Life

Jake O'Kane: Why I tried boxing once – and only once

A sold out Windsor Park (sorry, but I can't get my head around calling it the National Stadium) will hopefully see north Belfast's Carl Frampton retain a world title, and Paddy Barnes win one.

Paddy Barnes, Tyson Fury and Paddy Barnes pose at the press conference for today's boxing event at Windsor Park. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Jake O'Kane

THE fact that heavyweight Tyson Fury is on the undercard shouldn’t put people off, though undercard is where he belongs. Fury’s homophobic and misogynistic pronouncements mean he’s achieved the unthinkable: he’s an Irish heavyweight champion who we’ll happily allow the British to claim as their own.

I love boxing. I’m of a generation who grew up in an age of boxing legends. Unlike many others who write about it, I actually tried it once – but only once.

I was in my late teens and competing at powerlifting... not very successfully. My downfall was a sweet tooth which could see me shoot up a weight division in a matter of weeks.

With an upcoming competition I’d done just that; the gym scales placed me in the heavyweight division, populated as it was by steroid enhanced monsters. I was either going to lose weight or face humiliation.

The gym where I trained was beneath a small boxing club, and someone suggested that if I was serious about losing weight quickly then I should go up and ask if they’d allow me to train with them for a week.

The boxing coach welcomed me, explaining they trained in three minute sessions to replicate a round of boxing. I relaxed, presuming anyone could handle three minutes. What the coach didn’t point out was all the three minutes came in succession, with hardly a break to catch breath.

The difference between this callisthenic regime and what I’d been used to – heavy strength workouts – was akin to a sprinter being asked to run the marathon.

I only lasted twelve minutes before collapsing in a heap. It must have been a comical sight: there I was, 15 stone of muscle completely deflated, while spindly men skipped, jumped and shadow-boxed around me.

To give myself some credit, I lasted the week. I began to believe even the speed bag had it in for me, it smacked me in the face so often.

Self-deluded, I was sure that if the coach allowed me in the ring, I’d show these emaciated wimps what a man capable of a 400lb deadlift could do. Damn it, I’d punch holes right through them.

Finally, after much begging, he relented and put me in to spar with a lightweight. Genuinely concerned, I argued it wasn’t a fair match, explaining I probably eat more in a day than my opponent weighed. I mean, I didn’t want to hurt him.

The coach smiled knowingly and told me not to worry, but to cover up as much as possible.

The bell sounded and we touched gloves – the only time I touched him. Next thing I knew, his glove was pushing my nose to the back of my head; he followed up with a vicious punch to my side which shook my innards like they were in a blender.

I steadied and covered but to no avail, as now a flurry of punches peppered my head with such force, it felt like I was falling down a flight of wooden stairs face first.

I lashed out in anger only to find the object of my fury gone, literally disappeared! He was right in front of me when my punch was thrown but by the time it reached its target, he was behind me.

I whirled around like a windmill in a hurricane but not once did I so much as see him, much less hit him. My battered, befuddled brain was trying to work out what black magic was being practiced when he popped up from nowhere and landed a right cross which twisted my head so far round, I feared I might spend the rest of my life looking at my arse.

I wasn’t so much knocked out as knocked into another dimension. I didn’t go down but the ref wisely gave me a standing count. He asked me if I knew where I was, and annoyed at the stupidity of his question I answered, "of course I do, I’m standing outside the City Hall".

And thus ended my one and only fight.

So, I have utter respect for two of the men climbing into the ring tonight. As for Tyson Fury; well, as I proved, size alone means nothing in the world of boxing.

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