Guarding the Mongoose

I love these photos. This one above and the similar one on the front page show Archie “The Old Mongoose” Moore (1913-1998) in L.A. in 1982 teaching boxing tips to some kids. It must be incredible to be taught by one of the greatest light heavyweight champions ever.

With a career of more than 200 fights and well over 100 knockouts (the most KOs of any fighter), Moore had a longevity in a tough sport: Moore’s first professional fight was in 1938 and his last in 1963. He didn’t get a chance at a title until he was 39, becoming the oldest boxer to take the light heavyweight title, but even so he held onto it longer than any other in history.

Part of Moore’s longevity was due to his incredible defense, which relied heavily on his cross arm style. The cross arm defense (known also as the dracula, safety block, cross arm guard, double guard, or sometimes called variations on the peek-a-boo or Philly shell/Philly crab) is performed by placing the arms horizontally in front of the body, roughly at the solar plexus and neck or chin level.

The cross arm defense is very effective against flurries of straight punches and some hooks, but critics say it’s not very good against uppercuts and keeps the arms out of position for quick counter punching. Moore would disagree about the uppercuts, and has stated that his defense was better against uppercuts than the Cus D’Amato peek-a-boo, and really, who is going to argue with his results. The cross arm defense is said to be suited for tough fighters and can also be used offensively to push an opponent into a corner or against the ropes.




Moore liked to use the cross arm defense because it frustrated his opponents and threw them off their game. Or, as Rocky Marciano once said about trying to hit Archie Moore, “he’s all gloves, arms and elbows.” Keep in mind that Moore was very fluid, transitioning in and out of the defense and using much upper body movement rather than standing static and covering up with the cross arm.

Other modern boxers that have used the cross arm defense include Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, and George Foreman. Foreman was trained at different times by Moore and used the cross arm more during his later comeback than in his early career.

While Moore is rightly recognized as the cross arm defense king, looking backwards into martial arts history can usually uncover someone doing something similar, and boxing’s cross arm defense is no exception.

Thomas Inch’s Boxing and Physical Culture (late 1940s) shows the cross arm and some other peek-a-boo variations used by famous boxers. Inch labels the cross arm as a guard used by Tommy Burns (1881-1955). Burns had retired from boxing when Moore was a child, so there is no question that Burns’ use preceded Moore’s.

When Professor Lewis wrote his The New Science: Weaponless Defence (1906), his friend Tommy Burns agreed to pose for the boxing illustrations in the book. Prof. Lewis can be seen demonstrating the safety block with Tommy Burns punching at right.

But Burns was not the first to demonstrate the guard, as Gus Ruhlin (1872-1912) demonstrated it in Professor Donovan’s The Art of Boxing and Self-Defense (1902). There it is called the “double guard” and Donovan directs that “this should be rarely used; and is only really necessary when your opponent brings both hands to play simultaneously or in rapid succession.” So while some similarities exist between boxing then and now, those directions make it clear that differences exist as well. Ruhlin was undoubtedly not the first to use the guard, but his may be one of the earliest illustrations we’ll find.

So that’s the cross arm defense which Moore made famous; next time you’re boxing you might want to give it a try if you’re getting overwhelmed by straight flurries and see if it works for you.

For more about Archie Moore and his record, see

Those Archie Moore photographs with the kids are from the Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library.

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