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Sparring - is it a thing of the past or essential?

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

After max holloway and a few others have expressed their preference for no sparring now, i get asked on my thoughts. Here they are.

There are pros and cons to sparring however it isn't one or the other. You should be totally in control of your training regime and there in no reason what so ever, even the ones below I give to balance this, that you shouldn't spar during a camp.

The argument against

Simply put, Max, and others, say sparring means fighters leave it all in the gym. The believe they head into fights feeling fresher and long term health will be massively improved.

Now that isn't an argument, he is right. Too many hard spars will leave you empty on fight night and could, potentially, impact health after you have left the sport.

The key thing here is hard spars. Sparring in a controlled, monitored and programmed way compared to heavy spars every time are tow completely different things.

My issue is not with sparring, it is with only hard spars.

Why is sparring key

There are many reasons why sparring is key. Let's flip it and look at football. Imagine hearing Manchester city never played competitive matches in training, you'd question it wouldn't you. But if you heard they were playing 90 minutes of hard matches, with tackles flying in, you also question that. The principle is the same with sparring.

Sparring is the single most important aspect of training for a fighter. There is no more specific conditioning for fighting then fighting. There is nothing that builds confidence or mental toughness like hard rounds. If you could only do one part of training, I'd probably suggest sparring.

But not every spar has to be 100%, take your heads clean off intensity. There is a time and a place but also the need for more technical sparring is important.

For example, you are probably less likely to try out new things you've been working on if a spar gets very heated. The chances are you will go back to old types and habits. Amir Kahn is a good example of this, he was known for hard sparring and you could see it in his fights. Despite changing trainers, when fights go hard and he was hurt, he'd revert back to his fight fire with fire, brave style.

So yes, we want the hard round for both physical and psychological adaptations but in a planned and monitored way.

so how much hard sparring?

Honest answer is I don't know.

There is no research. It is probably fighter dependent. If you have done it all your life, you will probably feel under prepared if you reduce it during a camp.

From what I have seen the best trainers do, my rough recommendation would be 1 x hard spar at fight duration and 2-4 hard spars at shorter durations too. These can be timed during the bulk of hard camp eg 6-2 weeks out.

Around this add more technical spars.

Round up

That's my bit on it. I am not sure I am right but based on what I see and have experienced that's my thought. Max Holloway can probably get away with it because he has done it all his life. He has fought the worlds best so from a mental standpoint, sparring won't serve the purpose it does for someone less experienced.

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