I’m making my way back from the Christmas holiday slouch – a much-needed break – and I’m doing okay. And the first challenge of the new year was sparring with a group of young men from the UNC boxing team (yep, they have a boxing team! No women, though.), who joined us recently at the gym.
Sparring with the UNC Team
It is admittedly nerve-wracking, having a bunch of big, muscled, fit young college men show up at your ring. You never know how all-out the mix-up will be. The first time I ever experienced this I completely bailed out, the level of testosterone and terror was so high.
And that’s precisely what happened for our younger and newer team members. This time, though, I was determined to stick in there.
The UNC guys came in with almost no entourage and a good attitude, joining in our warm-ups, joking and friendly. And even though there were some politics and a small amount of drama involved, we had some good sparring together.
Sparring with the Second Round Team
So I was feeling much better when a week later, another boxing team showed up at our gym unexpectedly (detail mix-up) for sparring. This team’s rather extensive entourage arrived before they did, and it completely set us all off guard. We eventually learned that this was the team we were expecting to meet the next morning at another location for a three-gym sparring session.
But, given that our two gyms were here on the night before, we did our best, and amazingly (given my discomfort and nerves), I boxed well that night. I worked primarily with my own team mates, but also did three rounds with one of their up-and-coming young female boxers, as well as a very memorable round with their 6-time national champion Olympic hopeful (male).
I was confident and strong, and I went home at 9:30 pm, showered, changed, and went out to for a few drinks and some local rock music with my husband.
The next morning he woke up with a fever. One of our sons had just been sick, and so I braced myself for the inevitable domino effect to run through my family. And I checked myself constantly – was my headache due to boxing, drinking, sleep deprivation, worry, or was I getting sick too? Was my muscle soreness from the hard workout the night before or did I feel feverish? I had promised to be at the 3-gym sparring session, but was I well enough?
I went anyway. I was nearly an hour late, arriving dehydrated, exhausted, and anxious. Bad mix.
Sparring with Second Round and LA Boxing Raleigh
There were a ton of boxers there, mostly experienced and strong, but a few greener boxers as well. It was probably one of the highlights of my boxing career to date that when I was called into the ring, my coach told me to “hold back” and the opposing coach told their fighter to “go all out.” It’s so rare that I get to be the superior boxer! But I felt like crap, though, and even before the bell rang I knew I was in for a whuppin’.
And I took my licks. The two boxers (both women) that they put in with me were certainly greener, but that didn’t mean they weren’t hitting me with every ounce of power they had. I stumbled once, early on. My feet refused to move. My head refused to think. My gloves rode low and I took hit after hit to the head. Once I was so ungainly that I got head-butted – her head to my chin – and I have a whopping bruise and a sore jaw as a result.
Absolutely 100% of the damage I took was my own damn fault.
I was slow, tired, and unprepared. I am easily the better boxer and yet I let the newer boxers take me down. I barely made it through four rounds. I deserved every bit of my pain, and I’m doing my best to call it a lesson well-learned.
Here’s my recap:
Lesson One: Hard sparring two days in a row is advanced.
If you decide to do it, you need solid cardio, good sleep, no drinking, and plenty of hydration. Eating right is essential. Fuel your body in all the right ways in advance. As one of the coaches ringside said to his miserably flagging fighter, “Anybody can box when they’re in shape.” Avoid the misery. Be ready.
Lesson Two: Sparring with another gym takes a greater toll than sparring with your own team.
People are scared and uncertain and some have things to prove. Everyone fights harder; there’s never “light” sparring. It’s often harder than an actual fight, because you’ll have more rounds and more opponents. Be aware that the next few days you will need to pamper yourself and recover. Also you’ll want ibuprofen.
Lesson Three: Always protect yourself.
If someone is throwing heat in their rounds, you need to be able to tell them to cut that shit out before you start your own rounds with them. Don’t mice words, don’t be polite. Be direct and forceful. I only did it once with the UNC boys, and it was entirely effective. He pulled the heat and after we sounded each other out, he gave me good work.
Yes, your coach or trainer is also looking out for you, but frankly, you should be doing this for yourself. Boxing is a dangerous sport, no lie. It’s also very individual-oriented. There’s no team of players in there with you who can protect you if you falter. You can’t call a time-out and ride the bench for a few minutes – you’re in there until the bell rings. Every boxer has to evaluate the danger and operate within risky boundaries. You don’t want to screw around with this, or leave it to someone else.
Lesson Four: You can learn a shit-ton of new things if you are willing to do it.
The young up-and-comer from the unexpected sparring night was incredibly fierce. She constantly came forward on me, bringing me game. She had a high punch output and made me use a little more power than I should have in order to hold her off of me. I want to work with her again in order to practice blocking more of her shots.
The Olympic hopeful dude was a sheer joy – his coach put him in on defense only with me (which I often hate, as it makes me feel like a baby) but he was so good that I could hardly lay a shot on him. His foot speed was great, but he really shone when he stood still and let me throw combos; his ability to evade my shots with fades, slips, leans, and ducks was amazing. Once I tried to pin him in a clinch and he simply wrapped my arms and turned me neatly 180 degrees with a quick spin. Utterly illegal, completely hilarious. I loved it.
And damn, I can hardly wait to get back with those girls from the three-team day of sparring! One of them was incredibly effective at pinning me to the ropes with her wide hooks. She was shorter than me but she was great at using her extra weight to wear me down. The other was