When people think about skill-based sports, they’ll likely default to something like basketball, which requires not only physical skill but the ability to shoot the ball, play defense, and constantly face your opponent head-on. Maybe, they think about a sport like gymnastics, a sport which pushes the human body to its greatest limits with grace and beauty.
According to ESPN, however, the sport that takes the most skill might be one that’s more barbaric to the eyes of the casual observer.
There is a science behind every sport. After all, there is a reason that a ball goes into a hoop, reaches its receiver, or flies over the fence. When a gymnast imperfectly lands, there’s a reason that their body wasn’t in the right position. Everything about sports trickles down to science in one way or another, even if we aren’t constantly thinking about these competitions as such.
Because of this, ESPN compiled a panel of experts from the field of sports science and academics on top of the typical journalists and representatives from organizations such as the United States Olympic Committee. These people used hands-on experience, science, and their observations to see how sports skills could be broken down most broadly. They settled on 10 categories of skills.
- Hand-eye Coordination
- Analytic Aptitude
60 sports were then ranked on a 1-10 scale (to the hundredth degree) for each of these categories and given a final cumulative score. Once all of this was compiled, one sport reigned supreme.
Boxing requires some amount of every skill, with a majority of them receiving a rating of six or higher on ESPN’s criteria. Some people think about boxing as the act of hitting an opponent over and over until somebody falls, but it is a complicated sport in which the most successful fighters must be keeping track of many of these categories in their head and displaying them inside the ring if they want to succeed.
From being able to take a punch, to the ability to spot the perfect time to throw that haymaker, boxing has more math and science than it is given credit for.
Power, strength, speed, and agility are a given in boxing, but the mental side of it, especially as punches are being thrown makes everything else work together like a well-oiled machine.
The mental side of boxing
When is your opponent going to strike next? Can this punch reach this spot before the opponent has the agency to block? How can I throw this punch without making myself vulnerable? Answering questions such as these make a boxer’s brain constantly work.
If they do not dissect the match and the opponent, learn the opponent’s tendencies, and develop a good mental counter-attack, they might as well be leaving themselves open for a beating.
Boxing is often compared to chess in this regard. After all, the fighter must know what the opponent is going to do not only when they block or throw a punch, but how they will respond. A top boxer is always thinking ahead of his opponent, not throwing reactionary punches and hoping they get out of the fight alive.
The physical side of boxing
The physical side of boxing is also more complicated than given credit for. Arm strength and a deadly punch can only go so far.
Fighters need to be able to stand up and endure even the greatest onslaught of punches and know their space so that they can use their arms to fight as long as possible. Even the lower-rated categories, such as flexibility, do hold a purpose in the fight, even if it does not weigh as heavy as the strength, agility, and speed.
Boxing requires its fighters to be on top of their games physically, mentally, and on the fly. Because of this, it makes sense that experts would conclude that the sport takes more skill than nearly other. Hockey, football, and basketball may have their requirements of skill, but none have the entire package quite like boxing.