What goes on inside a champion’s head?
What do they worry about? What do they focus on? How do they approach boxing and fighting differently from other fighters?
The most shocking and inspirational revelation of all was when I realized all pro boxers saw themselves as champions. They had all won local amateur tournaments or achieved success in other areas of life. Even the ones without sporting accomplishments saw themselves as champions in life. And all of them trained like they were going to become champions.
After spending several years with these guys everyday in the gym, it was easy for me to pick out all the things that made them different from the average boxer.
I initially wrote this guide to describe pro boxers but it wasn’t long before I realized I was describing the mindset of every champion.
1. Mental Confidence
Lots of self-confidence
What can I say? Pro boxers are very confident about themselves.
No more insecure questions like:
- “Am I too old to box?”
- “Am I not genetically gifted enough?”
- “Are my reflexes too slow?”
- “Do I have what it takes?”
- “Am I too weak for boxing?”
- “Will I ever be successful in boxing?”
None of that crap! Pro boxers have already decided long ago, that they loved boxing and wanted to do it no matter how hard it was. They love the sport and don’t mind tackling challenges along the way because they get to do what they love.
So instead of questions full of self-doubt, pro boxers usually have more utility-type of questions:
- “How can I improve my punching power?”
- “How can I deal with taller opponents?”
- “How do I clinch on the inside?”
No more self doubts. They’re way beyond that point in their life. They’re only focused on doing it and doing it well. They ask positive constructive questions which can only lead to positive constructive answers.
I should make it a point explain HOW they got to be so confident. It has to do with time and experience. Exposure to the sport at the highest levels and skin in the game. After learning so much from your trainer and seeing yourself grow, you get more confident. After sparring with so many guys that nothing surprises you anymore, you get more confident. After training alongside pros and seeing how you’re not so far behind, you get more confident. After spending so many years in the gym that your hard work begins to pay off, you get more confident. That’s all it is. And so that’s why it’s nearly impossible for beginners to feel confident when they have so little time invested in themselves and little experience.
It’s one thing to be confident in your potential and value as a person. It’s another thing to be confident in your skills and fighting ability. One comes from having self-respect, the other comes from hard work and sacrifice.
Great life perception – MOTIVATED & EXCITED
One thing I love about pro boxers, is the way they look at life. They’re excited to live. They can’t wait to wake up everyday and take on a new challenge. You don’t even have to motivate a pro fighter, because he’s already excited. He’s excited to train, excited to fight, excited to push his limits.
He’s not concerned with failure, he just wants to try. And that’s how pro boxers hustle. They take EVERY opportunity. They know time is limited. They know nothing lasts forever. They’ll sign up for fights even when they have no experience. They’ll spar guys at the gym who are far above them. They’ll talk to anybody who might be able to help them. They grind and push and look for open doors in their lives.
Pro boxers take every chance, take every opportunity. When is the next tournament? Who can I spar with in the gym next door? Who is the best trainer in town? Where can I move to right now for a better gym? Who can I talk to about getting fights?
It’s not about money, it’s about giving yourself every chance possible. Looking and learning about every opportunity available to you. It’s your business to know these things.
2. Social Support
Friends and Family
Pro boxers have great support in their lives. They know that nothing great can ever be accomplished alone. Watch a video of when a fighter loses, and see who’s shoulder he cries on. And when a pro boxer wins his first championship belt…you will never see him cheering alone. Watch him and see who he runs up to and hugs. Listen to who he thanks on the microphone.
The people who support you in your life will allow you to do great things. Things far bigger and better than you could have ever done on your own. But first to have these people in your lives, you need to respect them. You don’t get to be a selfish little brat. You don’t say, “I’m the champion, I get to do whatever I want.” NO! You treat THEM like the champion and you respect them, and appreciate your time with them, and you take care of them. YES, you have to take care of other people…even as you’re busy with your own life and your own goals. You take care of others if you want them in your life. And when your time comes…I assure you, they will take care of you.
Having support in your life is absolutely crucial. I’m not talking about the “yes men” who lie to you or only hang around you to leech off of respect others have for you. I’m talking about people who truly care and support you and want to see you do well. You need somebody to talk to when you have self-doubts. You can’t be going 4-5 days thinking you’re not good enough. That kind of thinking will DESTROY you. You need a friend to jump in right away when you lose a sparring match, and say, “Yeah, that wasn’t your best performance. But you’re still improving and we can work on those things tomorrow.”
During times when you’re too hurt to talk to yourself, you need a friend to say, “Keep going. I think you can do it.” You need friends and family to tell you the things when you don’t have the strength to believe in it yourself. Anybody can help you. A coach can share stories of when he used to fight. A wife or girlfriend can listen to your training stories. A father or friend can hold the mitts. A little brother can video-tape your sparring sessions. A little sister watching you hit the bag can make you hit the bag just a litle bit harder.
Pro boxers are always surrounded by people who care. If you don’t have people who care about you in your life, you are already a step behind.
Lots of respect
Pro boxers have lots of respect, for themselves, and for other people. Respect starts with yourself first. You have to care about yourself. You stay in shape, you work hard, you behave right, and you talk to yourself with kindness. And you do this not because somebody told you to, but because you’re worth it, and you mean a lot to yourself, and you want the best for yourself. You show up on time not because your coach will get angry but because you see the benefit that YOU get when you show up 5 minutes early. You can’t expect others to care about you when even you don’t care about yourself. If you respect yourself, others will respect you, too.
Nobody cares about a person
who doesn’t even respect himself/herself.
Next comes respect for others. You can’t expect others to respect you when you don’t respect them. This was actually a hard concept for me when I was growing up. I thought “respect” meant you had to bow down to everyone like they were superior to you. Well…it’s NOT that. It’s not about bending or shrinking your ego and/or doing free things for others.
Respect for others is more about caring about others. When they talk, you listen. When they need help, you step up. When they set a time, you show up early. You don’t do this because you HAVE to, or because you WANT to. You do it because you care about the relationship. Even a seemingly small surface relationship deserves respect. And you never know because this person might open a door for you later in life.
The worst thing you can do is start throwing negativity into relationships before they’ve even been established. Talking behind someone’s back. Arguing with people over nothing. Letting jealousy affect your ability to be professional/courteous/polite. Maintaining or allowing negative relationships and people to stay in your life is another mistake.
Another way to respect others is to respect yourself first. The more you take care of yourself, the less others have to do it for you. You’re a grown-up, not a baby. Get in shape, wrap your hands, train out all your bad habits (like dropped hands, not jabbing enough, etc). This tells your trainer that you respect his time and that he doesn’t have to baby you like everybody else. This tells him you’re serious. And believe me, EVERY TRAINER loves to work with a guy who takes care of himself.
Even a “monster” like Mike Tyson had respect for his trainer. He loved Cus D’amato like he was his own blood. He even picked up his opponents off the floor after he knocked them out. Sometimes it’s their former friend and sparring partner that they’re forced to fight. You have to look beyond the braggadocios macho image that is portrayed on TV. Pro fighters have far more respect for others than you think. They’re grateful for their trainers, their managers, their sponsors, their family/friends/fans. They’re thankful for so much in their lives. Because they know how much the support meant to them.
Learning quickly is the only way to
improve survive in this brutal game. The faster you learn, the less punishment you take. Staying humble and being respectful definitely helps you get far. Other people respect you more and are more willing to help you if they see that you’re humble. Likewise, your ego has to be under control for you to listen well to others.
Love for other boxers
As much as you think YOU might love boxing, wait till you REALLY start talking boxing with a pro. They’ll tell you about all sorts of random stories and things that happened when they hung out with famous boxers. They’ll tell you stories about fighters you’ve never heard of (like their less famous brother with a 3-5 record). They’ll tell you all about the behind-the-scenes stuff.
- _____ was really sick when he lost his fight.
- _____’s brother had died in a gunfight the week before his fight.
- _____ told the funniest jokes in fight camp.
- _____ had the ugliest but most annoying uppercut in the gym.
- _____ got drunk and ran around naked in the forest at ____’s fight camp.
- _____ just had a kid.
- I watch football with ______ every weekend.
It’s not so much about who knocked out who, or who would win in a fantasy match-up. Boxing and boxers were their lives and family. You heard about EVERYTHING…not only the fights, but what happened throughout the years and what happened in and out of the gym. Boxers weren’t only superheroes that you saw on TV but real people with life stories and memories. And it was touching to see that they cared for each other as people, not as celebrities.
3. Work Ethic
Pro boxers are motivated
We all know pro boxers are among the hardest-working athletes in the world. There are very few people who work harder and sacrifice more in their lives than what pro boxers do on a daily basis.
- hours of training
- punishment in sparring
- foregoing fun social lifestyle and sex
- isolated from friends/family to live in remote training camps for months at a time
- being forced to perform when their bodies or minds are tired from over-training
- subject to strict diets and training routines
We’re talking years of sacrifice. Years of sacrifice SIMPLY FOR AN OPPORTUNITY. They work that hard when there’s no guarantee of success. That takes extreme amounts of motivation.
Pro boxers don’t ask questions like, “How long should I train everyday?”
That’s something a lazy person asks. That sounds like someone looking to do only the bare minimum.
A even better question would be more like, “How long can I train everyday?”
This here sounds more like a person who wants to push his limits. This here is a person who wants to see how much harder he could be working.
But typically, pro boxers are pretty much in the gym 24/7. That’s their life. That’s what they do. They know of a million ways to entertain themselves in the gym. Being too tired to train is quite hard to do given that they’re in such great shape. And even if they ARE too tired, they find ways to train their mind. They ask questions, they watch others spar, they watch videos. They’re basically training 24/7. They don’t let any opportunity go by.
I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting. That is when I start counting, because then it really counts. That’s what makes you a champion. – Muhammad Ali
Pro boxers are very professional
Pro boxers live boxing. That’s what they do. Boxing is the priority. And so they handle it like a real business. They train and train before thinking about anything else. There are days when they don’t feel like training but they do it anyway. Hard training is routine. They’re not looking for a pat on the back. They’re not looking for any reward. They just want to get the job done. They appreciate the responsibility, and they’re proud and honored of having a job that demands hard work.
Pro boxers are proud to be boxers. And this goes far deeper than being able to look cool and say to your friends, “I’m a fighter.”. It’s about having a purpose in their lives that means something to them. They’re glad to have something so meaningful to live for. At any given time of day, they can ask themselves, “What should I be doing today?” and the clear answer would be, “BOXING”. That’s it, end of story. Boxing is their meaning of life.
Pro boxers are serious
The sport of professional boxing is dangerous. And they all treat it with respect. It’s not so much a fun game the way spectators might see it. Or not so much a cool sport the way we watch it on TV. Pros walk around with that attitude of seriousness like anybody could get hurt. Like a tight-rope walker getting ready to perform. For the crowd, it’s entertainment. For the athlete, it’s life or death.
Pro boxers more than anyone know how long it takes to be good. They’ve seen how hard champions work and they’re grateful to be in the same company. They understand how many years it takes to develop a good jab. They understand how many years it takes to build a bulletproof defense. They don’t keep asking, “When? When? When?” They simply get to work and appreciate the success as it comes. Success can’t be rushed.
4. Training Routine
Now for the fun part! How do pro boxers train?! What do they do?
Lots of sweat
First off…pro boxers are sweaty as hell. I can ALWAYS tell who the pro boxers are when I step into the gym because their entire shirts are drenched. That’s the easiest giveaway. Look for a guy who looks like he went swimming with his clothes on. The sweat comes from hours of constant movement. No cool-offs during the workout. No more than one minute break for anything. They are always moving, always warm…from the moment they enter the gym till the moment they leave.
Long warm-ups and cool-down routines.
They have suuuuuper long warm-up and cool-down routines. An hour warm-up and an hour warm-down, EASILY. Their “warm-up” is what many of you consider a workout (skipping rope, shadowboxing, bag work, calisthenics). Warming down is hundreds of push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, some light weights, more shadowboxing, lots of stretching to keep the body from being sore or stiff the next day.
The pro boxer’s warm-up is probably harder than most guys’ entire workout. I really mean this. Most guys have a half-assed warm-up because they’re afraid of getting tired before the sparring. And then they half-ass their bag work and mitt work or skip it until after sparring to save energy. So they don’t even break a sweat until sparring and by then, the sparring has taken everything out of them that their workout was practically done right as they began to warm up. And then they’ll throw lazy punches on the bag, do 50 push-ups and call it a day.
Watching a pro hit the heavy bag, you never get the sense that he thinks he’s fighting a live opponent. He’s calm, just chilling, just working his punches. Throwing his combinations, putting a little pop here and there…but mostly just being calm. It might still look very intense to an amateur but for the pro, he’s only going about 50%.
On the flip side, it’s the casual boxers that are typically over-excited to be hitting the bag. They’re the ones who actually look like they’re fighting a real opponent. You see them bringing their hands all the way up to their face, slipping and dodging, and jumping all over the place. It makes sense to me because beginners usually don’t spar much and get the chance to do all the “cool moves” they want to do in the ring. And so they do it on the bag.
Pros on the other hand are more focused on punching technique and punching rhythm. Just trying to maintain a steady flow on the bag. They throw many small punches and make less exaggerated movements in general. Their hands are usually more at chest level. And overall, their bagwork is pretty chill.
This attitude crosses over their mittwork and sparring as well. That isn’t to say they don’t hit hard, it’s that they’re RELATIVELY relaxed when they do it.
Meditative training state
Pro boxers often look like they’re meditating in training. You can hear the calm silence in their minds when they’re working the bag, or shadowboxing, or just doing crunches. It doesn’t feel noisy and over-energetic the way it feels with a beginner.
Pro boxers seem to be in their own world and just breathing their way through all the routines. The interesting thing though is that they’re ALWAYS listening to their trainer. The trainer will yell something out and you know the fighter hears it but he doesn’t respond or look over. Pro fighters don’t need eye contact to communicate. They hear you and you know they hear you.
Pros are notorious for long periods of shadow boxing. It’s their warm-up, warm-down, pre-fight drill, and meditative relaxation. Anybody can look impressive hitting a bag. But it takes a pro to look impressive shadow boxing. I wish I could explain this but it’s better for you to see it in person. They look so graceful and relaxed and yet so powerful at the same time. The arms keep pumping and pumping and they seem to have endless energy. You can always tell when it’s an a beginner shadow boxing because 1) he has no variance to his movements, and 2) he’s done in 3 rounds.
Pro boxers do so many core exercises everyday that it easily takes them about 30 minutes to an hour to get through all of them. I’ve seen it all from crunches, sit-ups, ab rollers, medecine ball twists, to plenty of other painful exercises. They’ve been doing them for years so their core is so strong that it doesn’t leave any soreness on their body.
Round Robin Sparring
It’s a lot of fun to see pros preparing for their fights because their sparring is way intense. There’s usually the main guy who will stay in the ring for 8-12 rounds while a new guy switches in every 3-4 rounds. You’ll typically see him warm-up with a guy his size, then maybe take on a guy slightly bigger or a southpaw or a tricky slickster, and then warm-down with a guy who’s smaller/faster. While they all show him respect, they’re also there to make him work and prepare him for his fight. I don’t know how else to describe the camaderie in a team beat down, but that’s what it is.
5. Fighting Technique
It is ALL in the eyes. They have cool calm vicious eyes. Deadly serious. There’s a difference between the eyes of a kid who just wants to fight and a pro setting a HUGE counter.
Alert doesn’t mean nervous and scared or fidgety. It means calm and ready. Alive and calculated. They see everything. They really do. From the moment you twitch your shoulder, they’ve already prepared their slipping pattern for your next 3 punches. They always seem to know where to look. They always know what’s coming next and from what angle. They see your movements almost even before you’ve decided on them.
Fast AND SLOW
One guy told me, “To be fast, you have to be slow.” It’s confusing, but what he meant was to be fast and to surprise an opponent with your speed, you must first move slowly. It’s not so much your speed but rather your CHANGE OF SPEED that surprises opponents. If you watch the fastest fighters, you see them walking around and using a lot of slow lulling movements to calm their opponents before suddenly striking with a lightning quickness.
It’s the beginners if anything that try to be fast all the time. Too much jumping and jerking around all over the place. When you watch the pros spar, there are many moments of calm stillness in their sparring sessions. Like two statues meditating before springing to life against with combinations. And then back into their restful meditative staring contests. This doesn’t mean that they stop moving. They’re actually always moving, but you see calmness and relaxed state-of-mind even as they’re moving.
Pros throw many punches that are really fast touching shots. It’s not a loaded power jab, it’s like a quick reach. And they know when and where and how and they do it from so many different angles. You feel like pros can always touch you from many different angles.
It’s very common to see pros throw a combination–QUICK PAUSE–then another combination. Many rapid bursts of combinations and lots of combination exchanges. This contrasts amateurs because amateurs are more often trading and engaged in longer combinations. Pros move a bit more and so combinations tend to cut out.
Spin-outs on the inside
It’s common to see amateurs and casual boxers play the distance game where both fighters constantly jump in and out. Pros are especially skilled at coming right up to your face at precisely the right time (when you’re not punching) and then pivoting around you and/or spinning you as well to reverse positions along the ropes.
Lots of walking
Pros are typically fighting for so many rounds, they prepare not to waste energy jumping around like the way amateur boxers do. They rely on clever use of angles and slick movements to avoid punches up close. Not having to move around so much allows them to sit down and stay grounded for more powerful punches.
Nasty body shots
Pros throw amazing hooks to the body. They know the perfect spots and have slick enough head movement and precise timing to dig to the body. They’re definitely not afraid of counter right hands when they throw left hooks to the body.
Slick head movement
Incredible head movement. It’s not particularly fast or jerky. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem like they’re moving their head. And sometimes it looks like they’re slipping in slow motion and yet all the punches miss. You have to witness this in person to appreciate.
What does it mean to be a champion?
It’s more than a status or a title to be held.
It’s the simple dedication of your life to a goal.
The moment you dedicate every part of your body and life to the sport of boxing, and you commit your future to it, you are on track to be a champion.You don’t have to wait for a contract. You can start today. You can start training, pushing, making contacts, asking good questions, and challenging yourself every day. If you know deep down inside that you train harder and smarter than everyone else…you won’t have any fears when it comes time to facing the world.
Being a pro boxer is more about having the attitude than the title itself. If you live with the right attitude MENTALLY, it doesn’t take too long before you become that PHYSICALLY.