Twenty Rules for Retiring From Boxing—Graciously
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.