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Philly Shell

He hit the canvas, my coach yelled “Stop”! I took a step back while a 10 count began. My eyes were wide, I was processing what just happened, but before I could internalize that moment I heard “Box!” and I was back to fighting.

The sparring match ended, I stepped out of the ring and I thanked my opponent for the work. I walked over to a corner to replay the events in my head.

I had seen he was tired, breathing through his mouth, this told me his next punch wasn’t going to be as crisp.

He threw a weak jab to set up a cross, at this moment it was instinct to shoulder roll, also known as the Philly shell, and come back with a snapping cross of my own.

He went down and never saw it coming!

It worked and it worked with great timing and technique. 

It wasn’t easy to get to this point as that was my first successful attempt in real-time. But I understood finally what had gone right in that moment and what had gone wrong countless times before.

I never really had one style, I was adaptive, and I want to share the benefits of this style of fighting with you.

Learn what the Philly shell is and how to use it to your advantage, and take advantage of this technique.

I can tell you from experience this is a tool that needs to be added to your toolbox.

Why the Philly shell?

Joe Frazier is famous for using the Philly shell. But he didn’t make it popular, even with his success in the ring with 32 wins 4 losses, and 1 draw. 

No sir.

The man who really put this style under the spotlight was Floyd Mayweather Jr. With an unblemished record of 50 wins and 0 losses, he has been in the conversation as possibly the greatest of all time!

Why does this matter you ask?

One, it gives you two success stories of why you should use it, and two how they were utilized differently.

What is the Philly shell?

This is a guard, you can use this offensively or defensively. What makes this guard unique is how you place your hands.

Traditionally it’s always hands up, this is not the case for the shell.

Philly shell or shoulder roll. The lead arm is placed across the torso usually somewhere in between the belly button and chest and the hand rests on the opposite side of your torso.

The backhand is going to be held tight against you. Hand on the face, elbow tucked into the ribcage.

A common mistake that boxers make is that they believe that Philly shell is just another name for shoulder roll. 

The shoulder roll is a defensive move that can be made from any stance or position. You can hide your chin behind your shoulder and avoid opponents' punches.

There are two ways two execute this, you can be aggressive applying constant pressure, or you can be passive looking for an opening to counter an attack.

Oops that’s an actual cheesesteak...

Philly shell offense

“Smokin” Joe Frazier was an offensive fighter, his style of coming forward with the Philly shell led him to victory over Muhammad Ali in their first fight.

Pros, you are an exciting fighter that everyone wants to watch fight. Your relentless pressure can break the soul of a fighter. It is a fun way to box because almost all rules of a traditional stance are broken.

Cons, most likely you are going to eat some punches working your way in. You lose the ability to lead with a jab effectively, and you must have great endurance to keep a pace that makes this style useful.

Philly shell defense

“Money” Mayweather was the best to ever do it. He made it look easy, but if you have ever tried this variation of the Philly shell you know it can almost be impossible to get right all the time.

Pros,  waste less energy by picking your shots when to strike. You are always protected and become frustrating for your opponent, causing them to unravel if they can’t keep their cool.

Cons, you can be a snooze fest with this style. Waiting too long for the right shot can put you behind in the fight, sometimes you get stuck on defense while your opponent is simply outworking you.

Take away

There are two ways to use the Philly shell, one is for an offensive mindset fighter with batteries included.

The 2nd is a defensive-minded fighter with quick reflexes and the timing to counter mistakes.

Both can be used successfully in the ring.

How to perform the Philly shell

The lead arm is placed across the torso usually somewhere in between the belly button and chest and the hand rests on the opposite side of your torso.

The backhand is going to be held tight against you. Hand on the face, elbow tucked into the ribcage.

The cornerstone behind using this technique is simple, rotate the torso like you are throwing a lead hook or a backhand cross without actually throwing them. 

With the lead shoulder, you will deflect their right hand. Your rear hand will parry their left hand and your forearm that’s in front of crossing the torso is blocking the body shots.

How should I stand?

You will use a traditional stance, the key here is not to square up by bringing that back foot forward while you rotate. If it helps, you can place your back foot out to the side further to free those hips as you twist and turn.

Am I crouching?

This option is flexible, boxing isn’t one-size-fits-all. Identify who your opponent is.

If they are taller, you should crouch and get underneath them. If they are shorter stay tall, using your height and reach.

Your kryptonite. 

Be careful of the overhand right - this is the punch that will most likely catch you on the top of your head. Mayweather Jr. was rocked by Sugar Shane Mosley in the 2nd round of their fight and almost floored.


Where do you find the best Philly cheesesteak in Philly?

Asking that question beats any ice breaker, opening line, or fight starter in that town.

The good news is the Philly shell is no doubt one of the best styles in boxing.

A high-risk, high-reward is the hot take. 

It takes years of practice to get it right, but I believe in you if this is the guard you want to use.

I recommend you apply this to your training. At the very least you learned more about what it’s like to use and can pull it out of the toolbox if needed.

Quick tip, practice on the shoulder roll first. Keep your chin tucked and eyes on your opponent to see what’s coming next.

Study videotape on the best to ever do it, you will learn a lot from “Money” Mayweather himself.