Going to a professional boxing match these days is like wearing a fur coat. A lot of people say, “That’s just disgusting!” even though they don’t really know what it is they are condemning. What they “know” is what they are told by the media. Sure, on the surface, boxing is just two people beating the hell out of each other for a specified period of time. (Please notice that I said people and not men. The number of women boxers is growing daily!) But like any sport, there is so much more going on than what the average spectator sees. Over the past eleven years I have come to appreciate boxing as something other than hand-to-hand combat.
First let me say that I am not a boxer, nor do I play one on TV. However, I am close friends with a professional boxing trainer (Ron) and a boxing promoter (his son-in-law, Tony). They are passionate about their sport. When they are not training or competing, they are talking about it or watching it. As a rule, boxers are not overly aggressive psychopaths. In fact, most of the fighters I know are intelligent, friendly, and genuinely nice people who just happen to like to square off with someone under the rules of the game.
Ron has trained some top-notch fighters, Caleb “Golden” Truax and Matt “The Predator” Vanda to name two. Both have fought nationally televised fights. As a former fighter with more than 100 wins, Ron knows the “sweet science” of boxing. I enjoy listening to him talk about his fighters and how they are trained. The first thing that you realize when you talk to Ron is that he cares about his fighters. He loves the fact that they love the sport and he goes out of his way to help them succeed. Ron started training fighters in his garage,Slowly, he built up a dedicated group of fighters and started a full-fledged gym. He reminds me of coaches I used to have. They were teachers/professors who loved sport.
By listening to Ron “The Professor”, I have learned to watch boxing in a different way. The technique of throwing the different types of punches is precise to get the most power, speed, and accuracy. Fighters learn to use angles to find cracks in their opponents defense. My favorite is the footwork. Each of these techniques is difficult to learn and perfect. Adding them together so that they are useful is crazy hard. Then, as Ron likes to say, it gets interesting when you add in the fact that someone else is trying to knock your head off while you are using these techniques. Talk about difficult!
More often than not, I watch a fighter’s feet. If they have good footwork, they will have power and speed. That’s science talking, not me. I am not talking about dancing around the ring. I’m talking about the short shuffle steps that keep the fighter’s feet under him and provides leverage for the jab. The side step that opens up a straight right hand or hook to the body. Good footwork means good balance. As Mr. Miagi says, “If balance good, boxing good. If balance bad, may as well pack up and go home.” Okay, I took some liberties with that one, but it’s still true.
My wife and I recently had the honor of sitting ringside for the Minnesota Middleweight Boxing Championship thanks to the bout’s promoter, Tony and his lovely wife. The fight featured Caleb Truax (20-1-1, 12 KO’s) and Matt Vanda (44-14, 24 KO’s). (Ron is currently training Caleb as Matt left Ron several years back.) Matt had the edge on experience, but Caleb is a technician. It turned out to be one of the best fights I’ve ever seen. Being very familiar with both fighters made it that much more fun. Watching each of them think throughout the fight, trying different tactics, trying to picking each other’s defenses apart. It was a war that both fighters wanted to win in the worst way. Caleb was the reigning champion wanting to retain his title and Matt wanting to go out on top. He had announced that this would be his final profession fight. At the end of ten, exhausting rounds, Caleb won by a decision of the judges.
On the back of the tee shirts for Ron’s gym is a simple saying. “Respect, it is earned in the gym and kept in the ring.” As a non-boxer I will say this. I have the greatest respect for those who choose to participate in this sport. Technically and physically, it is as demanding as any sport I know of. I have always tried to live by the saying, “Don’t criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” I’ve seen enough to now I am too old to jump into this game competitively, but I will continue to watch and enjoy those you are young enough and dedicated enough to join this amazing group of individuals.
What I’m trying to say is that whoever started calling the sport of boxing the sweet science, truly understood it.