Australia’s newly minted boxing world champion George Kambosos has confirmed an old boxing wives’ tale that has done the rounds for years: optimal performance requires a period of abstinence from sex in the lead-up to a big fight.
Who could argue with the man who pulled off one of the biggest wins in Australian boxing history to become the unified lightweight champion?
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“Me and my wife we make sure that there’s a certain period – don’t come near me, don’t tempt me,” the world champion told Wide World of Sports.
“Obviously I’ve spent time away for fights but we’ve got a little rule that we stay by. I’m at the top of the game so it must work! And I’ve got three kids!”
Kambosos Jr becomes unified champ
The belief that sexual activity causes a drop in testosterone limiting overall aggression, strength and key muscles used in either boxing or other combat/contact sports has been part of the sporting realm since Moses wore short pants. The concept was given air by former champions who would swear by abstinence, and their results would make the case for them.
Muhammad Ali claimed he wouldn’t have sex within a six-week window of a fight. Marvin Hagler was also a disciple of the no-sex club to “keep his legs strong”.
The tactic even made its way into the iconic Rocky films, in which Balboa’s grumbling geriatric trainer Mickey would yell: “Women weaken the legs”.
For Kambosos, though, it’s a tried and true method that has helped him maintain a “warrior-type” of focus ahead of all of his fights.
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“We stay a good four or five weeks away from any of that kind of stuff, directly in the lead up to the fight,” Kambosos added.
“We make sure I’m fully focused, fully embedded in what I gotta do. As the time gets closer and the weeks get closer, you’re so zoned in, you’re so focused, your body’s prepared to fight and you’re not really thinking about anything else.
“For every fight I’ve had, we stick solid and that’s sacrifice.
“I put my life on the line. I have to abstain from things like that. I have to be away from my kids and family for months on end.
“It’s all part of the discipline. It’s sacrifice and you’ve really got to earn it. I believe it’s 0.5 per cent that gets you to the top, maybe less.”
There’s no denying the margin between victory and defeat at the highest level of competition is minute. Inches determine the difference between champion and second place within a blink of an eye.
Yet over the years, data has been compiled about the impact of abstinence ahead of competition. Online medical journals state there’s no evidence to suggest that having sex beforehand will detrimentally impact an athlete’s physical performance but the psychological effects have not been analysed.
The other school of thought is that having sex closer to competition may actually increase testosterone, while those who choose not to bury the bishop may see a decline.
“It’s a myth to some but every fighter has been told to restrain themselves and to stay in that warrior-type mentality,” Kambosos said amid negotiations for his first title defence against either WBC champion Devin Haney or former unified champion, Vasily Lomachenko, in a stadium bout which should take place in May or June in Australia.
“Everybody’s got their different ways of approaching fights and I’m no different.
“It’s an old wives’ tale but when you’ve got big fights and there’s a lot on the line, you stay focused. You stay committed you do what works for you and what has worked in the past.”
It’s certainly difficult to dispute the Greek-raised Sydney fighter’s methods following his hard-nosed rise through the ranks. But that’s not to say that abstaining from sex is a recipe for success for all or that it’s a narrative that’s widely adopted.
Mike Tyson – the youngest heavyweight champion of all time, contracted gonorrhea ahead of his 1986 title fight against WBC title-holder Trevor Berbick, the bout that ultimately lifted him to boxing superstardom.
Neither the STD or the sex in the lead up seemed to faze Tyson, who was months removed from being a teenager, when he sent the champion to the canvas twice before Berbick collapsed while trying to get back to his feet, in one of the most crushing scenes in boxing history.
“I was dripping like a good humid July, man,” Tyson admitted years later. “I was too embarrassed to go to a doctor at the time, so I just had to endure the pain.”
Legendary boxing trainer Johnny Lewis, 77, has trained six world champions, including Kostya Tszyu and Jeff Fenech, and has spent a lifetime in the sport. He told Wide World of Sports he cannot remember having a conversation with any of his fighters about abstinence.
“Everyone is an individual. Just because one athlete does it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing for him,” Lewis said.
“It’s certainly worked for George Kambosos, he put in a 10/10 performance and he should be happy that he knows what works for him.”
Lewis gave backing for the contrarians, recalling how a case of holding out had backfired on one Aussie great.
According to the respected trainer, Australian Hall-of-Fame boxer Johnny Famechon would abide by a strict regimen of no sex in the lead up to his bouts, but the former WBC featherweight champion experienced some troubles as a result.
“I remember many years ago, Johnny Famechon had a wet dream (in the lead up to a fight) and it affected him a bit mentally, he was thinking about it,” Lewis said.
“I don’t think there was any need to worry about it. That’s the only time I’ve ever heard anything like that.
“I even remember that sometimes they used to tie corks to their stomach area before going to bed. The thing was if they rolled over on it it would be uncomfortable and that would stop the wet dreams from happening.”
Bizarre modes of training based on questionable anecdotes have long been part of the furniture in boxing. Lewis believes lifestyle has a lot to do with success, and that if someone is at home resting with their significant other, that’s totally different to hounding the town looking for a good time.
“I think for the bloke that’s married and at home, whatever happens, happens,” Lewis said.
“But I think the downside to it is, if you’re at a disco and waiting for a ‘Sheila’ until 4 o’clock in the morning to go home then it would be a problem. I don’t think there’s a lot to it. For me it’s hardly ever been a factor and everyone’s different.”
One of Lewis’ most prolific pupils was Fenech, who won world titles in three weight divisions in a Hall-of Fame career. The former world champ, rejected suggestions about the ills of sexual contact before competing and is a huge believer in sex helping the body before fights, amid ruthless weight loss sessions to strip down before battle.
‘The Marrickville Mauler’ was always known for his meticulous approach to his preparation throughout his career, and starving himself of sex was not part of the equation.
“Oh mate the night before (the fight), always,” Fenech laughed while speaking to Wide World of Sports. “It’s just what you believe. It’s all in your head.
“I didn’t go out chasing girls, it was the only way I could go to sleep. When you’re shedding weight it can be tough so it is a great sedative.
“I found it very hard to sleep while losing weight all the time. Dehydration makes it hard to sleep. For me it was relaxing. I’ve had sex half an hour before I’ve trained and sparred 15 rounds. On the way to the gym, I’d stop at friend’s house and you know…”
Jeff was active inside and outside the ring, and changing his habits in that respect could have seen things go the other way, he contends.
While Fenech’s old trainer, Lewis, claimed he never spoke to his fighters about keeping their pants on before a big fight, the former world champion said Lewis, who knew of his fighter’s exploits, did have a word to him once.
“Johnny Lewis once told me, because he knew what I was like, he said ‘Jeff can you promise me the week before your fight, you know’ so I promised him.
“And then the day before the fight, a friend came over to my hotel to come and say hello and we had sex. I broke the promise but it didn’t matter.
“For me I could fight 15 rounds straight after if I wanted to. It’s in your head if you want to do something you’ll do it.”
There’s no hard and fast uniform rule to most things in life, yet the questions around the practice don’t compute for Kambosos, who has the receipts and battle scars to prove that it works for him.
“A lot of fighters sacrifice a lot, but it’s that extra little bit, like with Lopez when I got knocked down in round 10. I could’ve said, ‘I’ve made a good account of myself, I’ve earnt my respect tonight.’
“But I rose like a warrior and got through that round and then dominated rounds 11 and 12.
“For ten years I was patient and put the work in, and that was the difference in those final rounds.”
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