If boxers just got into a ring and faced an opponent without doing any sparring then it would be a very interesting spectacle indeed. Without getting in there and practicing against an opponent then you’d have little idea of what to do. Imagine a footballer going into a new season having not done any pre-season training? It would be a disaster so in order for a boxer to be prepared for a fight, then they need to be sparring.
With training for football, however, you don’t have someone that is opposite you trying to punch you in the face. Boxers have to train in a high-risk environment, even though there are measures taken to make sure that any risks are kept to an absolute minimum. Sparring though can lead to many stories from professional boxers and you can never be quite sure which are true and which aren’t, it’s often a secret world of professional boxing.
Why is sparring so important though and what exactly goes on? Here we’ll look deeper into the fights that happen behind closed doors and away from the bright lights and cameras of professional boxing. Before Anthony Joshua can stand there in front of 90,000 people in a huge stadium, he needs to have spent the hours in a room often with just him, his trainer and his sparring partner.
Sparring Creates Many Stories
Anthony Joshua is someone who has created a lot of sparring stories of his own. Before he was famous, he actually went over to Wladimir Klitschko’s gym in Germany to help him spar. This was a time where the famous Ukrainian brought many young fighters over to help him train. In these circumstances, a few things can happen as sometimes a boxer is keen to make his mark and try and beat up his sparring partner.
In this instance, Joshua was more relaxed and took the opportunity to learn from the great man. Seeing how he trained and using that to become a better professional. This is why sparring can be so hard to take anything from when it comes to the professionals. Sometimes a boxer will go in wanting to work on something specific, other times they won’t feel as competitive or might not be at their fittest.
This is why when it comes to people knocking Joshua down, it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s now a known fact that David Price knocked Joshua down during a sparring session, and that can lead many into thinking that Price would have a chance against Joshua if they stepped into a professional ring. The circumstances, however, show that you need to know the story behind it.
Firstly that was in 2011 when Joshua was still an amateur, and he has vastly improved since then. Also on the morning of that sparring session, Joshua woke up in a prison cell after one of the brushes with the law he used to have before the discipline of boxing changed him into a better man. So there Joshua was, still a young amateur and fresh out of a prison cell facing one of the biggest punchers in the world. It’s a perfect example of why you shouldn’t take what happens in sparring too seriously
What Lessons Can We Learn From This?
So.. What is sparring in boxing? Sparring is not a fight. Your main aim isn’t to go in there and beat your opponent, it’s not about your opponent, it’s about you. Sparring is there to improve and to practice your art. It could be about practicing anything. If you try a new combination and end up eating a shot, then you’ll remember to not do that in a fight or change how you set it up.
In that circumstance your opponent might think that he’s got the better of you, but instead you’ve made a mistake that you’ll learn from, and a mistake you won’t make when it really matters. Sometimes you might want to work on something specific, like perfecting your jab. If you are doing this, then nothing else is important, as long as you’re improving your jab.
Again, going back to the analogies of other sports, how many freekicks do you think David Beckham took in practice? He would have missed plenty before he came a master of it. How many kicks does a kicker practice in rugby? How many serves does a tennis player make in practice? How many laps in a simulator does a formula 1 driver do? In all these cases they would make plenty of mistakes, but less so as they get more and more practice.
Sparring is your platform to practice and become perfect at what you want to achieve. Missing a freekick, place kick, a serve or crashing in a simulator though isn’t as painful as getting punched in the face. This is where the bravery comes in as you need to be able to take those shots and still be confident enough to improve. It’s one of the many reasons why boxing is such a tough sport.
Learning From The Professionals:
- Respect your opponent
- Everyone is at different levels of mindset and fitness
- It’s all about learning
- Don’t be too down if you’ve done badly
- Don’t get too confident if you’ve done well
How To Enjoy Sparring
Enjoy getting punched in the face? Well, not quite, you’d need to be a sadist to actually enjoy being fit in the face, but you need to have no fear of it. Sparring can be fun and a great way to learn, whether it’s a good thing to admit or not, a lot of people love to fight. They love testing themselves physically against an opponent and seeing who comes out on top.
To have that enjoyment, then you need to fight someone who is at or near your level. I have been in a few occasions when the sparring session I was in was useless for one reason or another, including a time of being matched up with someone who was shorter and therefore couldn’t get past my jab. Instead, I tried to make the most of it by not taking shots and working on my movement.
Another time when starting out I was put in against an opponent who was a few levels above and taller than me. It couldn’t get off my shots and I couldn’t defend. I was matched against a better fighter and it wasn’t much use at all. That’s why you need to find someone at your level, or close to it. Fighting someone better than you can be great, as long as it’s still competitive as it can make you become better. Equally, fighting someone slightly worse can give you a bit more time to work on technical aspects.
In the main though, you need to try and find someone at your level. Someone you can hurt when you’ve made improvements and someone who will hurt you when you’ve made a mistake. Taking a jab straight on the nose can be the perfect way to sharpen your senses, grit your teeth and fight. Sparring should be competitive and it should be fun, fighting someone far worse, or far better than you, will be useless.
Breathe and Relax
Every fighter has been there for the first time at one point, you’ve got your boxing gloves on, you have your opponent in front of you and at any moment now he’s going to try and punch you in the face. If it’s your first time, you might wonder what on earth you’re doing and why you ever thought this was a good idea. It’s at this point you need to embrace the challenge head-on.
At these times it can be easy to panic and tense up. The most important thing you can do then is relax and focus on your breathing. It’s easy to have tense shoulders and close up, but you’ll have more time than you think and very quickly you’ll settle down and feel more comfortable.
You’ll get tired quickly, and if you think you get tired quickly in sparring, just wait until you’re in the ring for an actual fight. You’ll soon learn the value of pacing yourself and not wasting your shots. If you’ve only just picked up boxing, then you won’t be able to spar for long, even if you think you are fit. Boxing will take it out of you and hurt muscles that you never knew existed.
The more you relax, the easier it will be. It may sound easy, but when you’re in the ring you’ll find it very hard indeed. In a fight, it’s even harder and practicing staying calm in sparring will help you if you ever step into a ring for an actual contest.
- Don’t panic and just breathe
- Keep moving your feet and your head
- Keep throwing the jab
- Keep your hands high
- You’re not trying to win, you’re trying to learn
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
As we’ve discussed here, sparring is essential as it’s your time to practice. If you get punched in the face then you can’t be thinking of how bad you are, you need to be thinking about how you can improve to stop it from happening again. Due to the physical punishment that you get in boxing, it’s easy to forget that sparring is all a part of the learning process.
It’s best to simply dive straight in there and let your hands go and show yourself exactly what you’ve got. As you’ll get better, the basics that are always on your mind will become second nature. You always need to move, and make sure that you’re moving both your feet and your head side-to-side at all times. Throwing out the jab is essential and that will be your key basic weapon.
Breathing in through your nose is vital to stop your mouth being open and keep your hands up high so that you don’t give your opponent an easy shot. You’ll develop your own style in time, but keeping those hands high is especially vital to start with as you won’t have the knowledge to defend shots properly, so you want to make sure that you’re taking them on your gloves and not your chin.
In term of equipment, then you’ll want to make sure that you have hand wraps underneath your gloves and a mouth guard protecting your gums. If you are going into a full sparring session, then you’ll also want to have a groin protector and a headguard.
Check out the video below on a few minutes of sparring!
Controlled or Full Sparring?
As you start out, you’ll want to be having controlled sparring which is the mutual agreement that it’s a complete learning experience where neither fighter will be throwing shots at 100%. This is a great way to learn without having a huge fear of eating a big punch. When you’re new to the sport and still learning about breathing, movement and tiredness, then you don’t want to start off at full contact. A right-hand shot at 50% in your face is more than enough to teach you to be better next time.
Once you’ve learned that easy way, full contact sparring can be done whereby it’s more or less a fight simulation. This is where you will want to have big gloves and a big headguard. This isn’t about trying to knock anyone out, instead it’s about trying to learn your craft at full speed, but still have the confidence to know that you’re not going to break any bones.
Even the best ever never stop sparring, as it’s essential to keep yourself fight ready. You can’t imagine any other sport not practicing in between games, so a boxer should be no different in between fights. Sparring is where you learn what you can do, and what you can’t. When you deliver a devastating combination in a fight you’ll know you learned it in sparring.
If you counter a big shot from your opponent with a nice shot of your own, you’ll know that you learned it in sparring. It’s an essential part of becoming a great boxer, but it’s always essential to know that it is just practice. You’re supposed to make mistakes in sparring, so you don’t make them when it really counts.