Seamus Raftery examines some of the most bizarre ways in which fighters have prepared themselves for combat down through the years.
The Rocky movies are responsible for popularizing the idea that prizefighters utilize all manner of bizarre methods to turn themselves into weapons of destruction. The Italian Stallion was as open minded a pugilist as there has ever been, in reality or fiction. During his storied career he experimented with a variety of approaches in his preparation. He terrorized poultry, in the name of increasing speed, and he beat meat, in a non euphemistic sense. He even got carried away on a jog and inadvertently took in a spot of mountaineering.
Stallone’s Balboa would do anything to get the win.
Interestingly though, the image that Hollywood portrayed in the, seemingly, over the top film series wasn’t as fanciful as the cynics might have you believe. The iconic scenes in which Rocky pounds on a cow’s hide, for example, are based on the habits of former heavyweight champion, Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
Smokin’ Joe, however, isn’t the only real world fighter to have featured strange practices in his routine. The worlds of both boxing and mma have rich histories of peculiar preparatory procedures.
Here are just a few outlandish training tales….
Covering every angle….
Jack Dempsey is widely regarded as being one of the toughest men to ever step between the ropes.
The marauding and murderously aggressive “Manassa Mauler” ripped the heavyweight championship of the world from Jess Willard on Independence day, 1919. It was one of the most emphatic title wins that has ever been witnessed, as Dempsey mercilessly chopped down the towering Willard, in 3 brutally one sided rounds. It was a victory made all the more impressive by the fact that Dempsey conceded over 5inches in height and almost 60lbs in weight to the “Pottowatomie Giant”.
Dempsey’s natural toughness might be the stuff of legend, but he went to great lengths to enhance the physical gifts he possessed.
Conventional boxing wisdom suggests that a granite chin is something a person either has or doesn’t have. Most trainers will tell you that nothing can be done to improve a fighter’s punch resistance.
The iron mandibled Dempsey obviously disagreed.
According to biography.com, the great champion would regularly chew pine tar gum, in order to strengthen his jaws. This was not the only measure he took, however, to ensure that he wouldn’t be prone to stoppage defeats. The Colorado native would also soak his face in brine, in an attempt to toughen his skin. The unusually leathery character of his facade suggests it was a success.
“Sugar” Ray Robinson is considered by most boxing historians to be the greatest fighter in the sports history.
The man born Walker Smith Jr, was a rare kind of boxer, capable of combining a graceful flair for the artistic side of the sweet science with a talent for stomach churning violence.
His ability to churn stomachs was not confined to the ring, however.
In his biography of the former welterweight and middleweight champion, Kenneth Shropshire recounts a story of how Robinson once unsettled his great rival, Jake La Motta, by drinking a glass of cow blood at a restaurant.
On this specific occasion, it may have been for the purpose of getting into the head of an opponent, but rumour has it that this was not an isolated incident. Robinson supposedly consumed the blood for its nutritional content.
Sweet as sugar, I think not.
Sticking with the unfortunate theme of the consumption of bodily fluids….
Juan Manuel Marquez has shared the ring with the great Manny Pacquiao on four separate occasions. Many people believe he should have won each and every one of those contests. Unfortunately, the history books will show that Marquez only secured one victory over the Filipino.
He had to wait until their final meeting to get it, but it was worth the wait. The Mexican starched Pacquiao with a single right hand to end a classic fight.
It was, however, in the lead up to his bout with this generation’s other most lauded fighter that Marquez revealed the strength of his desire to win.
As part of the promotion for Floyd Mayweather vs Juan Manuel Marquez, HBO’s 24/7 documentary team followed the preparations of both fighters. During their time in Mexico the camera’s bore witness to quite a sight.
Apparently, Marquez subscribed to the theory that urine contains still viable nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Thus, he was not one for simply flushing it into the abyss. This led to a massive viewing audience getting caught slightly off guard, by the visual revelation that Marquez drank his own product.
Marquez was completely outclassed by a masterful Mayweather, and fighters everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.
His performances rarely lacked bite….
Vassiliy Jirov was an Olympic gold medalist at the Atlanta games, in 1996. He turned professional in January, 1997, and over the next few years developed into one of the best cruiserweights in the world.
In 2003, the Kazakh fighter engaged in one of the greatest fights in the history of the division when he lost on points over twelve rounds to the super talented, James Toney.
During this heated battle the HBO commentary team revealed that Jirov’s amateur coach was a true innovator in the complementary fields of boxing instruction, and sado masochism.
The most ludicrous of Alexander Apachinsky’s training methods was his use of army trained attack dogs to motivate his athletes. The fighters would be locked in a narrow hallway and instructed to try to escape through the doorway before the german shepherd caught them.
The approach to conditioning in the camp was equally perplexing. The coaches would row out into the middle of a lake and abandon the students, who would be forced to swim back to shore.
It’s hard to imagine that Jirov didn’t use the image of Apachinsky’s face to motivate him to new heights of violence in the ring.
Even Apachinsky would question the sanity of this approach….
Growing up in the Caucasus probably teaches one not to sweat the little things. Little problems, little fears, little bears…..yeah, it’s only a little bear.
Last year a video emerged of two young boy’s taking turns wrestling a bear cub. One of the children in the video was purportedly the nine year old Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Nurmagomedov is now an undefeated mixed martial artist, with a record of 22-0, who has campaigned in the UFC for his last six bouts. The Russian’s last win came last year against Rafael Dos Anjos, who would go on to capture the UFC lightweight title from Anthony Pettis in 2015. Nurmagomedov has been out injured since the win, but according to bloodyelbow.com he is hoping to make a return later this year.
Originally, some suggested the video was a ruse and that Nurmagomedov was not featured in it. In a 2014 interview with combate.com, however, the Russian confirmed that he was one of the boys in the video. He added that he wasn’t sure how the footage got out.
His early experiences grappling grizzlies (okay it probably wasn’t a grizzly but it makes for good alliteration) obviously had the desired effect because Khabib grew up to be every bit the beast that the bear did.
Fighters are strange individuals by nature. It takes something other than a “normal” human being to be willing to fight for a living. It shouldn’t be surprising then that they often dream up the most bizarre methods for preparing themselves physically and mentally for, what is at it’s very essence, a bizarre endeavour.