Former pro fighter Tony Jeffries reveals the unpalatable truth about the sport we love
BEING a boxer is one of the toughest jobs out there, Here is a written timelapse of an average boxer’s career.
Most of us start the sport when we are 10 years old. It just about always begins in the family somewhere – whether a dad, grandad or whoever. In my case, my uncle was a boxer.
When you enter the gym, it’s within the first couple of weeks that you start the sparring, and when you do start, you are with kids who are bigger, better and more experienced than you. This is to help us learn so they can take their time with us and not hurt us. If you do land a decent punch on them though and catch them clean, they make you wish you hadn’t because they will now try to take your head off.
Then, when the bigger kids are not there to spar with you, you end up sparring kids your age and level. Neither of you knows how to go light and take the sting out of the punches, so it ends up being a war.
I remember just about every time I left the gym my t-shirt and shorts would be full of blood from my nose.
We all have dreams of being a national champion and sometimes when you watch T.V and see the boys fighting you dare think “someday I will be world champion”.
At 11 years old, kids are fighting as often as they can and don’t care about school and most of our parents don’t care if we finish school or not as they never finished school either.
I remember by the age of 16 I had had around 50 fights and when I write this it makes me think of how I had been getting punched in the head for over a third of my life.
At 16, we leave school with no qualifications, no plan B, and end up getting a crappy job so we can pay the bills. This continues, I would say, for most until they are around the 20-22 mark. By now, they have been fighting for 10-12 years and the dream of turning professional is still there, so they will talk to a promoter. They’ll think “I’ve been doing this for free all these years I may as well be paid for it”.
Now the uneducated boxer signs a contract from this smooth-talking promoter contract that seems to be in a foreign language they’re that hard to read. But the promoter who promises the world says it’s a standard contract all boxers signs and says they’ll explain what it means, so no lawyer reads over the contract.
The fighter is still working full time on a crappy, cold building site in a laboring job, getting up at 5am working all day, as well as training full time.
They have hardly any knowledge regarding nutrition because their old amateur boxing trainers were old school and they didn’t know anything about it. I remember they would take us to McDonald’s after weigh-ins on the day of the fight in a championship at my old amateur boxing club. One of my head coaches told me that eating one wine gum an hour before a weigh-in can put 2 lb on you. It was just the way they were.
So now this fighter is overworked, with a terrible diet, dehydrated because ‘water puts weight on you’. They have asked everyone they know if they want to buy a ticket for their fight, delivering the tickets and collecting money from people in between training and work.
If they are good ticket sellers the promoters will look after them and organised an easier fight because they want them to keep winning so they keep selling tickets; if they don’t sell many tickets the promoter soon loses interest and will let them fight anyone
At the end of the eight weeks training camp, they often weigh in on the same day of the fight as this is cheaper for the promoter. Saturday fight night has arrived and they have their hard fight, get bruised up, cut, hurt their hands, and win the fight. The experience is an amazing feeling only a fighter knows about. Sometimes they get paid on the night.
It could be £1500, but now they have to give their trainer 10% and the cut man £75 so they leave with £1275, right? Nope, they have to give their promoter 10% too which knocks it down to £1125. Oh, and that contract they signed and never checked was the promoter telling them he will manage them too for another 25% – now he leaves with £750 which he won’t be taxed on because he “won’t get caught”.
They wake up on Sunday morning, their body sore everywhere, hands swollen – which they have to ice – go for a beer with their mates, but can’t have a late one because they’re back up at 5am on Monday and back to the building site.
This continues for a few years. Then they are 28 years old, have been fighting for 18 years and the body can’t take it anymore; their knees are shot from the road work, elbows are sore, hands, shoulders are always stiff. They lose their car keys all the time and forget a lot of things all because being punched in the head for 18 years has that effect on you.
Their record might be 16 fights with 10 wins. By now the childhood dream of being a world champion has died and they come to realize that boxing is not what they once thought it was. They have nothing to fall back on because their only real education was the fight game. They have kids and are asked “would you let your son box?” Guess what most boxers who have been through this say?
I’ve seen this so many times in boxing. Luckily, for the most part, it never happened to me. I was an Olympic medalist so I was looked after, but this is what most boxers go through.
I respect everyone that gets in that ring.
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