The Vegan Boxer
I admired the level of fitness and athletic skill demonstrated by the warriors in the ring and had always wanted to emulate my heroes by doing the same.
I’ve been vegan since January 2014. I initially decided to do so for a few months as a bit of a health kick. But after I’d watched a documentary called ‘Vegucated’ on Netflix, I knew I could never go back to eating or using any animal products.
To a lot of meat-eaters, the stereotypical vegan is skinny and malnourished, deficient of protein and with weak, crumbling bones from the lack of calcium.
I actually received some comments suggesting that a vegan diet would hinder my boxing with reduced strength and energy.
Of course, I was determined to prove otherwise and signed up to compete at a white collar boxing event at The Ring Boxing Club in Southwark, London. The fight night was confirmed for 11th February 2016 and I began training for the big day.
Boxing Training as a Vegan
On day one, I weighed myself and checked my body fat percentage as a marker. The indulgence of the Christmas period had meant I was a few pounds heavier than target at 160lb and 16% body fat. Now, I accept that measurement of body fat are notoriously inaccurate and unreliable, but I work on the assumption that if I always measure with the same device, it should be useful in tracking progress.
My targets were to get down to 147lb with 12% body fat for a welterweight contest. I knew that to achieve that, I’d need to really hit things hard.
The biggest challenge for me was adding morning road work to my schedule, which combined two things that I really don’t enjoy: early starts and running. I’d tried to get into running a few times but now I finally had the motivation to get out of bed and make it stick. So 4 or 5 times a week before work I would run 3 miles at a pace of between 8 and 9 minutes per mile.
The first few runs were horrible but the fixed date kept me honest and I stuck with the running. Each day I felt stronger and quicker. For the final couple of weeks I would add some sprint sets on to the end of the run. So after completing a 3 mile run, I’d use the last section of road to sprint and jog back a few times to really feel some burn.
Then, in the evenings and on non-running mornings, I would go to the gym to train. This involved the usual suspects of skipping and working the heavy bags for 8-10 rounds. Shadow boxing was hugely useful as a warm up exercise, working on technique and footwork, even working intensely for a hard cardio session. A typical session might be set up like this:
- 3 x 3 min skipping with 1 min rest
- 3 x 3 min shadow boxing with 1 min rest
- 3 x 3 min heavy bag
- 2 x 3 min double end bag
- 2 x 3 min speed ball
All with 1 minute rest between rounds - but with a set of press ups and leg raises to keep the heart rate up.
A round of shadow boxing might consist purely of footwork drills, so getting into the ring and visualising an opponent in front of you, then working purely on movement. Using all of the ring to imagine escaping an aggressive opponent and then switching to try pressuring and cutting off the ring.
Next round could be working on slip-counter combinations, bobbing and weaving and looking to work on defence. The final round of the three would be working on combinations, looking at working the body and head and perfecting a good range of shots.
The same approach would be taken on the bags - using each round to work on something specific, either looking to throw really powerful shots on the heavy bag or developing quickness with the double end bag or speed ball.
The thing I quickly learnt was that knowing what you plan to do in the ring becomes very difficult to execute as soon as the punches start flying. Being able to remain calm and in control under pressure would be critical to success.
An important step in the process for me was the first time on the receiving end of a really good shot.
Sparring with one of the guys in the gym, I had allowed my guard to slip and he delivered a powerful sharp uppercut between my gloves, landing right on my nose. That was the first time I’d been hit really hard and I certainly felt it.
My ears were ringing, my eyes were watering and I knew that I’d have a bloody nose. I regrouped, got my guard back up and finished the round. I think this was a key moment because I learned a few things...
Firstly, that it hurts to get hit.
Secondly, that although it hurts, it doesn’t hurt for long and I was able to continue.
Thirdly and most crucially, to keep my guard high and tight at all times! I was very proud when my bruised nose developed into a black eye over the next couple of days.
I’m very lucky that I have an employer that allows some flexibility with working hours. With that, I was able to squeeze in a good morning workout at the gym in Southwark and still make it to my office shortly after 9am. I’m even luckier that I stuck to a pretty intense training plan without suffering any injury or setback.
By the last week of training, I felt and looked in the best shape of my life. I was running stronger than ever, my body fat was visibly at it’s lowest with some good muscle definition. Being able to look in the mirror and see that was enough of a reward before even getting into the ring.
My First Fight as a Vegan Boxer
I had a group of 15 supporters attend on the night which was fantastic and the whole experience was amazing. I could hear the atmosphere building in the room whilst getting my hands wrapped and warming up. The nerves were building with every minute and I couldn’t wait to get in the ring and get started.
Our fight was second on the bill, so we didn’t have to wait too long. At around 8pm on the night, I walked through the curtain and into the ring with my music playing and saw my friends and family standing at ringside.
As I had my head-guard fitted and gum shield put in, the MC made the announcement that ‘The Vegelante’ Matt Janes was the first ever vegan boxer at The Ring, which received a great response.
So we touched gloves in the middle of the ring, the bell rang and our 3 x 2 minute rounds began.
The first round flew by and I felt like I had controlled the ring quite well and landed some good shots. My corner-man, Iain, who had been coaching me for the fight gave me some pointers and a drink and off we went again for the second round.
The adrenaline was really pumping at this point and I didn’t execute anything that Iain had just told me, instead trying to act on instinct. This was a tight round and my opponent was very active throughout, throwing lots of punches.
As we came out for the final round, I felt like I was being outworked and outgunned. Although I didn’t really take any heavy shots, the volume of punches being thrown was enough to win the round.
At the end of the fight, we stood in the middle of the ring as the announcement was made that the referee had scored the bout 29-28 (two rounds to one) in favour of my opponent. I was disappointed but couldn’t argue with the result. I was mostly angry with myself for not doing enough to win. But that feeling was soon washed away by an immense since of pride and achievement.
About the Vegan Boxer
Despite the loss, I feel like I’ve achieved both and if this endeavour even inspires one more person to become vegan, I’ll consider it a huge success.
Being vegan doesn’t mean having to compromise or give up anything you love. You could be healthier than you thought possible and it’s easier than you think to make the change.
There are loads of recipes and meal plans available and plenty of guidance in finding alternatives for your favourite foods.
I’d love to help anyone wishing to make the switch so please feel free to drop me a message!
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