What’s it like to be a sparring partner? #Boxing

Sparring is a crucial part of preparation for any boxing match, and Richard Towers knows more about it than most.

The 6ft 8in former heavyweight travelled the world sparring with some of the division’s best boxers to help them prepare for matches, from Wladimir Klitschko to Anthony Joshua.

Richard Towers throws a punch during a boxing match
Richard Towers (right) in the boxing ring – (Dave Thompson/PA)

Sparring partners step into the ring at training camps to put boxers through their paces in the lead-up to fight night, but what makes a good one?

“You have to fit the criteria of who you’re sparring with,” said Towers. “I’ve gone to spar with these fellas probably because they were fighting someone of similar stature, height or style.

“It’s common knowledge that you’ll pick someone that’s as identical as can be to whatever style your upcoming opponent’s got, although nobody quite matches anybody exactly.”

Sometimes a sparring partner might be asked to box a certain way to fit their opponent’s training, but it’s not all about the athlete in the spotlight. For Towers, who turned professional at 29, sparring was a way to improve his own game.

“I got mounds of experience from it,” he said. “All these fighters I’ve sparred with and fought, they all had more experience than me. There was nobody in Brendan (Ingle)’s gym of my size for sparring so I had to go away and put the feelers out there and learn on my feet.”

And who better to learn from than Wladimir Klitschko? The Ukrainian dominated the heavyweight division not long ago, winning 64 professional fights in his career, and Towers was one of those asked to travel to spar with him.

Retired boxer Wladimir Klitschko during a press conference
Towers has sparred with boxing great, Wladimir Klitschko (John Walton/PA)

“When I first went to spar with him I remember thinking: ‘This guy is amazingly meticulous,'” said Towers.

“I picked up on not being sloppy, the smaller details that count, down to the colour of his boots and gloves, the fact he used cocoa butter instead of Vaseline, things like that.”

And while the job of a sparring partner is to prepare another boxer for a fight under the lights, the level of competitiveness is not lacking.

“Brendan said to me when I first walked in the gym: ‘Don’t take punches from anybody,'” said Towers.

“Wladimir’s very competitive,” he continued. “I remember the last time I sparred with him for the Tyson Fury fight, it was the first time I hurt him.

“He threw a left-right, and I slipped both ways and caught him with a left-hand upper cut. I stepped towards him and said: ‘Are you alright, Wladimir?’ and he said ‘Yeah, thank you,’ and we got back to sparring.”

A boxing match between Lucas Browne and Richard Towers
Towers boxes against Lucas Browne (Richard Sellers/PA)

Towers had a boxing career of his own, winning 15 of 16 professional fights, which demonstrates that sparring partners at the top level are skilled boxers themselves.

And sometimes keeping those skilled fighters away from the opponent’s camp was just as effective as using them to prepare your own athlete in the ring.

“Instead of telling you to go home, they’d hire you even though they weren’t using you,” said Towers.

“You’d just sit and be spectating so his opponent couldn’t hire you. They’d basically close the market down!”

One man who Towers has sparred with is Anthony Joshua. AJ will attempt to add the WBO title to his WBA and IBF belts when he goes up against New Zealand’s Joseph Parker on Saturday, but what does a man who has sparred with one of boxing’s biggest stars make of him?

Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker at the weigh in ahead of their title fight
Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker ahead of their world heavyweight unification fight (Nick Potts/PA)

“Joshua is more an accumulation puncher,” said Towers. “He hits hard, I can tell you that from experience. But what I can also tell you from experience is he hits nowhere near as hard as Deontay Wilder.

“Joshua’s very conditioned to what he does,” he continued. “He throws a lot of punches, consistent punches, and he’s sharp on his feet. What he does is clearly working for him.

“You’ve got to take your hat off to him because Joshua wants a fight, and he’s prepared to go to hell and back.”

Richard Towers is working to train the next generation of boxers, a project he is documenting on YouTube that you can follow by clicking here.