Wisdom of a 56 Year Old Taking Up Boxing and Trying to Have a Match

I would like to take up boxing and actually work toward getting in the ring for a bout. Assume the gym decides it’s not sheer stupidity for me to get in the ring, but that I’m not that good at it. What are the chances with headgear and a vigilant referee that I end up with a concussion?

I am not going to say “you will die or be permanently maimed or disabled”, but if you formally resign from the Straight Dope, and announce your celebrity status, this would make for a great 2020 Celebrity Death Pool pick…

That’s insider trading! :mad:

Even with headgear, there’s always a chance of blunt force trauma. It’s much rarer, but people have died in amateur fights. If you lean in with your head and catch a straight right to the frontal cortex at just the right velocity, you could be done. But that could happen whether you’re 26 or 56. The challenge you face is that your reflexes are slower. You’re likely to have 1.5 punches thrown at you for your every punch that you throw - that’s just the way nature works. OTOH, the last thing you lose with age is your raw power. If you had the raw power to knock someone on his ass when you were 26, you still probably still possess that power. You’re just more likely to get cracked before you land that big punch. You’ll also tire faster.

This article suggests that, even with headgear and referees who are observing safety protocols, amateur boxers appear to have elevated risks of brain injuries.

It also notes that, while headgear may help reduce the likelihood of brain injury from a straight blow (e.g., a jab), it doesn’t help much when you’re getting hit by a hook (I’d guess because such a punch is causing rotational torsion in your head).

Stuff happens while boxing. Kidney punches are illegal, but still occasionally occur, whether accidentally or on purpose. They can impair kidney function, which I think would be a bigger issue when older. Aside from head injuries, you will be exposed to rotator cuff damage - takes a long time to heal when young, forever when older. And general sprains and breaks become more likely too. I boxed a little in college, I can’t imagine doing it now. Not doing it is the wisdom here. Unless you box an octogenarian.

There are different grades of concussion. Actually getting knocked out is the most severe kind.

Relatively few amateur boxing matches end in a knockout, but the likelihood of getting hit hard enough to cause a mild concussion in training approaches 100%.

Most of the chronic brain injury in boxing happens in training, not necessarily in matches, if for no other reason that boxers spar a lot more than they actually compete.

All of us lose brain neurons as we age, that’s unavoidable. All concussions involve the loss of neurons, although some more than others. Getting your bell rung is less serious than getting knocked down for an eight count, but you still suffer some level of brain damage in both cases. The danger in older boxers is that they have less neurons to lose, so the consequences are more severe. A concussion causes some neurons to fire, some to be bruised, and some to be lost. The ones that are lost never come back. So the damage is cumulative.

If you decide to go ahead, stamina is the best defense. Boxing is very, very physically demanding. Your best bet might be to get into sufficiently good shape that you can go three hard rounds and have more left in the third round than your opponent, and that is more difficult than it seems. In a real match, you are more tense, and that wastes energy.

I have never boxed per se, although I have done some contact sparring in the context of martial arts training. I have been hit, I have been knocked down, and I have been knocked out. It’s not like the movies. Not like waking up from a nap, unless you generally puke after waking up from a nap. I went into it knowing the risks and downsides, because there is no other way of training to survive a punch or two and still be able to fight on, besides taking a punch or two and practicing still being able to fight on.

If you feel the risks are worth it, you probably won’t get hurt too much. Probably.


I have a good friend whose first husband (Redone Bougara) died after a fight. They’d been married a week before his final fight.

Sure, go for it, but understand that “concussion” is not the worst thing that could happen.

I think you just violated the “otherwise contributes” clause of Rule #7. I’m sure Baker will be along to stipulate your penance. Unless she granted you a bucketload of indulgences for the year you ran the Death Pool.

OP, here.

Talked me out of it, but as always, I enjoyed the insights. I knew of course that things could get dire in the elite amateur-to-pro level. What I was wondering was how bad things could get at the noob level of the sport.

FWIW I was much more willing to take the chance until this past February when I actually got concussed from a fall. Was in bed for two days and slept for most of that. Took a good month until I perceived myself to be back to normal.

I think you’ve made a good decision, OP. I think some light contact sparring would be fun and low risk. Full contact would be a huge mistake.

I was gonna suggest that you stick with just the boxer’s workout and skip the actual ring time. Looks like you already reached that conclusion, which I think is wise on your part.

If you want to engage in a “combat sport” I suggest Brazilian Jujitsu. You can go 100% live and no brain damage. Your joint health if you are stubborn is a whole other subject.