Boxing is a sport that takes a brutal toll on the body. To simply shadowbox or strike a heavy bag for 12 three-minute rounds is a terrific workout, especially if you are engaging your core muscles to deliver proper punches.
To do it while a skilled opponent is intent on breaking your body completely down is a punishing game to play.
So training is everything for a boxer. As in any sport, winning or losing comes down to training again and again.
But for boxers, not just victory depends upon training. Sometimes their lives do, too.
So all boxers train hard. Insane, as the cross-fitters like to say about themselves on Facebook.
The prizefighters of the 18th century fought in a kind of style that would more closely resemble MMA, but with no gentlemanly opportunity to tap out to a joint lock or choke, but instead a non-stop dirty-boxing and throw-heavy war to unconsciousness.
Still, the old-time fighters were most certainly sportsmen and professional athletes, and their training was taken as seriously then as it is now. In The Heavyweight Championship, Nat Fleischer quotes an article from Boxiana, the Georgian era's equivalent of The Ring:
The skilled trainer attends to the state of the bowels, of the lungs, and the skin; and uses such means as will reduce the fat, at the same time, invigorate the muscular fibres (sic)...he is sweated by walking under a load of clothes, and by lying between feather-beds. His limbs are roughly rubbed. his diet is beef or mutton: his drink strong ale...(He) enters upon his training with a regular course of physic, which consists of three doses...he must rise at five in the morning, run half a mile at top speed uphill and walk six miles at a moderate pace, coming in about seven to breakfast, which should be beef-steaks or mutton chops with stale bread and old beer. After breakfast he must again walk six miles at a moderate pace, at at twelve lie down in bed without his close half an hour...on getting up, he must walk four miles and return by four to dinner...Immediately after dinner he must resume his exercise by running half a mile at top speed , and walking six miles at moderate pace.
Under the rules of the day, which required a fight to the knockout, surrender or collapse, all that road work made sense. In a very long fight, simply staying upright and paying attention could become a problem after an hour or so. As a former infantryman, I can tell you that a walking regimen like that day after day is going to force your body to get hard quick.
Or else break it.
Without a modern sauna to employ, the historical trainer's desire to keep the muscles warm and the body sweating and limber is smart.
I do worry about this fighter dehydrating, but the prescription of strong ale is not as bad an idea as it sounds. Alcohol is a muscle-relaxant, and a heavy ale is a legitimate source of carbohydrates, something that an athletic fighter would burn up while walking 20 miles a day.
Prizefighting has always been a thinking man's sport.
The reason Mike Tyson holds a fascination to boxing fans, and to the culture at large, is because the young version of Tyson represents a kind of ideal.
The young Tyson was the magically gifted child genius, matched up with caring adults who were ideally suited to mentor and develop his gifts through the proper regimen of training.
During his teen years, Tyson lived and breathed boxing, while being developed into the most exciting amateur heavyweight in North America by legendary boxing teacher and adoptive parent Cus D'Amato.
The Tyson who unified the heavyweight crown in the late 1980s was a young man who truly lived the lifestyle of a boxing warrior.
The exercises Manny Pacquiao does in this video are standard fare for any boxer and familiar to most gym goers. Yuppies today pay a lot of money to get told the same information they could have learned at any boxing gym in America, any time in the past 100 years or so.
But basic abdominal exercises are basic for a reason: They work.
There's no shortcut to the kind of abs that can eat Juan Manuel Marquez body shots all night while coming forward. It's just a matter of putting in the time and ignoring the pain.
I wanted to show a video of Timothy Bradley jumping up stadium steps with 145 pounds across his shoulders that I remember seeing on HBO a couple of years ago, but I couldn't find it. Even by boxing standards, Bradley works out like a maniac.
Bradley is an iron-nugget of a human being. His father has trained him as if he were a Spartan warrior since he was a small boy.
The trampoline workout in the video here is a smart innovation. The weights and trampoline are a smart approximation for how the legs will feel late in the fight, after complete exhaustion has set in.
Timothy Bradley has out-trained more than a few opponents in his career, but he's unlikely to do so against Juan Manuel Marquez in October. The great Mexican champion has proved himself a dedicated, cerebral athlete when it comes to training.
He's gone old school and hurled boulders. He's gone space age and visited oxygen chambers.
And for a stretch of his career, his extreme dedication drove him to actions that, taken out of context and applied to certain DMH-Manual criteria, could legitimately be described as insane. Do not click on the linked video is you are eating and weak of stomach.
To me, speed bag or fancy mitt work is entertaining to watch in the same way I always thought it was cool to see a gunfighter in an old-time Western twirl his six-gun like Ringo does in Tombstone.
And this video gives a good demonstration of why Floyd Mayweather is ultimately the fastest gun in the West.
His uncle Roger makes an important point at the beginning of the video about timing. There are highly successful fighters who have relatively average speed but still win fights because their timing is so good. There are terrific athletes with great speed who never learn to fight worth spit because they just can't get their timing down.
Mayweather is the example of a fighter with great natural speed and near-perfect timing combined.
I'd like to show this video to every muscle-bound tough guy I've seen who just won't learn how to properly punch because he is so intent on throwing all his strength into every single punch.
This little girl isn't trying to show off how hard she can punch. She's just playing a game with her daddy.
And daddy is never going to have to worry when that little girl gets old enough to go on dates.
Jack Dempsey's ferocious fighting style made him one of the most iconic heavyweight champions in history. The Manassa Mauler fought with clever, but relentless attacking style.
In this rare footage, he can be seen practicing his craft, bobbing and weaving forward behind an endless barrage of heavy blows.
If you are like me, when you get done watching a YouTube video of Dempsey hitting a heavy bag, you probably think "Hey, now I should watch a video of Joe Frazier hitting a heavy bag."
So here is that video.
Frazier was another boxer who wasn't going to be outworked in training. The reason his wars against Ali were legendary is because both men brought a high level of dedication to their training and were hence able to absorb staggering amounts of punishment.
Notice the way Smoking Joe even pounds hard through the speed bag. Frazier had plenty of speed and finesse, but he never took the hurt off a single punch.
As boxing movies, I think the Rocky series gets overrated. None of them is Raging Bull or The Fighter or even Million Dollar Baby.
But the training montages are epic and do a very good job at dramatizing the ordeal a fighter goes through to whip his body into fighting condition.
My favorite training scenes are from Rocky IV, which is ironic, since I would also nominate it as the worst film in the series (although only because I refuse to acknowledge that V exists).
But the training montage is the one part of Rocky IV where Sylvester Stallone manages to hit it out of the park. Rocky trains in the secluded, snow-covered mountains, going old-school, gladiator style while Drago trains in the sterile gym with his Commie-science techniques.
It's Rocky, the best of America's democratic melting pot, beating the people who won Stalingrad at their own game.
It takes an insane level of training to do that.