I will always remember when I started boxing aged 9 and the unforgettable magic of the gym: I will forever cherish the memories of perfecting the speed ball; the rat-tat-tat of the skipping ropes; learning to punch on the bag and pads, and the advice given by hard-boiled old pugs on how to plan my ascent to greatness.
Like yesterday, I remember my first boxing match aged 10. A gym bout you couldn’t win or lose, but you got a generic newspaper decision against a short, dark-haired Irish kid in London.. I was actually told by my Coach to calm down between the first and second round, so I cruised through the fight until we got our medals.
However, my fondest memory wasn’t of the bout but my socks at the weigh in.
Why are you wearing those socks with holes in? My Dad admonished. They’ll think you’re the village idiot. Don’t worry, Said my Coach Ron, an ex-pro boxer who’s sadly now deceased. It’ll just make him look tougher. My Dad cracked a smile, and I did my best to control the fear pumping battery-acid into my veins over my coming fight. Not surprisingly, my choice of socks wasn’t important to me at all.
From an early age: I’ve read books, articles and have engaged in a plethora of conversations about boxing and one thing has always bugged me. The generation-to-generation, hand-me-down nuggets of boxing wisdom that are never challenged; and have become unquestionable truths. In this article I’m going to explore boxing myths and nonsense teachings, and give my opinion on some very sensitive issues.
Misconception 1: You Can’t Put Muscles on your Chin
I believe this, but I also have a theory that an average person can develop a good chin with specific training.
From my investigations, I’ve noticed the guys with the best chins have thick-set skull structures. Their jaws are meaty, and durable fighters faces are square and solid. To get technical, boxers with more testosterone in their system have better punch resistance. As the male hormone sculpts warrior features onto the face: such as the classic broad eyebrow-ridges, apple cheeks and tungsten jaw combo that’s associated with manliness. So, although, there’s a massive genetic basis to punch resistance; I believe, with intelligent training an average man can develop a good chin. Providing he isn’t ridiculously fragile around the whiskers to start with.
From the information I’ve gathered there’s three effective ways of developing a good beard: training the neck, adding mass and Zen-like mental training.
First off, the neck
Mike Tyson, Ricky Hatton, Floyd Mayweather and a plethora of other professionals train or did train their necks for a reason. The neck acts as a shock absorber for hard punches, and strengthening the musculature around it makes you more difficult to hurt. Although neck training alone wont make a glass-chinned fighter into George Chuvalos tougher brother, it can and does help a lot.
Secondly, adding mass
Why is Nikolay Valuev so durable? Why is the world’s strongest jawed featherweight less durable than every heavyweight on the planet? It’s very simple: The stronger, bigger guys are more difficult to hurt. As weight alone helps a person to absorb hard punches. Particularly for heavyweights; adding solid muscle all around the body helps improve punch resistance with emphasis on the legs; as they are the foundation and must be strong.
George Foreman is a good example; before his comeback he was dropped by Ali, Chuck Wepner, Jimmy Young and Ron Lyle. Big George was never glass jawed, but he could be hurt and often was during his first career in the Heavyweight Golden Age. However, during Foremans comeback he wasn’t dropped once. Obviously, big Georges extra weight and muscle-mass in this illustrious comeback was the cause.
Thirdly, training the mind
Although this is going to make me sound absolutely insane: I think the eastern martial arts hold the key to the mental-side of punch resistance. During Alis peak, the great man was asked by a Kung Fu Master to be punched in the throat. Somehow, the Chinaman persuaded Ali to do it; however, The Greatest couldn’t inflict any damage. Wherever its focus, belief, God or plan old mind-over-matter — some of the advanced martial artists in traditional styles can take inhuman punishment [it’s true, I once saw a Pencack Silat master take an iron bar in the groin!]. Lamon Brewster, for instance, said he used a martial arts technique to absorb blows and he’s very durable. It’s just my opinion, but I think fragile fighters should use the eastern martial arts conditioning techniques to cultivate the physical armoury for the ring.
Misconception 2: Punchers are Born
Everyone’s heard this one: punchers are born not made! Oh, really, says who? In fact, this is boxings biggest lie.
I’m not, not for one second, claiming there’s no such thing as a born puncher: boxing history is stacked with fighters who had natural KO power. Nevertheless, perhaps more so, our great-sports history has many examples of people who developed their power through fastidious practice. Surprisingly, for some, many peoples hardest left hooker of all time later claimed his punch only came through training. His name? The Manassa Mauler!
Perhaps the bible for hard punching instruction is Jack Dempseys Championship Fighting. In this text, the Manassa Mauler explains in great detail the mechanics of the KO punch and the training methods to achieve it. According to Jack Dempsey: damaging punches come from an explosive follow-through on the target you’re hitting. Dempsey said, for instance, to land a powerful left jab [Dempsey called it the left jolt] you needed to do the trigger step footwork where your body literally explodes into the punch. Dempseys left hook was short and very powerful Bert Sugar reckons it was harder than Joe Fraziers and in his book he describes how to land it. With the elbow sharply bent, and the body rapidly moving into the punch through Dempseys method of getting every ounce of weight behind every technique. Thus, Dempsey claimed, the reason some fighters are non-punchers is they simply don’t know how to punch…I agree.
Famously, an example of a person who was taught to punch was the all-time-great Tommy Hearns. The Hit Man before he turned professional was a light punching mover, but Hearns was lucky: His trainer, Emanuel Steward, believed you could develop power and drilled The Hitman to distraction. Eventually, from intense practice, Hearns became, perhaps, the hardest hitting Welterweight ever. So its true, some punchers are born, but if you think you cant develop power, you are completely wrong. As, the greatest ever featherweight, Sandy Sadler said: I punched hard because I KNEW how to punch correctly…
Misconception Three: You Need to Understand Sports Science
I know I risk the label of dinosaur and at 26 too but perhaps my almost-youthful age gives me more umph to rant against this ill that’s stolen space in the minds of modern coaches. The egregious phenomena of sports science and its very ugly sister the people who think science and sport are good bedfellows.
To be a good boxer you need to train hard; to develop the attributes needed for success in the ring. Great fighters are the quintessential workaholics, but I found when I was reading these sport science manuals, as a teenager, the real work was trying to understand all the academic nonsense written. Fine, I thought, Ill try plyometrics and these special stretches, but it’ll take me thirty years to formulate a training plan, because it’s just too complicated. My friend! That’s my point, effective training methods are needed, but the terminology needs to be simple.
My theory is this, very few people actually do these modern training methods, and like the diet industry, people are making money out of nonsense jargon and peoples stupidity. Take, for instance, the much lauded plyometrics exercises that are the vogue with athletes trying to develop speed and power. They aren’t new: Archie Moore used explosive jumping movements in his training, and so did many of the old timers. You want sports specific? Jack Johnson, when interviewed once, shocked his guest by his in-depth knowledge on the fundamentals of his craft. The First Black Champion discussed weight distribution, pivot points, stance and its relationship to punch leverage etc.; and he gave the Journalist the impression he’d been in the presence of a genuine-intellectual genius. Maybe I am a dinosaur, but if you look at the training methods and lifestyle of Joe Calzaghe you’ll see I’m talking sense. The pound-for-pound legend eschewed all the latest crazes, and worked very hard and consistent on the basics. On the other hand, look at Audley Harrison: the man trained like Ivan Drago, but whenever he fought anyone decent he swallowed the cold, hard pill of brutal defeat
So there you, I’ve thought long-and-hard about many aspects of the sweet science and these are the things that bug me. Although my opinions are subjective, I believe I have imparted a little wisdom on what I’ve just written [well, I’ve tried]. Nevertheless, I suspect, these kinds of debates will go on as long as men meet in the middle of the squared circle.