In this corner with Russ Anber: Stacking the odds


Expert hand-wrapper and Boxing Social columnist Russ Anber gives his take on the ‘stacking’ controversy that erupted online after footage emerged of how Naoya Inoue’s hands were wrapped prior to his fight with Nonito Donaire

There was quite a lot of discussion on social media these last few days after video footage emerged of how Naoya Inoue’s hands were wrapped prior to his bantamweight world championship fight with Nonito Donaire in Saitama, Japan.

As someone who has wrapped fighters’ hands for 40 years, I think I’m qualified to give my take on what was going on.

The first thing to do is establish for people who don’t know what we mean when we say ‘stacking’ with regards a fighter’s hand wraps. Stacking is when you alternate between tape and gauze, tape and gauze and build up the hand wrap around that system and style.

If anyone says there is no advantage to be gained from stacking, then my question is this: why are you doing it?

There’s no doubt if you’re wrapping your hands using stacking then the intention is for the wraps on your hand to resemble a cast, by creating a series of layers which allows you to throw harder, heavier and more thudding blows.

In my professional opinion, you’re opening yourself up to all sorts of problems and ambiguities as soon as you allow any stacking. It’s far easier to say: here’s the gauze, you put that on first; then here’s the tape, that goes on second; and here’s the magic marker that you use to sign off on it. End of story! That’s how you avoid cheating – with a clear and unambiguous approach. Short and sweet and the same for everyone.

Most commissions go with this approach. You can’t stack in New York, I believe. You can’t stack in California, to the best of my knowledge. You also can’t stack in the UK, as far as I know.

But on the evidence of the Inoue-Donaire fight Japan allows it and Nevada also appears to allow it – because Abel Sanchez complained about Canelo’s hands being wrapped like this for his first fight against Gennadiy Golovkin, and was told by the NSAC that it was within their rules. Abel is an old school guy, he knows. In the old days, it was tape, then gauze and that was it.

The reason I disagree with stacking is because it’s impossible to regulate. How do you define it? How do you put a limit on how many levels or times you can stack? Do you say the limit is five or seven times? Or do you put a maximum on the length of tape that can be used – as apparently the bylaws of the Nevada State Athletic Commission do, although how you then monitor that is very problematic.

I’m very surprised that Nevada allow it, to be honest, because I was called by Bob Bennett, former executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission a few years back and he asked me my opinion on stacking. I told him in no uncertain terms that from a legal perspective and from a trainer’s perspective it should not be allowed, because it is a practice that you cannot properly define, regulate and control.

Recently we had a clearcut case of stacking being called out by my good friend Liam Smith. Beefy was representing JJ Metcalf and objected to the stacking style of wraps being used by Kerman Lejarraga in his dressing room. Liam dealt with the situation brilliantly, the officials were called into the dressing room and confirmed that Lejarraga’s hands could not be wrapped in that way. (You can view video of this incident here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZgsuUzetfo)

The simple fact is this: when you wrap your hands in this fashion, when you use stacking, you’re doing it to gain an advantage and that to me is cheating because you’re taking advantage of an opportunity to do greater damage to the opposing fighter. And that bothers me. How much harder you can punch with wraps that are stacked, and how much heavier your punches are we can’t quantify of course. But to me it is still a form of cheating.

Inoue is a fantastic fighter, no doubt about it, and a highly destructive puncher. Does the fact his hand-wraps were stacked place a question mark over his achievements? I wouldn’t go that far, but we can’t measure how much of an extra advantage he would have gained from his hands being wrapped in this way, although I believe there must have been some advantage or his team wouldn’t have done it.

As far as I’m concerned, Inoue shouldn’t have been allowed to stack and under the jurisdiction of many commissions he wouldn’t have been allowed to. I don’t blame the fighters in these cases, I blame the handful of commissions who seem to allow or turn a blind eye to a practice which other commissions are very strict about.

Somebody said online – and I have no idea if this is true – that Donaire requested Inoue’s hands were wrapped like that. My response was this: ‘if the fighters agreed to fight with brass knuckles would you allow that?’

It’s up to the commission to put regulations in place that are clear and sensible and that can be controlled, and stacking is something that cannot be properly controlled so it should not be allowed.

Russ Anber was talking to Luke G. Williams.