Quality of preparation and personal safety in Boxing

Last night I watched an amateur boxing fight just outside Cambridge and I was surprised and disappointed by the low quality of the technique in the majority of the fighters.  This post is not about me being disrespectful toward those young men that had enough courage to wear their gloves and enter the ring but more as a criticism toward coaches that dare sending inexperienced fighters to fight in a potentially very dangerous sport.

Boxing is a full contact fighting sport: this means that regardless the safety measures imposed by referee and judges each strike is meant to be thrown and hit at maximum power.  Considering that the preferred target for most strikes is the face and the side of the head it is obvious that damages and injuries are likely and frequent.

In more than one occasion, during last night’s 11 bouts fighters were bleeding, the referee was counting because they were loosing it and in two cases it was a clear knock out.  In fact since the beginning of one of the fights it was pretty obvious that the two guys had no idea about how technique should be and, apart from wearing gloves and shorts, they were pretty much fighting like in any street brawl on a Saturday night.  The referee even stopped the fight at some point in the second round to indicate that swinging punching like a bar fighter was not the way to go: just about 5 seconds after I made a comment about the fact that if one of those uncontrolled punched connected it would have been a KO when it just happened, bang.  The boxer fell on his side, unconscious and did not move at all for several seconds: referee and medical officer intervened and helped him recovering.  When he regained consciousness he was looking around with the typical expression of who doesn’t know where he is.

Perhaps I am from a dated, maybe even out of date, school and I value my students’ safety above anything.  Perhaps it is the fact that, in our case, when kicks are also used damages can be even worse: in any case I am pretty sure that I would have not put most of those fighters in a ring given their actual level of experience.  Fighting is not about being tough and fighting like a man: it’s about reaching the right level of preparation and quality of technique and having enough experience to avoid being slaughtered.

The dilemma between technique and toughness in fighting sports

We define combat sport a sport application or expression of a martial art where we set and impose rules to limit and control the amount of damage that can be inflicted to the opponent.

Ranging from contactless Karate tournament, via Boxing and all the way to MMA fighting sports usually assign points to each technique that scores and in many cases contemplate the eventuality of one of the opponent being knocked out (KO) or giving up the fight before the end and accepting defeat.

I am a strong fan of good technique and properly applied guard at all times: high quality technique will be more efficient in terms of using your energy as well as minimising your chance of running out of it.  The guard, as I previously wrote about, will ensure you won’t be hit as often or as hard, reducing the chances for a KO from your opponent as well as minimising the points scored on you.  Most people I am teaching to are buying into this concept and accept that good technique must be there as a foundation to build on the remaining attributes of a winner.  A minority of others, being naturally aggressive and perhaps with a higher pain threshold, they assume they can just get in the ring let the opponent coming forward and aiming at knocking them down before the end of the fight.

From my point of view this is a strategy that is meant to be short lived and not guaranteeing a long career for a winner.  Here are my reasons for it:

  • Knocking somebody down, in a fight where both opponent are well trained and fit sports fighter is a small chance of hitting the right spot at the right time: it doesn’t happen often, particularly if your opponent has proper technique and guard;
  • Regardless how tough you are is just going to be time before you meet somebody tougher, somebody who has higher pain threshold, more adrenaline in their body and don’t go down as you expect;
  • If you are just aiming at the KO strike without a point based strategy two things can happen: you don’t succeed at your KO and the opponent wins because scoring more points or you become victim of your own strategy and get hit hard where it really hurts and get knocked down yourself;
  • Repeated hard strikes in the head cause long term disabilities and injuries so even if it doesn’t hurt now it will cause problems later.

Muhammad Ali was the first boxer that demonstrated that a fight could be won by playing by the rules, not looking for a fast KO but keep scoring on the opponent throughout the fight.  That doesn’t mean being a lower quality fighter but simply someone who is there to win, repeatedly, aiming at the top title.  Another demonstration of what I am stating here was the recent boxing fight of David Haye v Nikolai Valuev: the quality of the show was somehow not there as it can be seen in these videos.  Haye kept moving backward and away from his massive opponent Valuev but as he kept scoring with many, many points at the body, he won the world title.  That was a very well managed fight played strategically from beginning to end with the victory in mind.

I would like to conclude with a simple clarification: good technique is not just meant to look good, it’s meant to be very powerful, fast efficient and effective for the person using it.  At the same time when training for sport fighting you should always bear in mind what the rules are and understanding how you can win by scoring more points.  If the KO is allowed in your discipline and you can finish the fight before it may be a bonus but a good fighter is more likely to win more often than a tough one.

Happy New Year 2010

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