Why be sceptical about boxing?

14 May 2019

I love boxing. In my opinion, it’s not only the most exciting and challenging of all sports, it’s also one of the best ways to instill the virtues of commitment, discipline, and self-respect in young and old alike. The mindset necessary for a boxer to overcome the struggles of training and fighting resonates strongly with many people facing the struggles of daily life. Day in, day out, boxers grind away in the gym and ring with the hope of eventually achieving something great and meaningful… just like the rest of us do in our families, workplaces, and communities.

Boxing is both a science and an art. As a science, it’s the study of how to most efficiently and effectively use your fists to strike another person. As an art, it’s a mode of expressing the strange beauty of human combat. This unity of science and art in a single sporting endeavour is why boxing is traditionally known as “the sweet science”. Or, at least, I am willing to speculate that that’s the reason. The greatest boxers, like Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali, have always expressed themselves artistically inside the ring just as must as they have applied a technique to defeat their opponents.

So boxing in and of itself is wonderful. I don’t have any doubts about that.

The world of boxing, however, is another matter altogether. I use the phrase “the world of boxing” to mean the colossal admixture of products, individuals, organisations, corporations, and socio-cultural practices which constitute what people generally have in mind when they think and talk about the sport of boxing. This is the world of gloves, hand wraps, mouth guards, punching bags, skipping ropes, trainers, gyms, diets, referees, judges, promoters, commentators, journalists, broadcasters, governing and sanctioning bodies, equipment manufacturers and brands, marketing and advertising, and so on. It’s all this stuff that more often than not fills me with doubts.

Don King with rocket launcher
If you wouldn’t trust this man, then you should be sceptical about boxing

In point of fact, the world of boxing is profoundly and chronically beset by unjustified assertions, misleading information, outright lies, deception, and corruption. Any intelligent and reasonable person who enters this world and stays in it for a while – whether as a boxer, a trainer, an official, or simply a fan – will eventually, if not immediately, come to harbour a few serious doubts about it. I don’t know whether the world of boxing is worse than the worlds of other sports. Perhaps it isn’t. But even if that’s so, it’s still often a bizarre place inhabited by bizarre people saying and doing bizarre things.

A good example is the question of gloves.

Which gloves should I buy? This seemingly innocent interrogative, which must have been uttered or at least thought by almost every newcomer to the sport, is a vexed and perennial subject of debate among boxing aficionados, and drives an industry predominantly founded on appearances, celebrity, and pseudo-science. Advertisements for gloves are veritable farragos of meaningless technical terms, phony jargon, baseless assertions, and functionally irrelevant aesthetics. Many product reviews simply parrot this marketing bunkum and then encourage you to click on an Amazon Affiliate hyperlink. The key objective properties determining the performance of gloves are generally, if not always, glossed over or ignored. This is probably because no one really knows what gloves instantiate what properties, not even the companies who produce and/or market them. And, of course, almost everyone these days is trying to sell you something. So it is that absurd marketing campaigns and product reviews proliferate around the world of boxing like contagious diseases.

I intend ScepticalBoxer to be the home of sceptical commentary (i.e. news, reviews, thoughts, and reflections) on the world of boxing. I am an active boxer myself and I also train others to box. But I didn’t get involved in boxing until my early thirties and I’ve had relatively little formal instruction under a qualified trainer. I’m now in my late thirties and mostly self-taught. By the standards of boxing, I’m what you might call an elderly novice.

In the true spirit of ScepticalBoxer, therefore, I recommend that you treat my sceptical commentary with the same scepticism I recommend you treat everything else in the world of boxing.

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