The Comeback:
Why I am preparing to get back in to the ring.

In year 8 I was in a history lesson in School only my usual teacher, Mrs Wood, wasn’t taking the lesson, we had a substitute teacher.

​Everyone knows classes don’t go to plan when substitutes are in town.

The normal lesson plan was abandoned and the teacher was passing around a sheet of paper and had asked everyone to write down the occupation they wanted to be when they grew up.

The paper circled the room and made it back the step-in teachers hands.

“Fireman, plumber, bricklayer…”

He studied the list and muttered under his breath with every occupation he read.

“another plumber, electrician, paramedic… who put professional boxer?”

I held my hand up.

“Why’s that then?” he asked confused.

“I want to be a champion, sir” was my reply.

Back and forth we went as he struggled to understand why I wanted to choose to fight as I grew up.

I couldn’t explain why either.

It’s something deep rooted inside me.

Something that compels me to the squared circle.

It could be my dad’s boxing history and hearing his stories as I grew up, it could be my Great Grandad John Higgins influence, his blood inside me and his boxing career that saw him boxing at Madison Square Garden in the 1920’s or in some way it could be my Grandad Harry’s playing influence and his successful rugby career at Salford City Reds in the 50’s and 60’s.

Who knows why?

And to be honest, if you haven’t been involved in the sport I’m not even sure I could give you a valid reason.

If you haven’t been involved in it, traded blows with another man or headed to a venue knowing someone else has trained and travelled to the same venue with the sole purpose of rendering you unconscious then I’m not sure I can explain the thrill.

The feeling in the changing rooms as the runner tells you

‘You’re on next’

The way your legs act as though they don’t belong to you as you make the loneliest walk in the world to the ring.

The pats on the back and the shouts of

‘Good luck lad’

As you prowl your way to the ring, trying to hide your fear.

The confusion as you slide between the ropes and into the battle ground wondering why you’re putting yourself through this again.

The false bravado as you stare your opponent square in the eye as the referee gives his instructions.

And finally, the test of character as the bell rings, what’s going to happen this time? Are you going to dig in and show the world you’re a champion or are you going to crumble and realise you aren’t the man you thought you were?

For me boxing is the purest, most ultimate test.

Two men preparing to enter a 20 foot by 20 foot square and face off to see who has the most skill, fitness, power and ability in hand to hand combat.

There are usually a handful of coaches and trainers supporting you, dozens who train alongside you and hundreds, sometimes thousands, watching.

Yet Boxing is the loneliest sport in the world.

Once the bell goes and you come together with your opponent no one can help you.

Your coach can do no more.

Your fans can do no more.

Your dad can do no more.

It’s you vs them, who has the biggest balls? Lets do it.

And when your lungs are burning, your heart is ripping through your ribcage in search of more and more oxygen to supply your faltering muscles and a superior fighter is reigning down punches on you like you are surrounded that 20 foot x 20 foot ring feels like a phone box.

The only person who can save you now is the referee and that’s the ultimate humiliation.

His balls were bigger, you lost my friend.

I don’t know why I am drawn to it but I am. I think it’s because I constantly want to explore who I am and challenge myself to become a better human and as I mentioned for me Boxing is the purest test.

I don’t know why I am drawn to it, but like I told my teacher 12 years ago;

“I want to be a champion, sir”.

It’s been a little over 6 years since I last competed though it was never meant to be that way.

I never intended to stop fighting until I became a champion.

I have always believed I could be good enough to win the ABA title – to become national champion as an amateur boxer – the best in England.

And I have been told that by coaches and people I have sparred before too.

The best I have managed though is the last 8 – which was the last time I was in the ring in 2012.

I know the mistakes I made back then and a day hasn’t passed where I haven’t thought about that championship in the 2012-2013 season.

How unbelievable I felt, how bullet proof I felt.

I felt invincible.

So to get beat unceremoniously and dumped out of the competition it came as a hammer blow to me.

At the time it was probably a blessing in disguise. I was in the last year of my Undergrad Degree and I was way behind with my work because I was focussing on Boxing so much. Ultimately the path that took me on is why I haven’t competed since.

I decided to give a complete back seat to Boxing while I finished my undergrad with the plan to pick it up again in the following summer. I still trained but not at the level I was when I was competing.

I finished my degree and that summer I started full time employment working on building sites to pay for my Masters Degree, which I also started that summer. I then began working in professional sport as a Strength and Conditioning Coach working at various times over the next 18 months with England Lacrosse, Manchester United Ladies, Lancashire County Cricket Club, Bolton Metro Swimming Academy and professional and amateur fighters around the area.

Through all that I still trained but once again I couldn’t sustain the level of commitment I needed to commit to training to seriously compete again in boxing.

It’s not a sport you can play about with. Especially at the weight I box at, one punch KO’s can happen if you aren’t prepared.

You can’t drink 10 pints the night before and turn up and compete like you can with some sports. That would be incredibly dangerous.

You can’t even be missing one or two sessions even 4 weeks out and realistically you shouldn’t be drinking alcohol or putting foods in your body that you shouldn’t over that time too.

It’s a sport that consumes your life or else it chews you up and spits you out.

Halfway through my 3 year Masters Degree I decided that I didn’t want to work in professional sport as it wasn’t what I expected. I thought about packing it all in, S and C, Boxing, and getting a full time job somewhere to live a simple life.

But after a break away with Katie she talked me round and made me realise that you can never give up on chasing your dream because if you do that then what are you living for?

So when I came back from Turkey I set about opening my own training facility, to cut a long story short one thing lead to another and 3 years later here we are.

I think I have two dreams in my life, one is Platform and the other is to become a champion, sir.

Platform has been on one hell of a journey. From complete zero three years ago to now where it is in a really great place. Our community is thriving and there is a really great team around the place which is why I feel like it is the right time to get back on the road to tackle my other dream.

And I have a long way to go, but much the same as the way I tackled Platform I am ready for the road ahead.
  

So how am I preparing to get back in the ring?

My training is planned out and is split into a few different phases and each of those is broken in to a few parts.

This has been worked out based upon what needs conquering the most and where I need to spend the most time.

As with any preparation for a sport it is broken in to four key parts:

Technical training, fitness training, strength + power training and nutrition.

Technically I am pretty good. I don’t say that meaning I am the complete fighter but rather in the grand scheme of things and where I can develop my performance the most over the next 4 months technically I am not going to develop that much.

The main thing I need to focus on here is getting the ring rust off and getting my timing back doing plenty of sparring and pad work. This week I have felt incredibly sharp and powerful which is a great thing but it’s easy to feel that way when punching a bag.

It’s a different kettle of fish in sparring and I am happy to say that I’ll be doing my first competitive spar in probably over 2 years on Wednesday next week (28th November).

This sparring session has come a bit out of the blue as I didn’t intend to begin sparring until mid December when I am out of my volume phase (more on that below) but I couldn’t turn it down as it is with a previous ABA Champion at Super Heavyweight who is on a comeback trail too, perfect scenario for us both.

The biggest challenge I have is to bring my weight down and that is something I have begun with and will have to keep chipping away at until I get in the ring.

I have around 20kg to lose across the 4 and a bit months, easily achievable but it does mean I am going to have to suffer with reduced recovery due to the reduced calories between sessions and a lot of soreness, particularly in the start of the program as I am in a heavy volume phase.

Bringing my weight down should be easy enough with the amount of exercise I am doing but where it is going to be difficult is balancing fuelling my exercise and not consuming too much with how sore/ hungry I’ll feel from training so that I hit maintenance.

I can’t give too much away with exactly how we do this as it is something we are highly specialist in in Platform and we have developed our methods and systems over the last few years.

It has taken some trial and error for myself to find the right calorie target between the days I rest, train once or train twice so that I recover but also drop fat but I am starting to hit a good place with this now and tightening up the numbers and macro breakdown around my sessions.

For my fitness training, unsurprisingly I am focusing on boxing training – skipping, bag work, pad work and when I can, as mentioned above, sparring.

Currently I am in a heavy volume phase for both my cardio and my lifting – think of a long term training program for both fitness and strength and power like building a pyramid.

You need to build a solid base at the bottom and then as it builds up (towards the event) the volume begins reducing and the exercise gets more intense.

My favourite analogy here is, ‘you can’t fire a cannon off a rowing boat’.

I am doing 3 boxing sessions per week as research shows this is optimal for the return in cardiovascular fitness. I am then doing 3 optional extra fitness sessions depending on how my body feels to speed up fat loss and add on to the cardio development – although there is diminishing returns beyond the three boxing sessions so that’s why they are optional.

A point to make here is that my technical training and fitness training are separate. So any technical pad work or sparring I do is separate from the 3 fitness sessions.

I need to make sure that during these sessions the intensity has my heart rate above 90% of maximum for 16 accumulative minutes.

Initially I started with 3-4x 2 minute rounds of skipping and bag work but I have built up both the number of rounds and the intensity of them where I am now doing 6 of each with a few rounds of fitness pads to finish. I will begin to increase round length over the next week as I begin to really build my aerobic base.

For my S and C training I am also in a large volume phase. This is a non-specific block of training with the goal of developing my work capacity so that when I get more sport specific and move through my strength and then power phases as I approach fight night I have the tolerance there to do those sessions without serious fatigue and/ or injury.

I am doing a much shorter volume phase (4 weeks) than I would do with another fighter in the same scenario (usually 8 weeks+ split in to 2 parts) because I have been doing a lot of lifting over the last year or so and its just a case of tightening up my conditioning so that I can point it in the right direction.

I have developed well over the first 2 weeks and I am happy with where I am at already. I will be working through this phase until the 3rd week in December where I will switch the way I am working as I make my way up the pyramid.

I will drop in to a strength block with my S+C and do more intense cardio.

I already can’t wait to finish this phase, man I am sore!

That’s quite a comprehensive review of where I am at right now.

It’s been a long journey to this point from when I last got in the ring but I am determined that with this preparation when I get back in the ring next year I pick up exactly where I left off 6 years ago, bulletproof.

Thanks for reading,

Mark.