A Case for The Defence: Agility and Reflexes

As with all the ringcraft attributes, Agility and Reflexes have multiple functions in Leather, but I’d like to explain what they mean for purely their defensive mechanisms. This will hopefully clear up some of the misunderstandings around exactly what ‘Agility’ refers to, how it contrasts with ‘Reflexes’, and what a ‘proactive’ defence is in contrast to a ‘reactive’ defence.

Agility, in defensive terms, governs upper body movement. This takes the form of slips, ducks and bobs, among other things, and despite manifesting as upper body movement these are mostly driven from the legs. To slip to the right an orthodox boxer pushes from their lead (left) leg and turns at the waist, tucking their head and lead (left) shoulder to the right, turning them slightly more side-on. To slip to the left they engage their rear (right) leg to twist the waist to the left, tucking the head and bringing the rear (right) shoulder forward, turning them slightly more square-on. The idea, as with any slip, duck, bob, tuck, roll, twitch, etc., is to take the head and body off the centre-line, so that typical shots thrown by the opponent skim past, sail overhead, or fly wide. Combining and sequencing these movements gives the boxer an array of options for avoiding incoming shots from different angles, be they straight or hooked, whilst setting up their own shots.

These techniques are used ‘proactively’: the boxer isn’t waiting for his opponent to throw a shot before attempting to dodge it. If a boxer tries to engage one of these manoeuvres after starting to see a shot coming they will simply get hit: a slip is a complex kinetic chain, and there isn’t enough time for a boxer’s brain to compute that a shot is coming and then engage and complete the dodge before the punch lands – even the slowest of punches are much too fast. ‘Proactive’ means that the best agile boxers are performing these moves constantly – they aren’t waiting for a shot to come at them; they’re already slipping, ducking, bobbing, rolling, twitching, etc.

Perhaps the best example would be a prime Joe Frazier: he had a very distinctive, herky-jerky style, meant to both avoid punches and provide constant feints to disguise his own shots – he never just stood still. I qualified that with the word ‘prime’, as once Frazier began to decline he couldn’t maintain this style anymore, resorting to a much more simplified and predictable series of constant straight-line ducks – watch the third fight with Muhammad Ali and you’ll see the difference. He lost his ability to remove himself from the centre-line, which made him much easier to hit with straight shots and uppercuts.

Whilst Agility can be used when boxing off the back-foot (i.e. when being less aggressive) it is not as effective, as these slips, ducks and bobs are easier to engage when a boxer’s weight is over the front foot – the boxer’s body mass naturally comes forward when slipping. To defend themselves properly when boxing off the back-foot a boxer needs good Reflexes.

Reflexes provide a boxer with a ‘reactive’ defence, which is the opposite of ‘proactive’. The boxer sees the shot coming and quickly jerks their head or turns their body out of the way. There’s no kinetic chain as such, and the aim is for the incoming punch to finish just an inch or two short of the target: the margins are tiny. This is, of course, not possible when a boxer has his weight over his front foot – as stated above there’s simply not enough spare milliseconds to dodge the shot – but if a boxer is fighting off the back foot then they have a few more slivers of time to play with because their upper body is ever-so-slightly further away from their opponent.

The most famous real world examples of superb Reflexes belong to Muhammad Ali (we’ve all seen the photograph of him leaning back as a Joe Frazier hook falls short). We must also remember Pernell Whitaker, who combined a superior reflex defence (when boxing at long-range) with awe-inspiring Agility, meaning he could dodge shots just as well when fighting in the pocket, like a slippery eel (the modern term, seemingly spawned from Vasyl Lomachenko’s preternatural abilities, is “Matrix Defence”, which in Leather translates to very high levels of both Agility and Reflexes).

The broad, over-simplified takeaways: if you’re a front-foot, come-forward, aggressive, attacking boxer, then you should prioritise Agility, whereas if you’re a back-foot, retreating, reactive, hit-and-move type, then you should prioritise Reflexes. This is an over-simplification because boxing matches are rarely one-way traffic: there are ebbs and flows as one boxer becomes the aggressor and then backs away, ceding space to his opponent, therefore concentrating purely on one area can lead to defensive frailties in the other. Likewise boxers rarely fight identically from bout to bout; instead needing to adjust their strategy and style according to their opponent – many times the winner is not the one who more dominantly exerts their own preferred style, but instead the one who denies his opponent the chance to fight in theirs. Common strategies are to back-up opponents who aren’t used to fighting purely off the back foot, or being hugely passive and forcing normally back-footed boxers to engage and be the aggressor.

As I stated at the beginning, Agility and Reflexes govern other areas in Leather, not just matters of avoiding incoming shots, but I hope that this post has cleared up a few misconceptions around what these defensive aspects entail, and should equip you with a better understanding of how to create boxers of different styles that always have a way to dodge shots, be that proactively or reactively.

Boxing Toolkit: Categorising Styles

It’s an old and oft-quoted phrase, but nevertheless it has stood the test of time and remains true to this day: “Styles make fights”.

These three words state that, more frequently than not, the ultimate result of a fight – and the quality of entertainment therein – is dictated by the explicit boxing style of the combatants. The core concepts of the various disciplines of boxing mean that knowledge of a fighter’s style means we can instantly conclude several important things about them, including their favoured strategies, preferred types of opponent, and likely career longevity. When they meet in the ring opposing styles contrast and clash in different ways, with certain clashes producing fireworks whilst others producing snore-fests.

The ability to study and evaluate a boxer’s style is a vital instrument in the toolbox of any boxer, coach, or fight fan. It provides insight into how a single fight or even an entire career might develop. If you’re in the ring with gloves on it can tell you what you need to do to outwit your opponent, and if you’re in the audience it can tell you in which direction a sly wager ought to be placed. To “evaluate a boxer’s style” means to quickly and effectively analyse and summarise it in as concise a manner as possible – to categorise that athlete using a convenient mental model.

There are many ways to categorise and compare boxers, here we’ll examine:

  • Outboxers vs. Sluggers vs. Swarmers
  • Boxers vs. Punchers
  • Long Range vs. Mid Range vs. Close Range
  • Front-Foot vs. Back-Foot

Outboxer vs. Slugger vs. Swarmer

The classic trinity metric. Simply put, all boxers fall into one of three categories: Outboxers, sluggers, or swarmers, and there is a rock/paper/scissors pattern of dominance between each of the types.

Outboxers like to fight on the outside – using reflexes, footwork, jabs and crosses. When they find themselves on the inside they tend to grab and hold-on until the referee splits them, to be reset at their preferred distance. Examples include Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, and Wladimir Klitschko, 

Sluggers are powerful but usually inelegant fighters who fight in that pure-punching range between outside and inside – using strength, hooks, uppercuts and crosses. They are often defensively poor, but make up for this with raw firepower. Examples include Sonny Liston, George Foreman, and Vitali Klitschko.

Swarmers like to fight on the inside – using agility, guarding, hooks and uppercuts. They close distance as quickly as possible to find their ideal range, slipping shots on their way inside till. Examples include Jack Dempsey, Henry Armstrong, and Joe Frazier.

Outboxers tend to perform best against sluggers – whom they are faster and more defensively astute than – but worst against swarmers – who rapidly crowd them and nullify their preference for distance. Swarmers tend to perform worst against sluggers – walking onto their big shots as they try to work their way inside.

While it doesn’t quite account for the subtle differences of hybrid and special types (e.g. boxer-punchers and pure counterpunchers) this is a reliable method of categorisation, as old as modern boxing itself. Aficionados come back to it time and again when comparing and contrasting boxers.

Boxers vs. Punchers

Writ simply: a ‘boxer’ is someone who prefers the technical aspects of boxing: establishing the jab, solid footwork, being elusive and defensively adroit – and a ‘puncher’ is someone who prefers the more damaging aspects of the sport: landing power shots, applying pressure, utilising their strength and hunting for knockouts. Think of this as a continuum line, with ‘Pure Boxer’ at one end, and ‘Pure Puncher’ at the other – giving us two absolute extremes.

Most fighters will tend to err toward one end of the spectrum more than the other, providing a simple and concise categorisation method. Many boxers sit on the central pivot point or close-by on either side – being a boxer-puncher, or puncher-boxer, if you prefer – but many fighters will show a clear preference.

Long Range vs. Mid Range vs. Close Range

This categorisation method goes hand in hand with the concept of all boxers being an outboxer, slugger, or swarmer. It states that there are three distinct punching ranges – long, mid and close – and that a combatant will have a preferred range at which they work most effectively. Throughout fights they will endeavour to maximise their time at this range so they can perform to their best, whilst simultaneously trying to prevent an opponent from spending as much time at their preferred range to nullify their attacking threat.

Some boxers are clearly skilled at fighting across multiple ranges, giving them more options and available strategies in which they can fight. Classic boxer-punchers are an example of a mid range puncher who is also comfortable boxing at long range. Meetings between two boxers with the same range preference become a matter of who most effectively fights at that range, thus the better overall boxer should dominate. In cases such as these a cat-and-mouse game might develop whereby the inferior fighter chooses to fight at a range at which they are less effective, purely to deny their opponent the chance to fight at their dominant range. It is therefore sometimes advantageous for a boxer to fight at a non-ideal range, if their opponent is more disadvantaged by this than they are.

Front-Foot vs. Back-Foot

The difference between a front-foot fighter and a back-foot boxer is usually a matter of their level of preference for aggressive pressure.

An aggressive combatant will predominantly want to fight off the front foot, coming forward and instigating exchanges, forcing their opponent to defend and retreat if overwhelmed. A specific range preference is unimportant, as they will always try to press forward and get into their ideal punching range, whatever it is. This is in definite contrast to back-foot boxers, who tend to be long range specialists; looking to maintain distance by retreating constantly and establishing an effective jab or straight back hand. Of course, some boxers are equally comfortable fighting either front-foot or back-foot, and thus might switch between the two styles as opportunities present themselves. Just because a boxer has more of a reactive, back-foot mentality does not mean that they are necessarily defensive in nature; it purely means that they aren’t the aggressor when it comes to closing distance and initiating exchanges.

It’s very unusual to find, say, a back-foot swarmer, as the two style categories are incongruous: it’s impossible to close distance and put pressure on an opponent if retreat is your main concern. The only time this combination might appear is when two swarmers meet, and one of them decides to let the other do the work of distance-closing, by simply sitting back and allowing their opponent to charge forward.

Boxing Strategies: “Deep Water”

The Concept

The concept of taking an opponent “into deep water” refers to the oft-used strategy of forcing a bout to go as long as gruellingly possible, with the aim of exhausting your opponent and disposing of them when they become more vulnerable; to “take them into deep water and drown them”.

Primarily it’s about draining your opponent’s energy whilst optimising your own exertions so as not to leave yourself too exhausted when the time comes to deliver the coup de grâce. It should be needless to say that this strategy does not make sense for four or six round fights, and unless your opponent has truly terrible conditioning it’s difficult to make it work in eight rounds, so this is a ten or twelve round stratagem – it requires time. It is a strategy typically employed when matched against opponents whom you consider to be superior to yourself in boxing’s key technical areas: they’re better jabbers, movers, combination punchers, or simply more elusive and defensively savvy than you. You certainly can’t out-box them, and in a direct shoot-out you’re concerned that you’ll tire too quickly while attempting to penetrate their defences, leaving yourself open to counter attacks.

So for the best chance to win we must take them into deep water – and drown them. 

This strategy is not simply trying to preserve as much energy as possible by dragging out the fight and doing very little until the final round – when you’ll come out all-guns-blazing looking for a stunning sudden knockout. Whilst that is certainly a plan, it lacks the build-up that makes it a proper strategy: you’ve not troubled your opponent throughout the fight so they will likely not be substantially fatigued, thus any knockout that comes is based more on hope than on preparation. The core of the deep water strategy is about continuously initiating exchanges, forcing your opponent to throw punches that will undoubtedly win them rounds, but also drain their energy, with the aim to make them easier to knockout when the time comes. It’s about increasing your chance of securing the knockout, rather than simply hoping you’ll land a lucky shot late in the fight.

The swimming analogy permeates through this strategy, in that you have to force your opponent to defend themselves constantly – to stay afloat, to swim – by lurking constantly within punching range and applying a steady work rate. You might find yourself losing most – if not all – rounds as the fight progresses, but that’s okay. You will need to have a target round in mind (for a twelve round bout maybe around the ninth) where you will begin to turn up the heat and push for a knockout, and you’ll need to have enough fuel in the tank to mount a sustained attack, usually for up to three rounds. There’s no formula to calculate when this decisive shift should occur: only experience can tell you the typical opponent fatigue levels that signal when you can begin to move through the gears, but it’s not an exact science. Some opponents will show signs of being utterly spent as early as the fifth round, and thus (giving another round’s grace to push them a bit further) you might begin to ramp up your attacking pressure from the seventh round. Some opponents will manage their exertions so competently that you have no choice but to leave the onslaught until the eleventh round, giving yourself just six minutes to deliver the knockout. Launching your surge in the final round is a risk – it’s usually too little, too late.

It’s difficult to use the deep water strategy on opponents who have excellent stamina – but only if they know how to manage it. If you’re facing a low work rate, low intensity opponent who has good conditioning then you’ll struggle to tire them out, but there are those who possess high stamina that always look to utilise it to the maximum: throwing a hundred punches every round. It is these latter opponents that can obviously be taken into deep water, so don’t rule out this strategy just because you’re facing someone fitter than you: it’s about who has the superior energy management, not who has the superior stamina.

The Details

  • Stamina and energy. There’s no point taking your opponent into deep water if you yourself are not a strong swimmer. When the time comes to mount your surge you’ll need enough fuel in the tank to increase your attacks for six to nine minutes of fighting, and if you’ve squandered all your energy during the sapping-your-opponent’s-energy stage then you’ll have nothing left to finish them off. You’ll need to budget your energy expenditure round-by-round accordingly, managing its consumption carefully and minimising wastage.
  • Consistent, steady pressure. For most of the fight you’ll need to maintain a pace consisting of a medium/high work rate, very low intensity, with an aggressive, front-foot mentality. You’re aiming to force your opponent into near-constant exchanges, rather than inconsistently hitting them with flurries of shots – you want to trigger them to punch back. You need to establish a constant, metronome-like rhythm, so both you and your opponent are throwing shots for most of the round. You can use the first round to gauge the level of work rate required to maintain constant pressure – a pace that you can easily keep up for the entire fight – and establish this as your baseline. Keep an eye on your energy level; if you come out of the blocks too fast you’ll peter out too soon, and you’ll need to maintain some energy in reserve for later in the fight.
  • Clinching. Effective clinching is a key component of this strategy, and you should do it as often as possible, utilising the opportunity to lean on your opponent to sap their energy and to wrestle them backward into corral-able ring positions. Ideally you won’t need to use clinches to rest – as this would also give your opponent a chance to take a much-needed breather; you should be well-conditioned enough to not need this.
  • Close range. It’s easier to maintain constant pressure and force your opponent to continuously participate in punch exchanges if you’re at close range, plus it’s also easier to facilitate the clinching part of the strategy. The deep water strategy can still be implemented at long and mid range – but you’ll need to adopt a more aggressive mentality to exert the necessary amount of pressure to stay in-range and keep the exchanges flowing.
  • Body punching. Exclusively target your opponent’s body, to stifle their ability to muster energy and hamper their agility and footwork. If a rogue shot up top opens a nasty cut on their face don’t be tempted to change your targeting; it was just a fluke – stick to the plan.
  • A solid, simple defence. Cover-up often, eschew counterpunches, and force clinches where possible. You’ll need to weather a lot of shots through the fight, so durability is a must. Agility, a strong guard, and a tough chin are required.
  • The surge. When the time is right you’ll need to come out of your corner primed to knock out your opponent. Fatigue should have made recovery difficult for them both during and between rounds, and when you make the decision to overwhelm them you need to be decisive. Increasing your intensity by a single notch and shifting your punch mix one notch toward power shots is often enough to make a difference, although you might want to try adjusting just one of these during the initial surge round – increasing intensity, for instance – and then upping your power shots in the following round. Be warned that once you begin your surge you must not down-shift from it: if you do you’ll give your opponent the recovery time they crave, and all the work you’ve done up to this point will have been for nothing. When you shift gears that’s it for the rest of the fight, which is why we need to time the shift to perfection. A consistent, concentrated assault for more than three rounds is tremendously difficult to maintain, so you’re aiming to get your opponent out of there within nine minutes of initiating your attack.

The Counter-Strategy

Assuming that your opponent has all the necessary traits of a deep water fighter (they’re fit, durable and defensively compact) you’re unlikely to be able to knock them out, so taking them the full distance and winning on points is the usual path to victory. Their strategy is to exhaust you, thus your strategy is not to get exhausted – you must find time to rest during the fight, which means you will need to tactically give your opponent rounds, which he won’t be expecting (or even wanting) to win.

Let’s say it’s a twelve round championship fight, and things go by the script: your opponent clinches, body punches, and forces you to maintain a constant, steady work rate just to fend him off, and through this you win the first four rounds. Take round five off – curtail your offences in their entirety, rest, and give your opponent the round. Take round six as before, then give them rounds seven and eight – and when you rest you must commit to it: throw nothing back, not even counterpunches, just grab, hold, cover-up, run and evade. Winning the fight depends on your ability to rest whilst remaining defensively secure.

At this stage you’ll be up on the scorecards by five rounds to three, and your opponent now has a decision to make: I didn’t plan to be in this position – there are just two rounds between us. Should I push myself to close the gap and aim for a decision victory? This would mean abandoning their initial deep water strategy, and if they do then the ring is yours; you’re the better boxer, and you shouldn’t have expended too much energy getting to this point, so taking two of the following four rounds ought to be perfectly feasible: you’ll win the fight seven rounds to five.

If your opponent sticks to their plan and doesn’t abandon the deep water strategy then you should continue as before: take round nine. Your opponent now has to win the final three rounds just to draw the fight, so the decision victory is off the table (barring knockdowns). They’ll need to begin their surge around now, to give themselves enough time to pile on the pressure and knock you out. Give them round ten, then take eleven, and finally armour up to weather the storm in round twelve. Hopefully, if you’ve rested consistently and managed your energy expenditure correctly, you’ll be able to survive and the fight is yours: seven rounds to five.

The Origins of LEATHER: Tactical Boxing Management

I fantasised about making a tactical boxing management video game for years, after a childhood containing fond memories playing Barry McGuigan World Championship Boxing on the Commodore 64, and World Championship Boxing Manager on the ZX Spectrum. I also loved Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing on the Sega Mega Drive, but it wasn’t until the late ‘90s when I started learning to code at 6th form college, and thoughts of building my own boxing video game began to surface.

Fast-forward many years, and during an overnight hospital stay in December 2008 I watched a repeat broadcast of the De La Hoya vs. Pacquiao fight, which had been contested a couple of weeks before. I so thoroughly enjoyed the fight that I resolved to get motivated and finally start work on a boxing game…

…But alas, it was several more years before I finally mustered the time and motivation to make a start. I was between jobs at the beginning of 2014, and I began prototyping some logic for a fight engine in the April, using Microsoft Excel and VBA as a rapid prototyping environment (with Excel your canvas is already there; you don’t have to worry about messing around with any visuals – I just altered some columns to make some square cells, surrounded it with a solid black border, et voila: there’s the ring. I could also spew some numbers into neighbouring cells to monitor what was supposed to be happening in the data behind it, to give me a real-time read-out). To begin it was just two squares moving around one another, maintaining distance – there was no punching logic yet, just a couple of boxes circling, approaching and retreating.

After a few weeks of work I decided my basic fight engine concept had legs, so I migrated the code to a C# Windows Forms application. These were still very early days, where I hadn’t nailed down exactly what values would describe each boxer’s skills, and for me this is where the core of the game is: the ringcraft attributes. Originally each boxer had about 25 different ability values, including a level of granularity for each punch down to the level of “Left Hook Accuracy”, “Left Hook Hand Speed”, and “Left Hook Power”, but this didn’t really work; I wanted players to be able to take a look at a boxer’s profile and be able to visually parse, in just a few seconds, what the boxer was “all about”. With multiple stats for each punch, plus many other attributes that on the face of it are very similar, it became impossible to easily evaluate a boxer’s abilities; you just got lost in the numbers. So over several months I boiled down the ringcraft abilities – merging some, abandoning others – to eventually arrive at the final fourteen each boxer in LEATHER® has today.

Many, many months of work went into the fight engine, which got to about 80% of what it is today before I decided “this is done, for now”. In the middle of this fight engine development process I spent an entire calendar year, 2015, not touching the code once – I just didn’t have time, what with the pressures of a day-job and a house move. In 2016 I redoubled my efforts, finished off the fight engine prototype, and then starting work on the next prototype, on what I call the “Landscape Engine” – basically the career world the boxers live in: the rankings, challenges, titles, weight division changes, training, retirements, etc. Everything that happens when you click “CONTINUE GAME” is the Landscape Engine.

I built this second prototype as a locally hosted web application, as I could rapidly produce the many different game screens in HTML/CSS than I could by dragging and dropping controls in a Windows Forms application. I would spend many a long day just clicking CONTINUE GAME, and stepping through the code to see what was actually happening, tweaking numbers by miniscule amounts, just to get the feel right. By trial and error I had to discover and fix some weird issues, which with hindsight seem obvious, but when wrestling with the logic you can’t see the wood for the trees. For instance; as boxers were more likely to move up weight divisions than down (the logical result of age-related body mass increase), there was a glacial movement effect on the population of the lower divisions – the Strawweight division became a ghost town containing just a handful of young prospects, as boxers decided to move up when they reached a decent level, but few boxers came down to replace them. At the other end of the scale, the Heavyweight ranks swelled to over 100 boxers, being the terminus for boxers progressing their careers to their absolute weight limit. At this stage of the prototype there were no enforced limits for the divisions, no reactive re-population of sparse ones with an influx of amateurs, and no discouragement to prevent divisions from getting excessively full – I basically let the game run, then checked on it after a few years to see what the outcome was; it was enthralling.

Obviously this wouldn’t work in practise, so I added various little nudges – nothing prescriptive; the boxers still needed to follow their own minds and make their own egregious mistakes (the game world still needed to throw up some surprises: John Smith’s clearly endangering his unbeaten record by jumping up two weight divisions from Welterweight to Middleweight…what is he thinking? Good luck to him though), but I added little buffers to ensure each division retained a balance, and made sure the game universe would never grow out of control, which was especially important seeing that I always intended the game to be released on mobile devices first and foremost: 17 x 100 boxer weight divisions would slow number-crunching to a crawl on most Android and iOS devices. People don’t like playing games that are basically just loading screens; I know this first-hand from the days of the Commodore 64, so there needed to be limits to prevent each player’s unique game universe from swelling out of control.

I now had two prototypes: one for the fight engine and one for the world engine – it was time to actually begin slotting all this together. In February 2017 I got off the fence and decided to use Xamarin Forms as the platform on which to build LEATHER®. Microsoft had recently purchased the Xamarin company and folded it into the Visual Studio developer offering, which was a wonderfully well-timed occurrence as it presented something that would permit cross-platform mobile development in a programming language with which I was already comfortable: I could assemble one codebase, and from this spit-out apps for both Android and iOS, leveraging my existing knowledge of C#. This was brilliantly fortunate: the alternative platforms presented both cost and performance restrictions for which I just couldn’t budget.

It took almost eighteen months to assemble the first production release of LEATHER® – I’d never delved into Xamarin Forms before, so every day presented its own unique challenges – but despite numerous setbacks I finally released LEATHER® for Android on the Google Play Store in July 2018. With zero advertising I somehow managed to receive my first sale within the first couple of days. Bugfixes and feature updates quickly followed, and the game evolved rapidly – visuals changed, a new logo, a change to the subtitle…and finally over a year later, in September 2019 I released the iOS version on Apple’s App Store.

Cue huge relief: I’d managed to release a cross-platform boxing management game, almost 20 years in the making, and sales were healthy – not instant-retirement worthy, but healthy enough to show promise for the future. This sounds like my job is done, but it is certainly not; there is always clamour for new features, the to-do list of things I’d like to add grows constantly, and there’s the dark shadow of a PC version stretching over me, requiring a mammoth amount of research to see if I can create this from the same lone codebase I’ve spent so long crafting.

Was (and is) all this effort worth it? Yes, yes it is…I think. I’ve augmented my C.V. with a huge number of new skills, and the sheer satisfaction of having created a game that people love and are playing every day is unparalleled in my 20 year software engineering career. But I do have to admit that, if I could go back in time to April 2014, having known the enormous sustained effort that this project would require, I probably wouldn’t have started it in the first place. It’s been a long, hard slog, and it isn’t done yet. 

Explaining the Difficulty Options

The game difficulty setting can be found on the Options screen, off the LEATHER®’s Main Menu. The difficulty refers to the challenge presented by your CPU opponent within each fight.

It’s always annoying when video games increase opponent difficulty artificially – typically with secret magic attribute bonuses. We’ve built the difficulty settings in LEATHER® in a better way: When you increase the difficulty from Easy to Moderate or Hard, behind the scenes your CPU opponent receives no artificial attribute boosts: the difficulty they pose is all down to the quality of the fightplan they formulate before each round.

On Easy, CPU boxers are much less aggressive, tending not to exert as much pressure on you as a Hard level opponent would. They’ll target head and body more evenly, and tend not to alter their strategy that much as the fight progresses. On Hard, CPU boxers will tailor and alter their overall aggressiveness much more dynamically. Moderate level difficulty falls between these two extremes.

For example, on Hard, if you’re soundly beating your CPU opponent in a 12 round bout he might get through round 6 and think: “I’m losing this fight, it’s time I upped my game”. Thus for the 7th round he’ll raise his work rate, or his intensity, or his aggressiveness, or even close the range slightly – or any combination of this kind of thing, to try to exert more pressure. At the other end of the spectrum, in that same situation the Easy difficulty level boxer might get to round 11 or 12 before arriving at that decision (when it’s clearly too late to turn the fight around) and will then only tweak their fightplan slightly (probably not enough to make any real impact).

Overall, Easy opponents will often seem to be just trying to survive bouts, rather than win, and are much less responsive to how a fight is progressing. Hard level opponents select their range better, adjust their aggressiveness better, will choose to target injuries to force TKOs, and will generally adjust their fightplan better as the fight progresses; they’ll target weakness, whilst attempting to mitigate their own.

The Uberman Problem

We’re in the long run-up to LEATHER®’s release, and all major game elements are complete. We’re currently in a phase of playtesting and fine tuning certain aspects, and there’s one area we’re keeping a close eye on: the rise of ubermen.

We’re using the term “ubermen” to describe superhuman boxers who are so rock solid in every aspect that they dominate a weight division for match after match, year after year, destroying all aspirations of world championship glory for any boxer beneath them in the rankings. They’re not just good – they’re unrealistically good.

Because LEATHER® simulates several years of action before the player steps into the game, we have no direct control on the development of boxers within the game, as they challenge other boxers, complete training camps and participate in bouts. Ideally the rankings in each weight division should contain a gradation of talent, so there’s a feeling of difficulty progression as boxers rise through the ranks.

But in the reality of the simulation that’s not how things always go. A recent playtest produced a colourful mix of boxers. Take a look at this guy:

An absolute beast, no? This guy has held the world heavyweight championship crown for 14 years. Plus he’s a southpaw, adding further misery to his opponents. No one beneath him in the rankings is even close to this level. The heavyweight number 2…

…is a solid contender, but has found himself a hostage to circumstance, and has been knocked from pillar to post by the uberman many times.

For comparison, to illustrate the different ways boxers develop, down at welterweight the world champion is an excellent boxer, but at a more realistic level:

This guy is beatable; he’s not an uberman. His prospective challengers are of a similar level, producing genuinely competitive title defences. From a human player perspective you can envisage building a young prospect to give him a run for his money (if he doesn’t retire in the interim – it’ll probably take a couple of years to get a youngster into a position worthy of a title shot, and this guy would be 38 by then).

So we’re tweaking things here and there, simulating a few years of careers and combat, and checking the result. To tell you the truth we’re not dead set against the concept of ubermen; LEATHER® can equally produce absolutely abysmal paper-champions, who have had an easy route to glory and in no-way deserve their honours, and are begging to be dethroned. There’s two sides to the coin, and it may well come down to it that the ubermen are a welcome occurrence, to provide the toughest of challenges within a game of infinite possibilities.

Simulating Unique Game States

When a player creates a new game in LEATHER® a number of years of boxing action are simulated, to provide a unique game state for the player to launch his gym into. No two games will be alike, as each challenge, result, retirement and weight division shift is generated afresh each time, with a whole new set of starting “seed” boxers.

For our first attempt at seeding the history, we ran the game for 100 years, before throwing ourselves into the action. This produced a game with a rich and varied history: The 1950s provided a creaky 18 stone campaigner of 44 battling to his 5th crowning as world heavyweight champion, and the 1970s produced a welterweight champion who relinquished the belt to drop to light welterweight – winning the title and reigning for 5 defences before rising again to welterweight, re-winning the championship and then again dropping to light welterweight for a second successful tilt at that title (ultimately finishing his career at Super Middleweight when Old Father Time caught up with him).

The 100 years of pre-simulated action was a treasure trove of fabricated boxing riches, but it was unfeasible in practice: it simply takes too long to compute that number of years of boxing history, and human beings just aren’t willing to hunch over their phones and tablets waiting for a fresh new game of LEATHER® to build itself over hours and hours.

So we’re experimenting with different time periods, and we’re currently testing 10, 15 and 20 years of pre-computed history. But these too might be unnecessarily long, and we have feeling that 5 years might be all that’s needed to produce an interesting and fresh game.

We’ll find out soon enough. The release date is scheduled for the end of June, and we’re pulling out all the stops to be ready for then.

Boxer Ringcraft Attributes Explained

We’ve received a lot of questions asking for explanations of the 14 ringcraft attributes that boxers in LEATHER® possess. Rather than keep answering these emails one at a time it makes much more sense to write a blog post on this, so here we go.


Governs a boxer’s capacity to muster energy. Boxers with superior Stamina expend less energy when punching, and recover energy faster when resting during and between rounds.


Governs a boxer’s hand/eye coordination. Boxers with superior Dexterity can utilise their full strength with their non-dominant arm, and are better at coupling together punches with an economy of effort. They are also adept at initiating clinches.


Governs a boxer’s upper-body movement and suppleness. Boxers with superior Agility are confident with a proactive defence when boxing off the front foot: bobbing, weaving, slipping and rolling incoming shots at all ranges. They are defensively slippery, making them difficult to grasp onto in clinches.


Governs a boxer’s instinctive reactions, translating speed of thought into action. Boxers with superior Reflexes are confident with a reactive defence when boxing off the back foot: seeing incoming shots and dodging out of their path at long and mid ranges. Their fast reactions also allow them to fire counterpunches more effectively, and land shots on moving targets.

Hand Speed

Governs a boxer’s rapidity when punching with either hand. Boxers with superior Hand Speed can form larger punch combinations, and are better equipped to land punches against elusive fighters and when counterpunching aggressively.


Governs a boxer’s power with their arms, torso and legs. Boxers with superior Strength will cause more damage with their punches. Within clinches they are better at wrestling opponents backward, and are able to stand their ground more staunchly when on the receiving end of this tactic.


Governs a boxer’s capacity to shrug off damage. Boxers with superior Toughness absorb blows to the head and body with less effect, and recover Consciousness and Core faster when resting during and between rounds.


Governs a boxer’s movement, body positioning and centre of gravity. Boxers with superior Footwork are better able to exploit opponents’ missed punches and counter successfully, and follow-up their own punches with swift movement. When boxing at long range good Footwork allows longer-armed fighters to exert their reach advantage, and for shorter-armed fighters to overcome their reach disadvantage.


Governs a boxer’s knowledge and composure, indicating how well versed they are in the tactical principles of the sport. Boxers with superior Cunning possess better positional awareness: they are adept at cutting off the ring to corral opponents, and avoid being backed onto the ropes themselves. They use their wiliness to prolong the duration of clinches they’ve initiated, and are better at landing accurate counterpunches.


Governs a boxer’s ability to block, parry and deflect incoming punches using their hands and arms. Boxers with superior Guarding are well versed in concealing vulnerable target areas, maximising arm coverage and solidity to shield themselves from attack, both proactively and reactively. They are defensively compact, thus difficult to grasp onto in clinches.


Governs a boxer’s technique when throwing jabs. Boxers with a superior Jab throw better timed shots, producing a more accurate and effective punch to penetrate an opponent’s guard. They are also better at feinting with jabs, drawing out their opponent’s defence to expose target areas.


Governs a boxer’s technique when throwing crosses. Boxers with a superior Cross throw better timed shots, producing a more accurate and effective punch to penetrate an opponent’s guard. They are also better at feinting with crosses, drawing out their opponent’s defence to expose target areas.


Governs a boxer’s technique when throwing hooks. Boxers with a superior Hook throw better timed shots, producing a more accurate and effective punch to penetrate an opponent’s guard. They are also better at feinting with hooks, drawing out their opponent’s defence to expose target areas.


Governs a boxer’s technique when throwing uppercuts. Boxers with a superior Uppercut throw better timed shots, producing a more accurate and effective punch to penetrate an opponent’s guard. They are also better at feinting with uppercuts, drawing out their opponent’s defence to expose target areas.

…additionally…this next one is not technically a ringcraft attribute, but it’s important nonetheless:


Refers to a boxer’s overall physical and mental condition. It will be depleted after every fight, so it’s important to allow it to replenish before the next bout, else your boxer’s overall ability will be impaired.

Frequently Asked Questions

What weight divisions are included?

All 17 universally recognised professional weight divisions are included, from Strawweight to Heavyweight in the men’s divisions, and Atomweight to Heavyweight for women.

Do I directly control my boxers during fights?

LEATHER® is a tactical boxing management simulation – as the manager your direct involvement ends at the ring ropes; but its your strategic and tactical nous that informs the fight plan your boxer follows each round. Ultimately your judgement determines whether they win or lose.

Can I customise my boxers?

You sure can: you’re free to rename your gym’s boxers, change their nationality and bestow a suitable menacing nickname upon them.

Are real-world boxers included?

LEATHER® contains no real-world boxers; each game has a unique boxing history, simulated for each game, providing a different starting point each time.

I don’t know much about boxing, will I struggle?

Boxing is an intricate sport, but in LEATHER® you’re never on your own; there’s help throughout the game. When fight time comes the stock fight plans will get you up to speed while you’re learning the ropes.

Are there in-app purchases?

Nope: nobody gets milked with pay-to-win promotions, or bombarded with advertisements.