The Importance of Amateur Boxing

Aaron Pryor training for his first fight with Alexis Arguello

Today’s professional boxers do not fight nearly as often as many of the greats from previous eras. It’s become rare for high level boxers to fight more than a few times per year. The reduced frequency is certainly a change from what was common in the past. For instance, Henry Armstrong once fought 27 times in a single year. It’s safe to say that we will never see that frequency again. With that in mind, young boxers must do everything they can to make the most of their amateur careers. A boxer learns by boxing so it is important to rack up as much experience as possible.

Learning Through Competition

Throughout this site, I’ve emphasized the importance of boxing for a boxer. As I’ve stated before, a boxer will develop skill and endurance by focusing the bulk of his time towards boxing related activities (i.e. bag work, sparring, mitt work, etc.). The training that takes place with the gloves on will always be the most important work performed by the fighter. Everything else is secondary.

It’s worth noting however that a young boxer also needs to step up and compete. A boxer can only learn so much through training. Many of the best lessons must be earned by stepping into the ring to fight. Amateur boxing is where young fighters develop experience boxing against different styles. A young boxer with an extensive amateur background has likely seen his share of slick boxers, brawlers, counter punchers, southpaws, and more.

Boxing against different styles as an amateur is invaluable if the youngster ever decides to turn pro. As a professional, the young boxer will not fight nearly as often. Therefore, it is important to learn as much as he can by fighting regularly in the amateurs. The lessons learned though competition are virtually impossible to replicate elsewhere. Even the best sparring is different from boxing in front of a crowd against someone that you haven’t seen before.

Furthermore, amateur boxing is where youngsters become familiar with the pre-fight jitters that paralyze so many beginners. The nervousness that’s experienced before a bout cannot be replicated in the gym. A boxer will only learn to control these feelings through experience. As a fighter develops more and more experience, the ring becomes less and less foreign. It eventually becomes a place where the boxer can comfortably perform without excessive tension and anxiety.

Aaron Pryor vs. Thomas Hearns – 1976

Perhaps the best way to highlight the importance of amateur boxing is by looking back at a classic bout. Aaron Pryor and Thomas Hearns are common names to most boxing fans. Both were former world champions and both have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. What some might not realize however is that both were also highly accomplished amateur boxers. Aaron Pryor had over 200 wins as an amateur, while Thomas Hearns racked up over 150.

Below you can see their 1976 National Golden Gloves championship match at 132 pounds. Pryor was victorious in the bout, earning him back to back championships. He had also won at 132 pounds in 1975. Hearns went on to win the National Golden Gloves in 1977 at 139 pounds. He surely benefited from his experience against Pryor in the 1976 finals.

As you look back at this classic amateur battle, it is clear that both youngsters were highly skilled. Hearns was just 17 years old, but you could already see glimpses of what became one of the best jabs in boxing history. You can also see the relentless style of the young Aaron Pryor. Clearly, these attributes had begun to develop long before either man had his first professional fight.

Final Thoughts

The take home lesson to young fighters should be obvious. Don’t limit your development to training in the gym. It is also important to develop through regular competition. As stated before, each bout will provide lessons that cannot be taught anywhere else.

In summary, I encourage young boxers to fight regularly, and not just in their local area. If possible, it’s a tremendous experience to travel to some of the larger open tournaments available throughout the year. In doing so, young boxers will develop both physically and mentally. The lessons learned through each bout will be invaluable as the boxer progresses throughout his career. From a boxing training perspective, there will never be a better teacher than regular competition.




  1. I agree that everything practised means nothing if you cant use it in a match. With the increased discussion on micro traumas and there impact on brain health in sports, as a trainer, do you think there should be a limit on how much people, especially youth, can spar or compete?

    1. There isn’t a quick and easy answer to this sort of question. For starters, everyone is different so it’s impossible to predict how much is too much. For instance, Ray Leonard boxed for much of his life and remains as articulate as ever. Others took less punishment, yet are worse off.

      Perhaps more importantly though, a fighter who gets hit too much shouldn’t be boxing at all. That’s where a good trainer is particularly important. Not everyone is made for this sport. Sometimes a fighter needs to be saved from himself. If a youngster is taking too many shots, the best thing he can do is use boxing as an exercise, rather than a sport. The trainer needs to be honest.

      I’d rather be honest with someone than have them continue down a road that is certain to be filled with injuries.

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