Being exceptionally tall has many advantages, but what about when it comes to sporting endeavour, in particular when it comes to combat sports. So just what are the plus and minus points of height when it comes to boxing, wrestling, mixed martial arts etc. How can a competitor use extra height to gain a competitive advantage over an opponent who has a different physical make up.
Let’s look at the key attributes of the taller sports person. First and foremost is the ability to reach and step further. Being taller implies longer arms and legs, in turn meaning longer reach ability and longer stride ability. This is a tremendous advantage in many sports, but in particular combat sports. In most fight type sports the ability to strike your opponent and not get hit is the key to winning. Using a superior reach is the most common way to do this. If for example in boxing, the taller boxer has the ability to keep the fight at long distance i.e. both boxers are always separated by a distance that allows the taller boxer to land his punches, but the smaller boxer keeps falling just short with his punches, the taller boxer must win. This is easier said than done. Mike Tyson would be a classic example of a relatively small boxer who regularly defeated opponents much taller than him. Tyson, in his younger days, had enough power and strength to close the distance to his opponents, by stepping inside and often through punches, to land his own punches, usually with devastating effect. Thomas Hearns would be a classic case of a tall boxer, usually fighting much smaller men. His fights against Hagler, Hearns and Duran during the eighties are classic tall fighter versus smaller fighter match ups. Things didn’t always go his way in all those fights, but he was against some of the best middle weights of any generation.
A sport such as Wrestling (Olympic, not the staged WW whatever events) is a typical case of being tall not being such a big advantage. In fact shorter levers, a more compact powerful physique and excellent balance is 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 such as UFC demonstrates the advantage the taller combatant has when the fight is in a standing and striking mode. But this advantage is usually negated when the contest develops into a grappling style fight, on the ground.
Like many things in life, being tall has many advantages. Being tall in combat sports is no different.