Getting Ready for Your First Fight – 3 Things to Know
Written by Bran MacRea
So you’ve decided to take your first fight after only 12 months of training – Congratulations!
It won’t be easy, but today we’ll bring you more confidence to this process. Entering the novice division means potentially squaring off against competition who has been boxing for years. Though I did win my first boxing fight, I had the brakes beaten off of me in my second bout after getting matched up against a 9-fight “novice” with over a decade of training under his belt.
Your coach will try their best to play matchmaker, but it’s always a roll of the dice within the amateur rankings. That said, winning your first fight within only 12 months of training is all within the scope of possibility; with the right approach to conditioning, skill development, and mental preparation it is a feat commonly accomplished by the dedicated.
In today’s post, we cover all three!
Read on to learn three tips to help you win your first fight after only 12 months of training. First, we outline a responsible way to approach your fight conditioning. Next, we discuss learning strategies to develop competitive fight skills as quickly and efficiently as possible. And finally, we touch on the mental aspect of stepping into the ring for the first time.
My personal examples are in reference to boxing, but these principals hold true to accomplishing any challenging endeavor in life that requires a prolonged period of practice.
1) Pace Yourself for the Long Road Ahead
How should you pace your training so that you peak on fight night?
If you’ve got 12 months to work with, one of the biggest mistakes to make is treating your training like a year-long “fight camp.” At most, a professional training camp will last between 4-8 weeks; even career athletes can’t maintain the level of effort and sacrifice that fight preparation demands year-round. To avoid injury and maximize their learning/physical adaptations, beginners must understand the difference between learning to box and preparing to fight.
Even with a background in martial arts or athletics and a fight on the horizon, you must ease yourself into training. Boxing is a high-impact sport that can produce a lot of wear and tear on the body. “Too much too soon” almost inevitably translates to “boxer’s fractures,” shin splints, shoulder injuries, and mental burnout [all of which cut away from your time and efficiency in training].
You will get in shape by learning to box, but focusing on sport-specific conditioning too early is counter-productive. Beating yourself into the ground with punch-outs and power drills early on not only puts you at risk of injury; it reinforces bad technical habits as well.
No one has mastered punch mechanics at six months of experience, so why would you spend time trying to punch as hard and fast as possible using bad form with high repetition? Think efficiency – wouldn’t that time be better spent improving your punch mechanics, so that the suffering you endure during the strength and conditioning phase really pays off?
Rather than jumping into a full-fledged strength and conditioning program for combat athletes, dedicate the first 4-6 months entirely to skill development. Start with 3-5 days of boxing each week with an emphasis on learning. Take your time to master your stance, basic punches, and efficient movement. Drill often, and jump on every opportunity to hit mitts. Don’t worry about leaving it all in the gym every day, and don’t be afraid to take days off; focus on training well rather than training hard. This learning period will allow you to develop a strong foundation while you prepare your joints, ligaments, and muscles for the long road ahead.
After 6 months of solid skill development, your mind and body will be ready to take things up a notch. At this point, you’re ready to start incorporating some extracurriculars – roadwork, conditioning drills, and even some hypertrophic strength work if you desire. Your coach should be able to help you periodize your training in detail, but as a general rule, all the glorious grinding you watched on 24/7, Countdown Live and UFC Embedded should be limited to the final 3-4 weeks, with at least a week of lighter training and rest to recover before your fight.
2) Fold a Single Sword and Learn to Swing It Different Ways
You know that skill development should take priority for the first six months, but how should you structure your learning? You won’t know [and shouldn’t expect to know] everything after only 12 months of training, so it’s better to focus and sharpen a few specifics that will work most efficiently within your first bout.
If you can bear another clichéd sword-fighting metaphor in a martial arts discussion, it breaks down like this:
“it’s better to go to battle with a single sharp sword than an arsenal of dull ones.”
With that in mind, it’s better to develop confidence in 1-2 techniques that will work under pressure than it is to become mediocre at everything and freeze. And since we’re dealing in martial arts clichés, this Bruce Le quote seems appropriate:
Since there aren’t any kicks in boxing, the move I practiced “10,000 times” was the left hook. I would start and end my training sessions with two rounds dedicated to the mastery of this punch. I threw myself into the details – responsible hand positioning, getting the structure and mass of my arm behind the punch, sitting down to generate power in my feet and in my hips, eliminating tells, retracting the shot faster – soon enough, it began landing more & more in sparring.
Once it got to that point, my confidence soared. As green as I was, I suddenly had an equalizer in my arsenal; something I could fall back on when I was fighting on instinct or the going got rough. “Folding a single sword” in this way made me more comfortable against people with more experience than myself, and helped the rest of my weapons open up that much easier against guys at my level.
Now. . . you can’t win a fight with just one technique. You may have heard a coach say that you can “win a fight with the jab,” and that’s true, but not if you’re throwing the same jab the same way, with the same timing and speed. In a real fight, you pay for being predictable. A swordsman who folds his blade a thousand times has a very sharp weapon, but they will surely suck if they can only swing it one way!
Using one technique is fine, but you must vary your set-ups and entries to make it work – fold a single blade, but swing it different ways. When I focused on the left hook, I wasn’t only refining the speed, power, and efficiency of the punch; I was also practicing different ways to throw it. I learned to hook off the jab; to set up on my lead hip to catch and counter their hook with my own; to hook with a “reaction punch” style straight out of my shell defense like a button; to hook off of feints; to hook/uppercut to the body; to throw with palms in and palms down; to probe and to power-punch up close and at range – I even learned to throw Floyd Patterson’s leaping “Gazelle hook”! This allowed me to develop my punch mechanics at a high level without handcuffing myself with predictable delivery.
Floyd Patterson’s Gazelle hook is thrown from long-range and covers ground quickly.
If you only have 12 months to prepare yourself for a fight, choose 1-2 punches that come naturally to you, then “major” in these techniques while you continue to study the rest of your arsenal. Dedicate at least three rounds per training sessions to these bread-and-butter techniques, but don’t be robotic in training – fold your sword but practice swinging it in many different ways. Experiment with different set-ups using feints, head movement, counters, and punch variations. This approach will give you the tools and confidence you need to perform at your best on fight night!
3) Think Less to Fight (and Train) Better
Having offered some tips on how to structure your training and skill development, it makes sense to touch on the mental side of combat sports. One of the biggest problems that afflicts new fighters is “paralysis by analysis.” If you’re counting every calorie, thinking through every move made in the gym, and consuming mostly supplementary information before the fight, your training might be suffering from over analyzing the details that make very little difference in your performance [at this level]. It’s totally natural to overthink in a sport that involves trading shots with a trained athlete, but that doesn’t mean it helps; too much time planning can actually disrupt your preparation.
Modern MMA pioneer Forrest Griffin touched on this idea in his first book – GOT FIGHT?. According to Griffin, “if you overthink something long enough, you’re almost guaranteed to suck at it” (63). In fact, Griffin blames most of his losses on the instruction of “analytical thought.”
On fight night, there is no room for analytical thought. Overthinking is the opposite of the “flow state” that you’re trying to achieve; it keeps you out of the “zone.” If you have to think about the details of the technique you’re about to execute, it’s already too late – your opponent is going to read the move and beat you to it.
What does this mean, exactly? Are all of the strategies, techniques, and set-ups you’re learning useless in your first fight? The answer, of course, is no. However, all these things are only useful if you’ve trained them enough to be instinctive. This means training not until you get the techniques, strategies, and set-ups right, but until you cannot do them wrong.
So we’ve established that you can’t overthink your daily training or get too analytical in the fight itself. But, as the bout approaches, you should also avoid thinking about the consequences of what “may” happen within the ring. Yes, you “may” get a bloody nose. Sure, you could get beat in front of your friends and family. But what good does dwelling on these possibilities do? If anything that is likely to come from it, is a manifestation of these negative thoughts.
Ultimately, these things are out of your control. Thinking about what might go wrong only locks you in a negative stress cycle that stimulates the release of cortisol – disrupting your training, sleep, and recovery.
It really boils down to the KISS principle – keep it simple, stupid; think less for better training, sleep, recovery, and performance.
I hope that this guide to winning your first fight comes in handy, remember that these are the principals that can be applied other challenging feats you choose to conquer throughout your life.
Pace yourself for the long road ahead, fold a single sword and learn to swing it different ways, think less to train and fight more efficiently, and I promise you that this intimidatingly difficult journey ahead will become that much more realistic, that your performance and experience gained at the end of the night will be your greatest reward.
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Paul Banasiak is a Professional Muay Thai fighter/addict, 9x champion, trainer, and fitness professional currently living, training, and fighting in Thailand. After leaving medical school without looking back, he decided to fully follow his passion of helping others become the best version of themselves, creating MuayThaiAthlete.com. A website for those who are already passionate individuals that want to take their life,mindset&training to the next level.
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