Over the course of history some of the most well-known names in world boxing and mixed martial arts have taken to the table. Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, David Haye and Conor McGregor are well known to enjoy this much more sedentary game. What is really notable, is that all these names have all been world champions.
These sportsmen, who have spent time right at the top of their discipline, found poker to be something they enjoyed, so that begs the question: What do they get out of the game, and how does poker help them in their ‘day job’?
Whilst we’ve all maybe taken time to look at our mental health more often recently, those in boxing have done just the same. One aspect that has become more prevalent in the past couple of years is mindfulness, and this could be why boxers take solace in the relative calm of the table. The two disciplines are so different, but both demand a focus, with the best participants able to make decisions under pressure to be successful. Whilst there’s no definitive benefit linked to poker and mental health, it can be easily suggested there are aspects that can help people make decisions in everyday life.
The ego is not the enemy
Another thing which has to be utilized, but also tempered, is the brash outgoing persona that is sometimes displayed by poker players but more so, boxers. However, ego is typically seen as a negative in the world of poker — so much so that even people aspiring to become professional poker players are often taught to “check their egos at the door”. Whereas in boxing, it’s commonplace to hear pugilists make sometimes outlandish comments about what to expect in their bouts. It’s often suggested life needs balance, and poker could be the perfect way for pugilists to temper the ego that builds up in the adrenaline filled world of boxing.
Once the bell rings, or the chips are down, there’s nothing wrong with having an innate confidence, it’s helpful to have a positive mindset. However, maintaining emotional control is vital. Not being able to control the excitement of a potential good hand at the table can give away your next play. That’s like telling the opponent in the ring which punch is coming next!
Keeping a close eye on your opponent is very important in both disciplines. In poker those at the top know how to observe, see their opponents ‘tells’ and gather the information to their advantage. If a poker player doesn’t look ahead, there’s a good chance that they won’t win. Boxers are no different, if you become fixated on the prize and don’t focus on what’s in front of you then it could be lights out. Mayweather’s ability to dodge what’s ahead of him then strike, is amongst the best in history. Maybe he got that mindset from poker?
The boxers at the top are modern day celebrities, some court it, others not so much. But the demands of the sport are evident. There’s the months of training before a bout, the media scrum beforehand, then there’s the fight itself with all the intense, energy sapping action. Life can’t continue at 150mph all the time and everyone needs to take some time for themselves. It’s well documented that hobbies are a very good way to relax. Poker is a game in which the basics are relatively easy to pick up, so it could be the perfect distraction.
It may well be that it is just a coincidence that there is a connection between boxing and poker. But in considering the points made above, there may be something more that attracts the pro fighters to the game than simply chips and cash.