Thursday, October 30, 2008

Best Workout at the Best Possible Time

Despite having my November 1 fight confirmed last Friday - just 8 days in advance - I've been training the past few weeks with the zeal, determination and sense of urgency as if the date had been circled all year.

This has been the kind of week that really makes me wish I write in here more often. And not so there would be more content so much as more updates, especially now that I'm definitely hitting my stride. I think a lot of said updates have been shortened and thrown out on Twitter rather than developed into a brief post here. Oh well. Just know that the sweat's been pouring, leather flyin', endorphines rushin' and, most importantly, confidence building.

Recap of the workout schedule:

- Mon 10/20: 12 min jump rope, 3 rds shadow box, 3 rds sparring, bag circuit (3 rds each hook/double-end/heavy bags), ab circuit (50 each sit-up/crunches/swiss ball crunch, 3x15 roman chair)
- Tues 10/21: Upper body circuit (3x12 bench, 4x15 bicep curl, 3x12 forearm curl, 3x15 tricep pull-down, 3x12 tricep extension, 3x12 each lat pull-down close/wide grip, 4x15 shrug), ab circuit, 3 interval miles
- Wed 10/22: 4-mile jog in the morning, 12 min jump rope, 3 rds shadow box, bag circuit (3 bags x 4 rds)
- Thurs 10/23: Rest and beer, hooray!
- Fri 10/24: 12 min jump rope, 3 rds shadow box, 4 rds focus mitts, bag circuit (3 bags x 3 rd)
- Sat 10/25: Upper body circuit, ab circuit, 3 interval miles
- Sun 10/26: 12 min jump rope, 3 rds shadow box, 4 rds sparring, 4 rds focus mitts, lower body circuit (a 24-minute orgy of plyometrics, lunges, ladders, step-ups, wall-sits and everything else that makes you lose feeling in your legs and hate life)
- Mon 10/27: Rest and Tylenol and ice packs...and a beer, hooray!
- Tues 10/28: Shortened workout - 9 min jump rope, bag circuit (3 x 3 rds), ab circuit
- Wed 10/29: The best. Workout. Ever.

And by best I mean the look good/feel good/fight good/have an epiphany 'cause "damn I'm good" sort of workout that completely changes your outlook on life. (Or comes close enough.)

I strolled into the gym Wednesday and was immediately greeted by the gym owner, who said he had someone for me to spar with. (Psh, "hey, how ya doing's" are so totally unnecessary.) I stammered around for a second, thinking about how sparring this close to fight night would fit in with my regimented pre-fight schedule. (It didn't.) That, and I was physically and mentally unprepared to spar.

But of course, 30 minutes later I was gloved up and loose, standing in the red corner as the owner cleared the ring of a couple women working mitts so we could just "move around a little, real light" and "get a feel for each other." All I knew about this kid was that he was from Somerville, had been boxing for a decade, liked to throw bombs, and that I didn't particularly want to be in there anyway. But such is life in the squared circle.

The first round was as true of a "feeling-out" round for me as possible. I pawed with my jab, tried to pick up patterns in the other kid's movements, threw single punches at a time, and got a feel for this kid's speed (good), movement (head was good, feet were so-so, punches were wild) and power (solid).

While I won the first round (no, no one was scoring, but it was definitely mine - seriously! It was very Hopkins-esque) I cranked the intensity up from 7 to 8 in the second round. Instead of simply sticking, moving and counter punching, I started jumping in with combinations and pivoting/moving back out. Midway through the round, it was becoming increasingly apparent that I was the better boxer. Apparently my opponent was reaching the same conclusion around the 30-second mark but was a little grumpier about it, as he steered me into a corner (I was OK with it until...) and unleashed a barrage of haymakers that had that extra "I'm really pissed off" power and sloppiness to them.

I managed to slip/block/duck/cover-up and absorb the vast majority of the looping punches and danced back out into the middle of the ring - only after landing a stiff (cautionary) counter right-uppercut combo.

Hey, if the kid shows his teeth, I don't have to bite but I can't help but growl back...

In between rounds, the gym owner asked the kid why he was turning this into Gatti/Ward, to which I butted-in (warned) "Hey, I'm just feeding off of him..."

The third round began much like the second, with me being the less-aggressive but far more efficient and effective boxer. I kept a little distance for most of the round, refusing to engage and trade but keeping one eye on the ring timer all the while, waiting for the 1-minute mark to turn the intensity up (to an 11! this one goes up to 11!) and make my move. And an even bigger statement.

The first counter right I threw within 1 minute knocked the kid out of one of his shoes.

It knocked him out of a shoe.


That doesn't happen in real life.

With onlookers "oooh-ing," my opponent fumbled around to stuff his foot back in his shoe (picking up his dignity along the way, hardy har) and immediately bull-rushed me again. Throwing back with quicker, crisper and straighter (the real key) punches, I had the kid against the ropes - landing at will, snapping his head back and watching his eyes lose focus - when a couple of my training partners hopped up to the ring apron to make sure I was going to ease back.

I pulled off the throttle, let the kid come back to the middle of the ring and asked him if he was alright. (Hey, I can't help it I'm too nice to knock a kid out cold just sparring.) He nodded and said that he was fine, but I wasn't convinced. Dancing around him for the final 10 seconds, I landed a stiff jab at the bell to add an exclamation point to the session - to make sure that there was no doubt in anyone's mind that I was the one feeding off of him, that he escalated but I was the one not just under control, but in control.

Which - I have to point out - is as telling sign of an effective competitive boxer as any.

After getting complimented on a job well done (as well as reassurance that I did what I had to do to defend myself) I hopped on a short 3x2 rd bag circuit and worked (arguably) the best 5 rds of focus mitts with a trainer who had never held for me before. I finished the night with a quick ab circuit and stretched out well. Shirts and shorts soaked through with sweat, my hoodie didn't take the bite out of the New England wind as I walked to the bus, wondering how my quiet pre-fight saunter turned into a marathon.

From the cardio to the technique to the proven ability to dominate an experienced boxer at-will, I left the gym thoroughly exhausted and satisfied. That "feel-good" tired.

Best. Workout. Ever.

And, starting with my bout Saturday, a sign of even better things to come.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Far from the summit, but enjoying the ride

True to form, I’m continuing to update this irregularly and train even more erratically. That’s not to say I haven’t been in the gym a lot, I just have yet to find that certain groove, that brutal comfort zone of discipline and exertion that I need to be “bout-ready.” But I'm getting there.

Speaking of bouts, I’ve been eyeing a November 1 event for my "return." Yes, that’s not even two weeks away, and yes tonight I sparred for the first time in over two months, but I’m itching for a bout and feel like I’m physically prepared to get back in the ring. Besides, it’s only an exhibition (albeit one that usually draws a huge crowd) and it’ll be a good test of whether or not my experience coupled with my (still-in-the process-of-being-rebuilt) physical prowess is enough to get by on. Then again, my cardio is far from where I’d like it to be…

But I guess that’s the point. I know I’m not back to my peak, but I know I’m (well) on my way. And I’m antsy for a good scrum. So, end of the day, what’s with the second-guessing? It’s disconcerting knowing I’m not peaking yet, but maybe I’ll surprise myself. That, and a swift kick in the ass (or right cross to the chin) might be good for me – keep the fire fueled and help knock some of the ring rust off.

More than my (unfounded?) self-doubts, the main reason that I’m not locked up for the 1st is because the gym owner never asked me if I’m available, per his usual process of signing his fighters up. I shot him an email this morning and he acknowledged it when I saw him tonight, so we’ll see if something falls into place. By the way, I don’t acknowledge him as my trainer anymore – he’s got to get in the ring and, um train me to earn that title. Petty? Absolutely not – dude ain’t training me anymore.

Some bullets about what else is going on:

- My grandma passed away last week, so I had an unexpected and unfortunate trip to KC this weekend. She was 85 and had a long, happy life, so it truly was a celebration of life and good visit home, bbut for the purpose of training it was yet another unfortunate interruption. RIP Grandma.

- But back in Boston, it’s definitely working out swimmingly walking from work to the gym. Not only does it save me a round-trip commute, but it alleviates any anxiety during the day that I’ll have to skip my workout due to a late night in the office. If anything, it helps to intentionally stay at the office a bit later every night – I’ve got that much work but always know that everything will still synch up and fall into place over the course of the night. Last week I even started brown-bagging lunch and a light, pre-workout dinner, a practice I plan on continuing for the forseeable future.

- One of my sparring partners has not only begun working at the gym, but has decided to focus more on MMA. While this has yet to (and shouldn’t ever) cut into our sparring, it’s turned him into a bit of my trainer by default. He’s far more of a defensive fighter than I am and knows his stuff, so I’m optimistic that his new roles will help me a lot. Additionally, his MMA gym has recruited my old (and best) trainer to be the boxing coach there. I’ll have to see how scheduling and logistics work out, but I’m definitely excited to see how this develops and how I can incorporate some additional resources into my training.

- As mentioned in the first big paragraph, I sparred for the first time in well over a month tonight. (Hell, it’s probably been closer to two months.) I moved around with a hard-hitting brawler who never stops coming forward. And by never I mean, never ever quits stepping forward and throwing bombs. I’ve sparred with him before and usually get the better of him, outhustling and outthinking him to the point that I’m "counterboxing" rather than just counterpunching - sticking, moving, landing at will and then stepping back/out before he can even let his hands go. The 1st round was a similar story, but by the middle of the 2nd round I was slowing down and starting to get pinned against the ropes, avoiding and blocking many of his punches but getting all the more tired absorbing so many blows - counterpunching rather than “counterboxing.” (This kid is a solid competitive fighter, but, well, I can literally box circles around him when I’m in peak shape. Or not getting worn down.) I maintained my pace and output in round 3 but felt myself leaning too much, getting caught by a couple (stupid) big shots and just being a little too gassed to box effectively. But that was to be expected. A couple onlookers complemented both of us on our skillful aggression, so I didn’t feel quite as disheartened about being so gassed after three. Besides, an amateur bout’s only three rounds, so what’s the big deal, eh? Aside from constantly striving to be better, that is…

So all in all it was a great first sparring session back, the perfect measuring stick – a talented opponent pushing the pace for the entire fight, keeping me thinking and moving, boxing smart and truly seeing where I am. Which seems like a fantastic place given my recent hiatus.

I’ve got a long way to go and need to really keep buckling down – a little more attention to diet and roadwork immediately come to mind – but I’m enjoying the ride and eager to keep scaling the mountainous distractions, trials and tribulations of training.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Striking a balance

The past week+ of training has been nothing short of fantastic, thanks largely in part to quickly striking a work/play balance outside of the office. While this may sound like it's just increased self-discipline now that I'm healthy and training again (which it is), the fact that it's a work/play balance and not a work/life balance is a significant new development occurring largely because of the better logistics and culture of my new job. It's refreshing having to tell co-workers "sorry, can't make happy hour tonight, walking over to the gym," instead of calling and canceling on one of my training partners because I've got to stay late to rack up the billable hours and have it get too late (and me in too bad of a mood) to screw around with the commute out to the gym at 8:30 p.m.

Bitter? No. Just loving the new job and the newfound ability to synch up the different facets of my life - namely training consistently.

Some quick bullets regarding how the past week played out:

- Past 7 days of training synopsis:
Sunday: Upper body circuit, abs, 3-mile run
Monday: Rest
Tuesday: 9-round bag circuit (3 heavy, 3 hook, 3 double-end), 3-rounds focus mitts, abs
Wednesday: Upper body circuit, abs, 3-mile run
Thursday: Rest (unplanned - flu)
Friday: Rest (unplanned - flu)
Saturday: Plyometrics, 12-round bag circuit, abs (bundled up to sweat out the flu - kinda worked)
Sunday: Crazy cardio and leg circuits with Antonio, 3-rounds focus mitts

I definitely want to start detailing my workouts (better than above) on a daily basis. I feel like typing out my workouts would help me see any possible holes in my routines and just make everything more efficient and consistent, although I'm confident that will happen on its own as my training gains some momentum. I guess putting it all out here will help keep me honest, but then again there's no lying or faking it in the ring, so...

- Being sick sucks. 'Nuff said.

- Looking to start sparring this coming weekend. That way I'll have 3 weeks of training behind me, have a comfortable cardio base and (hopefully) have some ring rust off before putting the headgear on. Speaking of which, Tommy (reminder: one of the best 140 lb boxers in the country) introduced me to a couple people he thinks would be good for me to spar with. I was glad to have my phone book expand, but couldn't help but laugh when he told his sparring buddy "Yeah, Jonathan's a good fighter. Great to spar with - real durable."

Yeah, that's right. I'm durable. I can fight the nation's best, he can hit me (essentially at will) and I'll keep right on coming. Durability - the stuff of champions, baby.

- Stayed in Saturday (after a great workout) to watch the Mizzou game (and by game I mean 52-10 ownage of Nebraska) and Boxing After Dark, which featured bouts with two fighters who are always entertaining (Yuriorkis Gamboa and Alfredo Angulo) and Sergio Martinez, a fighter I'd never seen fight before but whom I was completely impressed by. If you're reading this and aren't keeping an eye on these fighters, well, start. But then again, before long you'll be able to see shades of all three in me: Gamboa's otherworldly athleticism, Angulo's straight-punching aggression, and Martinez's blazing hand-speed and pin-point precision. That, and James Toney's love for food...