Garcia is widely credited with inventing the bolo punch, others claim Macario Flores to be the inventor, another Filipino boxer who used the bolo punch in 1924.

Who Invented the Bolo Punch?

While Ceferino Garcia and Macario Flores (less so) are credited as the inventors of the bolo punch, the technique was used before them in street fights by Filipino gangs.

These Filipino gangs took the bolo punch technique from the commonly used motion of swinging a bolo knife (machete) to cut sugarcane and reap the harvest. The bolo punch was then integrated into panantukan, a style of Filipino boxing style intended for street fighting.

The bolo punch then made its way to American boxing after many Filipinos emigrated to America as a result of the Spanish-American war (1898) and America occupying the Philippine Islands.

While many Filipinos continued working on American farms, some started competing in boxing because they could earn a lot more. This is how the bolo punch became more common in western boxing, and how the famous Filipino boxer Ceferino Garcia became credited with the invention of the bolo punch.

How To Throw a Bolo Punch

Here’s how to throw a bolo punch step by step.

  1. From a neutral position, rotate the rear hand clockwise from 12 to 5
  2. The arm and elbow should be kept close to the body and the forearm should be doing the rotating (but for a more powerful bolo punch the whole arm can rotate out lead by the elbow)
  3. Pivot on the rear leg 
  4. Depending on the desired angle (4-6 on a clock), whip the arm up and connect with the fist to the body or chin
  5. Keep the lead hand high for blocking
  6. Follow through for maximum power and the possibility to block any counters at the end of the punch

Here’s a short video showing how to throw the bolo punch.

Is a Bolo Punch Effective in MMA?

Some see the bolo punch as a form of showboating (which it is if only using the wind-up at range), but the bolo punch is very effective in MMA for 5 reasons.

1. The most powerful uppercut
A bolo punch is the most powerful uppercut variation, so if it connects it can be very damaging to the opponent. It’s one of the best strikes to the liver because of the power it can generate.

2. Unpredictability
Bolo punches are a very uncommon technique, so if timed well, they can catch an opponent off guard – and the strikes an opponent doesn’t see are often the ones that knock them out. Combined with the power of a bolo punch, they can easily knock out an opponent.

Making them even more unpredictable is using them in combinations where they’re not ordinarily used. For example, the jab-cross-bolo works because most often fighters attempt a hook after a jab-cross. As they expect a high hook, their defense is high and a bolo punch to the body is open and to the chin.

3. Used as a fake or feint
The wind-up of a bolo punch with the rear hand is very effective in distracting an opponent to then land a quick sharp jab with the lead.

The bolo punch is also effective as a hook-feint, as the start of the motion can be made to look like a hook is being loaded. From here, quickly whip up to land a powerful and unsuspected bolo punch.

This works best when an opponent has been conditioned to look for a high hook by repeatedly throwing them. As they’re expecting a high hook, the opponent will often have a high guard, which leaves them open to a bolo punch to the chin and especially the body.

4. Great counter and defense against takedowns
The bolo punch is a wonderful counter technique against onrushing opponents as you can step back and/or slip a shot and throw a bolo punch under their strike, which they’re rushing into with momentum and a large weight transfer.

It works well because the power of a bolo punch comes from the whipping and looping technique, so fighters can move well to avoid strikes while simultaneously delivering a powerful bolo punch.

If an opponent shoots in for a takedown, stepping back and throwing a bolo punch is very likely to land if timed well. It also makes it a lot more powerful as they’re diving into it with full momentum and weight.

Also, if a bolo punch misses as the opponent shoots for a takedown, the arms are in a position to get underhooks to defend the takedown attempt.

Lastly, simply showing the looping motion of a bolo punch can be a great deterrent to wrestlers looking to shoot for takedowns.

5. Against fighters who get low
The bolo punch is effective against fighters who often get low by bobbing and weaving to avoid strikes. Fighters can fake a high hook and time a bolo punch to connect as their opponent drops their head lower to avoid the high hook.

On the other hand, bolo punches can be ineffective for 1 main reason.

1. Slow and telegraphed technique
The bolo punch is a much slower uppercut variation because of the massive wind-up it uses. This can make it ineffective without perfect timing, as it’s telegraphed, slow, and easily avoided by an opponent stepping out of range.

Also, as it’s a slower technique, fighters with fast hands can easily counter it with jabs, crosses, and especially hooks/check hooks. Fighters should therefore be wary when using a bolo punch, and use them against strikers with slower hand speed or against wrestling/Bjj based fighters with lesser striking skills.

For fighters who feel the bolo punch is effective but leaves them too exposed to counters, they may look to follow through on their bolo punch. Here, if the bolo punch misses the target, the follow-through allows them to turn the arm into a high guard for blocking hooks or parrying with the elbow.

Who Popularized the Bolo Punch In Boxing/MMA? (Best Bolo Punchers in Boxing/MMA)

Fighters who popularized the bolo punch in boxing are:

  • Ceferino Garcia – the inventor who popularized the bolo punch when he became the middleweight champion in 1939, (USA)
  • Kid Gavilan – a Cuban boxer who popularized the bolo punch in the 1950s during his time as the welterweight champion, (USA)
  • Pedro Carrasco – a Spanish boxer who popularized the bolo punch by becoming the WBC lightweight champion in 1971, (USA)
  • Sugar Ray Leonard – massively popularized the bolo punch in his rematch against Roberto Duran in 1980, and against Thomas Hearns in 1981, (USA)

Other fighters such as Joe Calzaghe and Roy Jones, Jr have also popularized the bolo punch and used it effectively. Some of the best bolo punch knockouts were Ike Ibeabuchi knocking out Chris Byrd (1999), and Gervonta Davis knocking out Leo Santa Cruz to retain the WBA lightweight title (2020).

Gervonta Davis set up his bolo punch knockout by conditioning Cruz with left hooks to the body. Pressured up against the ropes, Cruz threw three predictable one-punch right crosses, and Davis timed the third by slipping left and throwing the bolo punch with the left to the chin with a lot of power.

Fighters who popularized the bolo punch in MMA are:

Conor McGregor used the bolo punch to great effect against Marcus Brimage, connecting with it 40 seconds into the first round. 

20 seconds later, Marcus Brimage rushed in with a high guard, where McGregor countered with 3 more heavy bolo punches to the chin in separate combinations to drop Brimage and get the TKO victory.

Bolo Punch vs Uppercut: What’s the Difference?

A bolo punch is a variation of an uppercut, with the difference being the circular wind-up motion used to throw a bolo punch, while an uppercut is thrown along a vertical line from a neutral position with much less load-up.

The circular wind-up motion used in a bolo punch makes it a more powerful variation of the standard uppercut, and it’s also used as a distraction with the rear hand to strike with the lead hand. A standard uppercut is much quicker, still powerful, and works better in combinations, and as a counter.

The Bottom Line

So, ‘what is a bolo punch in boxing/MMA?’

A bolo punch in boxing/MMA is an unorthodox looping uppercut thrown with a circular whipping motion from hip height. The motion of a bolo punch imitates the technique Filipino farmers used to cut sugarcane using a bolo (machete) knife, and is also similar to the looping, whipping motion used to skim a stone.

The bolo punch was invented by Ceferino Garcia, and popularized in western boxing by Sugar Ray Leonard and in MMA by Conor McGregor. The bolo punch is effective in MMA because it’s powerful, unpredictable, and a great counter against onrushing fighters and opponents shooting for takedowns.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *