Sportblog: Learning to box - sparring

Worksop Guardian Sports Editor Graham Smyth training at boxing club Manton ABA.  Pictured with Senior Coach, Harry Watson  (w110614-8d)
Worksop Guardian Sports Editor Graham Smyth training at boxing club Manton ABA. Pictured with Senior Coach, Harry Watson (w110614-8d)

SPORTS editor Graham Smyth continues his series of blogs on learning to box at Manton ABC - and this week he begins sparring.

I punched a former professional boxer in the face.

That statement alone is fairly impressive, if I do say so myself (within the confines of supervised sporting activity of course).

When I put that statement in context, you might not be so impressed.

As tempted as I am to finish my blog at this point, satisfy myself with the achievement and hang up the gloves, I feel it’s in the interest of good and fair journalism that I fill you in on all the details.

I’ve been learning to box at Manton ABC for several weeks, generally fitting one session per week into my hectic schedule.

Before today, I had turned down the opportunity to spar with Dean Eshelby, Manton coach and former pro fighter.

I didn’t feel my fitness, or lack thereof, would allow me to throw more than a handful of punches before falling to the floor in dire need of an oxygen mask.

Today, I didn’t feel my fitness, or lack thereof, was up to it. But a good friend of mine, an Aussie preacher by the name of Glyn Barrett, once drummed a phrase into my head - ‘have a go, ya mug!’

After a week of coughing, spluttering and whinging my way through a cough and cold, it was with some intrepidation that I began the warm-up in tonight’s session.

Dean, God bless his soul, wasn’t quite as demanding as usual, and I made it through the stretches, circuit and a couple of laps of the athletics field.

A round or two of shadow boxing later and I was still feeling quite good. Perhaps the work put in during previous sessions is starting to pay off.

Or perhaps not.

Some pad work with Daniel Gregory, an experienced member of the gym, emptied me of almost all reserves of energy.

But I find it incredibly helpful - it’s tantamount to one-to-one tuition. He gave constant reminders to keep my guard up, twist my body to dig hooks in and stay on the move.

And it seems to sink in, when I throw punches I find myself making a mental note to do it properly.

If I was tired after what must have been a four or five minute round on the pads with Daniel, then what came next was truly exhausting.

After a short breather and a gentle skip, Dean called me over to the ring to get gloved up.

Head guard on, gum shield in, and all too quickly I found myself stood in the corner, facing a man who has done this properly, on television, for money and titles.

Mr Eshelby made it very clear that I was welcome to hit him anywhere, above the belt at least.

And hit him I did. But only because he let me.

I’m sure Dean won’t mind me saying that he’s a little slower than he was when he fought, and maybe a weight-class or two heavier.

But when he wanted to, he moved in such a way that I couldn’t get near him.

Throwing a punch at someone you really quite like is a strange thing indeed. I don’t possess a great deal of power anyway, but I found it hard to muster much in the way of aggression during our two two-minute rounds (both of which felt a lot longer).

Dean would position himself close to the ropes or corner, and invite me in to attack. So I did, landing a couple of body shots that he generously dubbed ‘beauties’, and trying some of the combinations I’d been shown.

Then, a less pleasant experience, he would come forward and throw punches at me. He didn’t hurt me, but I realised that if I didn’t make an attempt to move, or fight back, I would very quickly be overwhelmed.

Another lesson learned was a simple, yet powerful truth. If you drop your guard, you get punched in the face.

It is really very hard to keep moving and keep throwing, and at the same time be mindful enough to keep your hands up to your temples.

So after two rounds, I needed a break.

But I did manage to complete a third round, this time against Daniel. He was just as capable of evading my attacks, and moved around me with ease, keeping me on my toes.

Frustrating at times, yes. Tiring, most definitely. Enjoyable? Surprisingly so.

Footwork and technique will come in time. I’m not worried about my lack of skill. Fitness will come too.

Now I’ve been in the ring, and got out alive, there isn’t any going back.

I look forward to re-reading this blog in the weeks and months to come, with dozens of rounds under my belt, when I no longer flinch quite so much as a punch comes my way.

But first, a steak dinner and a lie down. I’ve earned it.