Becoming a Boxer: 6 Weeks to My First Fight

The author working on her jab. Credit: Zach Doleac

On May 10, I will be fighting in a charity boxing event in New York City. This is no afternoon athletic contest. A woman is going to be trying to knock me out — with a few blows to my head or a well-placed shot to the kidney — and I plan on getting to her first. (You can read more about the charity here). 

I’ve never been in a fight before. Sure, I've attended boxing-centric fitness classes on the regular in a few of the many trendy New York gyms that teach you the old 1-2 in between sets of burpees and squats. But I’ve never been full-throttle punched in the face. Motivations aside, that’s exactly what I signed up for the minute I uttered the four magic words “I want to fight” to the right people.

Happily, my coach takes this as seriously as I do. Baruc Martinez, head coach of Martinez Boxing, agreed to take me on as one of his fighters with the promise, “I don’t make you look cute — I turn you into a fighter.” The first boxer Baruc ever coached was two-time North American Boxing Association champion Edgar Santana. He’s the man behind the mitts of titleholders and pros who has been teaching his fighters to “hit them with the hot shit” since he started professionally coaching at age 16.

I've been at this for just a few weeks now and know one thing for sure: Getting into a fight is one hell of a commitment.

I’m training with Baruc five days a week at Church Street Boxing Gym — where walls are plastered with fight posters and Polaroid pictures of champions past that smells like the sweat of a thousand men and a few workouts that ended with a puke bucket. Each of my workouts keeps me at Church Street between two and three hours — with a construct that goes a little something like this: 15 minutes of jump rope, 20 minutes of shadowboxing, 20–30 of minutes of pad work, 20 minutes on the heavy bag, eight minutes on the double-end bag, a couple of rounds of defensive head movement, 100 push-ups, 250 abs, and kettlebell work.

Aside from clocking in to the gym with the same commitment as a part-time job requires, I also knew that my two “off” days per week really meant my two “run” days per week, as an attempt to preserve my marathon-runner cardiovascular fitness.

Additionally, Baruc informed me that I would be getting in the ring two or three times a week to spar. Sparring — getting in the ring with another fighter and “free-form” fighting to work on real punches and real skills in a real way — is the best form of practice on a fast track to a fight. There’s nothing that will teach you how to fight better than fighting, right? I had sparred a couple of times before this just for shits and giggles — but never with the likes of pro fighters, aka my new teammates.

But before any hands were thrown, there were a few first orders of business to take care of. One, determine the weight class I’ll be fighting in; and two, head to New York’s sole boxing specialty store Superare Fight Goods and get the gear I’d be needing (which is much more than I’d initially anticipated). On the to-buy list: boxing shoes, lace-up gloves, headgear, a mouth guard, hand wraps, athletic tape, and lots of Advil. On the to-lose list: 12 pounds.

After the first week of training with Baruc, he had my skill level, my strengths, and my weaknesses pinpointed. Turns out that my hook needs a lot of work, but both my left and right body shots are “killers.” I’m strong and aggressive, but I’m not patient enough in the ring. I have a beautiful jab, if I do say so myself, but my cross is too slow. Sometimes I drop my right hand and expose my face but I’m quick to slip and weave to duck a punch. I need to learn to counter punches faster. I naturally throw head-body combos (which is a good thing). I hit hard but I don’t place punches correctly — and what’s the point of having knockout power if you can’t even hit someone?

Needless to say, I’ve got a lot to learn in the next six weeks and I’m realizing that six decades wouldn’t even be enough time to master this sport.