The exhausting truth about boxing

The consensus seems to be that Sonny Bill Williams would have been knocked out if his match with Francois Botha had gone the full twelve rounds. Kind of crazy isn’t it? This is a sport where one of the ways you’re allowed to win is by hitting another person until they’re unconscious.

Putting aside the upset that surrounds the fight, I’m in awe of anyone who steps into a boxing ring at all, ten rounds or otherwise. Those charity fights that only last for three minutes each? I bet they’re the toughest three minutes of the fighters’ lives.

I mess around in boxing classes for fitness. It’s great fun and no one gets hurt except for the boxing bags. I bash away at those bags, dancing around the edge of a fantasy in which I am the world’s mightiest street fighter. Wanna take me on? Huh? Huh? Go on, I dare ya, I’m a smashing machine!

I wouldn’t last three minutes in a real fight, let alone ten or twelve rounds. It’s one thing to be fit, it’s another to have someone trying to hit you back. The other day I banged my head on an open cupboard door. Wham! Instant disorientation. You could argue that a cupboard door is more painful than a padded boxing glove, to which I say padding shmadding. One thump from a mighty punch in the head and it’d be all over for me, glove or not. You don’t get to sit down and cry in the middle of a fight, you have to keep moving. That’s the exhausting part.

I grew up watching highly esteemed and cerebral art on television, programs like The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider. Every fist fight on those shows sounded like an array of fire crackers. Whack! Crack! No one ever seemed to hurt their hands or stop to clear their heads. It was like a conversation with fists. Punch, punch, punch, have you finished hitting me now, okay, it’s my turn for a while.

Movie fights are just as absurd. They go on and on and on. Dudes doped up on testosterone manage to pound each other multiple times in the face and the stomach. No one gets winded or stunned into dizziness. Then they throw each other through walls and windows and start the punching all over again. If I counted out all those punches in isolation and took them safely to the boxing gym, I’m pretty sure I’d be worn out long before it was time to dodge a counter punch.

Physical exertion is physically exhausting. It’s easy to forget how exhausting it is when we’re sitting on the couch. “Pah! They should have gone the full twelve rounds!” we scoff. Then we drive to the supermarket and park as close to the entrance as we can.

Most of the commentary I’ve heard on Sonny Bill has come from my female colleagues and it’s nothing to do with his boxing. I’ve heard a few barbs here and there about SBW being a show pony who is out of his depth. I think you don’t step into any boxing ring lightly, no matter who your opponent is.

Plenty of people try new careers and the transition is not always smooth sailing. We usually don’t have to navigate our learning curves on such a public stage. Life is stressful at the best of times. Imagine deciding to get into boxing: “Hmm, what I’d really like to do now is get hit in the face a lot. On television. And it’ll be great if thousands of strangers bet money on my failure too.”

Surely not a casual decision to make? I bet his mum is proud of him.