Twenty Rules for Retiring From Boxing—Graciously

By Peter Wood on December 26, 2016
Twenty Rules for Retiring From Boxing—Graciously
Accept that nothing will be as wild, dangerous, exciting, or as crazy, as beating people up.

Boxing and childhood are intertwined. Show me an ex-boxer and I’ll show you an unhappy childhood…

Retirement is a time of happiness, a chance to finally do what one loves—but for boxers it doesn’t seem to work that way.

For too many ex-fighters, retirement is a time when personal demons resurface.

It’s a time of chaos.

Ex-fighters are rugged men accustomed to in-your-face violence. But they are ill-prepared to face the subtle, insidious violence that awaits them outside the ring: political, social, societal, economic, and racial violence.

I would never bad-mouth a boxer or such a stupid, atavistic sport as boxing—especially since I’ve devoted so much of my life to it. But let’s face it—boxing is a horrible sport that leaves a man pension-less and unprepared for life.

Here are a few helpful hints for a happy retirement from boxing:

1) Appreciate that the shelf-life of a boxer is very short.

2) Clear out the old boxing photos in your wallet before guests arrive for dinner. They are no longer interested. Besides, they’ve heard it all before.

3) Remember, you are no longer dependent upon your past. Look toward the future.

4) Don’t be embarrassed by your increased lack of coordination or your inability to do well the physical feats you once did with ease.

5) Learn to laugh about your love-handles which now spill over your belt.

6) Smile when you forget a name or place—especially when your friends joke, “You must be punchy!”

7) Remember, when you are angry, or when a black mood resurfaces, keep your fists to yourself.

8) Nod intelligently, and with conviction, when your physician, or anyone else, explains to you how stupid boxing is.

9) Boxing is stupid. But contemplate: Who or what would you have become without it? Ironically, in the 1800s, the transcendental author, Henry David Thoreau, a devout pacifist, understood boxing’s merits and advocated bare-knuckle boxing to strengthen the American male. Boxing was, most likely, a blessing for you.

10) Try not to let it bother you that, as a schoolboy, you wasted too much time fooling around in class. Be philosophical. Even if you didn’t fool around in class, you probably wouldn’t have remembered most of it anyway.
11) Admit that your fire is gone. You now lack a certain amount of enthusiasm and passion for the sport of boxing. And UFC and MMA will never, ever, take its place.

12) Boxing was yesterday’s war. You can now admit ambivalence for this crazy sport. Your terrible secret is this: You hated boxing as much as you loved it.

13) Your retirement is the time to develop a healthier relationship with yourself. “It’s pretty cool being me. It just took a few years to get there,” said Jeff Bumpus, a retired lightweight contender from Michigan.

14) Always keep in perspective how much better off you are, now that boxing is behind you.

15) Be proud of your boxing achievements. But never consider making a comeback.  Boxing is brutal and there is a big discrepancy between what you are now and what you were then. The fire bubbling in your blood is gone. You are not the same person you used to know.

16) Avoid the catnip allure of recapturing your youth. That young boy once filled with enthusiasm, high hopes, great expectations, enormous energy and dreams was also filled with violence, anger, painful sadness and hate. Let it go.

17) You are an adult, but sometimes your brain isn’t. Boxing was once your best friend, but that was when you were 14. Memories still breathe within your heart, but you are now an older, smarter version of yourself. You can never arouse that youthful passion again. Let it go.

18) Admit that you have survived a vicious, atavistic, primal-scream sport. Your emotional pain, and your real (or perceived) deficits, is what drove you to boxing in the first place. You would never have thrown a single punch unless some minor tragedy had not twisted your soul or warped your brain. Let it go.

19) Now that you are retired, accept that nothing will be as wild, dangerous, exciting, or as crazy, as beating people up. Boxing has taken its physical, mental and emotional toll on you, but with effort, a happy, peaceful, and loving life is attainable.

20) Boxing and childhood are intertwined. Show me an ex-boxer and I’ll show you an unhappy childhood. Both are harsh emotional journeys that are not over when they are over. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the retired middleweight contender, said, “The kindest thing I can say about my childhood is that I survived it.” Like Carter, you can’t afford to be a damaged child forever. Let it all go.

(A bonus hint):

21) You have survived a turbulent childhood and a violent career. Now discover another passion—preferably a peaceful one.

Peter Wood is a 1971 NYC Golden Gloves Middleweight Finalist in Madison Square Garden; a Middleweight Alternate for The Maccabean Games in Tel Aviv, Israel, and author of two books: Confessions of a Fighter, and A Clenched Fist—The Making of a Golden Gloves Champion, published by Ringside Books.

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  1. John Evangelista 03:23pm, 01/26/2017

    Peter, I’m am trying to find your email. I was a student of yours when I was in highschool. I’d love to reconnect.  I boxed as well for 8 years after graduating. How can I reach you?

  2. Willy Don't Duck 08:32am, 12/28/2016

    Nice piece, Irish Pete. Thank you. Much of this well written and thoughtful advice can be applied to any mid life crisis. However, I am Pissed that I have to now go look up “atavistic”. Makes me want to punch somebody, but I can “let it go” :).

  3. The Thresher 07:26am, 12/28/2016

    Except for the elite few who enjoy their place at the tip of the pyramid, or the ultra perceptive like Peter, most boxers (unlike other pro athletes)  seem to leave the sport with less than what they had going in.

    How do you spell u-n-I-o-n?

  4. Bob 03:07am, 12/28/2016

    A very thoughtful and though provoking piece by one of boxing’s premier scribes. The rush associated with boxing is one that lingers for a long time, so avoiding Mr. Wood’s minefields might be easier said and intellectually understood than done. Boxing can be the best friend of young men and women in need of direction and self-respect, but it can also be a cruel mistress. Unless you take Mr. Wood’s advice, it will rarely, if ever, love you back. Wonderful essay with lessons that can be applied to many aspects of life, but many of which are boxing specific because, for better or worse, boxers are a unique bunch.

  5. Moon-man 03:17pm, 12/27/2016

    Tanks for the link, Mr. Thresher. The original “Iron Mike.” Sad story about Webster. Webster & Kolb were two strong guys, particularly Kolb. Damn, Steelers got lucky the other night though. Had to break my boycott of the NFL just to watch those c*cksuckers get lucky in the last few seconds. RIP Mike Webster.

  6. The Thresher 02:09pm, 12/27/2016

    Well yes. That’s at least second degree murder. But the KO game that street thugs play should be treated as premeditated first degree murder.


    As for football, I totally agree with you. I weighed a lot and could spear with the best of them. Brutal stuff, but in football, you are taught all of the tricks including the illegal ones. Now, many players are paying for it in their retirements.  I have written an article on this that I’m pretty proud of: http://www.thesweetscience.com/forums/showthread.php?272163407-Concussion-Now-It’s-Boxing’s-Turn

    But again, the love/hate thing about boxing I can’t comment on that except to accept what he says, but I sense Peter is far more intellectual, sensitive and soulful than your average boxer. Unlike most (99.9%), he can articulate it far better than any boxing “journalist.” He is unique in that sense.

  7. Moon-man 12:37pm, 12/27/2016

    Thresher…A guy a few towns over from me actually died after being sucker punched a few days ago. It was a cowardly act. Guy was standing by the juke box, and the perp comes out of nowhere and lands one. The victim never saw it coming. IMO, that is murder, not manslaughter. Cowardly sucker punchers aside, there are plenty of cretins out there that would probably benefit from a broken jaw or two. IMO, football is a much more violent sport than boxing or even MMA. You have guys that weigh a solid two-fitty/two sixty that can move like they weigh a buck eighty, hitting you full force. Pads or no pads, those guys ruin their bodies for life.

  8. The Thresher 11:41am, 12/27/2016

    Hmm. I think one consideration is that after you see the damage a street punch does, you have some thoughts about whether you ever want to do it again. I broke a guy’s jaw once and after I saw what he went through with having it wired, I did not feel very found of myself. I did the PAL thing and Park thing in boxing but really had no desire to hurt anyone except on a football field. There is a love/hate thing here that I sensed. I could do hate in football but not on beating on another person one-on-one.That;s why I submit you have to have been a boxer of some note to really understand this fine essay.

  9. peter 11:38am, 12/27/2016

    @ Thresher—Thank you for the thumbs up!

  10. Moon-man 10:42am, 12/27/2016

    From what I’ve read, not every fighter has a rough childhood or upbringing. Ali, Ken Norton, Tunney, Leonard, Chuvalo, etc., weren’t born with silver spoons in their mouth, but all had what I would call a very normal upbringing. I think Leonard would go on to say years later that he was sexually abused by a coach, but that story is somewhat suspect. While people like to hear or read about a Dempsey or Duran, a lot of these guy’s lives growing up are no different than the majority of lower middle class or middle class kids. From the age of 13 on, Tyson was treated like a spoiled brat, no sad or tough life there either. And throwing a punch is as about as natural as it gets. A God-given way for a man or woman to defend themselves. If not for legal repercussions, you can believe there would be haymakers flying every hour of the day in the civilian world, at least until people started treated others with more respect. Hell, people would probably treat each other much better if they knew there would be consequences for treating others harshly.

  11. The Thresher 09:08am, 12/27/2016

    I’d comment but you really need to have been an active boxer of some note to get the true feeling of this. I was a team spot athlete and Power Lifting as well. Nether fills the bill. But your writing style does and it’s most enviable.

  12. peter 11:36am, 12/26/2016

    @ Chu Chu Malave— It’s a sincere pleasure to hear from you! You were a fantastic NYC fighter, a real crowd favorite. And I enjoyed reading the book you recently authored, entitled, “The Long-Haired Boxer”.

  13. The Thresher 11:21am, 12/26/2016

    Thank you Irish Frankie

  14. Chu Chu Malave 11:09am, 12/26/2016

    Loved your article Pete. So much truth in it and a lot of my journey after boxing. I am not who I think I am. I’m so much better… Chu Chu Malave…

  15. peter 10:38am, 12/26/2016

    @ Arthur & Irish Frankie—Thank you for your kind words! And, yes, Boxing.com boasts the finest collection of boxing writers who pen the most thoughtful boxing journalism found today. I’m proud to be part of the stable!

  16. Arthur Forman 10:10am, 12/26/2016

    excellent article
    well written & on spot
    wonderful graphics as well

  17. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 09:47am, 12/26/2016

    “Let it go!” That is the essence of this simply great contribution to Boxing.com. Aside from Ted Sares’ work, you don’t find this on the other boxing sites….you just don’t.

  18. Alan W. 08:46am, 12/26/2016

    The writer Graham Greene said, an unhappy childhood is a goldmine for a writer.  I guess that’s why so many retired fighters turn to the written word.  Then, luckily, they’ve got even more to write about.  That is, if their brains haven’t been so battered that they can’t. I especially like #16, Peter.  That’s where you provide a lifetime’s worth of themes for any writer/boxer to pursue.

  19. Moon-man 06:41am, 12/26/2016

    Rule 22: Don’t blow your money on drugs, strip clubs, alcohol, cars, clothes, and impressing others. That way you can retire a relatively young man, and not have to be fighting people young enough to be your son.

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