Bad hair days

Cassy Lear (left) and Brown (right) hard at work.

Cassy Lear (left) and Brown (right) hard at work. Picture: Marty Camilleri.

A bad hair day took on a whole new meaning for Omeo based 75kg boxer Cassy Lear in her Victorian state title bout on Sunday (December 16) against Warrnambool based  Gabrielle Brown.

Your hair can lose you a fight, so be warned women boxers with lengthy tresses.

Both of these formidable women had travelled far and were working like trojans against each other in a close fight. Brown was the aggressor for much of the fight, keeping the pressure on a normally fierce Lear who for the first time ever seemed to be boxing on the back foot.

But still she was ahead on the cards. The result could have gone either way.

But then came the matter of hair, not one of the most likely determiners of winning or losing a fight you might think. But when it starts to come loose from the headguard, more than ten centimetres below the base of the neck or flying out the top, whipping around causing a potential hazard, then you are in trouble. You’re committing a foul. And in this case the referee Shane Bell decided that he needed to enforce the rule and deducted points from both fighters during the course of the fight, until it was literally down to the wire in the fourth round.

Then the warnings and the point deductions accumulated and resulted in a disqualification…for the winning fighter. Lear finished the fight that she lost at 20 points while Brown won the fight at 17 points.

At that stage of the fight neither woman could control what was going on with their hair and it was a lottery as to who would be the one to fall to the ref’s call. He admitted later that it could have been either one of them.

Lear said this week that she knew nothing about the rule and had had worse hair problems – ‘it was going everywhere’ –  in previous fights and never been warned before.

‘It was a bit rough, I thought. I felt monumentally ripped off actually. I didn’t think my hair was out that much actually,’ said Lear.

It was Lear’s 9th fight since she began in 2010 and Brown’s second outing.

‘It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,’ said Lear, ‘But I knew I had it until then. It was just not fair, especially when no one told me about the rule.’

And the rule is, in fairness, pretty hard to find in the BA rule book, although it’s a well known regulation internationally, which is why you see women boxers so often enter the ring wearing a hair net or cloth to contain it. It’s not just a fashion statement. You can see Queen Underwood (below) is taking no chances.

USA Boxing's 60kg Olympic boxer Queen Underwood took no chances with her hair.

USA Boxing’s 60kg Olympic boxer Queen Underwood took no chances with her hair.

State champion Simone Bailey wasn’t prepared to take any risks either in her bout against Rosie Aaiva and decided to wear a shower cap. And it did the job well.

Caz Pruden, who probably has more and longer hair than any female boxer on the planet said she had never been pulled up by a ref. She goes the way of corn rows and tons of hairspray, a big plait down the back folded in on itself.

Whatever the method, get that hair under control. You don’t want to be feeling like Cassy Lear does right now!

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Answering the call

call coverIt seems only a moment ago that I was on the edge of my seat watching rare footage of women boxing.

As one of the early practitioners of the sport, I was always on the lookout for others; role models, examples, hints of how it was done. Anything at all.

I combed the slow internet, waiting for images to peel down my mono screen.

Sometimes there was a flash of someone somewhere on cable.

But it was, especially in Australia, virtually a hidden sport. Then some really extraordinary women started to break through into the light. We all know the most famous ones now, Lucia Rijker, Christy Martin, Laila Ali, Mia St John, many of them now still in the spotlight. And they have been joined by hundreds more, scores of champions and more future champions coming through.

It would be easy in that growing crowd to forget some of these early pioneers.

But we certainly shouldn’t forget Deidre Gogarty, the Irish woman boxer, former WIBF champion and now the author of My Call to the Ring.

Gogarty burst onto the scene fighting Martin on the Tyson vs Bruno Undercard and turned more than a few heads with her skills and toughness. Now she has returned a little to the limelight plugging her book.

It has been reviewed here by Cheekay Bradon at

It’s certainly a book I’d like to read.

I was struck most in this post by Gogarty’s quiet modest persona in the interview posted with I was so moved to hear her tell of Katie Taylor, the Irish Olympic gold medallist, writing to her at the age of 11. Look how far things have come even since then!

I couldn’t help but be struck by the calm quiet manner of both women. So inspirational in the sport yet with their feet firmly on the ground.

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Better than Disneyland

Diana Prazak in Melbourne earlier this year

Australian world champion super featherweight Diana Prazak never imagined that foregoing a trip to Disneyland would change the course of her life.

But that it surely did. While she might have been standing in line for a wild ride, instead she sought out the tutelage of one of the best female fighters of all time, Lucia Rijker, for a single session in LA. But she ended up on a much more exciting journey than the ones on offer at the world famous fun park.

Only a year after ditching the tourist hotspot to train with a boxing legend,  she is set to fight the pound for pound queen of women’s boxing, the 12-time three weight division world champion Holly ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ Holm. This will be Prazak’s greatest challenge to date and no matter the outcome is likely to put her in the women’s boxing history books.

Holm, the pride of New Mexico, is one of the most successful female boxers in modern times and has beaten some legendary fighters like Christy Martin, Anne Sophie Mathis, Myriam Lamare and Jane Couch. The fight is scheduled for December 7 and the two will contest the IBA/WBF light welterweight world title.

On that first trip to the United States in November last year, Prazak never imagined, after only two sessions, that she would end up being the exclusive protege of the best female boxer of all time. Prazak has been training under Rijker since late last year but has struggled to get fights. She was gearing up to face Frida Wallberg to unify the WBC, IBF and WIBA super featherweight championship of the world on November 16 in Lincoping. But Wallberg suddenly withdrew leaving Prazak with only one fight for the second part of 2012 against Victoria Cisneros on the Holm undercard.

But just like a Disney blockbuster, the plot thickened when Myriam Lamare, also in Rijker’s camp and scheduled to rematch Holm as the main event, withdrew from that fight with an injury. Prazak and Rijker decided to take a chance.

‘Diana’s willingness to learn and grow as a fighter and a human being inspire me to work with her,’ said Rijker.

‘I also worked for many years with Freddie Roach who taught me how to work with a fighter with Diana’s style.’

Rijker sometimes refers to Prazak as the Rocky Marciano of the female game. Strong, determined and with a killer power shot that can, and has, put many on the canvas. Her relentless determination saw her stop Canadian Lindsay Garbatt to take the WIBA super featherweight title from an underdog position.

Rijker believes she’s got what it takes to cause an upset against Holm too.

‘Only the strong survive here in America,’ she said, ‘and the fact she left all behind, house dog, man and most of her business and family shows her dedication to making her dream come true!’

Holm’s camp are understandably pleased that the Fire and Ice main event can go ahead with the pride of Albuquerque in the top spot.

“We’re fortunate to have a great fighter like Diana Prazak step-up to fight the best pound-for-pound women’s fighter in the world,’ said Holm’s promoter Lenny Fresquez. ‘Diana deserves a lot of credit for accepting that big challenge.”

For Prazak, this leg of a very unpredictable journey started last year when she was in Los Angeles with her Australian team after seeing her then stable mate Frank Laporto fight Austin Trout in Texas for a world title in November. While there she had managed to tee up a training session with Lucia Rijker.

She got so much out of that one session that she phoned and messaged the legendary fighter relentlessly until she could secure a second one, even if it meant missing out on the Disneyland excursion that the Aussie contingent had planned.

Sarah ‘Missy’ Howett, me, Diana Prazak and Luci Rijker after Prazak’s win.

Now, almost a year later, Prazak is Rijker’s first and only full-time fighter and the two are in New Mexico preparing to face the biggest challenge of Prazak’s career.

A lot is riding on her performance. She has had to justify leaving behind her partner, friends, family, pets and her IT business in Melbourne, Australia to put all her resources into her boxing career and getting as far as she can possibly go. After beating Lucia Larcinese in New York in January, under the guidance of world champion Melissa Hernandez, and defending her title in Australia against Fatuma Zarika in April with Rijker in her corner, this third fight is the most high profile and challenging of her career so far.

It has been a tough grind in LA. Prazak still works with her clients remotely, meaning she is often at her desk at night after hard training sessions during the day. But without sponsorship it’s the only way Prazak can fund her new life.

The reason for the sacrifices are, primarily, her trainer. She and Rijker have cemented their relationship and are in it for the long haul.

She said that Rijker was not just a great athlete but also a great communicator and training with her has been worth all the personal sacrifices.

‘She has impeccable timing,’ says Prazak. ‘She’s got to be the most technically perfect fighter male or female. She has the best technique. But not just that. She’s taken the time to learn about me and how to train me, so we can connect with each other. It means she knows not just what to teach me but how to teach me,’ Prazak said. ‘As a fighter she had amazing awareness…of the ring, her opponent and herself. I’d say that is the epitome of Lucia Rijker and I would say that has a lot to do with her spiritual practice.’

While not a Buddhist, Prazak has found some Buddhist chanting has also been helpful to her.

“When you go to a new country and all you have is you. No family or friends and you don’t have time to make friends because you’re always training it helps to have that,’ she said.

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Bella boxing babes and foxy card boys!

For those who missed the Melbourne launch of The Sweetest Thing, here is a clip of the highlights filmed by the very talented Mark Welker.

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The sweetest victory of all

How many of us thought we’d never see the day?

How many of us knew talented female boxers who were not getting any recognition? How many women walked away from boxing because there were no opportunities, no opponents, no championship medals or because it was illegal, denigrated, dismissed, disparaged, ridiculed? How many never even started because they were told they couldn’t or shouldn’t?

Well look at us now, baby. Sell-out crowds. Dangerous decibels of enthusiasm.

ImageThree Olympic champions with bright, shiny young faces! Beautiful, smiling, winning faces! These are three resounding responses to all those years of doubt and they have gone beyond merely boxing well and skilfully. This is a stupendous victory for every one of us who has laced on gloves and stepped through those ropes, risking so much more than defeat and injury. Who have shrugged off suggestions that we are too frail, too feeble, too vulnerable and generally incapable.


Who would have thought the story would get so big. So much bigger than the one-woman show that boxing has often been cast as. OK so she might be good at it but the rest of you have no chance. These Olympic boxers were spectacular, pitching their substantial talents against each other, raising the bar higher and higher for those who will follow. Inspiring young female boxers the world over. The bouts were competitive, thoughtful, skilful and dynamic. These bright and entertaining personalities came through with distinction and exemplary sportsmanship. This IS a marketable sport. These women have more charisma than female tennis players. More guts, more power, more character! How can you not sell these extraordinary athletes, with their physical dexterity and their beautiful smiles!


These three historic Olympic gold medallist – Nicola Adams, Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields – represent the culmination of a long battle by people like Lucia Rijker, Barbara Buttrick, Christy Halbert, Bonnie Canino, Jane Couch, Terri Moss, Bettan Andersson, Sue TL Fox of the website WBAN and many others who have always had faith that women can do it. They have kept that faith and channelled their considerable energy into the next generation. If we keep it up, women will own boxing. And that will be the sweetest victory of all!

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The movie version

The launch last week of The Sweetest Thing at the Bella Union in Melbourne turned out to be a fantastic event, a great crowd and a fulfilment of my dream to bring the world of the gym to the world of book lovers, giving people a live, 3D taste of what is inside the book.

And amazingly, everything went according to plan. Everyone played their parts to perfection, from ring card boy Nick Mann with his washboard stomach and his mullet wig, to Bianca Elmir and Emily Jans who boxed three skilful rounds and then answered questions with humour and eloquence. Ring master extraordinaire, Chris Flynn, roving ringside reporter Karen Pickering, did a stupendous job and music/sound by Louise Woodward was smooth and fitting, with the boxers saying they loved sparring to her original composition.

Soon I’ll have edited video highlights of the night for those who missed out. But in the meantime, Mark Welker, who was there filming the launch, also shot some training footage at Crosse Training Centre the weekend before when a group of girls came to spar. From that, he made this amazing book trailer. Enjoy!

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And it will be sweet!

The Sweetest Thing, published by Hunter in Australia will be launched next week.

The Australian launch of my book, The Sweetest Thing, is shaping up to be an event the Melbourne publishing world has likely never seen before.

Launches are traditionally events for friends and family and most people don’t see them anything more than a bit of author ego massage. People make speeches, often witty and entertaining ones, the author reads from the work and everyone buys a copy, gets it signed, has a few drinks and goes home.

Well, not this time.

This book launch is guaranteed to be different.

The audience is going to get a three dimensional look inside the book.

It will include stories of sex, violence, bruises, madness and bust ups and I can guarantee, punches will be thrown! And men’s bodies will be shamelessly objectified in the name of entertainment.

Welcome to my upside down world.

What I am most excited about, though is that I’ll be able to present the highest standard of female boxing you are likely to see in this country with three of the most talented women in Australia.

Bianca Elmir, a three time national champion and Oceania champion had gained Olympic selection and had one more hurdle to overcome at the AIBA women’s world championship in China, before her journey was derailed. Just as she was about to weigh in, an ASADA drug test that showed she was positive for diuretics meant had her kicked off the team and sent home. In her place, 19-year-old Kristy Harris stepped up a weight class from 48kgs to 51kgs and fought in Bianca’s place.

At the launch both of them will be sparring each other to show what world class women’s boxing looks like up close. Those who have never seen any kind of boxing will be captivated, shocked, maybe a little frightened but ultimately impressed and inspired by these you women.

And Bianca, an articulate and charismatic person, will take questions about her experiences and talk about how the drug test drama has affected her.

Also in the mix will be Emily Jans, who, as well as being a great boxer and kickboxer is also a vegan and a drummer. She won this year’s national championship at 64kgs in Hobart and is yet another female fighter who breaks the stereotypes…about both boxing AND being a woman.

So be prepared for an exciting launch where we turn gender on it’s head, with topless ring card boys to punctuate proceedings.

It will take place at Bella Union on July 17 at Trades Hall in Carlton at 6pm and will include words from Chris Flynn, Karen Pickering, myself and the female boxers as well as a slide show featuring some of the juiciest black eyes you’ll ever see.

The Sweetest Thing is published in Australia by Hunter

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When only the best will do

What an amazing week in women’s boxing it has been for me. I had to pinch myself these past few days at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra as I witnessed something I thought I’d never see.

The women are finally being taken seriously, given a comprehensive national coaching program and benefiting from all the AIS facilities, from the dining hall to physios and dietitians and sport doctors and recovery centres. About time!

I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the national elite women’s boxing team, the Brazilian women’s team and the New Zealand women’s team by head coach Bodo Andreass, as they prepared to go to China for the world championships next month. I was there to do some fill-in sparring when needed, training and observing and I certainly learned a lot, not just from the girls but from the women’s coach Allan Nicolson Jnr, who unpacked the competition sparring in a comprehensive video analysis as each boxer tackled their opposite numbers from Brazil and New Zealand (teams pictured above).

Jessica Retallack v the Brazilian 60kgs boxer for the second time.

How lucky I was to have been in this position without having to fight in selection trials to get there, and to still be allowed to play, despite my advancing years. I was so grateful for my second wind and the chance to mix it with the new generation. I can’t deny there was a tinge of envy, that I wished this had been available to me when I was coming up. But in the end, you can’t turn back the clock and I am so thrilled that there is now some enthusiasm, money and support for the women. So hopefully, no more false starts. Women’s boxing in Australia is out of the blocks.

It makes all those punches in the head count for something. Personally I always knew that the women would shine, but I also knew they couldn’t do it alone. Now they have the infrastructure and support I’m even more sure of their success since they clearly have the support of each other as well. Boxing is an individual sport but being part of a team, when you can boost each other, is also pretty special.

And these young athletes made me feel very welcome to join them, all from the Victorian flyweight Kristy Harris up the weight scale ladder to Bianca Elmir, Cherneka Johnson, Skye Nicolson, Jessica Retallack, Shelley Watts, Kaye Scott and Arlene Belncowe, who missed out on selection but proved herself to be someone to watch nonetheless as she took on the tough foreigners and impressed the coaches. All of them were warm and welcoming to me and I even managed to spar with Arlene and Cherneka. Coach Allan gave me some rounds on the pads, although it did cost me a cup of coffee. I’m sure I will be going back to Queensland before long to work with him some more. I found him to be a really calm and impressive communicator with the team, getting the message across effectively and firmly. It made me cringe at all the old school, abusive coaches I encountered in my early days, men who just liked to be bossy for the sake of it, telling you to do the opposite of what you were doing no matter what it was, just to assert their ego. Boxing is complex and coaching even more so. It was kind of daunting thinking about how I might handle it myself. But that seems to be the path I’m on.

Coach Allan Nicolson Jnr gives Victorian rep, 48kg Kristy Harris some sound advice before sparring.

The whole week I kept getting flashbacks to the days when I started and thought how I would have soaked up all this feedback like a sponge. And back then there were so few women it was hard to get fights but most trainers believed it was a passing fad and so were reluctant to take girls seriously, many thinking they had no place in the sport. Now here we were in Canberra, a group of young female boxers being taken very seriously indeed. Training and sparring with the women’s team from Brazil and New Zealand, being treated like boxers, elite boxers no less who would be representing their country! I don’t think there has been such a dramatic change in attitude in regard to gender as there has been in boxing since the mid 1990s when I began. And in many ways this Olympic year marks the start for the sport. I can’t wait to see where it will go.

Mini Marciano

I’d also had an amazing weekend before I left home, not just seeing Australian super featherweight Diana Prazak retain her world title but enjoying the company of some professional women boxers that included my hero and one of the women that features in my book The Sweetest Thing, Lucia Rijker and Australia’s Sarah ‘Missy’ Howett, a long time sparring partner and friend.

Sarah 'Missy' Howett, me, Diana Prazak and Luci Rijker

Diana had been training with Lucia – the most dangerous woman on the planet – in LA in preparation for her WIBA title defence.

Nat Fleischer, perhaps boxing’s most famous historian and also editor and founder of The Ring Magazine, named Rocky Marciano as the 10th greatest heavyweight champion ever.

There were flashes in Marcianao in Diana Prazak in her fight against Fatuma Zarika on March 20 in Melbourne, Australia. Zarika, in turn, was the re-incarnation of all the slippery fleet footed boxers through the ages. An evasive Kenyan with excellent skills, a little bit Mayweather, a little bit Sugar Ray with a good long jab but not quite enough fire power.

While Fleischer said Marciano was crude and lacked skill, Diana showed she had been picking up some important tools from Lucia making this her best outing as a ‘boxer’ so far, but it will always be in her nature to come forward and attack. She’s a fighter at heart who is fuelled by a desire not just to win, but to crush her opponent and she doesn’t really mind how messy it gets as long as the job is done. So far so good.

In this case it was a task easier said than executed as Zarika employed some phenomenal footwork, making herself a hard target for the Australian.

For Prazak, there was a lot riding on her shoulders. This time she wasn’t the underdog outsider trying to snatch the title from the champ as she did from Lindsay Garbatt in September. This time she was the champ. Furthermore she had a new corner, no less that the greatest female boxer ever.  Prazak has always been walk-up, but now at least she does it with some dips and feints and sometimes Tyson-like pendulum swings. She was using angles, trying to work her way in with her jab, although there were also a few old Prazak-style leaps in later rounds.

Ultimately, it was her will, as always, that won the fight. Zarika had some great skills but against such a strong determination they weren’t enough

Final scores 98-90, 100-91, 98-91


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News flash! Women can box!

Skills and thrills. Ramadan throws a jab at Graf.

The Herald Sun’s Ron Reed has finally discovered women’s boxing, which is great for him, and for the rest of us too, I suppose, even though he’s about five years behind the times.

But while we have been watching the sport grow and develop exponentially over the past decade, Reed has been hiding behind his own prejudices, pretending it will go away as long as he doesn’t look at it or write about it.

I used to work at the Herald Sun and Reed was happy to leave the reporting of women’s boxing to me. But if I was still there maybe we’d have to fight over the chance to cover what are clearly among the most exciting fights on many of the broadcast shows.

It’s all because Reed found himself ringside at the Susie Q Ramadan v Alesia Graf WBC bantamweight international fight on Friday (February 24) night and realised that, hang on a second, two women can fight with the same speed, skill, explosive power and grit as two men. And in his world that in itself constituted news. He declared that women’s boxing had finally attainted credibility. And true it was a great fight. One of the best fights, male or female, that we’ve seen on TV lately.

A win for boxing and Susie Q Ramadan.

Ramadan was a split points winner adding WBC to her former IBF world title credentials. A close fight makes for a good fight and everyone has an opinion on whether the decision was right or wrong. But actually, the real winners are the fans and lately men’s boxing has been the part of the sport in need of exactly this kind of credibility. Matches have been seriously lopsided. But in this case promoters Barry Michael and Brian Armatruda have been making sure that doesn’t happen on their Melbourne based shows. And the result was a win for the audience, which is exactly the kind of thing that will make the sport grow and flourish. Sport is about competition after all. Fights need to be competitive.

And the women’s fight illustrated this better than any other.

But to say that it brought women’s boxing credibility implies that it was lacking it, which is actually not the case. And isn’t that kind of insulting to all the other local women boxers who Reed hasn’t seen? Women like Nadine Brown, Sarah O’Connell, Sarah Howett, Angie Parr, world champions Erin McGowan and Diana Prazak, Jasmine Ward, Julie Gaston, Sarah George, Shannon O’Connell the list goes on. There are amateurs who have competed internationally and clocked up scores of fights over the past ten years, Claire Ghabrial, Sabrina Ostowari, Kelly McGrath, Naomi Fischer-Rasmussen, Caz Pruden. And there are relative newcomers adding depth to the talent pool. Kaye Scott, Arlene Blencowe, Bianca Elmir, to name just a few. Never mind their antecedents, the incredible Sharon Anyos, a WBC title holder and ’emeritus champion’, Amanda Buchanan and Holly Ferneley who fought out of a state that deemed her sport illegal.

What does Reed even know about these women? I’d hazard a guess at saying that he knows next to nothing. So it might be like me seeing my first ever game of AFL football and declaring it quite an entertaining sport as if this was some kind of a scoop.

Furthermore, let’s give the actual combatants in this fight some due too. Graf and Ramadan came into the ring with more than 20 fights a piece. Graf had been somewhat of a star performer in Germany, where they realised as far back as the 1990s with Regina Halmich, that women’s boxing was worth backing. Who did Ron Reed think these girls were fighting? Graf has been in with some of the stars of her generation. Alicia Ashley for one and Ana Marie Torres. Not that Reed would have any idea who those women are. And Ramadan has put it on the line against Jasmin Rivas in Mexico and has three times defeated world champion kickboxer Michelle Preston. They haven’t exactly been doing Boxacise classes.

So without wanting to sound like a smart Alec I’d like to welcome Ron Reed to the real world, where women have been fighting with all the skill, power, speed and smarts that men have for quite some time now.

Maybe that is news that it’s news to him.

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Watch out for the ‘mitt men’

A pair of focus mitts do not instantly make someone a boxing trainer.  But it’s very easy for the untrained eye to think so. Pads are all about sound and movement, that’s why they are used in open training sessions and any TV piece on boxing. Wow, that sounds good, that guy hits hard.

But is it, to paraphrase Shakespeare, just a lot of sound and fury signify nothing?

I love punching the pads, I must admit, although I’ve never really settled into a routine with a trainer, so every time I punch them I feel like I’m a beginner, even though I have been boxing for many years, nearly 15 of them now.

But I do a lot of sparring and one thing I notice about pads is, they are not like sparring. They are more like learning dance moves. Hitting a target with two heads that come towards you instead of a target with one head that often moves away from you and if they come towards you they are throwing punches too. And with pads, you’re doing what you’re told and not responding to what you see in the way your opponent moves. You’re listening not watching, which is so different from the real thing.

It always makes me wonder a little about the efficacy of the mitts. Despite the feel-good factor, is most of the serious learning going on in other ways, like when you’re sparring and your corner tells you to try something and it works? Or when you’re shadow boxing and learning to throw punches on balance? Or when you are watching quality fighters and are inspired to imitate them?

My biggest problem is that the sight of a mitt, makes me, and I think a lot of people, want to hit hard rather than crisp, so I become tense and anxious to please. Punching a mitt can be satisfying, though, it can get your heart rate up and make you work. But is it actually doing you any good as a fighter? Are you learning?

Now that the mitt is on the other hand, so to speak, I believe the mitts are quite a good teaching tool, especially if you’re trying to get someone to snap their punches. But they have to be used in combination with other tools; glove work, shadow boxing, heavy bag, double end bag, slip ball and, perhaps the most important tool of all, quality sparring with a good pair of eyes watching you. And that includes good drill work that helps two boxers work offence and defence together. Sometimes the right community in the gym is the best tool of all.

There are some who believe that the pads have become a substitute for actual knowledge. But that might be taking it a bit far since most of the high profile trainers today like Freddie Roach and Roger Mayweather use them.

But in Mike Silver’s book ‘The Arc of Boxing: The rise and decline of the sweet science’, focus pads get a pretty harsh assessment. And the critique is worth considering if you’re in the process of searching for the right boxing trainer. It might help you sort out fact from fiction.

‘The vacuum of expert teacher-trainers has created a fertile breeding ground for gimmickry and artifice that is of little use to a fighter,’ Silver writes. One of these, he says, is, ‘the ubiquitous use of what are popularly known as ‘punch pads’ or ‘focus pads’.

‘These oversized gloves, similar in size and cushioning to a catcher’s mitt, fit over the trainer’s hands to act as targets while the fighter hits them with a series of combinations. Punch pads were apparently rediscovered after showing up in the Rocky movies in the early 1980s. Every boxing movie now has the requisite scene of a fighter working out with the punch pads. Before Sylvester Stallone incorporated punch pads into his movies they were virtually non-existent.’

It’s worth observing Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby to see how little concern for reality Hollywood has when it comes to the sweet science. Clint is great. But you wouldn’t want him doing pads for you. Not when he holds them a mile apart, virtually down by his waist, and with such limp wrists.

‘Pad workouts are colourful. They are fun to do and watch but their contribution to enhancing a boxer’s skill is negligible. Although punch pads had been around since the early 1950s, old school trainers rarely, if ever, used them. They believed that hitting the pads with the same combinations over and over had limited teaching potential and emphasised a robotic ‘bang, bang’ style of boxing. Their use did not encourage the fighter to think.’

Silver goes on to say that the pads were meant to refine the execution of a specific punch, to help master the mechanics, not to act as the only means of training a boxer.

He interviews 1950s fighter, trainer and former Ring correspondent Tony Arnold and the famous commentator, Detroit based trainer and Kronk gym owner Emanuel Steward.

Arnold questions how a trainer can properly see how balanced the fighter is if he is constantly catching punches, particularly at seeing how balanced a fighter is if he misses punches, which as we know, is a big part of the game.

And I wonder about that too. You don’t want fighters, or aspiring fighters, bouncing off the pads, using them to hold themselves up. But if you are observant, you can avoid that. Which means pads might be OK in the right hands. You so often see personal trainers using them with no clue as to how they might be properly used to teach boxing. Probably they got their style from Clint.

But maybe combined with knowledge, pads aren’t all bad.

Steward says they look good and impress the crowd and the ‘media guys’ but there’s ‘very little actually being taught’.

Maybe not for the seasoned veteran. But most fighters warm up on them before a fight. Going to the amateurs you hear the constant pop-pop-pop as the fighter prepare. However, I know in my last two fights in the United States. I warmed myself up, as I would in the gym, with some skipping and shadow boxing. And my performance in the fights was not hampered by the absence of pads.

Silver’s conclusion?

‘Before the1980s punch pads were never part of a boxer’s regular workout routine. Far from being an improvement, their ubiquitous presence is yet another indication of the dumbed down quality of today’s boxing instruction.’

Lately I’ve seen some really shocking padwork. People who know less than zero about boxing making a lot of noise when their people hit the pads. They slam the mitts into the boxers fists, shout a lot of encouragement and have them charging forward in ways that will probably get them knocked out if they try it against an actual boxer with skills and pop.

You also see these people in the park early in the morning training boot campers, having them throw punches across their bodies, dropping their hands so they are flailing and unbalanced. They may as well be swimming or doing Zumba.

So look for the warning signs

No combinations,

No footwork

No defence – slipping, blocking, weaving, dipping

Lots of shouting

All forward movement, no backwards movement with punching

Slamming pads into fists to make the punches sound louder and harder

No instruction

No rhythm

No understanding of the ebb and flow of combat

Holding the pads far apart from each other, too wide so the boxer punches across his/her body

Here’s Steward talking about the pads if you want to hear what a top line, old school trainer with decades of knowledge has to say.

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