Advantages of being tall in combat sports

Being exceptionally tall has many advantages, but what about when it comes to athletic endeavor, particularly when it comes to combat sports? So what are the height positives and negatives when it comes to boxing, wrestling, mixed martial arts, etc.? How can a competitor use additional height to gain a competitive advantage over an opponent who has a different physical makeup?

Let’s look at the key attributes of the tallest athlete. First and foremost is the ability to reach out and go one step further. Being taller means longer arms and legs, which in turn means a greater ability to reach and a greater stride capacity. This is a great advantage in many sports, but particularly in combat sports. In most fighting sports, the ability to hit your opponent and not get hit is the key to winning. Using a higher scope is the most common way to do this. If, for example, in boxing, the taller boxer has the ability to hold the fight at long distance, that is, both boxers are always separated by a distance that allows the taller boxer to throw his punches, but the more small falls short with his punches, the tallest boxer must win. This is easier said than done. Mike Tyson would be a classic example of a relatively small boxer who regularly defeats opponents much taller than him. Tyson, in his youth, had enough power and strength to bridge the gap to his opponents, by intervening, and often through punches, to land his own punches, usually to devastating effect. Thomas Hearns would be a classic case of a tall boxer, generally fighting much smaller men. His fights against Hagler, Hearns and Duran during the eighties are classic fights of tall fighters against smaller fighters. Things didn’t always turn out his way in all those fights, but he did face some of the best middleweights of any generation.

A sport like wrestling (Olympic, not organized WW in any event) is a typical case where being tall is not a huge advantage. In fact, shorter levers, a more compact powerful physique, and excellent balance are probably more advantageous in this sport. Similarly with Ju-Jitsu and all those grappling-type combat sports, being taller than your opponent is not a significant advantage at all. The recent popularity of mixed martial arts events like the UFC demonstrates the advantage that the taller fighter has when fighting is standing up and in punch mode. But this advantage is generally negated when the competition turns into a grip-style fight, on the ground.

Like many things in life, being tall has many advantages. Being tall in combat sports is no different.

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