AN EXPLORATION OF PADWORK

Believe it or not, I was an actor for a while. 

No, you haven’t seen me in anything and I started working in a bank because I wasn’t good enough! Or handsome enough. Nah, that can’t be right.

One thing I used to always do well though, was audition. I’d pick two monologues that suit me. I’d master the accent. Then I’d kill the audition and ‘wow’ the panel, either in person or on video. 

The trouble then came when I had a serious test, a tricky scene, or something I hadn’t tackled before. It only occurred to me recently that padwork drills/focus mitts/shadow-boxing could all follow a similar pattern. Right? 

You spend time learning your combinations. You perfect them. You add in some footwork. You add more snap to certain shots. Eventually, you are left with a beautiful rendition of you punching a fictional human being. It looks great, it sounds great and trust me, I know it’s extremely difficult to master! 

The purpose of the article is not to down-play the level of skill or hard work it takes to become extremely effective at pads. I want to stress that. I see guys like Donnall Smith producing beautiful work with his fighters on the pads and I have no doubt it helps ten-fold with their preperation.  

I guess my question is, how effective can a drill truly be without a man walking towards you ready to throw a purposeful hook?  How realistic is your coaches blocking or countering of your ‘2,2,3,6’? How often can a pattern be repeated before deemed repetitive?

Roger Mayweather is the master of padwork and let’s be fair – Floyd Jr turned out alright! Jorge Linares and Vasyl Lomachenko seem to replicate their work on the focus mitts whenever they face an opponent. Elite fighters can do that. They do mostly whatever they want. It’s what makes them elite.

I’ve watched countless videos on Instagram or Twitter of fighters hitting pads or practising drills. They look exceptional. Then, they show up for their next fight and look lost or outclassed by an opponent who seems more at ease in that ‘real life’ scenario. The worry for me is that pads are becoming routine and more a case of muscle memory as opposed to keeping combinations fresh and keeping fighters thinking. Having the ability to adapt and think inside the ring is so undervalued. If Plan A doesn’t work, so many up-and-coming fighters just try Plan A… a little more intensely. 

Pads are the perfect time to test your fighters boxing brain. 

We all learned the Macarena, I can do the Macarena drunk/sober/fast/slow/in reverse. I can do it tired, I can do it really well in my bathroom and then pathetically in public. It’s a routine.

Boxing is never the same dance twice.

Cus D’Amato famously used the numbers technique when training Mike Tyson in the 80’s. He shouted out numbers, Mike smashed the pads accordingly. I know Freddie Roach likes to focus on mixing his fighters assaults to both head and body during the same combination (as seen when training Manny Pacquiao). Robert Garcia, brother of lightweight star Mikey, keeps his drills mixed and has his fighters think on their feet. These three varying styles show that coaches can approach the focus mitts differently, but breed success in doing so. All three have had world champions in their stable and rigorous training camps each time in preperation. 

The benefits of a top class ‘padsman’ include sharpening reflexes, endurance, timing and defence. As pointed out by my good man Sam, doing 6 rounds on the pads also provides you with a fantastic cardio workout and much needed aerobic endurance!

When done poorly, work on pads will seem clumsy or all-over-the-place! Coaches can sometimes have their hands sticking out at random angles, not beneficial if attempting to work on accuracy. They can have their feet square on which an opponent rarely would or they can look loose and weak, allowing a fighter to punch them around the ring. This fails to offer realistic resistance and can give a fighter a false sense of his own strength or punch-power.

It is a key part of boxing, training on the pads. It encourages fast thinking and rapid hand/eye co-ordination which can guide fighters to victory and safety in equal measure. However, it seems a prime example of how training can flatter to deceive. Left to trainers and fighters more keen on Instagram followers, it can add the glitter to an unpolished product. It can become merely the choreography that accompanies a dangerous ballad. 

It can be both fit for purpose and fit to fail. Use it wisely…

Craig Scott