My first white collar boxing match - the result!
A few weeks ago I posted an article about my preparation for my first white collar boxing match. I received some really positive and helpful comments on the article. Thank you to everybody that commented and showed interest. I have been a reader of this site for a long time, and I know from a lifetime spent in the comments section how knowledgeable the posters on this site are about boxing. A few people asked for a follow up, so I’ve put together this article summarising the result and the key lessons I’ve taken away from the experience. I hope people find this interesting.
I’ll get straight to it. I lost. A close decision, for which I have no complaints. From a rough survey of the 25 friends I had in the crowd, most called it a draw, some thought I nicked it, and a few were honest enough to say they thought he did a bit more. In my heart of hearts I knew at the final bell I hadn’t done enough. Draws are quite common at these events so I thought the referee might go with that. But when the referee raised his hand I was devastated but not shocked, I felt he had nicked it. So what actually happened?
I’ll start with my opponent. You may remember in my previous article I wrote that I had a confirmed opponent about 2 weeks before the fight. Well, that changed about 3 times in the lead up to the fight until they finally gave me a confirmed name the day before the fight. I fought an older, more experienced fighter I had never met before called Demetrious. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about the opponent selection as Demetrious fought at the last white collar event and he won his bout against a friend of mine from the same gym. I was a little confused when I heard his name as my opponent, as my friend is significantly bigger than me so I didn’t understand how we could be matched with the same fighter. I contacted my friend who confirmed he did fight Demetrious, and he said that he was pretty sure they both weighed around 75kg on fight night. As a reminder, I walk around at around 65kg and cut down to 62kg through training for the fight. 62kg to 75kg is obviously a huge discrepancy. I asked my coaches about this and they told me not to worry as he had confirmed he was due to weigh in at 64KG. They said if there was a big weight discrepancy the fight would not go ahead, and that in any case I was much more of a skilled boxer so I had nothing to worry about. That proved to be wrong.
Should I take the fight?
We weighed in separately the day before the event. I hit the scales at 62KG. The gym confirmed to me that Demetrious had weighed in at 66KG, and asked if I still wanted the fight. I said yes, and there were a couple of factors that played into my decision making process -
1. I had nearly 25 friends who had paid £35 for a ticket to come and see me fight. I’d talked about it non-stop for 8 weeks. The gym didn’t quite give me an ultimatum, but it was clear that they were recommending I take the fight. I didn’t think I could back out because of a 4KG weight discrepancy without losing some face.
2. I had seen the video footage of his last fight. He fought a friend of mine who, with all due respect, cannot box. It was a close fight. I thought to myself that regardless of his weight advantage he won’t be able to get to me and my movement will win me the fight.
3. The age difference. I’m 34 but I’m a young 34. I don’t really feel any different physically to how I did at 29/30. I am fast and I have good movement and athleticism, and I naively thought a 42 year old man would not be able to cope with this.
Fight night was Thursday 13th July. We were instructed to be at the venue for 4.30pm for medicals and the rules briefing, with the fights due to start at 6.30pm. Demetrious and I were scheduled as the 12th fight out of 13 in total.
The whole day I felt super relaxed. I slept well the night before, and spent the morning walking, stretching and relaxing. When I got to the venue I saw a lot of familiar faces, and I felt calm and chilled chatting away with the fighters that I knew. Obviously I was keen to get a sight of Demetrious and it wasn’t long before someone pointed him out. I’ve got to be honest and say that at first sight I was happy with what I saw. He was short, balding and looked every day of his 42 years. But the phrase "never judge a book by its cover" really was written for people like Demetrious.
I went up to the changing rooms but they were tiny, barely enough room to get 3 or 4 people in. There were 26 fighters trying to get access, plus the coaches, so I decided to not bother hanging around there until I had to. I went downstairs and started watching the fights. Slowly friends of mine started to turn up, and I spent a few hours watching the fights whilst catching up with friends who were enjoying a few beers. In hindsight I regret this. I slipped into a relaxed and calm mode and when I went up to get changed I struggled to shift into a fighting mindset. In all likelihood this had no bearing on the result whatsoever, but it’s little things like this that play on your mind after a defeat. Should I have isolated myself? Should I have been thinking about my fight and only my fight? I always thought that being calm and relaxed is a positive, but is it possible to be too relaxed?
In the changing rooms about 10 minutes before the fight there was a strange moment. Demetrious came over to me whilst I was wrapping my hands. He introduced himself and asked me how I was feeling. He asked if it was my first fight. When I told him it was, he smiled and told me to relax, to breathe and not to worry. He said he had had over 50 fights and had fought as an amateur in the States. I didn’t know what to think at this point. On one hand I took him at face value, he was being incredibly nice, polite and seemed like a genuine bloke. On the other hand I wondered why he would be telling me he had had over 50 fights at this point. Was he trying to get in my head? I shrugged it off, shook his hand and carried on warming up.
Demetrious made the walk first, and I followed. I had a lot of friends there and they made a huge amount of noise. I felt the love as I stepped through the ropes. It was quite strange in the sense that you make the walk in just your hand wraps, and they put the gloves on you when you get in the ring. I guess this is because there are limited pairs of gloves to be shared amongst the fighters. I found it weird that the first punch I was going to throw in these gloves was during the fight. The referee gave us some last instructions, we touched gloves and we were off. I felt calm and confident.
We got going in Round 1 and straight away I felt a bit of an issue with distance. My sparring partners had all been around the same size as me. But Demetrious had this weird, unique frame that I wasn’t used to. He was short like me but had incredibly long arms for his height and had wide hips. When I got up close with him I realised how he could’ve weighed 75kg a few months ago, he had the frame to hold that weight. My frame could never carry 75kg even if I wanted to. I have a tiny waist, and I think even if I abused my body with junk food and zero exercise for a year the most I could get to is 70kg. He was just a bigger man. I remember hitting him and thinking "I could hit this guy all night and I’m not going to knock him out". So I decided to box, move and go easy on the power punches.
Round 1 was tight, nothing clean really landed, but I came back to the corner and felt fairly confident I had nicked it. I got through with a couple of one-twos which seemed to catch the attention of the crowd. I felt I won the round but I knew I was in a fight, he was quicker, more rugged and more elusive than I had expected. I found the range difficult. This is where I think I suffered from having essentially the same two sparring partners throughout the whole camp. They were both a similar size to me and easy enough to get to. He was a completely different body type and I found it hard to get close to him. He also had some very strange and unorthodox movements. He would leap in to engage and would lead with big wild hooks. It’s funny because I had seen all of this on the tape of his previous fight and I just assumed I’d be able to read it all and move out of the way. But when I was in there I realised it was actually quite unpredictable and difficult to deal with.
Round 2 was his, no doubt about it. I remember sitting on my stool in between round 2 and 3 thinking "it all comes down to this round, he took that one". I can’t remember a huge amount about it, he didn’t catch me with anything eye-catching or anything that was close to putting me down, but his energy and volume definitely started to overwhelm me.. Round 2 is where I really started to feel his size and I started to tire. He was leaning on me a lot and I started to feel the extra weight. There was also a moment where I did not cover myself in glory and appeared to turn my back. In between Round 1 and 2 my coach had told me to stay off the ropes and not spend more than a couple of seconds there. This is because I have a tendency to take shots on the gloves and then fire back. It actually works quite well for me, but I listened to my coach and tried to get out of there as soon as my back touched the ropes. This led to me rushing out and inadvertently turning my back, which the ref pulled me up on. It's a bad habit that I need to get rid of. It’s not a deliberate turn but it's a rushed way of getting out from under pressure, but I need to force myself to stay facing the opponent when I do it.
Going into Round 3 I knew the winner would most likely win the fight. I couldn’t understand a word my trainer said to me in-between the rounds (more on him later) but I knew I had to step it up. I have a strange recollection of thinking to myself "just two more minutes and then it will all be over'' and feeling quite reassured. It was a close round, similar to the first. I felt it was going OK but I remember feeling very drained and definitely did not have enough energy to throw 2 or 3 punch combinations. I was never going to stop him with single shots, my route to victory was to use my speed and superior technique to land combinations, but I just did not have the energy. The most I could muster was throwing a single then moving and throwing another. I didn’t get sloppy and didn’t resort to throwing wild shots, but part of me afterwards wondered if I really gave it everything I could in that last round. I could have abandoned my defence and just stood and traded, but I didn’t, I played it safe and just tried to win with single shots.
When the bell went I was genuinely uncertain what the result was, but my reaction said it all. I didn’t raise my hands, I didn’t celebrate. When the ref raised his hand I was gutted, but on reflection I couldn’t argue with it. I would call it a 60/40 fight in his favour.
After the fight
After the fight we were taken to the medical room and sat next to each other on plastic chairs and they did a check up on both of us. Demetrious was a genuinely nice guy. He asked me what went wrong with my cardio. He said I looked incredibly fit and he was surprised at my low volume in Round 3. He asked how much I run. I told him maybe 2-3 times a week, and he looked surprised and told me he runs every single day. I guess that's what 50 fights worth of experience teaches you. We shook hands, he came and met some of my friends and family, and we eventually agreed to a rematch over a beer.
So what went wrong?
Its been a few weeks now and the dust has settled, I’ve collected my thoughts and I have some views on what went wrong and what I could have done differently. For me, the biggest issues were -
1. Lack of variety in sparring. I am one of the smallest guys in the gym and there aren’t many reasonable sparring partner options for me. Yes I can spar the bigger guys for a bit of extra work, but its unrealistic and does not replicate the feeling of sparring someone your own size. I had 2 main sparring partners who I shared the ring with throughout the entire camp. I felt I won pretty much every round I sparred against them throughout the camp. That made me complacent, and it also lulled me into thinking I knew how to cope with anyone in there, when in reality all I knew was how to handle those two guys.
2. Lack of a game-plan. I’m not going to use this space to blame my coach. But there were challenges in the build up that I won’t go into, and my "game plan" was essentially to get in there and work it out for myself. Just to be clear, pre-fight I thought that was enough. I wasn’t pushing for specifics. I thought I was good enough to work it out for myself. But when I got in there I realised I needed instructions, I needed an idea of what to do, and the lack of a specific approach really caught me out.
3. Cardio. Many people said to me in the build up that cardio would be the difference maker. I thought I had done enough. I really dedicated myself for 8 weeks and spent pretty much every day in the gym. I pushed myself really hard. But I simply did not have the cardio to throw multiple combinations in Rounds 2 and 3. The funny thing is in the week before the fight I was doing 7 sets of 3 minute rounds on the heavy bag, throwing pretty much non-stop combinations for the whole set. But when you have a heavier guy throwing back at you (and leaning on you) it’s just a completely different feeling.
If I could go back in time, I would do a couple of things differently -
1. I felt like I had a good camp and I can’t say that I could have worked much harder. But I could have been smarter. The topic of running seems to divide people in my gym, including my coaches. One coach told me to not bother with much running and to focus on sprinting as it was only 6 minutes worth of fighting. Other people told me to run every day. I can now firmly say I am in the latter camp. Boxers should run every day. In my opinion there is no other exercise that builds the cardiovascular system that you need like running. I spent hours on the assault bike and hitting the bags. It just does not do what running does for building up your ability to endure. I know not everyone will agree, and I’m probably over-simplifying this, but if I could go back I would be doing a 10-15k run pretty much every single morning compared to the twice a week approach I was taking.
2. Fighting up close. I’ve watched the video back and one of the things that is obvious is I was fighting too far out. Friends said this to me as soon as I stepped out of the ring. I had shorter arms but still tried to counter punch from the outside. I should have trusted my head movement, and my ability to block/slip, and stayed in close and had a fight. Instead, I felt his extra weight and opted to play it safe, avoid his punches and try to hit from distance. It didn’t work for me, and I’m left feeling that if I had trusted myself to plant my feet and stay in the pocket I would have had more success.
3. I should have brought more intensity and aggression into the ring with me. This is a hard one to articulate, and I’m not even 100% sure that I’m not just creating a narrative here. But I felt so relaxed going in there, right up until the bell went, and I do wonder whether that played a part in me not being able to turn up the aggression as much as I should have. In my gym I’m known for sparring hard and bringing intensity, I don’t do tap sparring. so I really thought this would come naturally to me. But when I was in there I didn’t feel it, and afterwards a couple of people asked me why I didn’t really go for it in the third round. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I do wonder whether the fact that I was so relaxed all day played a part in that. One moment stands out for me. Because we were the second to last fight, I spent most of my evening in the crowd watching the other fights. I got so consumed by the fights I only realised about 15 minutes before my fight that I needed to get ready. I rushed upstairs to the changing room and my opponent (and the two boxers fighting after us) were already dripping in sweat, warming up and ready to go. I essentially had to rush putting my kit on and had barely enough time to work up a sweat before it was time to fight. At the time I shrugged this off and thought it was great to be calm and relaxed, but in hindsight I do wonder whether I should have been more ‘in the zone’ and focused on fighting. I guess I’ll never know if it would have made a difference.
Will I do it again?
The question all of my friends and training partners keep asking me. The short answer is yes I will. For a variety of reasons, but predominantly because I know deep down I’m better than what I showed on fight night. I’m not an idiot, I’m clearly not that good, but I’m better than my performance that night and I need to prove that to myself. I loved the process, the training, the discipline, the feeling I had from not drinking for 8 weeks and training every day. It’s just the fight night itself that leaves a little sour taste in the mouth. I will do things differently, I intend on switching up my gym and seeking out a new coach and different sparring partners. But for anyone thinking about doing something like this, I would say go for it. It’s a hell of an experience and I’m glad I did it.