I’m deep in training for my next fight, and recently had the opportunity to travel to a nearby gym to get sparring rounds with a group of people whose fighting habits I wasn’t already accustomed to.
Amazingly (and for the first time in my entire boxing experience), these 5 sparring partners were all women, and they had a range of ability from brand new to experienced competitor.
My coach was there because he trains people at that gym, and if I had ANY idea that I’d get off easy because it wasn’t my gym, I dismissed that pretty quickly, because he knows I have a match coming up and he was pushing me hard.
The best way to spar, period
Here’s my favorite way to spar: I get in for opening rounds with someone who will let me warm up. Ideally, this is a beginner or a less-experienced boxer.
That allows me to operate at a lower speed, working on evasions and defense, slipping punches and keeping my feet active. I throw a few easy punches — not trying to hurt my opponent, just making touches, finding my distance, and keeping them from thinking they only have to play an offensive game.
It’s always ideal if you can do your first two or three rounds with someone less experienced than you are, then roll out for two rounds to recover.
Next comes the good part, and the heart of the workout. Your next three to five rounds should be with someone who can seriously challenge you. This is your chance to work your skills, throw some power, and push yourself.
Your final two or three rounds should be drill work with a sparring partner in the ring. Go over the specific moves you haven’t been getting right. Work them until they start to sink in.
Warm up rounds, work hard rounds, drill rounds — best sparring sequence ever.
But what I got recently at another gym was warm up, work hard, then work hard while exhausted. Then do a few more.
My coach gets a perverse pleasure from having us fight through the 30-second recoveries between rounds during the last million rounds, which forces us to keep pushing without the breather we’re used to. Sometimes he will keep me in and roll in a fresh boxer, and I’ll start to feel my guard slipping, my feet slowing, and my punches becoming predictable. (Also the pain from getting tagged, derrr! Although mostly that’s felt later…)
Yes, it’s heinous. But it’s incredibly important to experience this and know what you’re going to do in the situation.
Because you WILL have this situation. You will find yourself in the ring when you are dead-ass tired. Utterly exhausted. And you’ll have to figure out what to do.
What tired beginners do wrong
First of all, you should never quit in the middle of the round just because you’re tired. It’s a bad practice, and shows your lack of discipline and fortitude. If you give up during a competition mid-round, you automatically hand the win to your opponent whether or not they were actually winning the fight.
In other words, you might win the fight simply by NOT quitting.
In addition, I see tired beginners hunch over and put their gloves on their knees. This opens you up for a serious knockout uppercut if the ref doesn’t stop the match immediately.
Several other errors boxers make when they are tired are looking away from their opponent, running from their opponent, and failing to defend themselves.
So what’s a safer, better way to fight exhausted? You’ll be surprised at how many options you have in your toolbox.
9 tactics for fighting when you’re totally exhausted
Only a select few boxers — and by “select few” I mean absolutely NOBODY — gets out of having to box when they are dragging-ass tired. And if everyone else has to do it, you will, too. It’s far more discouraging to be unprepared and end up doing something stupid (see above) than it is to make it, sloppy or not, through those final, difficult rounds.
1. Mentally prep yourself, Grasshopper
Much of the sparring at this point is mental, believe it or not. You need to prep yourself in advance to know you are going to find yourself in the ring with a superior boxer when you are utterly spent. Zen the hell up, dude.
Think about it when you’re at the end of your regular workouts. Watch other exhausted boxers during their sparring. Imagine yourself in their place. Expect it. Being prepared is 80% of the battle.
2. Build up your meat grinder support system
If you are there at the edge of the ring calling out support and encouragement for others when they are getting killed, you can damn well bet that they’ll be helping you out when it’s your turn for the meat grinder.
Oh, and be sure to thank the people who are there for you. Let them know that their voice, their offer of a water bottle, their understanding makes all the difference for you.
Also, listen to your coach. Your brain isn’t working any more, but theirs is.
3. Keep your eyes on your freakin’ opponent
It’s easy — and hell, you’re hardwired! — to look away from someone still slinging shots at you when you got nothing and want to run. Don’t do it. Stare down your opponent. Maybe none of your other body parts are still working, but you can damn well use your eyeballs! And who knows, you might just get lucky and evade a killer shot, simply because you were watching.
4. Don’t run from your sparring partner
If you’ve ever been to an amateur fight you’ve seen exhausted boxers “running” in the ring. If there is one thing worse than being dead-ass tired in the ring, it’s being dead-ass tired and trying to run!
Keep your feet moving. You don’t have the gas to bounce, shuffle, pivot, or move quickly, but you can damn well walk. So do it.
Don’t give your sparring partner a standing target, either. That’s shooting fish in a barrel. Put one foot in front of the other and walk. The more you walk, the less chance you have of taking a hard one, and the more time you have to recover your breath.
5. Keep your damn guard up
Even if you can’t throw ANYthing, keep your guard up! Move into a defensive game. If you get cornered (because you’re not walking, see above) and are taking a heavy rain of shots, keep covered up. Gloves up, elbows tight to your ribs.
6. Close with your opponent
I know it feels counter-intuitive, but stepping INSIDE your opponent’s range cuts off their power. Their shots are abbreviated, and won’t be as strong or hard. If you can, clench with them. LEAN on them. Do what you can with your weight and body to tire them out.
7. Fight dirty
Did you scroll through the others and stop here? You did, you cheater. Well, this one is perfect for you, then.
What counter-intuitive moves or slightly non-legal tactics do you know? Long clinches (above) are not allowed, but we do it all the time. ALWAYS punch out of the clinch, if you can do it before the ref calls break. (If the ref calls break, you’re required to take a step out before throwing another shot.)
Posting (holding a stiff arm against your opponent to keep them from moving in) works if you have to use it in a pinch. I don’t recommend shots below the waist, but what about a nice little kidney shot while you’re in tight? Some of those even get counted as legal. Hard shoulder bumps followed by a roll are good, and don’t always get called.
And stop looking at me like that. A little bit of sneakiness is part of the game.
8. Interrupt their game
There’s no power left to fuel your shots, but if you can get your jab out there, even a crappy jab, you’ll be interrupting your sparring partner’s offense and slowing them down. Also if you have a blanket handy that you can throw over their head, that helps. (Hah.)
9. Hold onto your sense of humor, monkey poop
Above all, remember to keep a sense of humor about your training. Yes, you look like monkey poop. But better to look (and smell) like that in training than in an actual match. And anyway, you’ll be so damn proud of yourself for surviving it — later, after you’ve showered and eaten enough dinner for three people — that you’ll be putting yourself back in again in no time.
Been there? Got tactics to share? Leave me a comment, superstar.
CC image by beasticus on Flickr