Inside a Boxer’s Mind: How To Mentally Prepare For a Fight
Superstitions, Pre-Fight Rituals, and Why We Have Them
One of the most fascinating aspects of boxing culture is how unique every boxer’s pre-fight rituals are. What boxers do to prepare mentally for a fight and get in “The Zone” changes wildly from fighter to fighter and these habits can seem almost random if you don’t know what you’re looking at. As an amateur boxer who has some quirky pre-fight rituals, I wanted to provide some insight into why we have these strange ideas about what helps us get into that fighting “zone”, as well as give some examples of famous fighters' rituals and what they are trying to accomplish through them.
Why Do Fighters Have Pre-Fight Rituals?
Many athletes tend to be superstitious, and boxers are no exception, but there is more to these strange quirks and rituals than meets the eye. Usually, the reason boxers adhere to certain traditions, like wearing the same socks for matches or the same exact gear because it's “lucky” (I do this one), it's less about luck and more about confidence. Getting that little boost of confidence through the placebo effect has been shown to improve performance, and there’s one other reason that gets overlooked: Morale. Watching your friends and teammates carry out their strange rituals can be funny, and I love making my team laugh. It helps relax me and get me in the right mindset, especially before getting into the ring.
What Are Some Pre-Fight Rituals of Famous Boxers?
It's not all superstition though. There are several habits carried by some of the best boxers in the sport today that may seem like they have nothing to do with boxing but actually serve a distinct purpose in a fighter’s preparation. If there’s anyone with a method to their madness it’s the fighters on the pound for pound list, a list of the best fighters currently boxing regardless of weight class.
Let's take a look at what some of their rituals are and explain why they became habits for these fighters.
Many boxers have been seen playing chess or other similar mental games in the lead-up to a fight. Chess improves visual pattern recognition speed, which is important for recognizing your opponent’s openings and the holes in their game. Fighters such as Wladimir Klitscho, Vasyl Lomachenko, and Lennox Lewis are just a few notable examples of boxers who regularly play chess.
It might seem strange to think about mixing ballet and boxing. And yet, so many great fighters incorporate dance into their training (and many continue to dance throughout their careers). This is because of the focus on footwork. Vasyl Lomachenko, Sugar Ray Robinson, and the great Muhammad Ali all used ballet and dance to help them train. What all three of these boxers have in common is their incredible balance and grace of movement in the ring--and they all got the foundation for that expert footwork on the dance floor. Practicing dance before a fight helps the body and the fighter get used to moving in rhythm, balancing in high stress situations, and shifting weight to preserve momentum rather than stop it.
Eating The Same Meal
This could almost be called superstition, but in actuality, boxers like the famous Rocky Marciano rarely reach the heights they reached by mere superstition. Sticking to foods you are acclimated to before a fight helps avoid pre-fight nausea, ensures you are receiving a balanced and nutritious meal and gives you a sense of routine that can help ground and focus you. (Be sure to consult a nutritionist for help designing your pre-competition meals).
My Pre-Fight Rituals
As I’ve said before, boxers are creatures of habit and I’m no exception. I’ve got my own pre-fight rituals, some that are pretty standard and some that look pretty strange. I thought it would be fun to give a little insight into what I do to get myself in “The Zone.”
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Vasyl Lomachenko is one of my favorite boxers. Playing chess helps me relax and think critically. Plus there’s no risk of injury, which is always a bonus when mentally gearing up for a fight!
Hanging with the Boys
Just hear me out on this one! Watching TV is a family activity for me, and being around friends and family helps me focus and reminds me why I fight. Some boxers, like Canelo Alvares, like to isolate, and that works for them. But for me, people are my driving force. I enjoy working with people and I like relaxing with people too.
I said some boxers are superstitious and I’m one of those. My shoes have been with me since my first days at the gym, and I still train in them in the last few days before a fight, just to get some of that luck they’ve absorbed and remind me of the work I put in. Plus, it makes my gym mates laugh, which is always great. When it's match time, though, I always grab high quality boxing gear to make sure I have every advantage possible.
Pre-Fight Rituals: The Final Bell
The pre-fight ritual is an iconic part of boxing culture, and for good reason. As boxers, we constantly look for things to improve our game, both real and imagined, and we thrive on routine. But pre-fight rituals are also a way for us to bond with our team, relax with a bit of humor, and create traditions to cherish and remind us why we fight.
And even if you aren’t planning to hop in the ring and are just training to stay healthy, maybe you’ve got some fun habits or rituals you do before your workouts that help you get pumped. Share your tips and pre-workout routines, tag @FightCamp on Instagram, and join our Facebook Community. Plus, get some inspiration from our FightCamp trainers, too!
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The Author: Iain Mackenzie grew up in the middle of downtown Houston and has always been a competitor. He first turned to karate as a young child, where he got his first taste of live sparring and the thrill and discipline of combat sports. From there he went on to saber fencing, where he competed in tournaments all throughout middle school. However, it was not until he had nearly graduated high school that he found the sport that truly spoke to him: Boxing. Training all throughout college and into his professional career, Iain has trained in multiple gyms across Texas and competed in amateur tournaments with storied histories like Golden Gloves and the Houston Open. His goal is to bring people the sense of belonging and self-actualization boxing has always given to him by explaining the tools he uses as a competing boxer to stay in shape, stay sharp, and stay motivated. As a licensed amateur boxer, Iain has the know how and drive necessary to do just that.