Your First Boxing Match: What Every Fighter Needs to Know Before Their First Fight: The Ultimate Checklist
One of the things I love about coaching is that I get to re-live certain experiences hundreds of times. As a fighter, I only had one “first boxing match”. As a coach, now I’ve been able to re-live that “first boxing match” several times with fighters. Many times, I would prepare a fighter for their first fight, only to learn something new that could be chalked up as another “first boxing match” experience that didn’t specifically happen to me. Everybody reacts to having their first amateur boxing match in a different way. Some are filled with nerves. Some have no issues with the moment like Sara Koshfam (click for her interview on her first fight). I’ve written a guide on the things I’ve learned, both in my experience, and the experiences of our fighters below.
Note: The notes below are for American competition only using USA Boxing’s Rulebook. Many of the tips discussed are covered in our online boxing courses, which are 75% off for Cyber Monday using the code “CYBERMONDAY75”!
Things to Know:
Preparing for your first amateur boxing match can be quite intimidating. Often times, fighters are solely focused on their boxing development, sparring progress, and maintaining their weight that they don’t consider things like:
- What kind of headgear to wear
- Whether to tap gloves
- What mouthpiece colors you cannot use
- When the warning bell rings
- How many minutes are the rounds and rest period
- What to bring
- How knockdowns impact scoring
- How many Judges there are
- Where the neutral corner is, and what to do if scoring or receiving a standing eight count
- How to time the preparation for the event
- And more!
These are all things an experienced coach will guide you through. Ideally, your coach knows that beyond his or her responsibility to bring your skills up to par to compete, he or she also has the responsibility to walk you through how fight day will go.
At Dreamland Boxing, we go over all of these rules prior to a competitor’s first bout. I wrote it all out as a reference point for our fighters, as there’s a lot that people forget! So written below are all of the tips for first time fighters that I have (and may continue to add to) – some I even had to learn the hard way!
Fight Strategy, Scoring, Rules, etc.:
- Rounds: Typically 3 2-minute rounds with 1-minute rest (depends on experience/age bracket/etc.) for a novice (under 10 amateur bouts) fighter. Refer to the USA Boxing Rulebook for specifics related to you.
- How many judges, weight of gloves, etc.:
- Typically three judges. Occasionally, there are 5 judges, but only 3 scorecards used.
- Remember: Knockdown rounds aren’t automatically 10-8
- Close Round: 10 – 9
- Clear Winner: 10 – 8
- Total Dominance: 10 – 7
- Difference from the professionals: Note that nowhere does it say that a knockdown impacts the scoring of an amateur bout. Also, note:
- 10 – 8 rounds are more frequently given in the absence of a knockdown, and
- 10 – 9 rounds are more frequently given in rounds with a knockdown!
- Changes in scoring: Amateur scoring used to score by punches landed. I boxed in NorCal and SoCal and went to an official’s training in Central California, and the divergence of scoring was wild – even in just the mere frequency of landed punches not as it related to a winner/loser. For example, some scorecards would be high like 50-40, but other bouts would end up with a score of 12-10. I had a few fighters where I would triple up my opponents score like 30-10 on one scorecard and win 8-6 on another. They have since simplified it to the scoring they currently use.
- My experience: I was taught to bow to judges before the bout. Some fighters bow after.
- The Neutral Corner:
- After you score a standing-eight, the referee will instructor you to head over to one of the white corners.
- If the referee scores a standing-eight against you: Don’t panic! Remember that this is precautionary and does not directly impact the scorecards. One of the biggest things I remind fighters is to put their gloves up and look directly at the referee. There’s usually a lot of commotion when this happens, but do not look or walk away from the referee. We’ve had one fighter stopped for this reason, and a famous example of this in the professional ranks is when Meldrick Taylor looked over at promoter Lou Duva after a Julio Cesar Chavez knockdown with 2 seconds remaining in the fight. The referee, Richard Steele, then stopped the fight – which remains a highly controversial stoppage to this day.
- Bells: Note that there is a 10 second warning bell, before the final bell to conclude the round. Be familiar with the sounds of each and do not stop fighting at the 10 second mark.
- No red mouthpiece
- I believe this is because the red can be confused with blood. Wear a black mouthpiece!
- Belt-line should be a different color for the vest and trunk
- Water bottle must be clear!
- Use a white towel
- Headgear must have USA Boxing stamp
- Bring all equipment except for gloves, which are provided (boxing cup, USA Boxing approved headgear, shoes, headgear)
- My personal preference: I always bring two sets of competition gear, in red, blue, or a neutral corner. I never liked wearing red in the blue corner or blue in the red corner. Obviously, a good referee will not mistake the scoring for the wrong fighter. But they are human, and occasionally they are there for 20+ fights and may make an error.
- I’ve seen a fight scored 30-26, when the winning fighter was knocked down multiple times, an obvious mistake.
- Have a check-list for the night before: Don’t be like me, I forgot my shoes for my first boxing match!
- No experiments: Other than using the provided gloves, no other equipment should be brand new. Everything should be stuff you’ve tested out in sparring and have broken in.
- A suggestion I have for training is to also have a custom mouthpiece molded to your teeth. This will allow you to breathe much easier and communicate with your corner. Of course, test out different mouthpieces in the training camp leading up to your fight.
- Tapping Gloves: You tap gloves before the bout begins. Unlike sparring, you do not tap gloves at the start of each round. It is very common for a first-time fighter to try to tap gloves at every break.
- My experience: My first boxing match I was pounded when leaving my hand out to tap gloves. Later, I had an opponent try to tap gloves with me and I gave him a stiff jab to the body to let him know to not try any more. (I wasn’t trying to do any more than that, but did want to send a message)
Competition Gloves: Assuming you’re using 16oz gloves in sparring, competition will feel a little faster.
In the Corner:
- Keep your arms by your side, not draped over the ropes
- Small shallow breaths won’t help you, and will only keep you more tired. My coach would always make me take three deep breaths before giving me any instruction.
Your coach’s responsibilities:
There’s a lot on your mind on the day of your first boxing match. Your coach should absolutely be on top of the following.
- Coach should understand all rules about wrapping hands
- Coach should be responsible for confirming the following are correct:
- Ensure that opponents are wearing the same sized gloves, as required by the rules
- I’ve seen sometimes one walk into the ring with 10oz gloves and the other opponent wearing 12oz
- Ensure that opponents are wearing the same sized gloves, as required by the rules
- Coach should be responsible for overseeing the timeline below and communicating it to the fighter. The fighter should be aware of the timeline. There’s nothing worse than being rushed to fight without being warmed up or struggling to finish getting hands wrapped or signed off!
- Checking bout sheet:
- Know your bout number right away, so you know after which bout to prepare. Also note when there is an intermission, which may be up to 30 minutes. You don’t want to get warmed-up only to have to sit through an intermission.
- You typically will get your gloves 3 bouts prior to your bout.
- Remember to get your hand-wraps signed off early:
- Technically, this must be done before getting your gloves, but I always have my fighters get their wraps signed off immediately so they don’t have to worry about it again. Do not bother the judges during a fight, but they do have a free moment in between each fight.
- Getting Gloves:
- See how many sets of gloves are sitting at the glove table, and that’s how many bouts early you can grab your gloves. Typically, you can grab your gloves 3 bouts before yours begins.
- Warming Up:
- I typically warm my fighters up on the mitts 2 bouts before their bout begins and work alongside the actual ring timer. The reason why I recommend against warming up the bout before is because knockouts do happen, and you may have your warm-up cut short for that reason. After warming up on the mitts, my fighters will stay warm by shadow boxing and working through some other drills we have planned, but we always prepare for the scenario where the bout immediately preceding our fighter’s bout is an early knockout.
- Checking bout sheet:
- Who’s actually in your corner: This is a simple one, but you don’t want any dysfunction in your corner. Your team needs to know who will actually be getting in the ring and giving you instructions, and which two coaches serve as seconds and are on the apron. Between the coaches, they need to know who takes out the mouthpiece, who brings in the stool/bucket/ice/equipment, etc.
- I can go on and on with other very specific things that your coach should know, but this guide is for you, the first time fighter, not your coach so I wouldn’t want to overwhelm you. (For example, your coach can only use a transparent water bottle so they can see the fighter is only drinking water.) As a fighter, you should be focused solely on the fight and it’s best to have an experienced coach who has been there before.
After the Final Bell:
After the final bell has rung, you should go to your opponent’s corner and thank both your opponent and opponent’s coach for partaking in the event with you. Afterwards, you can go to your corner where your coach will take off your gloves and cut off your hand-wraps. A glove runner should be by the ring apron waiting for your gloves to take back to the glove table. You will then go to the center of the ring and await the announcement. It’s not like the pros where they read off scorecards, they will just announce the winner in the (blue/red) corner and the referee will raise your hand. There is typically a belt for a winner and a smaller medal for the loser. If you are the winner, you should take the medal and place it around your opponents neck before grabbing your belt.
Handling Nerves (My experience):
“You must understand fear so you can manipulate it. Fear is like fire. You can make it work for you: it can warm you in winter, cook you’re food when you’re hungry, give you light when you are in the dark, and produce energy. Let it go out of control and it can hurt you, even kill you… Fear is a friend of exceptional people”
My first boxing match I totally felt weak, nervous, and tense. This wasn’t just on the fight night itself, it was nerves that had been built up weeks before. When the bell rang, I tried to score a knockout in the 1st round and gassed out.
After my first boxing match, I went through a phase where I tried to feign confidence, but really I was burying my nerves rather than embracing them. I had a really flat performance after that, where I sat around looking confident but hardly took initiative. I ended up winning a decision, but I was ashamed of my effort afterwards. It took a few more fights for me to find the right balance.
It didn’t fully “click” until I fought overseas and was booed during the ring-walk. For some reason, I felt like I had nothing to lose. My prior fights were with my family and friends watching and I was so scared of letting them down. Not having those expectations freed me. I completely dialed in that night and got the W. That feeling of being “in the zone” became extremely powerful and carried over into other aspects of my life as well. You really have to have tunnel vision when you’re in the ring.
“Carbon dioxide also had a profound dilating effect on blood vessels, opening these pathways so they could carry more oxygen-rich blood to hungry cells. Breathing less allowed animals to produce more energy, more efficiently.
Meanwhile, heavy and panicked breaths would purge carbon dioxide. Just a few moments of heavy breathing above metabolic needs could cause reduced blood flow to muscles, tissues, and organs. We’d feel light-headed, cramp up, get a headache, or even black out. If these tissues were denied consistent blood flow for long enough, they’d break down.”
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, James Nestor
The first thing my coach had me do in between rounds was take three deep (diaphragmatic) breaths, prior to him giving any instruction. It’s something I now do when I corner fighters (after taking out their mouthpiece), because if they spend the entire time shallow breathing then, one, they won’t ever truly catch their breath, and, two, they probably won’t be able to focus or listen to me in between rounds. A lot of focus is placed on the two-minutes you’re competing. But also be aware of the one-minute you have to gather instructions from your coach, slow your heart rate down, recover, and prep yourself for the next round. Beyond using breathwork to get yourself into the proper mental state and focus, it’s also extremely important for efficient delivery of oxygen and CO2 retention both during and in-between rounds.
Another focus I have lately would be to slow breathe prior to actual bout. That’s not something I did while boxing, but discovered later in life – it helps me calm my nerves before big marathons and other events. It would have helped during my competition days for sure – there’s nothing more nerve wracking than competing.
I’ve recently read two books on breathwork: The Oxygen Advantage: Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques to Help You Become Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter by Patrick McKeown and Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. Both I would highly recommend. I recently did write-ups on how nasal breathing can improve running and have some other write-ups on breathing in my blog.
Final thing you’ll realize after your first boxing match – it goes by really quickly, so have fun in there! Plenty of fighters overreact to the outcome of their first boxing match – as if they’re either undefeated or winless. Don’t read it into it too much, looking at the bigger picture this one fight outcome doesn’t really mean much. I’ve seen many fighters get complacent after one win, and many have the biggest chip on their shoulder after losing their first. Focus on the growth you’ve made in the build-up to your first boxing match, and how you can improve going forward!
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About the Author:
Coach Ian is an ultra-marathon runner and a volunteer coach at the non-profit boxing organization, Dreamland Boxing, in San Jose, CA. He competed in boxing for both Dreamland and collegiately at UCLA. His goal is to empower all to be the best that they can be, in boxing and in life. You can find Coach Ian on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.