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The Loneliest Sport

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Photo by Johann Walter Bantz on Unsplash

By Dr. Tomi Wahlström |

Boxing has often been called the loneliest sport. This is true in many different ways. When a fighter is in the ring, he or she is alone. It is fully up to the boxer alone to make it through the rounds and survive. The coach and the team in the corner cannot do much after the bell rings. From that point on it is a fighter against another. While the purpose is not to hurt one another, getting hurt is a definitely possibility. Many fighters have died in the ring. The goal is to get as many points as possible but often the audience is hoping for a knock out. Boxing is, after all, entertainment and boxers are entertainers.

Training for boxing is also lonely and often as brutal as the fights themselves. The physical and psychological conditioning needed is unlike any other sport. Muhammad Ali once stated, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” Training hurts. It is painful and hard. Ali also said, “I don’t count my sit-ups; I only start counting when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count.” To last 15 rounds in the ring with the likes of Joe Frazier or George Foreman, he knew what it took.

Boxers don’t just punch with their hands. They punch with their entire bodies. Every muscle must be conditioned to deliver that ultimate power punch. To perfect each punch, the movement has to be repeated over and over again, perhaps a million times. The body of a fighter must be tuned to deliver speed and power. Hands and legs must move in a coordinated fashion like the dance of a ballerina. Every second counts because it only takes a split second to deliver, or receive, that winning punch. Boxing is so interesting because everything can change in a fight so suddenly. It is about technique, stamina, strength, and heart.

The best boxers learn how to face fear and use it to their advantage. They learn how to control their emotions inside and outside of the ring. Anger or fear can paralyze a fighter. There are boxers who excel in the gym. Their technique is perfect and they are well conditioned. However, when they step into that ring, they freeze. Some boxers are excellent in sparring and appear to have what it takes. Yet, when the bell rings, they cannot fight. Fear takes over and the pressure of performing in the front of a live audience overwhelms them. Boxing is very psychological. If a fighter thinks that he or she can lose, a loss is almost inevitable. Champions must think like champions. To be the greatest one has to believe it. As Ali said, “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”

Boxing is a sport that does not require expensive equipment and fancy facilities. It is accessible to all who dare to try it. Boxing is not a game, and it is not something you play. It is as primitive as a battle of the gladiators. However, it is also beautiful in its primal brutality. In an interesting way, it is quite civilized. It was, after all, once called the gentlemen’s sport.

Dr. Tomi Wahlström is the Provost at the United States Sports Academy.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I’ve always wondered about that moniker, The Loneliest Sport. As I do about “The Sweet Science”. But is boxing necessarily lonelier than other individual sports — golf, tennis, gymnastics, diving, etc. Do sailors or long-distance runners have coaches and teammate out there egging them on and guiding them in strategies and tactics.

    From my perspective, a pitcher and a goalie are dreadfully lonely. A pither might hve his good stuff going, be hitting his spots, but he gets roughed up in the first 2 innings for 7 hits and 4 runs, then gives up a lead-off hit in the 3rd. The manager’s hand is forced, he’s gotta yank the ace and put in that fat Guatemalan 42-year-old retread for a few innings of middle relief, and the starter leaves in humiliation. Often worse for a closer — you have one job, strike this guy out, and if he doubles off you, you’re a chump.

    Goalie? The arena only cheers when you make a mistake. That’s lonely. I knew several in my salad days, and often they vomited before games, so high was the tension.

    And let’s dispense with this nonsense about the hardest training. Do you really think Tom Brady or LeBron James or Alexander Ovechkin or any Olympic athlete doesn’t train their ass off??? And I knew some baseball and football pros, plus a champion boxer with a first name changed to an adjective similar to Fabulous, plus other contenders from my hometown (Brockton) and these guys partied their asses off in the off-season, or between fights. Then they trained really hard to lose the weight and recover from the booze and coke. But this notion that boxers are the only ones who endure punishing training is utter codswallop.

    Still, I liked the article, thanks!

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