I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of you will never step into a boxing ring, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the thrill of a boxing match...
Today I’ll tell the story of my first sanctioned bout, as I feel that it is a great example of what early amateur bouts are like. When I first entered the sport, I had tons of questions, but it wasn’t until I actually started competing that I fully came to understand some of the things that make boxing such a special sport with such a wide draw. However, before we get into the meat of my first fight, let me quickly describe what a sanctioned fight is in boxing. Essentially, a sanctioned fight is a fight that is overseen by the licensing body in an area and has very strict regulations that can affect your record as a fighter.
The Build Up
One important thing to know is that no fight exists in a vacuum, and context matters. For my first fight, I was 19 years old and had already been training for about 6 months. I remember my walking into the stadium where the matches for this event were being held--a small event center in Huntsville thinking...
Man, I hope I don’t suck.
When I walked up the steps of the ring, the roar of the crowd and the big bright lights felt overwhelming. I had to force myself to keep my breathing under control as I stared down my opponent, listened to the referee give his instructions, and walked back to my corner. My coach slapped me on the back and told me to bring him the medal because he wanted it. And then the bell finally rang...
The first round of the fight was, to be honest, absolute chaos. Both myself and my opponent had experience in smoker fights (an unofficial fight not unlike a scrimmage in other sports), but any coach or fighter can tell you that fighting in a gym meet is entirely different than fighting under bright lights with your friends and family screaming, and the buzz of a live audience. Both of us immediately got caught up in the atmosphere and came out swinging for the fences, throwing bombs, and dodging punches on pure instinct. It wasn’t until I started forcing my brain to take control and remember the basics of my training that I got the first knockdown of the fight: a straight left cross from my southpaw (left hand in the back) stance. My opponent made the standing eight count, but the knockdown and my jabs were enough to win me the round.
As I headed back to my corner after the first round, I was feeling good. I was moving well, I had knocked down my opponent, and I hadn’t gotten hit much. I remember grinning at my coach as I sat on the stool and asking “how’s that for an opening?” Of course, my coach brought me back to reality and started rattling off instructions, telling me to press my speed and footwork advantage, and luckily, my head was screwed on tight enough to listen and take his advice.
When the whistle for round 2 blew, I came out strong, throwing jabs and pivoting, while my opponent calmed down a bit and was looking to sit on a big counter right cross. I remember thinking I was moving well--right up until he landed the exact shot he was looking for: a big straight right over the top of my left that sent me off balance and running to the ropes. I spent most of the rest of round 2 circling and jabbing, looking to recover from the damage.
The Rocky Moment
After almost getting knocked out after losing focus, I went back to the corner much more humble. My coach told me the hard truth: I had lost that round. I nodded and started beating myself up when he dumped a couple of ice cubes down my shirt and rapped me on the head to get me to listen. I remember exactly what he told me, “This is the last round, man. It's not about technique or power or speed now. You gotta show your guts, dude. It's all in time.”
Those words hit me hard. All through my training I constantly went up against better fighters, guys who had been training since they could walk. I got beaten over and over again in sparring, but I had one thing over all of them: I had never once quit a round.
At the start of the final round I was beginning to feel the fatigue set in. Three minutes doesn’t sound like a long time, but when you’re fighting an actual opponent in the ring, those three one-minute rounds that you fight in the beginning of an amateur career can feel like an hour. You cannot afford to take your foot off the gas pedal--it’s a dead sprint for the whole fight. But coach told me it was time to fight for my pride, and I was going to. I came out with some pawing jabs and shots to the body, but my opponent was ex-army and had a huge conditioning advantage over me. He quickly started pressing forward. Realizing I had to make a statement to win, I used a quick pivot to escape a punch combination he threw. I threw a left hook that connected flush with his temple and forced him to back off and fight defensively to avoid a knockout. I finished the round, attacking him in the corner, but I still wasn’t quite sure I’d done enough to win.
At the bell, I did exactly what I was told to do in a sanctioned fight. I had my gloves and hand wraps removed, shook hands with my opponent’s team, and immediately let the ringside doctor examine me for injuries or signs of concussion. After that, I was directed to the center of the ring, and the announcer called out my name in a split decision victory. My hand was raised and I was given my medal. The feeling of having my hand raised by the referee was surreal. I couldn’t quite believe it until I had the medal around my neck.
Then I went crazy. I sprinted to the corner and stood on the ropes in front of my family, holding my hands up like something straight out of a movie. Corny, I know, but it was half a year of hard and sometimes miserable work finally paying off in the biggest way possible.
To this day, I don’t think there’s anything quite like that feeling of accomplishment that I felt in my dressing room after my first fight. I think it was then that I realized that this is what boxing is about and why it is so popular. It’s not the violence--that’s just a by-product. Whether you want to compete or just want a killer workout, boxing is about overcoming adversity and achieving goals through hard work and willpower.
I truly believe that there is a fighter inside every one of us. Even if we just opt to fight the heavy bag, or we do make the choice to fight in the ring, through dedicated training, focus, and preparation, we can all experience the thrill of a boxing victory. With at-home boxing workouts and training available from FightCamp, anyone can get started.