The Evolution Of Boxing

This is the story of the evolution of the sweet science as I, Jim Thorpe, boxing coach, sees it:
The manly art of self-defense has progressed from the original pugilists, two cavemen punching each other in the head with their bare knuckles, to the more modern day pugilists slugging it out with 10 oz. gloves. While the caveman wore only a pair of animal skin shorts, the modern day warrior is dressed in satin trunks wearing a protective cup with a shock-absorbing mouthpiece protecting his pearly whites. His feet are encased in leather boots with a firm rubber sole preventing him from loosing his footing. Boxing has taken tremendous strides to equip and safeguard its warriors. Boxing does a lot better now than it did when two cavemen slugged it out.

If you could look at those old pugilists, you would notice their distorted hands, the remnants of many broken bones and knuckles. The modern day warriors have far better equipment to protect one of the most important tools of their trade. The competition gloves, the bag gloves, and their sparring gloves are so much better today. That, along with their gel wraps and hand wraps, protects their hands so much better than they were in the past. In the by-gone era, a pair of boxing gloves’ padding would shift during a ten round fight with the help of a sharp trainer. By the fifth or sixth round, you would be hitting your opponent with the same bare knuckles your caveman relatives had used. Of course, this hurt your opponent a lot more than the gloves, but no thought was given to the warrior’s poor hands. “Old school” cups weren’t as well padded as they are today, or the mouthpiece as shock absorbing as today’s technical versions. Some progress has been accomplished in boxing’s evolution.

The new heavy bags have the old ones beat all to hell. It’s much like the boxing gloves. It goes back to the material they use. The padding used on most of the old school bags would settle after a long season of punching every day. They would become as hard as a brick unless all the stuffing was taken out of the bag. Then you had to repack all that padding back into the bag. The new bags, including the water bags, seem to stay firm and uniform for quite some time. I could go on forever about the new equipment. The bottom line is almost all of the new equipment is better then the old.

Almost all, but not every piece of equipment is better. For one thing, they quit using the leather soled boxing boot or shoe as it is called today. While the new shoe gives you good traction, it doesn’t allow a modern day warrior’s feet to glide through the boxer’s shuffle. You no longer see the slick footwork of a Sugar Ray Robinson gliding around the ring in a graceful, untouchable style. That’s right, I said Robinson not Leonard. While Sugar Ray Leonard was a great fighter, he pales in comparison with the Great One-- Sugar Ray Robinson. Leonard couldn’t carry the real Sugar Man’s gym bag.

Now they use rubber-soled shoes that have the boxers looking like they belong in a cage fight somewhere. The manufacturers of these new marvels don’t understand the demands of the “old school” masters of the sweet science. I think there was some concern about the toxic effects on the warrior from the resin used on the bottom of those shoes and on the canvas of the ring. Surely, modern science could of came up with non-toxic resin if they had tried. They just didn’t understand the “old school’s” reasons for the leather soles and resin for the ring.

Then there is the torture ball that has no competition from the new school for its ability to develop the strongest stomachs in the universe. The torture ball is just an old basketball filled with sand. You then place it in a gunnysack. The sack is then covered with tape. It is then hung from the ceiling with a rope. You swing this ball away from you then allow it to collide with your stomach as it swings back to you. The power of the ball hits you square in the stomach while it picks you up off the floor. After a couple of weeks of this no body shot will ever hurt you again.

The new school gave up mostly on using the medicine ball to pound the stomach into shape. The reason it did was because supposedly it caused your liver to float. I’ve used the torture ball for well over 50 years, and my liver isn’t floating anywhere. You will have to make your own mind up on that one. I even quit using it in my boxing class for the fear of the liability of it. I still think a floating liver is caused by something besides the medicine ball or my very own torture ball. As long as the torture ball hits you in the stomach I don’t think it is a problem.

I still use it daily and I’m 60 years old with no floating liver. If it hits you in the rib cage, you could have problems. A broken rib maybe! A floating liver, who knows! It is just like any tool. It has to be used right. A couple weeks allowing the torture ball to do its job on you will give you a stomach that is second to none.

The new training equipment, safety equipment, and competition gear has made the sport a lot safer. There are still things from the “old school” that can’t be replaced. Boxing is a repetitive muscle training sport where you must train the muscles to react instead of thinking. Most of the old trainers made their fighters repeat training methods that were necessary to make the muscles react the right way every time. This is hard for the modern athlete to do. He has been programmed to hit the home run, score the touchdown, and accomplish the knockout with the help of steroids.

These muscle-building chemicals can give you the strength and power to accomplish these things, but in boxing you must have the basics down to a fine art to accomplish a knockout of a seasoned fighter. You actually have to practice that left hook time and time again to have the skill to land that punch with enough power to score a knock-out. The modern athlete doesn’t want to take the time to make these skills natural. The system pushes for instant stardom. You must achieve success in a short time, or the money hungry system loses patience with the athlete. It is not always understood that it takes time to build a champion. One can’t be built over night.

Boxing right now seems to be pushed to the side in the combative sports by cage fighting. I will admit boxing has caused a lot of its own problems throughout the years. The drive to riches has caused the sport to forget those who have supported it throughout eternity. The working class has always supported the fight game, but boxing turned a cold shoulder to its best fans. When boxing came on the television scene, it killed the small neighborhood clubs. Back in the thirty and forties, the workingman could watch boxing in Chicago or New York almost any night of the week at a different club. These were good rugged matches where the fighters would fight their hearts out. Times were tough back then. These mighty warriors gave the working class the inspiration and will to overcome these hard times. These mighty warriors became heroes to many who were suffering through a failing economy.

Unfortunately, the small clubs couldn’t compete with the television line up of top fighters for just the cost of a TV set. With the decline of the small club fights, the warriors couldn’t develop into the quality of fighters we had in the past. They just didn’t have the proving grounds anymore.
My trainer had over 600 fights on the amateur and professional level. He said when he worked on the subway in Chicago he could fight at a different club almost every night of the week. When I came along, boxing was still popular but not to the degree of my trainer’s time. I had only a little over 100 fights in my career. It is really difficult now days to find the proving grounds to develop a warrior into the quality of the warriors of the past.

The new modern world that gave us television has also given us new equipment, new training methods, and rich paydays; but in the process it has taken the mighty warriors down a notch. Maybe a mighty warrior doesn’t need everything made easier. Maybe mighty warriors are built and tempered by hard times. Maybe mighty warriors are developed only during adverse times for a reason. With hard times facing our world again, maybe the mighty warrior will once again rise out of the dust of a cruel world. He will give us the inspiration and will to overcome. Then the evolution of boxing will be complete.

Jim Thorpe

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