Is boxing more mental than physical? I’ve asked myself that question more than once. In fact, it is something that has been talked about with trainers and boxers in gyms all over the world, probably since the beginning of the gloved era. I will give my own thoughts and use my own anecdotal evidence to come to a conclusion.
Back in 2003, I entered the Golden Gloves in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I had won my previous three fights in a one-sided manner. My first bout in the Golden Gloves was also pretty easy having stopped my opponent at the end of the first round with a body shot. My next opponent gave me all I could handle. That had to be my toughest fight. In fact, I thought I lost, but was given the decision. Upon reviewing the tape, it was clear I was the winner, but no matter how many overhand rights or quick combinations I threw to the body, my opponent kept throwing punches, kept coming towards me. That was taxing on my mind.
Then the state finals of the Golden Gloves came. It was in Wilkes-Barre. Ironically, it was held in a boxing gym that I used to train at. To make a long story short, it wasn’t my night. My opponent was a fighter from a gym called Lef Jab. My punches had nothing on them. My boxing skills were not present. It was like someone else fought in my place. My body was there, but a different soul was occupying it. Somewhere in the second round, my opponent dropped me. I got up, told the referee I could continue, and the next thing I know, I am sitting in a chair with my trainer standing over me, rubbing ice on my face. Perhaps I had over-trained or maybe I was too tired to focus having arrived several hours before the fight was to happen. Regardless, my confidence was shot.
I was back in the gym about three days later. I couldn’t bring myself to train very hard. I was going through the motions. Then I gave sparring a shot a couple months later. What do you know? I got dropped while sparring. I sat on the canvas, my arms wrapped around my bent knees, wondering what is wrong with me. I got up, finished the round, and never entered that gym again.
Three years later, I was bothered by the way I had left boxing. Now living back in North East Pennsylvania, I got in touch with my former trainer, Larry Angeles, the one from the Wilkes-Barre gym. I told him I want to fight again. I was 29 at the time. One of the more older amateurs, but it didn’t matter: I was going to get in shape. And boy did I. I went from 185 to under 160 pounds in a very short time. I was running seven miles on hilly, sometimes mountainous, roads on a regular basis. I spent five to six months preparing to fight again. My sparring was excellent and I was getting good work.
The night of the fight came and I felt pretty confident. I knew there was nothing that would prevent me from winning the fight. Then I head the man on microphone say “so and so from the LEF JAB GYM…” I sighed and told myself that there was no way I could win. My plan was to go on the inside and stay busy, but after hearing where my opponent was from, all I could think about was the night I got knocked out.
I basically ran the whole fight. I just wanted to survive. When I watch the fight, I want to scream because I could see I clearly am the more schooled fighter. It doesn’t matter, because if I didn’t have the confidence, no amount of punching power or boxing skill was going to help me get over my lack of confidence.
While I do not believe this is the case for everyone in the sport, I do believe that the sport is a mind-game. Physical training helps develop a strong will and mind, but one little insecurity can set a fighter back.