From the outside looking in, boxing seems like an incredibly simple martial art. You trade punches and combinations with your opponent, try to take each other’s head off, and in the end, one fighter gets knocked out and the other wins.
It’s easy to think of boxing this way, especially with mainstream media romanticizing it and world-class production value enhancing the viewer experience. But beyond the bright lights, the flashy press conferences, and the adrenaline-inducing highlights lies boxing’s true nature. It’s a form of art — the art of fist fighting, the sweet science.
Boxing is a nuanced discipline. There are inner workings in boxing that can be found underneath the hood.
An extremely talented fighter, technically sound with mastery in every movement, will likely overwhelm opponents with expert skill. But without heart, without the will to win, skills will only take a fighter so far.
On the other end of the spectrum, a fighter can have immense fortitude and will, the heart of a lion, and more than make up for a lack of skill. That fighter has the ability to stand up after being knocked down, push forward when the body and mind advise against it, and win fights on sheer determination and conditioning.
Both fighters are dangerous fighters. A combination of both makes a perfect one.
Boxing is a battle of will versus skill. You either have the technical mastery to outpunch your opponents or have the heart to outlast them. When you have both the skill and the will, you have the makings of a champion.
Let’s dive a little deeper into it.
How Skill Can Beat Will
Boxers spend years training in the gym, honing their techniques and devising fight strategies. The most technical fighters are able to put their skills to good use in the ring. Most of the time, having that supreme skill is enough to be successful in this sport.
However, the boxing ring is a place of solace. It forces you to discover for yourself who you really are and what you’re capable of. That’s when you find out if the skills you’ve worked on are enough to carry you to victory.
Among the most technical fighters in the history of the sport are Pound-for-Pound legend Floyd Mayweather Jr., Bernard Hopkins, Andre Ward, Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, Vasiliy Lomachenko, and of course, Muhammad Ali, to name a few.
Every punch they throw is precise and with purpose. Every move they make is deliberate. They pay attention to foot positioning and maneuver their opponents exactly where they want, lay traps and capitalize on them, throw a variety of feints to elicit reactions, and more. They are always a step ahead of their opponents at every juncture.
No matter how hard opponents try or how determined they are, the skill gap is too wide to overcome.
However, there are cases when skill is simply not enough.
In 2001, former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, one of the most technically sound heavyweights of all time, lost by knockout to Hasim Rahman in Carnival City, Brakpan. Lewis was too busy shooting cameos in Hollywood and came into the fight unprepared. Rachman came in the hungrier, more conditioned fighter and scored an emphatic upset victory.
In more recent times, unlikely victor Andy Ruiz Jr. knocked out two-time unified world heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist, Anthony Joshua in 2019.
How Will Can Beat Skill
As mentioned above, there are times when will can beat skill, if there’s enough of it. In fact, a lot of fights in boxing are determined by who wanted it more, who’s more conditioned and worked harder in training. Will can trump any amount of skill, if it’s strong enough. Some fighters just simply refuse to lose.
When we talk about will in boxing, it’s about pushing harder than your opponent every second of every minute of every round. It’s about taking a solid punch to the chin and shrugging it off, or getting decked and finding the courage and strength to stand up on shaky legs. When a fight isn’t going your way and you’re losing on the scorecards, but you know all it takes is one punch to turn the tide.
Purists may disagree, but boxing doesn’t just measure your aptitude for technical combat, it also measures your heart.
Fighters like Irish Micky Ward, Arturo Gatti, Jorge Arce, and Julio Cesar Chavez, among others, have iron wills. Whenever they climbed into the ring, they just wouldn’t be denied. It’s not to say they were void of any skill whatsoever. But they sure put that aside whenever they fought, and mostly just wanted to give fans a show.
These kinds of fighters, you can never count out. Even when they’ve been down the entire fight, they fight to the end and they always have a shot.
How Combining Skill With Will Makes You The Perfect Fighter
Of course, the perfect fighter is a combination of both skill and will. When you mix the two together, it strikes the ideal balance.
You need the skill to outperform your opponents, to protect yourself from taking damage as you deal damage in return. Make no mistake about it, boxing involves a heavy layer of strategy and tactics backed by technical mastery. It’s called ‘the sweet science’ after all.
But that skill is bolstered when you have the will to win at all costs, for when your skill fails and your heart is tested. That fire burning deep inside you will pull you out of the trenches and put you in a position to win, even if you get caught.
Guys like Manny Pacquiao, Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin, and Mike Tyson, to name a few, all put together technical mastery with a warrior’s heart. And they won’t be the last. Boxing will always produce great fighters for years to come.
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