Fast forward a couple of weeks and I am now in the midst of learning a harsh reality, I am not Manny Pacquiao. I have “boxed” for almost two years and when I say I boxed, I mean that I have done every physical workout related to boxing. Between land training, weight training, bag work, and hitting mitts, I have done it all and because I was fortunate to have the stamina to keep up with the gyms regulars, I always thought that stepping in the ring would be natural and an easy transition.
I was wrong.
When I told my mum I was going to start sparring to prepare for the fight she, along with others in my family, were all extremely nervous. Previous concussions, three broken noses, and a number of teeth being knocked out in my previous sport did not scare her but sparring in a controlled atmosphere with gloves and a helmet frightened her to death. The night before my first sparring session she went through a checklist of what was going to transpire
“Who are you fighting? Is he bigger than you? Jesus Christ you can’t do this to me. What if something happens?”
To be honest I had no answers for her nerve wracking questions. If I had to guess I would be paired with someone my size. If I had to guess, I had taken bare knuckled punches before so this couldn’t be that bad. If something went wrong, I don’t know, I saw how simple it was to fix my nose and teeth before so I guess I could do it again.
To some people that might sound crazy but that is the exact reason why boxing became a release to me after my playing career. You cannot find that type of challenge physically in anything after playing sports. Testing your body with the knowledge that one step the wrong way or two seconds too late could not only affect the outcome of competition but also affect you physically is what motivates me.
Between sports and life experiences, we all sign our own permission slips and within that idea we have to face the outcome no matter what. I can probably count on two hands the number of times that I have succeeded and would need another one hundred hands to count the times that I have failed but I can tell you that I learned a hell of a lot more about myself when I failed than when I came out on top.
So how does this relate to sparring?
The first time I sparred I walked into the gym and sized up everyone waiting for their turn in the ring. I saw three different regulars who were within ten pounds of me and figured any of these three would be my opponent. As my trainer called me to hop in, a veteran boxer from Welch’s with a good 35 pounds on me slid under the ropes and into the ring. My heart sped up like it never had before in any athletic event. I knew my legs and arms were moving but I felt like I couldn’t control them.
My adrenaline was so high that I started sweating more than I would after three periods of hockey. I couldn’t control my breathing and the damn mouth guard made it even worse. As he and I squared up, I just went for it.
Fast forward four rounds later, my trainer stood there with two pieces of advice. “First off clean up yah nose, it looks broken but that’ll happen, second, well, at least we know you can take a beating.” He then apologized as I was not supposed to be paired with that guy.
In my eyes I got tuned up, he worked me. He set me up so many times that I eventually was walking into his punches. My nose was done after his second punch and he hit my right eye so hard I think my contact flew outside of the ring. I was embarrassed, I was mad, but most of all I wondered what went wrong.
Maybe it is a bit of self-pride but I started to wonder how could he do that to me? I beat him in every workout but he managed to make me his puppet and teach me a lesson. I am the biggest believer in hard work and I only plan on working harder, but what he taught me after is that it is one thing to work hard and it is another level to work smart. If I go into the gym and work on the same punch every single day I am going to be great at that one punch but what about my feet work? What about defense? What about setting up a combination?
My opponent came up to me after and worked with me for a half hour. He walked me through the basics from simple head movement to how far apart my feet should be. It was humbling to hear a man that just beat you up let you know that he wanted to help you get better.
What is my takeaway from these experiences so far? As I said, I am not Pacquiao, however I am a work in progress. I am enjoying the process of becoming better at something that I am passionate about without knowing the results. Will I have a few more black eyes and have to reset the nose? I don’t doubt it but in the mean time I am constantly getting better and learning how to work smarter. I am truly humbled by having the opportunity to test my body and mind against other individuals every week and with every failure there are takeaways that can guide me to being successful in this journey.