This is the second part of a two-part story documenting my masters boxing journey. Masters boxing is a division of USA Boxing for amateurs 35 and over.
Part I concluded at the end of my training for a tournament in Houston, TX. Spoiler alert: I am safe and sound writing this now from Amarillo the week following the tournament in Houston, TX.
EXPECTATIONS AND BRACKETS
About eleven days prior to the tournament the promoter started publishing brackets for the tournament. This was getting real. I could see my name on an actual bracket with the name of my opponent. The brackets also showed who would box on the second day depending on the outcome of the first match.
Everything was a bit theoretical until this point. Now, there is someone virtually standing across from me in the ring. And with today’s social media and Google platforms it is possible to stalk your potential opponent. I can put a face to a name and the visualization exercises just got a whole lot more real.
However, within two days the brackets are re-published with updates. The brackets have changed. The names have changed and in some cases the brackets are only one day meaning you might box on Friday or Saturday, but not both. So much to soak in. This required a lot of mental flexibility.
Just when I thought the brackets had settled down there was another update. The brackets changed again. At this point I’m making a few realizations: 1) the brackets don’t mean much, 2) I can’t trust what they say at this point, because we still have over five days until the tournament… at this rate that’s almost three more bracket iterations and 3) most importantly I am told that there will be “no shows” and boxers who don’t make their weight. So, basically why are we receiving brackets? I could understand why a promoter would need to plan ahead and create preliminary brackets, but maybe I don’t need to see them until they are finished. I say that, but I’m sure if they weren’t published, I’d be upset and want to see them.
The weigh-ins are a few hours before the bouts start on Friday night. This means that everything I thought I knew when the brackets came out is useless and all future brackets will be useless. I must be comfortable knowing that I don’t know anything and won’t know anything until I’m getting dressed, grabbing my mouth guard and heading to the venue. This is not ideal for a planner.
If you have never “made weight” before, it’s a new experience. You have a weight that you need to hit on a given day at a given hour. And to make it more interesting at this tournament the Friday night weigh-ins are at 3:00 PM. I could probably start to dial in my weight in the morning, but three in the afternoon is a different animal. A lot happens in that many hours of being awake. To add more complexity, I was away from home in a rent house without all my standard foods and tools to prepare them.
In an effort to minimize curve balls I went to the grocery store straight from the airport on my way to the rent house. I bought the same veggies, protein and drinks I usually eat in my kitchen. As much as possible, I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. I could not imagine losing my opportunity for a match because I didn’t make weight. The promoter was very clear that making weight was a requisite to having a match.
Weigh-ins ended up being anticlimactic. The Scale was “light” by a handful of pounds. I was shooting for 190 lbs but came in at 184. I’m pretty sure I was around 189, but apparently, I could have been much less disciplined and it all would have worked out. Oh well, I had made weight. Matches started at 7:00 PM sharp so I had a little over three hours to stay calm and prepare for my first amateur bout.
It’s amazing how fast a few hours can fly by. It felt like I looked at my watch every five minutes, and each time forty-five minutes had passed by.
It was time to start planning out the details leading up to the match. I needed to get dressed, gather up all my gear and get to the venue in time for adequate warmup. Sparring multiple times over the previous months helped me identify my perfect amount of warmup. The best recipe is eight minutes of elliptical machine, stretching for about five minutes, jumping rope for a round (3 minutes), shadow boxing with a tennis ball under my chin for three rounds, one round on the double end bag, a round or two on the tear drop bag and finally some mitt work. That combination left me warm, loose and sweaty, but not tired. I would be ready to jump in the ring and take on any challenger.
But that did not happen. The doctor meeting was supposed to happen at 6:00 PM, but the doctor wasn’t there. This is about the time I find out my match moved from third to the second of the evening. Not a big deal. My optimal warmup takes about forty minutes. The bouts start at 7:00 PM sharp and they should take about 12-15 minutes each. So, I’m planning on doing my forty-minute warmup culminating at 7:12. I can do it.
However, there were a few curve balls. First, I’ve never had my hands professionally wrapped; I did not allow enough time for that. Secondly, the doctor eventually showed up and had all the boxers line up and wait for their turn to be assessed. This took about twenty minutes. And lastly there was a specific process to get your tournament issued gloves. This wasn’t even on my radar as something to schedule or prepare for. It wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but I didn’t know the rules. You are supposed to show up at the glove table with your groin protector on, headgear and mouthguard for inspection. I was not aware and failed my first attempt. I had to go across the venue again to my bag, grab the headgear and mouthguard and go back in line for my gloves. While these curve balls are impacting my warmup timeline, they are also doing a number on my mental state. I’m watching the minutes fly by knowing all the while that my warmup time is being reduced to a handful of seconds.
It’s okay, I can do this. I still have enough time. I started to head towards the elliptical machine to start my warmup. Took a quick glance at my watch and realized I had twenty minutes left and still didn’t have my hands wrapped. My warmup time was gone.
Now, my hands are wrapped. My watch is off and I have no idea what time it is. At any moment I’m expecting to hear someone over the intercom calling for the start of the show. I’m cold, stiff, hadn’t stretched, frustrated that I couldn’t do my warmup and recognizing that I’m going to be less than prepared to step in the ring.
I put on some gloves and asked my oldest son to hold mitts for me. I would at least get a little movement in until they called for me. I was hitting mitts for a bit and still wasn’t called. So I switched to the DE bag for some of my drills. Still nothing over the intercom. I went back to hitting mitts and integrating footwork. I was actually starting to get warmed up… the sweat was coming. I was almost ready. Thank God 7:00 PM sharp turned into something closer to 7:30. Fine with me! While not ideal, it worked. I was ready to jump in the ring, physically and mentally.
The ref is signaling for me; it’s time to step in the ring now. It’s not the ring I’m used to, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s the same shape and size as one of the rings I’ve been in for hours. I take the four steps to the elevated ring, slide between the second and third ropes like I’ve done so many times back in Amarillo. My afternoon snack has digested. I can’t feel it. I can’t feel any of my nagging injuries, my left shoulder, right knee, both pinky knuckles and right hip. I’m ready. Or more appropriately stated; I was as ready as I could be.
For weeks I was thinking about this moment. I had run so many possible starting combinations and moves through my mind. I couldn’t turn them off. Well, I was finally here.
Now this is where it gets a bit hard to finish telling the story. Or better yet, it’s hard to complete the story with many specifics. It wasn’t exactly a blur, but I certainly don’t have crystal clear memories of each second. There are some specific moments, but I don’t recall long stretches of time during the rounds. I remember being out of control the first round. I didn’t have a rhythm and I wasn’t using my skills to the best of my ability. I was swinging and moving… that’s about all I know. I probably didn’t cause much damage and I didn’t take much damage. I felt two decent shots to my nose. They weren’t anything more than what I’ve felt from our sparring sessions. The bell rang and the round was over. I made it through. But I really needed to get ahold of myself.
From somewhere behind me I heard a familiar voice. Chad, one of the boxers in our group, was yelling “A to B”. That’s boxer lingo for making straight punches from your standard position directly to the opponent. I know this phrase well, it’s actually something I usually do quite well. But I wasn’t doing it tonight. This was all I needed to hear. I don’t know why, but hearing “A to B” bumped me out my funk and suddenly I remembered many of our drills and training. Don’t get me wrong… I was still an amateur with way too much to learn. But I knew where I was, what I was doing, what the goal was and some of the tools I had developed over the previous months.
The next two rounds were closer to what I was capable of; they might’ve been confused with boxing. But I still left so many opportunities on the table. I didn’t use any faints and I virtually never attacked the body. I did; however, push the pace and use my jab to setup some combos. I relied heavily on my conditioning. Being able to stay active for the entire match is priceless. Cardio cardio cardio!! There’s being in “shape” and then there’s being in “fight shape”.
My opponent had a standing eight count in the second and another in the third round. While I hadn’t been counting my strikes I wasn’t getting hit and I felt more in control. With that said, a standing eight count is no different than landing a successful shot. So, it’s quite possible to give someone a standing eight count and still lose the match.
The bell finally rang. The match was over. Nobody was KO’d or TKO’d. It was going to be a decision. I gave a brief hug of appreciation and respect to my opponent, and we went to our corners to remove gloves and head gear. We met back in the center. The ref took our hands. All the work was over. I didn’t know whether I won or lost, but I knew I could take a break from the work. I wanted to win with everything I had. The judges seemed to make their decision quickly. Or it was quite possible that time was moving differently for me in which case I have no idea how long anything actually took. It was a unanimous decision; the winner was in the red corner… and the ref raised my hand! Euphoria!
I hope this two-part story gives you some insight into Masters boxing; or at least one possible journey. Everyone’s experience will surely be different. While the second part of this story is devoted to a sanctioned bout, it’s important to know that masters boxing does not necessitate participation in a match.
Training with a Masters group offers a new level of fitness and challenges for anyone 35 and over. Learning a new skill or possibly improving a skill you have or had in the past is valuable. Boxing is much more mental than the general public realizes. Among other things, the combination of the mental game and requisite physical stamina is what makes this sport so appealing. I encourage you to find a USA Boxing certified gym and get plugged in. Have fun and keep your chin down!
Special thanks to those who helped me along the way: Coach Leon, Nieves Portillo, Champions Boxing Gym, Nick’s Fight Club, Jessie Stanley, Jonathan Cardenas, Thad Diaz, Darius Battles, Bryan Carol, Levi Condren, Jessica Sikora, Johnathan Ruiz, Saul Rodriguez, John King, John Scarberry, Chad Blount, Julio Tudon, Shannon Stapp, Andre Espeut, Max Murray and E.