Boxing can teach you more about fighting than you might ever realize.
Those who’ve never tried boxing could easily say:
- Why bother with a limited fighting art that only uses the hands?
- No kicks, knees, or elbows? Boxing isn’t real fighting.
- Boxing is only about landing the knockout punch, anyone can get lucky.
- Boxers have bad punching technique.
- Boxing is so unskilled, it just looks like a brawling street fight.
Those who HAVE tried boxing could easily say:
- Boxing is tough. Tough training, even tougher competition.
- Pure athleticism. Raw speed, power, and endurance. Tiring and painful.
- Incredible reflexes and extremely fast fight reaction time.
- Very skilled, commonly misunderstood and under-appreciated fighting art.
- Very humble fighters and learning environment.
All fighters, mixed martial artists, could benefit from learning how to box. Even if you don’t care for boxing techniques or boxing punches, you could still learn a lot. Boxing can make you a better athlete, improve your reflexes, make you smoother, and more comfortable in a fight. There’s a reason why all MMA camps have dedicated boxing trainers on staff.
Here are my 5 reasons why EVERY FIGHTER should pick up some boxing skills:
1. Punching functionality
This one should be obvious, but for far more reasons than you’re aware of. To begin with, boxing punches are functionally superior to any other type of punching technique found in non-boxing arts. Punching is all we do. And we don’t just throw one kind of punch. We throw ALL KINDS of punches using different techniques that come at different angles using different body positions and different levels of energy commitments. Boxing punches are not only more powerful, but also faster, more surprising, and more deadly than other punches.
Boxers have more versatile and more efficient punching techniques
Sure sure, I’ve seen karate guys break bricks and MMA guys punch just as hard as any boxer, but the QUALITY of the punch is not the same. A boxer’s punch is faster, less telegraphic, and can strike at so many different angles from so many different positions. And we don’t just throw one, we can unleash a barrage of 10…and we do it using far less energy than other fighters.
Punching TECHNIQUE vs punching STRATEGY
Even if someone had technically mastered all the punches in boxing, he still wouldn’t have the experience to use them to their fullest potential. Throwing a picture-perfect jab on the punching bag is EASY. Now being able to throw that same jab in the middle of a fight, WHILE SLIPPING your opponent’s jab, AND watching out for his right hand…that’s much harder.
It’s the same with the right cross. Anybody can throw a right cross. But can you really see the timing? Can you time it perfectly so that your punch lands as your opponent turns into it? Can you aim it perfectly into his chin? Can you even see all this in the middle of a fast exchange? And can you do all this instinctively?
But what about the non-power punches? How about using a fast punch like the jab to win an entire fight. Or using small tapping shots to distract and turn the opponent, keep him away, or set him up for your bigger shots? Or how about body shots? Or how about feints? Or how about punches with your body leaning forward, backward, crouched position, upright? Punches in close range, long range, straight, curved, head, body, while pivoting, while slipping, while rolling. Can other fighting arts really teach you AND train you to become as effective at that? No, they do not.
*** Incredible PUNCHING FUNCTIONALITY and versatility. ***
The benefit of boxing punches:
- more power
- more speed
- more angles
- more efficiency
- more versatility
- better precision
- better timing
- better punching functionality overall
Punching is all boxers do and we are VERY good at it.
2. Reflex speed
The pace of a boxing match is so much faster than other kinds of fighting arts. We get closer and we throw with 2 hands and we attack and defend simultaneously. For sure, boxing happens at a faster than pace than wrestling or grappling, which is more of a strength game and you have a little more time to think when you’re holding each other. With boxing, there really is no time. Once you get in there, you better be fighting. If you’re planning on thinking inside the ring, you better do it while you’re punching. There’s really no time or safe place to step back or go into a stalling position.
Fights are closer-range when kicks are not allowed
But what about fighting arts that involve kicks? I used to think that a fighting style with 4 weapons (hands & legs) would be at a faster pace than a fighting style with only 2 weapons (hands only), but this isn’t the case in my opinion. Range and power would be the biggest differences in a fight involving kicks vs a fight with only punches. The respect of an opponent’s kick combined with the farther fighting range because of the long kicks tend to slow down a kickboxing-style type of fight. In a fight allowing both kicks and punches, the fighters don’t get as close and do not throw as many strikes.
Simultaneous offense and defense
Boxing fights are generally very fast-paced. The hands are not only quicker than the feet, but the weapons are closer to the head, and can be thrown in much faster and more successive combinations. Not only are the hands faster, but they can also be thrown while defending. I would say that in kickboxing type of fights, putting up a defense could easily occupy your “weapons”. For example, blocking a kick could easily use up your legs which then prevent you from kicking back simultaneously or even rotating for a counter-punch. Sure, you could counter AFTER defending the kick but not during. (Of course, there are always exceptions.) But in boxing, it’s very common to attack and defend simultaneously.
Having to attack and defend simultaneously against closer-positioned and faster weapons certainly makes boxing a much faster fighting art. Perhaps what I love most about boxing is that you truly learn how to fight on reflexes. No thinking or planning, you get in there, and you feel your way through the fight. There’s no safe distance or position to slow the fight down. You’re either close or REALLY close.
The only thing you can do is what’s natural, using your natural reflexes. And learning how to fight “natural” in boxing will improve your fight reaction time. I’m sure other fighting styles do the same but I truly feel boxing does it on the highest level.
*** Simultaneous offensive and defensive REFLEXES at high speed. ***
The benefit of a boxer’s reflexes:
- faster attacking reflexes
- faster defending reflexes
- improved multi-tasking abilities (simultaneous offense & defense)
- improve overall natural fighting reflexes
“Slickness” or “the ability to be slick” is something truly beautiful to watch. There’s TECHNIQUE and PERFECTION. And then there’s ART and EFFICIENCY.
Boxing is more like jazz and breakdancing than it is like ballet and gymnastics. You aren’t really held down so much by rigid forms and structured techniques (maybe only as a beginner). Beyond the fundamentals, you can pretty much do whatever you want. As long as you’re winning, you can do WHATEVER YOU WANT. This freedom is what makes boxing so beautiful. Many of the greatest fighters you’ll ever see have broken the rules, and it takes a great sport like this to allow them to do that.
ART + EFFICIENCY = SLICKNESS
I think this incredibly artistic and efficient quality of boxing is why they call it the “sweet science”. It isn’t only there to look pretty, it’s actually effective. There truly is nothing like it. Slickness shuts down opponents. Slickness wins fights without lifting a finger. Imagine one guy slipping, ducking, rolling, and parrying out 20 punches in a row…without breaking a sweat. Like I said, the SWEET science. A little tilt of the head is all it takes to evade an attack, nothing more. It’s the absolute definition of efficiency.
This slickness can only be appreciated by somebody who’s been in the ring. You’ll know exactly how it feels to unload combinations on a guy standing right in front of you and miss every punch. You’ll know how it feels to chase down a guy who isn’t really running. You’ll know how it feels to be helpless against a guy who isn’t even hitting you.
To the untrained eye…slickness looks unskilled, untrained, lazy, unimpressive, and definitely ineffective. The untrained eye can’t see the battle for weight manipulation on the inside. “Inside fighting” looks like dirty clinching. The untrained eye can’t see the beauty of the slip, it looks like a guy with his hands down and no defense. The untrained eye looks at punch exchanges as a streetfight. They don’t see the simultaneous offense and defense, and constant on-the-fly adjustments going on.
A trained boxer, on the other hand, will not see a boxer’s slickness in other fighting arts. It’s rare if it ever happens. I think Anderson Silva was the closest thing in recent times.
*** The SLICKNESS of the sweet science at work. ***
The benefit of a boxer’s slickness:
- increased efficiency
- ability to completely relax in a fight
- ability to completely shut down opponent’s attacks
- developed artistic expression and fight identity
4. Full intensity combat
Boxing is one of the best fighting arts to experience a full-intensity combat. I’ll compare it to other fighting arts I’ve seen, in 2 parts: “FULL-INTENSITY” & “COMBAT”.
By full intensity, I mean that you truly get to train at full speed, full force, and full brutality. There are some fighting arts that are “too powerful” or “too deadly” for everyday training. They use barehands or otherwise attack in ways that can’t be practice without full safety gear. And then of course, the safety gear hinders their ability to move and practice certain kinds of attacks. Ultimately, they cannot spar at full intensity.
In terms of combat, there are several fighting arts (such as judo, wrestling, grappling/BJJ) that lack the fear factor. You’re not getting punched or kicked in the face. You’re not worried about taking serious damage. You’re not truly in a fight. It’s not the same. And so you don’t get to enjoy or benefit from all the emotions that happen in a striking art.
Boxers can train regularly at full-intensity using ALL of a boxer’s weapons
Boxing, on the other hand, easily offers both the experience of FULL-INTENSITY and COMBAT. The fighting art itself is quite simple. You can attack with two hands, using closed fists. And you can strike the head or body. There’s nothing “dirty” about it. No groin or behind the head or spine or other critically sensitive areas. They call it “the gentleman’s sport” for reasons like this. It was a fighting art evolved FOR SPORT moreso than actual real-world combat experiences. Because of this, it’s so easy to experience the full rawness of boxing without taking away from its brutal qualities.
And we benefit so much from boxing because it’s quite protective and at the same time very much a fight. You have headgear and gloves but none of these actually take away from the quality and brutality of boxing. You still get to be in a fight. You still have to worry about your face getting bashed in, you can still get knocked out. You can train at full intensity every day because you’re wearing some gear that protects your head and your weapons BUT the gear doesn’t hinder your boxing movements in any way. You get to enjoy fighting in a somewhat controlled environment that doesn’t take away the fun (*COUGH* danger) and intricacies of the art.
Boxing allows you to experience the full brutality of a fight,
in a somewhat controlled environment.
Being able to train at full intensity improves your raw fighting ability
Being able to fight and train at full intensity greatly improved my overall fighting abilities. I developed more refined techniques and much deeper fighting strategies because I actually got to practice them in the ring. Aside from the technical and strategic improvements, boxing has made me a better combat athlete. When I compared myself to friends who did other fighting styles, I could easily see that I was far more athletic than they were. My body was a better tool. I wasn’t only faster or more powerful but also much more relaxed, more slick, and much more agile. I had more dexterity in my hands, feet, and entire body. I had better balance and footwork. My eyes were so much more reactive. My body was so more coordinated than theirs. My breathing was so much more effective than theirs. The way they moved felt a bit stiff to me even if it was “perfect technique”.
*** Controlled and yet brutal fighting. Boxing strikes an impossible balance in civilized FULL INTENSITY COMBAT. ***
The benefits of boxing sparring:
- practice/experience a brutal “fight” in a controlled environment
- experience the rawness of a fight at full intensity
- practice all your offensive and defensive weapons in actual combat mode
- learn how to deal with fight or flight reactions
- learn more realistic fighting methods
- great for building confidence and becoming relaxed in a fight
5. Collective Skill Environment
One of my favorite things about boxing, where it truly stands apart from other fighting arts is the amount of combined skill and experience present in training environments. This was the determining factor that led me to leave MMA/BJJ and go into boxing forever.
How I started boxing…
When I was 19, and just got out of Army basic training, I went around looking for a fighting gym to train in as I was fascinated with the UFC and MMA. I went to Royce Gracie and Rickson Gracie’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools only to find business institutions only focused on the bottom line. The head instructors were never around. The learning was structured into hourly classes taught by family members and lower-ranked students of the head instructors. I had to pay $175/month and I never saw Royce or Rickson in person. Although the art of BJJ was amazing, the actual learning environment was not. Everybody in the class was a white-collar educated type of person, the kind that would never EVER fight in the street, probably never fight in a competition either. They did BJJ because of their fascination for the art. They didn’t care much for fighting or competing. I was unimpressed and so I turned to a friend who took me to a boxing gym.
I enjoyed the idea of boxing as a sport but originally dismissed it as “not a real fighting art” because you could only use your hands. But I’m so glad I tried it out because from the moment I walked in, I fell in love with the place. I was home at last and I’ve never looked back since.
What I saw during my first time in a boxing gym…
- On my left side, was a 3-year old standing on top of a flipped-over trashcan, hitting the speed bag the way Rocky did it in the movies. Another fighter (about 20 years old), fully wrapped up, with blood and sweat all over his shirt, jumped rope as he cooled down after a sparring session.
- On my right side, young boys, older men, and even GIRLS, were smashing the heavy bags with their fists. They were so incredibly powerful. Just sheer force and brutality. I respected them simply because of the sound they made when their hands hit the bag. I know a BJJ armbar is amazing but to hear the sound of a punch shaking the bag is a whole other world. You can feel the thump in your bones and you realize the rawness of boxing.
- In the ring, 2 middleweights battled in a test of wills. Round after round, punching, slipping, pivoting, and smashing each other in the most skillful way possible. At times narrowly missing each other, at other times, exploding their fists with pinpoint precision. Watching them up close, they seemed like gods, almighty powerful and invincible. My friend explained to me: one was a former champion, the other was a world contender. Each proving he was worthy of the other.
- In their corners, older men yelled instructions from their decades of wisdom. The expressions on their face told stories of a time before, when life was hard and people worked harder. You respected them not because they were old but because they were real men. They had lived a harder life than we did.
- Outside the ring, amateur fighters (wearing groin protectors), gangsters (wearing long denim jean shorts), and local tough guys, geared up to get in the ring. I was amazed to see how excited they were to fasten their gear and jump in the ring. No pep talks needed, these guys couldn’t wait to fight.
- All along the gym, sat “the old guys”. Retired men each with his own fight story. Ask any one of them, and you’ll get a complete fight record, fight history, where they travelled, who they trained with, who they sparred with, best knockout they’ve ever had, most famous fighter they’ve ever fought. Sometimes you don’t have to ask…they’ll tell you anyway, and they’ll tell you everyday as if they’ve never told you before.
- Meanwhile, the guy with the bloody shirt is STILL jumping rope. It’s been what…over 30 minutes? You get the feeling he’s been there over an hour. Still the same relaxed expression on his face. Still the same calmness and rhythm as before. He hasn’t tripped up once. Hard work is just routine for these guys. It truly is.
It didn’t take me long to realize this wasn’t a “fight academy”. This was a fight factory. You didn’t come here to “learn boxing”. You came here to become a fighter. The trainers weren’t charging anything, so they only had time to work with “fighters”. Ask someone how to throw the left hook and the response would be, “Get in the ring, I’ll show you.” For as long as I was willing to fight, I had received the best fighting instruction anybody could give me. Everyone wants to help when they know you’re going to step into the ring.
The unspoken rules of the gym were,
“Respect everyone, hit hard, and never say sorry.”
Boxing is a FAR more competitive sport
The boxing scene is incredibly competitive—everyone with dreams of going to the Olympics or turning pro. Boxing tournaments were everywhere. Even the competition in the boxing gyms was intense. Everybody here had been in at least 20 fights whether outside or inside the gym. Many fighters had over 100 official fights. We had competitors at every level—local, regional, national, and international. We had amateur boxers and professional boxers. We had trainers with over 50 years of boxing experience who learned from other trainers with over 50 years of boxing experience.
And when I say “boxing experience”, what I really mean is FIGHTING EXPERIENCE. EVERYONE had been in a fight. Everyone had spent their years in the ring. You don’t see that in other fighting arts. When was the last time you’ve heard of a martial artist who FOUGHT for 20 years (10 as an amateur, 10 as a pro)? Here at the boxing gym, we’ve got DOZENS of them. We had 10 year old kids fighting almost every weekend. Boxers wore their surnames proudly on their trunks because they had a rich family tradition to live up to. Boxing is very much an intact and FUNCTIONAL fighting art that’s still being used today. It’s not only the techniques being passed down but the actual fighting experience as well. Where else can you find this kind of fighting environment? It’s rare nowadays.
I think the preservation of boxing has directly benefited from modern-day prizefighting. It’s very possible for boxers to turn professional and support their families by boxing into their later years of adulthood (35-40 years old), whereas other kinds of martial artists couldn’t have made any money and had to quit fighting at an earlier age. Typically with other martial artists, they compete as an amateur for some time and then simply become a teacher by age 30 and open up a school to make money. When a sport makes more money teaching than fighting, you tend to have more teachers than fighters (students). And you tend to gravitate towards a more watered-down quality of instruction.
The fighters were the kinds of guys I got to train with everyday in the gym. Modern-day warriors who actually fought every single day and competed every month. There’s something I respect about people who actually train to fight. And trainers who actually train fighters. There were no white belts or black belts, only title belts. Everybody respected each other because everybody fought. You can see why I fell in love with boxing and why I have so much respect for the sport.
Everybody respected each other
because everybody fought.
*** A boxing gym full or locals, amateurs, and pros. All fighters. ***
Benefits of a boxing environment:
- surrounded by pure fighters
- many fighters, many trainers, many styles, all battle-tested
- collective knowledge from centuries of experience
- absolutely BS-free learning environment
- absolutely proven fighting techniques
Boxing is the sport of all sports
Boxing was a sport designed to be a sport. It wasn’t meant to be a deadly ancient fighting art designed to kill opponents. Boxing was simply a fighting sport to showcase brutality and skill at the same time. It takes hard work, heart, courage, and more. The rules were evolved to make it more entertaining, not less brutal. Padded gear was meant to prolong the fights, not necessarily to cushion the impact. Times have changed a bit but boxing is still in many ways the same at heart.
I’ve taken many friends from other fighting styles and martial arts to my boxing gym over the years. EVERY SINGLE ONE was completely amazed by the skill and brutality of boxing. They saw the training, they heard the breathing, and they felt the punches. And they were ALL humbled. These are guys with years of “fight training” now taking a seat because they were too scared to look foolish in a boxing gym. The ones that stepped in the ring never lasted 2 rounds (even against a beginner boxer). There is NO PLACE like a boxing gym (especially one with competing fighters). If you’ve never been to one, please go and see it with your own eyes. If you ever want to judge a boxer, do it from inside our home. And even better…from inside the ring.
I could go on and on about the benefits but really all I want to say is for all fighters to give boxing a chance. It’s been around a long time. It’s highly HIGHLY refined with completely functional moves. And the many lessons in practicality can be passed on into other fighting arts. It is for these reasons that just about every single MMA camp nowadays will have a dedicated boxing trainer on staff. There is no substitute for the skills and knowledge of a boxer.
Boxing can make you a better fighter,
in any fighting style that you want to do.
And if you’re like me, you might just quit your fighting art and become a boxer for the rest of your life. There’s no other fighting sport like it. Give it a try.
In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela describes his love of boxing (and why he did it):
I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it. I was intrigued by how one moved one’s body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match.
Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, color, and wealth are irrelevant . . . I never did any real fighting after I entered politics. My main interest was in training; I found the rigorous exercise to be an excellent outlet for tension and stress. After a strenuous workout, I felt both mentally and physically lighter. It was a way of losing myself in something that was not the struggle. After an evening’s workout I would wake up the next morning feeling strong and refreshed, ready to take up the fight again. (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, page 193.)