It would be easily forgivable to assume that the majority of members on the site SparGym.com are young men. You would come to that seemingly logical conclusion because when you think of boxing you think of fighters that are all between the ages of 18 to 35. By the time the professionals reach the age of their mid-to-late 30’s, they are usually out of the game, or very close to it (Bernard Hopkins notwithstanding!).
However, the statistics of SparGym.com show us that what we know about professional boxing hardly mimics what we see in the world of sparring. When people reach the age of 40, they appear to just be getting started with sparring. That age group makes up over 25 percent of the people signed up on the site. Of those 25 percent, 11 percent of those are over the age of 50. What could be the reason for this?
When people start training in MMA or boxing for the first time, one of the first questions that always seems to come out is “when can I spar?” Some trainers like the eagerness of their newest prospects. Generally speaking, any trainer worth his salt will make sure his fighter is well prepared to handle himself before he ever sends him into the ring for a full sparring session. Still, there is no clear cut answer. With that though, we can take a look at some of the scenarios and see which ones may fit you personally based on where you are in your boxing training.
“Throw Them to the Wolves.”
This is an approach that’s hard to accept. Some trainers out there would say that the earlier you get hit for the first time the earlier you and your trainer can see how you deal with it. While I agree with the thought that you won’t know what to expect until you get tagged for the first time, it would still be foolish for someone with zero fighting experience to step into a sparring session for obvious reasons. In addition, the sports of MMA and boxing are always looking for the next big thing. What if you take someone just getting started that may have all the potential in the world and throw them into the ring only to get seriously injured? One would think that at the beginning of a new person’s training you wouldn’t want to take their heart out of the game their first visit to the gym. There will be a ton of other ways to see what kind of heart their charge has that doesn’t require them to step into the ring and take unnecessary punishment.
In the first part of our “Famous Gym Battles,” we took a look at some of the sparring sessions of a few of the greatest names fighting has ever heard, including Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, and Conor McGregor. In this edition we take a look at a name that was close to becoming a household name, but not before he committed a heinous act and shortly after took his own life.
Edwin Valero and Erik Morales
Edwin Valero compiled a professional boxing record of 27-0 with all of his wins coming by knockout. Two months after his last fight he was charged with the murder of his wife in a hotel in Venezuela, his native country. One day after being sent to prison on the chargers, police officers found him dead in his jail cell, a result of suicide. Before these unspeakable actions happened, Valero was on the cusp of super-stardom, having already won a title in the super featherweight and lightweight divisions. Big paydays, particularly against rumored opponent Manny Pacquaio, were within his reach, but of course, never realized. Ironically enough, it was a former Pacquaio opponent that was responsible for bringing the name of Valero to the boxing masses after employing him as a sparring partner, prior to his first match against Pacquaio.
(Disclaimer – As mentioned in a previous post, sparring stories are often times exaggerated, for any number of reasons. The following examples of gym battles also fall into that category, of course, but it’s impossible not to look at these mouth-watering battles between legendary fighters throughout history and wonder what it would have been like to be a fly on the wall in the gym that day.)
Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis
On June 8, 2002, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis met in the ring, each earning millions of dollars. Tyson took a ferocious beating from the hands of the then champ Lewis, eventually succumbing to him in the eighth round. However, this wasn’t the first time these two had met in the ring. Nearly two decades earlier, in 1984, Lewis and his handlers were looking for some good sparring, and took the trip to Catskill, NY where Cus D’Amato was always looking for good sparring for his fighter, Tyson. Little did they know they’d be splitting 35 million dollars to fight for real years later.
If only that was an easy question to answer…
There is no set pay table with how much sparring partners in boxing and MMA make because, like any other profession in the world, it depends how good you are at your job and how much money your boss is willing to pay you for your services. The first part of the previous statement says, “how good you are at your job,” so let’s focus on that for a second.
Being a good sparring partner very rarely means you are one of the best fighters in the world. Often times they are fighters that are either just coming up and trying to make a name for themselves, or a fighter whose best professional days are behind them, but they are still professional enough to know what they need to do to help prepare the fighter that they were brought into camp to spar with.
Often times you see people confuse sparring sessions for real life fights, especially on online boxing and MMA message boards. You’ll read about how “the champ” had problems with a novice, or a guy that has a sub .500 record, and it must mean that “the champ” is in trouble come fight night. While that is true sometimes, it is usually not the case. Usually “the champ” may have been directed to work on one specific thing he hasn’t mastered. His sparring partner across the ring may have been brought in because he does that one thing really really well. When you look at it in that example you can see why “the champ” may have had problems with that specific sparring partner on that specific day. Again, that rarely means that the sparring partner would have any kind of chance against “the champ” if the two were to actually fight. However, that does mean that the sparring partner that was brought in was very effective at his job.
Sparring partners have been around as long as there has been boxing. In most of these cases, being a sparring partner was the only way that some boxers could get recognized, hoping a trainer or manager would see them and have the belief they could do something with them in the paid ranks. They then were able to use the reputation they earned as a sparring partner to generate a successful career of their own. In some cases, the boxer who used to be the sparring partner went on to be just as big a name, if not bigger, than the name they were originally brought in to help. Below are two of the best known cases of heavyweight sparring partners who went from sparring partner in camp to heavyweight champ.
One of the greatest heavyweight champions in history started as a sparring partner before amassing a career record of 69-6 (44 KOs). Holmes was a little known amateur, who had compiled a record of 19-3 in the unpaid ranks. In 1972, his world would change forever when a man by the name of Muhammad Ali called him and asked him to be one of his sparring partners.
In 1973, shortly after starting his own professional career, Holmes was asked by another huge name in the sport to come be a sparring partner, Joe Frazier. Frazier was preparing for his second fight with Ali. Holmes never looked at it as cheating on Ali. He was just looking for a paycheck, as he was making more money as a sparring partner than he was as a professional fighter at this point of his career.