Watching some of these big fights on Pay Per View may lead you to start thinking - how did these guys get to where they are now? Even the undisputed champions of the sport had to start somewhere. How do you get into boxing - how do you find your trainer, your promoter, get fights, get known and challenge for a title? This is a question that is considered by many who might seriously consider a career in boxing, but possibly don’t know where to start.
Boxing is a difficult sport to get into, especially if you’re a young adult. Many people just don’t quite realise the reality of boxing - you are sharing a confined space with someone who wants to hit you and knock you out, and you do this for a living. However, if your love of the sport is such that you want to do this competitively, we’ve written a very comprehensive guide on what to do, what to look out for and how to cope as an aspiring amateur or professional boxer. You do, however, need to fully understand what you’re signing up for, and we’ll discuss that in this article.
Note - this is about how to get into boxing as a boxer - and not how to get into boxing as a fan. I’ll have a separate article on that shortly.
Boxing competitively - what you must realise
We talk about the mental toughness required to be a boxer later in this article, but before you start looking at getting into boxing seriously, you need to have some idea of why you want to do it. Honestly, if you’re just looking to get fit, this probably isn’t the right thing to do. Yes, box, by all means - but if you just want to lose a few kilos, getting into the ring with an experienced sparring partner is not the easiest way of doing this. Besides, you’ll need to be at a certain level of fitness before you’re even allowed to do this.
Boxing provides a huge number of benefits even to those who don’t do it competitively. In addition to being a great way to get in shape, boxing will improve your confidence, your self-esteem, your health, your respect and your ability to defend yourself. Boxing will change your life if you do it properly - it will teach you that no matter how good you are, there’s always someone who can humble you - but at the same, it gives you a level of self-esteem and toughness that in my opinion is unmatched in any other sport.
If you have a love for the sport, see it as a way to make a living, and you have the patience and the mental strength to realise that this isn’t going to be a walk in the park, but it will change your life, that’s more than enough reason to get down to the gym and start training.
Finding a gym
This kind of goes without saying - you need somewhere to train. It isn’t going to be enough to buy a heavy bag and train in your garage if you want to make it in boxing. You need the expertise of a coach, the experience of sparring, and the environment of being surrounded by other boxers if you’re ever going to fight seriously.
The easy way of doing this is just looking for a boxing gym online. Most gyms now have websites, and dedicated social media profiles where they show off the achievements of the fighters who train the gym. Often the gyms are run by former professional boxers who may have their own social media presence. Your first port of call should be search engines or social media sites in order to find a gym locally. Once you’ve found one, do a bit of research on boxers who’ve come out of the gym, and what they’ve achieved - this should give you some kind of indication of the quality of the gym - although a gym that hasn’t produced top-level competition doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad gym. What you can also do is do a search for boxers from your area and see where they trained - again, this gives you an indication of the quality of the training you might get.
One thing to be very sure about, though, is that the gym is local and is easy enough for you to get to. You’re going to be there very often - at least five times in a week, and probably for up to two hours at a time. Do the gym’s opening times fit around your schedule - or can you move your schedule to accommodate when the gym is open? How far away is the gym? You don’t want to be driving for hours just to get there - you need to pick somewhere that’s reasonably close and local to you.
You should spend some time evaluating the gym and its equipment and facilities. Most importantly is that you need to be sure that the coaching offered at the gym is a good fit for you - if you’re training with a coach that you don’t gel with, you’re wasting your time. You’ll need to give it at least a few months to make this decision, but if you feel you’re in a position where you’re not making progress after this time you need to look for somewhere else. Also, pay attention to the equipment - is it looked after, or are things broken and never fixed?
I want to touch on this as I feel it’s actually the most important aspect of becoming a boxer. It comes as a harsh realisation to many, but if you’re going to box competitively, you need to understand this.
There is not a fighter on this planet in any kind of combat sport, that has not had their ass handed to them at one point. Losing is inevitable - even for the best in the sport.
This is not a bad thing. However, you are delusional if you think you will never lose. And losing is a hard thing to accept - in fact, you shouldn’t accept it, it should give you the drive and the passion to get back in the gym and work on your flaws. Failing will only ever make you better in the long run.
However, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Don’t be that guy who walks out of the gym after losing a sparring session because you can’t accept the fact that you weren’t the better man.
Boxing is hard. Take a step back for a second and think about what it actually involves - you need to get your body into better shape than 99% of other people. Not only that, you need to be in a certain type of shape - you need to have huge stamina, and you need to be lean. And you need to do this just to be able to play the game - nobody’s giving you any titles just for being in shape. Not only this but you need to keep your body at a certain weight for large portions of your career, and if you can’t make that weight come fight time, you won’t be able to box.
And when you do make the weight, and you get into the gym, you’re going to think you can box, and your coach is going to tell you you’re fighting like a clown. You might have some naturally good punches that won’t need a lot of attention in the gym but there will be others that will take you months and even years to get right. And if your coach is any good, they won’t sugar coat your flaws - because if they did, you wouldn’t take them seriously and you’d get yourself knocked out. You need to be able to go into a gym, listen to your coach, internalise their advice and actively work on yourself and your boxing.
And all of this is hard, and someone who’s weak mentally won’t be able to do it. And this is before you get into the ring opposite the guy who wants to put you on the canvas - that’s a whole level of mental toughness in itself.
We discuss the financial impact of equipment later in the article, but it’s worth discussing your equipment as a separate topic. You aren’t going to be able to train properly unless you have your own stuff. Yes, some gyms have communal equipment for you to use - but I wouldn’t particularly want to share some other guy’s groin guard. You need your own stuff.
You don’t necessarily need to have everything from day one - but if you’re taking this seriously, you’ll need to make an investment in your future, bite the bullet and get hold of some decent stuff. And when I say decent stuff, I don’t mean that you need to buy the best gloves on the market just to start sparring, but also don’t buy the cheapest synthetic pair of crappy gloves you can find on Amazon. Go for a decent brand like RDX, TITLE, etc - a middle of the road brand that will provide you with a reliable product without breaking the bank.
A really important consideration is that if you’re going to be sparring, you need 16oz gloves. Get a pair of bag gloves and sparring gloves and do not mix them up - training on the heavy bag with your sparring gloves will compress the padding and make it much more uncomfortable for your opponent. If you have anything less than 16oz gloves, you likely won’t be allowed to spar in most gyms.
We put together a full equipment list later in the article, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves - start with a good pair of gloves and wraps, and work your way up from there.
Commitment to training
Let’s be clear - you won’t get anywhere if you’re not committed to boxing. Committed doesn’t mean walking into the gym once per week and doing 15 minutes on the heavy bag, standing around chatting and then going home. You need to be putting in serious work in the gym for you to reap the benefits of boxing, and for you to have any chance at making a living out of the sport.
I liken this to being a professional musician. Not some guy who plays in a band on the weekend for fun, but someone who actively wants to play in an orchestra and will be willing to spend hours and hours and hours every day, correcting even the tiniest of mistakes that hardly anyone is going to notice. Think of it this way - could you learn to be a concert violinist? Of course you could, with enough practice. You have arms and fingers, just like the best concert musicians have. However, could you learn to do this in a few hours, or even a few months? Not a chance. You need to put in the time, you need to put in the work, and you need to study - and you’re going to FAIL. No two ways about it. But fail enough times and you’ll start to succeed.
You need to be in the gym a minimum of ten hours per week. If you’re not doing this, you aren’t going to get the opportunities to fight that you want. And like I mentioned - this needs to be time spent working. You need to give boxing at least this much time, and you need to work the rest of your schedule around it in order to gain enough experience. You also need your coach’s confidence that you’re ready for a fight - they aren’t going to put you in for a bout if they think you’re going to get KO’ed, and the only way you’re going to ensure they have confidence in you is if you show up to the gym, work, and listen to what they have to say.
Starting as an amateur or a professional?
This is a big consideration for any aspiring fighter, and it’s really important to realise that there are significant distinctions between both. For example - how amateur boxing is scored is very different vs professional boxing, the number of rounds is lower, etc. Many fighters don’t like the amateurs and turn pro quickly - others prefer the amateur field and don’t ever turn pro.
Of course, if you’re going to earn any money from boxing, you’ll have to turn pro sometime. However, there’s no stipulation that you have to fight at the amateurs at all - you could quite simply turn pro without ever having a real sanctioned fight before, and there are people who have done this. I personally feel this is a big disadvantage, for good reason:
Nobody cares about your amateur record.
Everyone cares about your professional record.
What this means is that you could have 50 fights as an amateur and lose every single one of them, but as soon as you turn pro, the slate is wiped clean. You’re 0-0-0. It makes much more sense to get some fights and experience behind you before you turn pro, simply because if you turn pro straight away, lessons you could have learned in the amateurs when nobody cares about whether you win or lose you’re now learning as a professional where it’ll result in a black mark on your record.
Unfortunately there’s a lot of record discrimination in boxing - and this does make sense even if only for commercial purposes. Do you think fans will be more interested in watching someone who’s 10-0 who lost 12 fights at amateur and learned their lessons when it wasn’t going to tarnish their record, or someone who’s 10-12-0 and turned pro with no amateur experience - despite the fact that these fighters might be equally good?
If you get to this stage as a pro, you’re never going to be able to challenge for a significant belt - people just won’t give you the time of day. You’ll be seen as a journeyman - the guy who fights up and comers and is likely to get knocked out. This isn’t where you want to be in your career - you’ll never attract media attention (except maybe as a sideshow if you get knocked out badly enough) and you’re never going to make any significant money out of the sport. You might as well get the word “opponent” tattooed on your head - because that’s the only way anyone will see you any more - someone to test fighters that promoters have invested in.
One thing that is also worth mentioning is that you may be able to get the attention of a promoter at amateur level - which will help you in your career. If you win a significant amateur belt or tournament, or even get picked for the Olympics, people will notice you - especially people who can get you fights and get you on TV. A good example of this is Amir Khan, who was something of a celebrity before he ever turned pro - and there was definitely an element of this in him booking his first few pro fights.
Another thing to consider seriously is how you’re going to afford to be a boxer. This might seem a little bit of a silly thing to say when you see guys like Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua driving around in fancy cars and living in huge houses, but these are the guys who’ve made it to the point where they’re highly marketable athletes. You, as maybe an amateur boxer who’s had a good few fights, aren’t in a position to be making any kind of money out of your fighting, and even when you turn pro, your first few fights aren’t going to pay you enough to make a living.
The main concern here is the thousands of hours you’ll need to put into your craft in order to get to the point where you can even start fighting. If you’re not at a particular level of fitness in the first place many coaches won’t even let you in the gym. And the one thing it takes to develop this level of fitness and hone your boxing craft? Time. And it’s time you won’t be paid for.
On top of this you are going to have associated costs with being a boxer. You will need to buy your own gear - trust me, I’ve been in a situation where I’ve been at the gym and had to use a spare pair of gloves that were lying around, and it’s very unpleasant. Other people’s gear stinks, and you need your own. I’ve put together something of a shopping list below, but this is really the bare minimum you need while you’re in the gym.
- Sparring gloves
- Heavy bag gloves
- Groin guard
- Boxing boots
- Hand wraps or gel inserts
You’ll also want to look at some of your own training gear, such as maybe your own skipping rope.
All of this costs money - and you can’t buy crap, you need to buy something that’s at least half decent. Unless you have a rich uncle who can bankroll your boxing career, you’ll need to invest in yourself and your own gear - which means fitting your boxing training around a job.
And this is just to be in a position to show up at the gym. Many gyms are going to charge membership fees - which you’ll need to budget for. Then if you have a fight scheduled and the sanctioning body requires a medical, you’ll need to pay for that. If your fight is an hour’s drive away, you’ll need to budget for travel, for a hotel, etc - it all adds up. Likely you’re going to end up carrying a bit of debt until your boxing starts paying to cover your expenses.
The other thing to think about is that if you’re fighting on a regular basis and you have a regular job, you need to think about how your boxing is going to impact this job. Now, if you work in an office and you never see a customer, you’re probably not going to be affected by this too much - I’m sure it’ll be an interesting story to tell if you ever show up with a broken nose, but it might not necessarily affect your employability. However, if you work retail, or any kind of job where you need to meet with clients or customers, it probably won’t give a good impression if you turn up for work and you look like you’ve been beaten up. Additionally if you have some kind of manual labour job and a boxing injury prevents you from doing that job, you might have to go off sick for a while - which affects your income.
The build up to your first fight
As I mentioned previously, you won’t even be considered for a fight if you’re not ready. Getting to the stage where you’re ready to get into the ring for the first time for real takes a lot of work, and there’s a lot of things you need to consider.
Firstly, you may need to cut weight if you’re likely to come in over your weight limit. Your coach will be experienced in this and will show you what to do, but what this involves is diet and dehydration in order to make a particular weight, which you’ll then put back on again after the weigh in. This is a really dangerous thing to do without the proper experience as you can make yourself sick, and is something you really need to take guidance from your trainer on. Even if you’re not preparing for a fight, you should be watching your weight anyway and trying to keep it roughly in the range of your weight class so you’re not having to go through this process weeks before a fight.
Additionally you will find yourself suffering from nerves. The week before the fight, you need to take things easy - training extra hard isn’t going to help, as if you haven’t done enough work by now, or you’re not in good enough shape, it just isn’t going to happen - there isn’t enough time. Take things easy in the gym - don’t spend hours and hours on the heavy bag, spar light, do mitt work and shadowboxing. You need to keep yourself sharp, but don’t over exert yourself.
Finally, relax - all the work and all your training has led you to this moment. Make the most of it. Win a few fights and it might be you challenging for a belt one day.
This article is part of our series on Boxing Info.