Wrestling vs. Boxing Shoes: What’s The Actual Difference!?

Anyone who watched the undercard of Kell Brook’s fight vs Sergey Rabchenko might have seen a curious sight. Heavyweight boxer Dave Allen didn’t exactly have the standard footwear that you expect with such a high profile fight. He didn’t wear boxing shoes, he didn’t even wear wrestling shoes, but instead decided to opt for a solid pair of trainers. It was a curious sight and one you don’t often see in the boxing ring. Sometimes it’s about what makes you the most comfortable, but these types of footwear do have their differences for a reason. Both boxing and wrestling have specialised footwear for each sport, but what’s the difference?

Boxing vs Wrestling?

One of the key differences is in the height of the boot. While both require some sort of ankle protection, in boxing there is more of a need for this due to the higher chance of an unexpected fall. In wrestling fighters know that they are going to be on the floor at some point. This gives a greater sense of awareness about anticipating a fall and learning how to fall correctly. More flexibility has to be given to the ankle as the ground work required could be inhibited if the shoe is tied highly to the bottom of the calf.

In wrestling too, fighters generally have a lower stance which helps protect the fighters. In boxing of course, fighters don’t expect to be on the floor at any point during the fight. If they are, then it’s unexpected and they are unable to anticipate the fall. Even if they don’t fall, the stumbling to try to stay on their feet can also damage ankles. Boxers also never have to be in a crouched position as their legs should always be up straight. A shoe that is tied up high would never inhibit any performance. For these reasons boxing shoes are generally a lot taller than their wrestling counterparts in order to offer this protection. Some boxers prefer not to wear this type of boot, and instead will opt to make sure their ankle is strapped. Again, sometimes what is more comfortable to you can be more important.

The soles of the feet are different too, as both are specially designed for their individual sports. A consideration here has been given to the type of movement that is required in each discipline. Boxers generally go forwards or back, and only ever push off from the balls of their feet. This means that boxing shoes are mainly smooth with only a few grooves in there for traction on the surface. This is called vertical traction and there is very little attention given to any other type of movement.

In contrast, wrestling shoes are a lot harsher on the bottom as wrestlers require a lot more grip with their feet. This includes a solid sole that can grip into the canvas so that the wrestler can push off. Wrestling shoes provide traction in every direction as they could be using any part of their shoe to push off from the canvas at any time. Underneath both shoes you’d see a clear difference. Under a boxing shoe you could see horizontal lines at the sole whereas with wrestling shoes they have circular lines for a greater range of traction. It’s harder to lose your balance with a wrestling shoe, but it’s easier to pivot on your feet with a boxing shoe.

There are similarities however due to the nature of the surface both sports are competed on. As canvas’ offer support to the feet, both shoes of shoe don’t generally offer much support as they will thinner shoes than any other type of sporting shoe. This is partly due to wanting to cut weight, as both sports require quick and nimble foot movement. Mostly though it is due to the fact that it’s simply not required and if it was added, a fighter would be at a disadvantage as they’d have a heavier shoe and one that had two levels of cushioning, so would therefore be slower.

One of the other key differences between the two is the level of flexibility. In wrestling the feet have to be in a greater variety of positions and more freedom is needed for the ankle. For these reasons, generally wrestling shoes are a lot more flexible. In boxing, the feet do short, sharp movements in an upright position.

Generally both shoes are made out of lightweight synthetic material, with some of the best boxing shoes sometimes also having lightweight leather or suede for extra durability. Both sets of shoe have kept up with modern technology and are more advanced than ever before in order to give the user comfort and security while wearing them. They both have rubber soles for extra traction across the canvas.

Yes, Wear Them For Training!

You might be reading thinking that it’s only for the professionals where these differences really matter. Having the correct footwear in training however will provide you with a much more solid base to work from and allow you the freedom that a good shoe is meant to provide.

As stated, both boxing and wrestling shoes have a thin sole for a reason. Take running shoes for example, which is what a lot of people would wear when they first walk into a boxing gym. Running shoes are designed for their purpose and that purpose is the constant and repetitive collision with a hard surface. That means that for running shoes, or any other sports shoe for that matter, the cushioning has to be in a shoe itself. The shock absorbing qualities aren’t going to come from the road or the track, so they have to come from the shoe.

Most boxing training should be done on mats or in a ring. In both instances, there will be cushioning under your feet anyway. This means that you don’t require anything extra from your footwear, and this won’t allow you to practice the correct footwork as your feet will be moving more slowly than they would if you just had the one level of protection. In this respect it would actually be a better idea to train in bare feet rather than trainers.

Training in boxing shoes then, is quite clearly the decision that should be made as soon as you feel comfortable in a boxing gym. The same clearly applies to wrestling too, they both require a lot of footwork. Constant practice builds up muscle memory, if you have spent all your time practicing in different conditions to how you would be in a fight, then it makes things a lot more difficult than they should be. While there are key differences between boxing and wrestling footwear, they are a lot smaller than the differences between them and trainers. If you want to practice properly, then you need to choose the proper footwear.

Jason Van Veldhuysen over at PrecisionStriking has done an awesome job explaining why you need different types of shoe for boxing and training..

Can I Use Wrestling Shoes For Boxing, or Vice Versa?

While the two shoes have subtle differences, there are also clearly a lot of similarities. As mentioned, you should look to wear them for your chosen activity above a running shoe, but what about using one for the other? If you were a boxer and faced the choice of practising in trainers or wrestling shoes then the answer would be an obvious one. But is it a permanent solution?

Due to the sheer amount of movement that happens in a wrestling shoe due to the gripping on a canvas, wrestling shoes have to be very well made so you know that you’d be getting a durable shoe. Even when used on a regular basis they are likely to last you for a few years at least. Of course, a well-made boxing shoe should last for a long time as well, but the stresses on them aren’t as great. Wrestling shoes are built to be comfortable and have many of the same features, with the thin sole with a high amount of grip,

Due to the similarities, they are both transferable to each sport. If you’re not competing at a high level, or only want to use them for practice, then there is little issue in using a wrestling shoe for boxing, or a boxing shoe for wrestling. They have their differences for a reason however and if you are getting serious about your sport, then its best that you pick the specific shoe for your specific sport. Things like the texture of the sole and how high it comes up on your ankle can make a difference.

Mainly due to the flexibility of the shoe however, it would be a lot easier to use a wrestling shoe for boxing, rather than a boxing shoe for wrestling. If you used a boxing shoe for wrestling then after a short amount of time you could find that your feet start to become uncomfortable as they shoe struggles with the extra strain that wrestling has.

The Key differences:

  • Boxing shoes are generally higher and offer more protection to the ankle
  • Boxing soles are designed for forward and backwards movement, whereas wrestling shoes are designed for movement in any direction
  • Wrestling shoes are more flexible due to a greater range of foot movement
  • Wrestling shoes are likely to be more durable due to greater use
  • Boxing shoes can be lighter on material

So, Does It Really Matter?

Most people have been to a gym, a sports session or a school lesson where you have that one person who has the latest tech and all they can do is talk about how their equipment is better than yours and talk up the advantages of it.

In this instance, there is a danger of that pretentious thinking too. A lot of it comes to what your goals are and what you want to achieve. Take cyclists for example, if your aim is to get out into the open air and do a bit of exercise, then what is the point of dressing up in lycra with a bike that costs thousands with a back pocket full of power gels? You could easily get what you need from just wearing jogging bottoms and a hoodie.

If all you want to achieve is to stand in front of a punch bag and lose some weight, then doing it in trainers or your bare feet would be just fine. If you wanted to get more serious and do some sparring sessions, then doing that in wrestling shoes would probably be fine. If you’re aiming to become a professional and want to give it everything that you’ve got, then it’s probably for the best to invest in a great pair of boxing shoes and do things properly.

The Differences Do Matter..

The two shoes are made differently for a reason. Just as the two sports have a lot of similarities, they have a lot of differences too. So just as the shoes have a lot of similarities, their differences reflect to different demands of the two sports. We have probably all played a sport in the wrong footwear, but that may have been at a park or playing for your school.

Sometimes certain things can override that. Like the heavyweight boxer Dave Allen fighting in trainers. Sometimes an athlete will become fixated on what is going wrong and just want to feel comfortable. Exceptions have to be made as the mental help received from being comfortable would outweigh the scientific advantage the right footwear would provide. This though, is of course, not ideal and you should always look to do things correctly when you can.

There comes a point at a higher level when the differences matter at an ever increasing rate, there comes a point where that extra 5% that you can get by wearing the right footwear could be crucial. There is a reason that you don’t see world champions wearing the wrong shoes, or in their bare feet. When it comes down to it, the differences do matter.

Asking what’s the difference in the in boxing and wrestling shoes is like asking what is the difference in the sports of boxing and wrestling themselves. The truth is, there’s a lot of difference.