If ever there was a quote I more dread in boxing interviews, it's one that references sparring sessions.
You already know what to expect from these sort of statements. The fighter discussing the training session, of course, did great, destroyed everyone they sparred and went 30, uninterrupted rounds.
However, fighters looking for an opportunity to big themselves up or downplay another fighter isn't what annoys me about discussions over sparring. Rather, it's the information fans seem to gleam from this sort of statement that frustrates me.
So many times, you will discuss a future matchup or a fantasy showdown and someone will reference a rumored sparring session that seems to back up their case.
This is oftentimes used as a means to criticize a fighter that has yet to lose or has rarely looked troubled in the ring during legitimate fights. A famous example is that of current Welterweight titlist Errol Spence busting Floyd Mayweather up during a session back around 2013.
Naturally, Mayweather's detractors (and Spence's fans) love to bring up such a session, and this is done for a number of reasons. Quite honestly, Mayweather isn't always the most liked fighter in the sport. So, any chance some boxing fans get to downplay his greatness will be taken. Of course, the more common reason it's brought up currently is to showcase just how well Spence will do against the likes of rival Terence Crawford.
The reasoning, effectively, is that if Spence can handle Mayweather so easily during sparring, he should have an easy enough time with Crawford.
However, let's be honest with ourselves: Does that "logic" make any damn sense?
Sparring isn't about winning a session, it's about preparing to win a fight. It's important to make that distinction, because I think so many people hear tales of these ever-brutal gym wars that some camps have been known to host. And, in fairness, the Mayweather gym is notorious for just such wars. However, at it's core, sparring isn't about winning or losing in the gym. Even more, it can't tell us what happens in a real fight anyway.
In the best gyms, sparring is treated as practice -- and that's it. Yes, fighters are competitive and want to perform well. Their may be trash talk or bragging rights, but it's all within limits. A young fighter may try to push a bit harder if he's in against a great fighter or a world champion, and fighters in the same division may want ensure they are boxing on even ground.
Still, it's practice.
Using said preparation as a measuring stick for how well a fighter will perform is foolish.
Imagine thinking the Dallas Cowboys were Super Bowl-bound because they scored more points during a scrimmage with the defending champions.
Imagine thinking the Cowboys were Super Bowl-bound for any reason.
My point is you wouldn't use practice to prove almost any point in other sports, but that's done regularly in boxing. But, again, what does sparring actually prove?
Well, to answer that question, you need to know the point to sparring in the first place.
Loosely, it's to either keep sharp/stay in shape or to prepare for an upcoming encounter. In more detail, that can mean testing your fitness levels, getting in work against southpaws, working your way back from injuries, learning to cut off the ring, etc. Honestly, the list of possibilities is extensive.
What it's not is an opportunity to become crowned king of the gym. In fact, most fighters with that mindset are usually handled rather harshly.
If you're a world champion that's beginning to prepare for a defense in two months, you know what you like to do in the gym, what he need to do to give yourself the best shot of success. Yes, you want to be pushed and you want to challenged. But your mindset may be vastly different than some up and comer brought in for sparring, both due to where you are in your career and where you are in preparation.
You don't want these young guns showing you up, but you're also focused on getting into shape, on preparing to face a faster fighter. You're also not trying to leave your best rounds in the gym. The point is to peak for the fight, not before the fight.
Meanwhile, said young gun could already be in shape, may value these sort of gym sessions much more and may be straying from any pre-determined plans for giving the champion a certain style or look.
And that overzealousness could lead to a poor session for the up and coming fighter. And that session early on in a training camp could lead to a lackluster performance from the champion.
Regardless, it means nothing when it comes to what would actually happen if they fought in a live ring.
Actual fights, especially those on the biggest stage the sport provides, have so many different facets to them than some random sparring session. Firstly, they are usually comprised of two fighters with equal time to prepare, that are both peaking at around the same time, and that have been preparing for one another.
There is no holding back, you aren't the third fighter he's faced in a row to test his endurance. He isn't a much smaller fighter with faster hands to prepare you for the speed of your opponent. These are live rounds being fired and you're both playing for keeps.
Equally important, you're both aware of what's on the line. The mindset is different.
Also, so, too, are the circumstances. There are 15,000 people in attendance, perhaps a million people watching at home, you're record is on the line and your future depends on this result.
This in no may mirrors a sparring session.
So many will claim sparring is a measuring stick for how a fight will pan out or how a certain boxer will do in the sport. Honestly, yes and no. Sparring is a valuable measurement, but there are other components to the fight game that must be recognized.
Ultimately, sparring should stay in the gym and out of your arguments for picking one fighter over another.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed. Love to hear any responses, whether you agree or disagree. Also, if you're interested, you can check out my Fighter Grades for last weekend by clicking here
. Also, check out my piece on whether Tyson Fury will retire or not by clicking here
. You can also check out my predictions for Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano here
or my pick for Oscar Valdez vs. Shakur Stevenson by clicking here
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