Does a fat boxer have protection against body blows?

Been watching some clips lately of some boxers who have some excess around the middle, to one extent or another. Andy Ruiz is a very visible example, but the same also applies to Tyson Fury, George Foreman (in his Second Coming) and others (e.g. later stage James Toney).

It seems obvious that the excess weight has a disadvantage in terms of affecting the conditioning, especially if the fight drags on to later rounds, and may also slow the guy down. But I wonder if it also has an advantage in that it would offer some padding and protection against body blows. (Possibly also in adding more force to punches if the upper body is in motion.)

If so, then possibly the ideal boxing condition is a guy who has a lot of extra fat around the middle but is in good enough condition that he can remain active despite it. (For a heavyweight, that is. For someone at lower weight classes, the extra weight could move him up in weight class, which may not be desireable.)

There may be a little extra padding in places. There was a heavyweight I recall that dropped about 30 lbs. to get the look of conditioning, but he said it took his power away so he gained it back. He didn’t mention padding that I recall, and in the end with or with extra weight he didn’t amass much of a record.

Body type matters also, if your muscles are dark meat like a chicken thigh the fat is spread throughout them and large size may indicate larger muscles that will form better protection. Muscles provide the protection from body punching that boxers need. Not necessarily large muscles, but larger size helps.

If a boxer has a lot of excess fat it can throw off an opponents aim in body shots. A left hook to the belly fat won’t have as much affect as placing the punch a little further back and hitting the liver.

All in all I don’t think it makes significant difference. So a boxer who looks fat but is still in good boxing condition must be a pretty strong guy not to get slowed down by the extra weight and probably doesn’t need extra padding. George Foreman would be the poster boy for this, he may have joked about some extra padding but that was nothing compared to punches that could knock out a horse Mongo style.

Surely, extra muscle would provide just as much protection as fat, while also providing strength. Not all rotundness is fat.

Maybe fat will dissipate some energy from a blow more across the surface. Transmitting less into the more rigid muscle structure and then into the interior. But I think it would be negligible at the amounts a pro boxer would have.

A few points:

  1. I don’t know if that’s true, as fat has more “give” than muscle.
  2. Fat guys have more fat around the middle than lean guys have muscle.
  3. Most importantly, we’re talking about top rank professional boxers here. It’s not like the fat ones are a bunch of flabby out-of-shape guys. They presumably have the same muscle as the leaner boxers, but in addition to that they also have another layer of fat as well.

Generally speaking, “give” is not a good factor for protective material. Unless you’re asking what’s more likely to protect the hands of the person punching the fat boxer. Firm muscle should be harder to penetrate than fat, and would protect vitals better.

People who pack things for shipping purposes don’t seem to agree with you. Also, people who design cars for crash protection.

The basic idea is that if the protective substance has give, it can absorb the force of the blow, and the substance behind it remains relatively unscathed. A firmer substances transfers the force to whatever is behind it.

Presumably, “boxers” (despite the name) aren’t in a Fed Ex building punching packages. A metal box would protect a package better than a cardboard one. Also, squishy packing materials are lighter, because protection isn’t the only priority in shipping.

We aren’t crashing boxers into each other. Punches are bursts of force concentrated into small areas. Like gunshots. We don’t cover tanks in rubber so that munitions bounce off of them.

Then explain why combat armor has never been squishy in all of human history?

Fat tissue is mostly water, and water is fantastic at dispersing force. But the location of the fat matters too.

For men, a lot of abdominal fat is carried tightly under the abdominal muscles. It doesn’t have much freedom of expansion. It probably helps somewhat, but less than if it were on top of the muscle.

On the other hand, the kidneys very much depend on fat for protection against blunt trauma, so the body accumulates a lot of fat both around the organ and under the skin. That’s why we have love handles. There’s probably a point of diminishing returns here, but I would think a fatter person would have materially better kidney protection.

Two reasons.

  1. Combat armor protects against being pierced by sharp objects. You need a stong hard substance for that. That’s not the case for boxers who need protection against fists.
  2. In the case of armor, the protection is hopefully stong enough that it can completely prevent the blow from impacting the wearer. That would be true of boxers as well - if a boxer had the option of wearing a metal suit of armor in the ring it would offer more protection against punches than either fat or muscle. But the comparison here is between fat and muscle, neither of which are strong enough to completely shield the internal organs, and here fat has an edge.

Squish is heavy and tends to degrade rapidly. Not very conducive to marching a mile to the battlefront, or getting hit more than once.

Have you ever seen those water barrels they use to protect the exposed ends of concrete barriers? They work great… once. And there’s a reason they put them on the ground in front of the barrier rather than on the front of the car.

Water and ballistic gel are fantastic at stopping bullets. They make terrible armor. Boxers aren’t allowed to wear armor anyhow. They’re allowed to be fat, hence this discussion.

A protective layer of fat may not be a good way to guard against pointy weapons, claws and teeth and why it’s not really seen in the biological realm which seems to move more towards harder ‘shielding’, but if the only weapon was a fist inside a padded glove that might make it a viable defense. Fat can deform without compromising the muscle, thus preserving, as far as I can see, mobility.

Perhaps there’s some under the abdominal muscles, but there’s certainly quite a lot on the outside as well. See for example Andy Ruiz fighting Anthony Joshua. His mid-section fat jiggles every time he moves. It’s not nearly all under the abdominal muscles.

HIGHLIGHTS | Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz Jr. - YouTube

The extreme example is probably Eric Esch, aka “Butterbean”.

He was much more effective than his physique would suggest - I think his record was something like 75-10, with 57 knockouts.

Not many people develop a significant layer of fat covering their ribs. Fat also doesn’t easily cover the solar plexus however pectoral muscles are major protect for boxers taking punches to the chest, some extra fat probably does help a little in spreading the impact of a punch over a greater area. Punches to heart are quite effective especially coming in just under the pecs. But the effect of any fat in that area may be minor. I think the greatest protection comes from a big fat belly backed by muscle underneath, it should make it harder to hit the abdomen square on, which is virtually a target for guys with washboard abs.

What’s missing here is understanding that boxers train to take body punches. Besides work in the ring one of the common conditioners is to have a boxer lie on a table and a trainer will bounce medicine balls off their body. I shouldn’t say ‘bounce’ because the ball lands with heavy thud. When you are training to take blows like that I don’t think the minor effect of an extra fat layer is much help.

Nitpick: Butterbean was definitely more effective than his physique would suggest, but his record is deceiving, as it was compiled in 4 round fights against low-level competition. (The only serious big-name fighter he ever fought was Larry Holmes, and Holmes won the fight despite being 52 at the time.)

Combat armor was squishy back in the day. Google “gambeson”. It was basically squishy padded armor that could be worn alone or combined with plate mail.

Gambeson armor protected the user from heavy blows by concussive weapons (clubs, war hammers, etc), but gambeson could be cut by a sharp sword. Plate armor protected the user from cuts but would provide little protection from concussive weapons unless it also had gambeson or some type of squishy padding underneath. Personally, I think a punch is more like a club or a war hammer than a bullet.

For reasons similar to gambeson under plate armor, modern motorcycle helmets have a hard shell with squishy foam on the inside. Without the squishy foam you’re going to have a bad day.

Squishy is good.

As a big boxing fan I’ve seen this discussed before, I don’t think there is any serious evidence either that excess musculature (ala body builder) or excess fat are making a big “differential” in boxing “protection.” Most boxers are pretty muscular and many boxers have at least some body fat. A muscular but fat boxer and a muscular but lean boxer don’t seem to have any demonstrable, innate superior ability to take blows such that you could say it was a meaningful factor. I’m not saying if someone really sat down and did the science/physics, they wouldn’t be able to determine some minor benefit of x amount of fat vs muscle, but I don’t think it’s actually making a difference in the fights.

Where I think being fat vs lean makes the biggest difference relates to genetic and metabolic issues. Anyone that has followed strength sports or body building, or even just discussed things in those communities or such, knows that your physique and metabolic rate have some level of genetic component. Anyone can shed most of their fat and get really muscular, but some people will do it far easier than others, and some people will have a much more “aesthetically pleasing” physique as the end product, no matter how hard you work out (aesthetically pleasing is obviously subjective.)

Someone like Tyson Fury or Andy Ruiz who seem to get fat really easy, probably have to work really hard to get lean–in fact both have said so, they also might feel really sluggish and low energy when they get lean. A number of boxers who carry fat have said similar, that leaning out leaves them tired and having less energy. What I would speculate is someone like Tyson Fury, who has in early stages of his career had a more lean look, probably just has to diet really hard to get lean, and he feels that it makes his training less effective and makes him a less effective boxer. Bodybuilding is a very specific thing, and it isn’t actually going to generate peak physical performance for a specific sport.

This is all within boundaries, though. Like Andy Ruiz and Tyson Fury at their “fighting best” are overweight based on bodyfat percentage, not obese. However both men have also crossed the line into obesity and even morbid obesity at times. During his retirement, Fury, due in part to a ban from testing positive for steroids, ballooned to over 400 lbs–at that weight range he isn’t just fighting fit fat, he’s extremely obese. He got winded just walking around, and would have literally been at risk of dying in the ring if he had fought. You can’t fight at a high professional level that level of out of shape. Ruiz has also let himself go like that from time to time and it makes him essentially non-viable as a fighter. These guys are operating in a narrow band where they can be “kinda fat” but still be really effective, if they got really, really fat they would not be effective. They have determined that doing a cutting diet to “lean out” leaves them less effective.

Another thing to consider, it is very rare to see a fat boxer below the heavyweight division. I remember a couple of light heavyweights who were a little flabby, and occasionally a boxer moving up several weight classes carrying some extra weight, but by and large outside of the heavyweight division boxers have a weight limit to stay under and they usually reduce themselves to a body far percentage of 10-15%, well under the percentage healthy fit people would normally have.

That’s largely because of weigh-in games. You just get a big advantage if you’re a guy who is fit, muscular, and “walking around” at 175, but you can diet down to 165 for a weigh in, and there are ways to do that without much loss of muscle etc, so you end up getting really lean.