Can’t Trick an Old Dog

By Mohummad Humza Elahi on June 23, 2014
Can’t Trick an Old Dog
With a few nods and a towel grab, I lugged my stuff into the changing rooms and got ready.

But one thing never changes; my passion for boxing grows, sometimes in steps, sometimes in leaps, but it always grows…

The changing rooms were shittier than I had expected; I wouldn’t usually scrunch my nose at the lack of space and thick air of vanity and sweat but when you pay out for something that’s promised to be a slightly more premium experience and it turns out to be as dire and claustrophobic as the lower priced option, I’m entitled to feel slightly pissed off. But whatever the cost of rental space in this starkly lit bunker of a gym, I was only here for one thing and one thing only; boxing. 

Having split from work mere minutes earlier (clear desk, put laptop away, say goodbyes, out the door, get in lift, into lobby, see same colleagues, more goodbyes, out the building) I slipped and weaved my way through the cooling June sun and towards the gym, bag in tow, already gleeful at the prospect of getting past the jab (and other commuters) and sinking a hook into the body. 

“Hi, you alright?” was the greeting from the ideal gym employee (built like a brick shithouse, good teeth) after descending the steps from street level and opening the glass entrance.

“Not bad,” I replied, which I’ve always suspected and now concluded is London’s most non-threatening response when attempting neutrality in polite conversation.

“Not bad” tags the delicate balance between “not completely and entirely shit” and “hoping for a bit of luck,” much like my current ability in the body sparring circuit of the class I was about to do. With a few nods and a towel grab, I lugged my stuff into the changing rooms and got ready. Hand wraps, gloves and water bottle in my arms, I headed up to stretch out in the mats section. 

“Fuck, I need to work out more” is something I definitely wanted to say out loud whilst swinging my arms around to loosen my shoulders up and at the same time, watching others go about their routines in a swarming, heaving breath of hormones. Franchise gyms are weird, alternate places; it’s a grunting mess, shouted clichés and all. But it’s not about that this time, it’s about boxing and the minutes were ticking down. 

It’s another set of downward steps to get to the studio where the classes take place. It’s a mixed bunch that has turned out today and I’m happy about that. I classify myself practically as an enthusiast and having my own gloves and proper footwear shouts that statement out pretty loudly. But there are a couple of other enthusiasts as well, one being my usual partner, Al, standing close to two inches taller and probably twenty pounds heavier although much older. He mentioned once he boxed as a schoolboy, thus making him Ali surrounded by a dozen Cleveland Williamses.

The group is still mingling around, the newcomers unsure of where to stand, the regulars taking up their usual spots and other filling the spaces in between. The music starts, the bass thuds from the speakers and we’re off; this week it’s straight onto the pads and Al looks to be in fine form, hitting one-twos before moving around me, giving me a second to set the pads up again as he fires another one-two and as the others try and maintain the pace, Al is way out in front each time, the leather on leather thwacks that echo off the walls reach the keep-fit pairs before they’ve let off a combination of their own and we alternate, this time it’s me measuring my punches and thinking how much quicker I would be if I had gotten a pair of 10-ounce gloves compared the 16-ounce ones I’m currently throwing in Al’s direction and this happens for several rounds after which we get a demonstration of the next combination, alternating again and then to the next combination, alternating for the final time before everyone gets a rest, a swig of water and some breathing time, some of the newbies a little shocked that we’re only 20 minutes into our scheduled hour.

Pads and gloves aside, it’s time for circuits, three in total, one of which is body sparring; it’s what I spend my whole week gearing up for. The sparring is second up for us so me and Al touch gloves and start to circle each other. 

Then what I always fear would happen started materializing. For those that have ever put on a pair of gloves, stepped into a ring or makeshift space and sized up the person opposite, you can relate to this. My body wasn’t responding quickly enough to what my brain was telling it to do. Al was jabbing his way in before throwing uppercuts and hooks to the body, shutting down the space and forcing me into a corner. That old dog was schooling a young pup and then some. Trying to use every weapon in my arsenal wasn’t enough, I couldn’t keep that leather off me; he even sneaked in a couple of shots to my jaw (we don’t wear mouth guards) to which my response was to simply blink and attempt to carry on as normal. 

Boxing as a sport has always held on to the belief that no matter who enters and who leaves, both walk away with a greater understanding of themselves and hopefully a greater respect for the person they’ve faced. Nothing else lays bare the effort and emotion required to engage in organized fistic combat and few rarely finish without peering into the reflection of their own soul.

After some agonizing core workouts, the class collapses and peters out of the studio, the class that follows is yoga. Al is chipper, “You about next week, yeah?”

“Of course,” I say to him “my favorite class of the week!”

And it really is. A lukewarm shower and banana later, I’m heading out where brick shitter is replaced behind the desk by gym bunny (you know what I mean) and it’s up the steps into a summer evening, replaying back the sparring session in my head, maybe feint my head slightly, headphones blocking out any distracting street noise.

I think it over a lot, actually. Even in the spar sessions since then, with Al and with others, my appreciation for the sweet science grows. No two situations are the same, even with the same people; the mind-sets are different, the emotional makeup at that particular time is unique and a host of other factors come into play. But one thing never changes; my passion for boxing grows, sometimes in steps, sometimes in leaps, but it always grows. 

Even though the World cup in Brazil is upon us and the carnival nature of the game infects the mood of the most hardened football cynics, my thoughts keep turning back to boxing. I wonder how Gary Russell Jr.’s camp is going. Chisora-Fury is just around the corner. Could a fight be made between Adrian Chiles and Lucas Matthysse?

And why do old dogs need to learn new tricks?

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  1. Mohummad Humza Elahi 01:14am, 06/25/2014

    @Irish - I’ve toyed with the idea before, but have leant towards becoming a certified amateur coach more.  Incidentally, I checked the ABAE website who say the upper age limit for fighters is 40!

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:21pm, 06/24/2014

    Humza-You say you have good speed, so that’s a nice start right there….here’s some unsolicited advice….you are only 29 years of age, the upper age limit here in the USA for amateur competition is 34….don’t know about the UK…..after finishing this class you should seek out a good trainer ( someone like raxman who knows their shit) and start training for your first official bout….keep a meticulous diary and there’s your book.

  3. GlennR 02:59pm, 06/24/2014

    @raxman and Mohummad
    I dont mind body sparring. You obviously still have to do conventional sparring, but i i find doing the body good for stamina and developing plain old grit. Oh, and of course you are developing body attack/defense.

    Find youre dropping your hands? Bend your knees instead ;)

  4. Mohummad Humza Elahi 07:54am, 06/24/2014

    *smacks forehead*

  5. Eric 07:11am, 06/24/2014

    @MHE…I was joking also. Don’t know how old you are, but if you are younger than “fitty” you get a pass on Plimpton. Hell, we have people born and raised here in the good ole U.S.A. who think America won its independence fighting the Germans in the Civil War.

  6. Clarence George 06:33am, 06/24/2014

    I was joking, MHE!  Joking!

  7. Mohummad Humza Elahi 05:51am, 06/24/2014

    @Clarence - I think you misunderstood, I wasn’t knocking Robert’s piece, far from it actually, I was trying to remember when I had read the piece in the first place and the “hack” reference was a poor substitute for trying to remember Plimpton’s name.

  8. Robert Ecksel 04:55am, 06/24/2014

    Thank you, Clarence. There are few people I want to sit down and talk with (or listen to). But reading them is another matter.

  9. Clarence George 04:31am, 06/24/2014

    I don’t care what MHE says, Robert—your Plimpton-Moore piece is outstanding.

    Plimpton once angered Hemingway (which was never hard to do) by asking a question about his embarrassingly awful “Across the River and Into the Trees.”  He was “banged hard alongside the head” for his impertinence.

    I met Plimpton once, and can’t say that I was favorably impressed.  The meeting was admittedly brief, but he very much came across as Monty Python’s Upper Class Twit of the Year.

  10. Robert Ecksel 02:56am, 06/24/2014

    Humza, I can save you an initial trip to the library:

  11. Mohummad Humza Elahi 12:44am, 06/24/2014

    @raxman - That’s how I feel as well; logically, if I hold a height/reach advantage, I’m aiming jabs straight to the head, so when I have to hit to the body at mid-range, I have to lower my hands to get there or else fight in the pocket, which isn’t naturally my style.  Plus, there are probably more ladies than men, so you know….

    @Eric - “Hack” was the nearest word to mind, I think I should start reading more Plimpton!

  12. Clarence George 05:22pm, 06/23/2014

    I just remember that I once wrote about what happened when Hemingway insisted on mixing it up with Tunney, and got a little too big for his britches.

  13. raxman 04:48pm, 06/23/2014

    I never understood body sparing. its like driving a car that doesn’t get out of first gear - its ok to drive around the block but you don’t want to get on the open road.
    I get that this is a bit of fun class - but everyone I’ve ever known to body spar has been ruined by it. you can’t help develop the habit of keeping your hands down - which is in contrast to a trainers most common line,yelled out in gyms and at fights around the world (I’ve even heard it yelled from the corners of PPV fights) - “hands up!!!”

  14. Eric 03:12pm, 06/23/2014

    Don’t know if George Plimpton qualifies as a “hack.” I read his book, “Paper Lion” and it seemed to be slightly above the “hack” level. teehee. Not only did Plimpton box Moore but he had a bout of spring training with the Detroit Lions. Plimpton pitched against the NL all-star squad (forget the year) along with actually playing a few plays with the 1971 Baltimore Colts against the Lions in a spring training game. I believe George also tried his hand as a hockey goalie.

  15. Clarence George 03:08pm, 06/23/2014

    Well, I once taught a ring lesson or two to Earnie Shavers.  That was in Walla Walla back in ‘79.  What happened was…no, I’ve already said too much.  I’m a sieve!  It was between him and me, sorta like Rocky and Apollo, and we’ll leave it at that.

  16. Mohummad Humza Elahi 02:29pm, 06/23/2014

    @Irish - To his credit, Al is a very good guy.  Although he’s a big bloke, he has this unassuming quality that lures you in, that was my first mistake when we sparred and a tough one at that.  I thought my speed would beat him, 16oz’s or not but it shows that positional sense and footwork can undo even the most lethal speed demon.

    @Clarence - Also reminds me of an article I read here about the hack who wanted to box Archie Moore, I believe.  It’d be interesting to hear what the experience of other writers are, I feel that most on the web these days don’t put their money where their mouth is.

  17. Clarence George 01:48pm, 06/23/2014

    I’m reminded of an article I read many years ago in, I think, “Ring.”  I don’t recall the writer’s name, but he had interviewed Jack Johnson when he was in his 60s.  Johnson suggested a little sparring, and the presumptuous pup (who was in his 30s and had been quite a good amateur fighter) thought he would go easy on grandpa.  To his credit, he was honest enough to admit that he was completely outclassed.  Further, that the sexagenarian could have literally killed him any time he damn well pleased.

  18. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:21pm, 06/23/2014

    I don’t like Al….he reminds me of so many from my past who attended classes more as consultants than students….better to wear your gumshield when engaging in body sparring with his cheap shottin’ sorry ass.

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