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Boxing With A Poker Face

By Ross Enamait - Published in 2006



The card game of poker involves deception and concealed emotions. A player will bet that the value of his cards is greater than that of the hands held by others, in which each subsequent player must either equal or raise the bet, or drop out. Card players are said to wear a poker face, meaning that they conceal their true thoughts and feelings to mislead or persuade the other members of the game. For example, you may present an image that you have an excellent hand, when in fact you do not.

While I am not suggesting that you become an avid gambler, a fighter can certainly learn from concept of the poker face.

A boxer must also conceal emotions throughout the competition. If he is hurt or fatigued, he must mask these feelings from his opponent. The idea behind the poker face is to present a specific image to your opponent. For example, entering the final round of a bout, there is a good chance that both you and your opponent are battling with fatigue. Your arms may feel heavy, the legs unsteady. It is during these times that you will look to identify a weakness within your opponent. Is he also tired? Is he breathing heavy? What can you read from his body language?

The last thing that a tired fighter wants to see is a look of vigor and energy from his opponent. A tired fighter is hoping that his opponent is equally tired, or perhaps even more exhausted. You have likely seen or experienced bouts where both men essentially draw a mutual ceasefire. The two athletes will hold on the inside, neither man punching. Each man is completely exhausted, and trying to buy a few moments of rest, hoping that his opponent is in the same situation. Don’t buy into this storyline. Don’t let anyone know that you are tired. If your opponent is offering a momentary ceasefire, rip an uppercut on the inside. There will be no ceasefires until the final bell rings.

Seeing your opponent gasping for air and looking to hold will often add fuel to your fire. You will quickly gain a second wind, sensing that your opponent has run out of gas. During such times, you will put your fatigue aside, as you capitalize on your opponent’s weakness

Masking Fatigue


Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” No man is immune to fatigue. The best fighters in the world will eventually battle with exhaustion. Great fighters learn to box effectively through fatigue.

The ability to mask fatigue must be developed, just like any skill. This is not something that you can expect to do without preparation. A fighter needs to train with the look of strength and vitality. No matter how hard you train at the gym, you should maintain composure.

For example, suppose you are hitting the mitts with your trainer. Now is the perfect time to work on this unique skill. Don’t let your trainer know how tired you are. At the end of the round, take deep breathes and relax. Do not slouch over as if you are about to pass out. No matter how tired you are, now is the time to mask the fatigue. Apply this mentality to all aspects of training (ex. bag work, sparring, conditioning drills).

You may be running intervals or sprinting hills early in the morning. No one is there to see you panting on the side of the road. This is no excuse to let your guard down. In between intervals, stay calm, maintain composure, and keep the fatigue to yourself. You do not need to put on a show, by falling to the ground in agony. Walk around, shadow box lightly, and focus on being a fighter.

Masking fatigue is just one of many forms of deception, similar to feinting. Feinting is defined as “A mock blow or attack on or toward one part in order to distract attention from the point one really intends to attack.” For example, a boxer may fake the jab, and then step in with a short left hook. Feints are used to keep your opponent guessing and off balance. You are essentially deceiving him, in preparation for your next attack. Feinting can also help you buy time when fatigue sets in. You may be in need of a quick break in the action, so you can temporarily freeze your opponent with effective feints.

Masking fatigue could even be considered a form of feinting. You are deceiving your opponent, by giving him the impression that you feel fresh and ready for action.

Hiding your fatigue can also be useful with the judges. Judges are human beings, capable of being persua