A new sparring partner can open up great swaths of unexplored territory in boxing.
I am an active recruiter of female boxers in my gym; I try not to be a total vulture, but I do watch to see who is training hard and I try my best to create an opportunity to talk to them about training with our boxing team. Most women refuse outright. A few are willing to chat about it, and a couple have have shown up once or twice. There just aren’t many women who want to get in the ring.
So I poached someone from the MMA group.
I had mostly seen her training on weights; her biceps are like two pistols strapped to her arms. And I was impressed at her willingness to grapple with the exclusively male crew that trains in Brazilian Ju Jitsu and other martial arts. She is younger than I am (aren’t they all), but looked close to my weight category, and seemed dedicated to her training.
After a couple of weeks of conversations, she showed up for boxing team and Friday night we finally had the chance to get in the ring together.
Right off the bell I noticed that she was more accustomed to working without intent to actually hit, and my initial combination seemed to surprise her. Even though I was working with control, it wasn’t the level of power she was expecting. One of her contacts got popped out by my first straight right, and everything skidded to a halt. I flashed back to the last time I was in this situation and accidentally bloodied the nose of a new recruit, and I swore and mentally banged my head against a wall for not starting out slower; that first time in the ring can be such a delicate dance, and only a certain type of woman (or man, for that matter) will cross that border, see the territory, and be interested in staying to explore it. But my fears were unproven; she took a minute to recover and was game to continue, even with the skewed depth perception I know she was dealing with. I breathed a sigh of relief and we went to work.
My first suprise was how many of my punches she successfully blocked. She tended to hold her guard extremely high with the palms of both gloves facing out towards me. I spent a fair amount of time trying to punch through her gloves, and later my trainer chastized me for taking the bait and headhunting rather than going for the body shots.
I was also profoundly aware that with each shot she threw, she was loading a kick and having to hold herself back from throwing it. She switched her stance back and forth and our movement in the ring felt awkward. She finally defaulted to backing up as I advanced – never a solid practice in boxing – and Bonnie stopped her and pointed it out. I also suck at moving in the ring; my only real tactic is to constantly advance, and once she stopped backing up and starting getting the angles I had to work harder, which both pleased and irritated me and made our match better.
While my punch count was higher, I was dismayed at how few jabs landed: she stayed just outside of my reach when she could, and kept a loaded overhand right ready to return the instant my left was deployed. I took a few out-of-the-zone hits to the head at first from that right, but with some ringside coaching – which I heard but didn’t employ defense in response to – her rights started coming straight down the pipe and I started taking them on the temple and chin. They consistently snapped my head to the side, clean and hard. It took me the first four rounds to learn the lesson, a point that was not lost on my partner. But I’m pleased to add that while I am slow, I’m not a complete idiot; I did start ducking under those rights and clipping her ear with my left hook in the fifth. Better late than never.
She was also a slow learner in her own way: it was not until the fourth round that she quit apologizing for landing those rights. What is it with us women? We should all get in the boxing ring at about age 5 and start beating this ridiculous habit out of one another before it gets so deeply rooted. Seriously.
Speaking of ingrained, my partner was even more of a talker in the ring than I am. I tend to talk a little bit, but most men don’t speak at all in the ring unless they are throwing dirt around and egging you on. There’s only one guy in our gym who would rather talk than box; I can barely work up a sweat if we have to work together; I would rather practice a move than discuss it. This woman was perfectly willing to box and talk, and I didn’t mind so long as we kept circling and throwing. Our coaches weren’t paying that much attention to us (there were beginners on the bags that they were working with at the same time my partner and I were in the ring) and in the absence of a stream of instruction we coached ourselves through those first awkward rounds. I think both trainers told us to stop talking at least once, but a good sparring partner is so hard to find I mostly ignored their censure.
So it was slightly bumpy but overall a very good experience; and although she seems pretty dedicated to MMA, I have high hopes that she will return to the ring with me now and then. I think we have some real potential together.