I haven’t been knocked out yet, but I’ve been rocked hard plenty of times in the boxing ring. The only reason they haven’t been knockouts is because when you get hit hard enough to stumble dizzily around or hang off the ropes with a head full of stars, a sparring session will pause until you can recover. In an actual fight, your opponent would swing again and you would go down, without a doubt.
It’s actually pretty important to experience a knockout-strength punch during sparring because you need to be somewhat familiar with how it feels and what happens to your body. With enough preparation and practice you can actually manage pretty well in an incredibly adverse situation.
Once upon a time I would have been horrified to think about – much less experience – a knockout punch. But this is important information to consider if you are going to pursue boxing with any kind of seriousness.
The trick is to convince yourself, with whatever wits you can scrape up, that you must and will keep fighting. Periodically when Bonnie would rock me hard she would coach me through the resulting fog, reminding me to breathe, keep on my feet, and not show how bad I was really feeling. Jay, who hits hard and holds back little, also works with me on this.
I had one of my hardest ever single rounds of sparring recently.
I had already been in the ring for four intense rounds, but had been out while a couple of others got some work in. We had some fighters visiting from another gym, and they were incredibly good. Fast, strong, ferocious. Very polite and easy to talk to, but massively powerful in the ring.
We’d had several incidents of blood and rounds paused because of knockout punching, and even a minor brawl when one young man let his anger at being bested get control of him.
I had already decided, watching them work, that I wasn’t interested in sparring either of the two power players. I was filled with mixed feelings; wanting to have a chance, but also thinking that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to hold my own. And I’m still a bit new at looking after myself in the ring – getting out mid-round if I need to, or telling someone in very strong language to lay off the heat.
But midway through the session there was an odd pause between rounds, and all eyes fell on me. I looked up to see one of the visitors – Reggie, a peer coach from a gym called Second Round – bouncing in the ring, waiting for another opponent. Our team’s coach tipped his head toward me. “You’re in,” he said.
I groaned and closed my eyes briefly. Then I sucked in a deep breath and pretended to be nonchalant. I slipped my mouthguard back in and climbed up on the ring apron and ducked under the ropes.
We waited on the bell and I did a mental check-over. I was warm, the normal boxing jitters had been dispersed by my first 4 rounds. Well, until 10 seconds ago. But I’d rested a few rounds. My body felt okay, even though I’d had an 8 round sparring session two days before and a 4 mile run the day previous. No serious strain anywhere, I thought. All systems go.
“Let’s do it,” I said, as the bell rang and he surged forward to bang down my glove in the boxer’s salute.
He stayed in my range as we circled, so I accepted the opening and fired off a rapid series of testing jabs. He sent them back with incredible speed, but didn’t dance out. So I slammed in my first combination, putting the bulk of my power behind it: one-one-one-TWO, slip to avoid the returning punch.
A grin bloomed on Reggie’s face. “That’s some shit!” he crowed. “I like that shit! Bring it on.”
I couldn’t supress my own grin, even as I bobbed under his jab and set up a left hook-jab-two combination. All my power was loose and available in my body; I could feel it thrumming in response to the challenge – a race car fully fueled, warm, and accelerating.
Reggie stayed in range.
We began to exchange a furious series of punches; I’m not sure I’ve ever worked so hard and fast. My feet and head seemed willing to move for me so that my brain was free to formulate strategy. His shots were hard, but so were mine. A minute into the round he commented, perhaps with a bit of surprise, “You kinda loading up, aren’t you?”
I was in full-on kickass mode. “Too much for you?” I inquired, slamming him with a double right power shot. He slipped the first, but the second clipped him nicely above the eye.
“That is some shit,” he called happily, and we bent to our work.
The best thing about working with him was not only that he made me fight my absolute best, but also that he didn’t hold back too much on me. He let me have it, but it wasn’t more than I could take. And even better, he didn’t stay constantly out of my range. Sometimes a superior boxer will simply not allow the less experienced fighter to land a punch. It’s exhausting for the newer person, and irritating as well. You want to get work in the ring, not run a race.
With a minute to go he landed the mother of all rights to my unguarded chin. It powered straight through in a split second. I didn’t slip it even a little bit, but took the full brunt of the knockout punch. My head spun to the right and my body followed. I staggered toward the ropes, and muzzily heard him saying over and over, “My bad, my bad.” I felt his two muscular arms wrap around my waist and hold me upright.
I struggled to find my balance, but with him holding me up, my body could coast while I worked to clear my head. Slowly the world quit swinging madly from side to side and the grey mist cleared. I pushed him off me irritably. “I wanna finish,” I slurred. “Just gimme a second.”
He withdrew to a respectful distance and I made myself walk the ropes, straight line, straight line, to my corner. Everything was shockingly silent. I felt like I was wrapped in wool batting, but I also felt pissed, and I was hungry for the rest of my round.
I shook my head gently to clear it, and motioned with my glove for him to engage. He nodded solemnly, put up his guard, and stood his ground. He was going to give me some free shots in payment.
So I launched every bomb in my arsenal, as fast and as hard as I could. He shouted encouragement and sent out a handful of combinations, careful with his power. His shots increased in intensity as my own faded. The thirty second bell rang.
My feet gave up before my arms did, so I shoved him into the corner, pinned his shoulders and laid into his midsection. I began to hear calls from ringside, my teammates getting into the action and eager for the hard and bloody finish. I drove my fist savagely toward his liver and heard him grunt; I felt a surge of satisfaction. He was banging me with short, ineffective punches to the head and shoulders, but I refused to give up the dominant position. He didn’t use his weight to push me off and pivot out of the corner, although I know he could have.
The bell sounded, and I had my victory. I staggered off of him, but he came toward me and threw his arms around me in a fierce hug.
“That was some good shit, I’m telling you!” he shouted.
Image by JD Hancock on Flickr.