Following yesterday’s post about Jack Dempsey, I received several questions about other fighters from the past. Many have inquired about the differences between today’s boxers vs. those from previous eras. What is the biggest difference between the two?
In my opinion, the most significant change is the frequency of competition. Fighters from the past spent more time boxing. Boxing was more common so there were naturally more fighters competing and more fighters available for sparring. It was not uncommon for world class fighters to fight more than once a month. There was very little down time. As soon as one fight ended, another was planned.
Perhaps the greatest example of activity comes from the legendary Henry Armstrong. He held world championships in three different weight classes at the same time. In 1937, Henry Armstrong fought 27 times. Yes, that is right. He had 27 professional fights in one year. He fought nine times between July and September alone.
Based on his activity, those who are not familiar with Armstrong may assume he was a safety first fighter. Such an assumption could not be more false however. Henry Armstrong had several nicknames, two of which were Homicide Hank and Perpetual Motion. His pressure was relentless. His stamina was endless. He never stopped throwing punches.
Aspiring fighters can learn plenty from legends like Henry Armstrong. While we’ll certainly never see fighters compete so regularly, we should recognize the significance of his activity. The best way to stay sharp as a fighter is by staying active. The best amateur fighters stay busy throughout the year. They compete regularly both locally and at larger national tournaments. The best professionals also stay busy. Perhaps the best modern example is Bernard Hopkins. At age 48, he won a 12 round title fight earlier this month (March 9th). He was back in the gym just a few days later.
Too many modern athletes live in constant fear of working too hard. They baby their bodies as they’ve been led to believe that anything strenuous must be a sign for overtraining. Such individuals would have never survived in Henry Armstrong’s era.
Armstrong was one of the best conditioned fighters of all time. What’s even more incredible is that he did so long before supplements and performance enhancing drugs became commonplace. He also didn’t have scholarly conditioning specialists overseeing each and every move he made. Armstrong’s approach was quite simplistic. He trained hard, focused much of his attention towards the sport itself, and fought regularly. He steered clear of the complexity that is so common in today’s era.
There is plenty to be learned from his example.
For those interested, more highlight footage can be seen below.
“I like this feeling of weariness after training, when I’m walking home exhausted, dragging my feet. I like this a lot.” – Fedor Emelianenko