Thursday night is sparring night in our gym. Not everyone gets to spar; only the boxers who have been showing up regularly, putting in hard work, listening to the coach, and proving that they want to move up are invited into the ring.
But all that doesn’t guarantee a good sparring performance. I’m always fascinated about the ways our coach, Willie “One Bad Jab” Massey subtly rewards the boxers who give him what he’s looking for…
Last night there was a huge crowd; it seems like boxers come in waves to the program at Second Round, and we seem to be in the midst of a heavy influx. I counted four young women (ages 12 to 17, I’d guess), which is fairly unusual; and we don’t have a high retention rate for females.
So I was surprised when it came time for sparring, when Coach Massey pulled about 6 guys (all of whom I’d seen in the ring before)…and a young woman from the crowd.
Our gym typically spars the youngest or newest fighters first, and since the young woman was new, the coach didn’t put her in headgear, just gloved her up and put her in to work offense only with me. I noticed that two of the other girls pushed up through the crowd of guys to watch at the ring side.
Good: A straight, clean jab to the face (and body)
She had a completely respectable jab. It was straight, fully extended, and powerful. But even though we are about the same height, her first shots were aimed at my gloves and shoulders. “Punch to my face,” I told her over my mouthpiece, and she raised her eyebrows, hesitated a moment, then fired an easy one. I turned it neatly in the palm of my glove and nodded. “Yep,” I said, “Again.”
As she began to realize I could avoid all her punches, she gained confidence. Punches began to smack as I turned each one, and a few didn’t make any sound when I began to add slips to my defense.
Good: Throwing shots with varied timing, doubles
She started out a bit predictable, her shots coming at me as if they were being fired by the second hand on a clock, but again, once I told her to vary her timing, she immediately adapted, which gave me a rush of satisfaction.
And she didn’t immediately forget, either. I saw the coach starting to notice her from the side of the ring. “Double the jab,” he said, and after a few tries, she delivered. The tendency, when you’re new, is to not know that you have to bring the jab back to your face before shooting again — you try to throw once, tap twice, and it doesn’t work for a beginner. She fumbled the first few, but then got a double going.
Good: Finding and maintaining the right range
I realized she could do more, and I began to add footwork to my defense. She was a bit too squared up (most new boxers are), but I began to pivot and shift, forcing her to come to me to land her shots.
The first step in starting to move around the ring with a sparring partner is learning how much room you need to land a shot on your opponent. Some shots fall short, some are smothered (if your opponent drives in); you have to find just the right range and work it. She had a pretty decent sense of range for a beginner, and I could tell more would come quickly.
Once I turned on a little footwork gas, she ended up doing a fair amount of chasing me around the ring, but learning to “cut off the ring” will come later as well. She had basics, and she had…
Good: Sufficient cardio for at least 1-2 rounds in a row
It’s not at all unusual to think you have enough gas for a single round of boxing, and be dead wrong. Boxing demands anaerobic capacity, which is only developed with sprint training. That might be running sprints, but it can also be sprints flipping a tire, or doing kettlebells, hill cycling, or any exercise where you can get to your max heart rate and go for 2 or 3 minutes, then recover in 30 seconds and go again.
This young woman stuck it out for two rounds before rolling out, and I think she had another one in her. Of course, being on offense only is a bit easier, but even so, her ability to work until the bell sounded was reassuring.
I’ll look forward to seeing her back in the ring again, and I’ll hope that the other new girls will learn from her example.
After she and I did a couple of rounds, and I worked a few more with two other boxers, I rolled out and let a couple of brawlers in.
There are so many reasons why we decide to roll under the ropes, and ego is often a part of it. But mix ego with bad technique (or no technique), and you typically end up with a brawl. We don’t always have two brawlers in the ring, but just one is enough to make a mess of the round.
And the unfortunate truth is that the brawler often won’t listen to instruction, which means our coach probably won’t waste much energy trying to teach him. Which is a shame, because that leaves the brawler in the same low position in the gym and ring, not improving his boxing.
Here’s what you typically see in a brawler:
- Superman-style punch launches, where both feet come off the ground
- Off-balance fighting, sometimes falling to the canvas
- Illegal shots to the back of the head
- Lengthy clinching, sometimes with with knees thrown
- Sloppy, slappy shots with wide, windmilling arms
Sometimes you get profanity too, when a brawler feels he can’t get the better of someone. We don’t hear too much of that at my gym because Coach Massey will shut down the offenders pretty quickly, and he’s not prone to let them box again if they can’t control themselves.
I don’t often get in with beginner brawlers, and prefer instead to let the big, experienced boxers take them on. But you don’t always have that, so sometimes you just end up with a mess. And, it’s there in pretty much every boxing gym you’ll ever be a part of.
Interestingly, there ARE great boxers who are good at what they call brawling. But you’ll not see the messy stuff in the list above in their style. Instead, you’ll simply see an agressive, powerful, sometimes non-technical match — it can be incredibly exciting to watch.
What about you?
What do you see in your gym? Leave me a comment and tell me about what it was like when you started, or boxers and brawlers you’ve seen in the ring…