Superstitions & Pre-Fight Rituals
Blood… sweat… and superstitions? It’s hard to imagine fighters with their rough exteriors and toughness being prone to superstition, but many have carried either a superstition or ritual with them for most of their careers. Here are some of our favorites:
TOMMY “THE HITMAN” HEARNS
Tommy Hearns liked to look his best by getting his haircut prior to each fight. After losses to Sugar Ray Leonard, Iran Barkley and Marvin Hagler, his legendary trainer, Emanuel Steward, started to think that his “routine” might not be such a great idea.
Could “The Hitman” be like Samson and lose strength by getting his hair cut? With that thought in mind, before the rematch with Leonard, Steward met the pre-fight barber at the hotel door, gave him $200 and said “Leave him alone.” He turned to Tommy and said “For whatever reason, I don’t want to you to get your hair cut.” As always, Hearns followed the advice of his trusted trainer and consequently had one of the best performances of his career. Although the fight went the distance and was ruled a draw, Hearns knocked Leonard down twice in the fight, redeeming himself from the previous defeat. Later, Ray Leonard even admitted that he felt that Tommy had won the fight.
JAKE “THE RAGING BULL” LAMOTTA
Jake “The Raging Bull” LaMotta was a relentless, fearless aggressor in the ring. His superstition? He felt like his leopard-style robe was his good luck charm and didn’t enter the ring without it. It may not have got him the win every time, but it certainly could have added to his undeniable mental resolve.
Even after he won the middleweight world title, Stanley Ketchel always wore a beaten and well-weathered cap into the ring. It was hardly headwear fit for a champion, but it was something he had worn while riding the rails as a hobo. He felt that it is what kept him safe through all of the hard times. Ketchel would only remove the cap, once he was close enough to hang it on the corner post to attract the attention of “Lady Luck” during the fight.
World lightweight and welterweight champion, Barney Ross, became so attached to the robe that he wore when winning the 1929 Golden Gloves and Inner-City Championships, that he continued to wear the same robe in every subsequent professional fight from then on. It became his lucky charm throughout his seventeen year boxing career.
JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ
Leading up to his 1987 encounter with Edwin Rosario, Julio Cesar Chavez was informed by someone in his inner circle that Rosario’s Mom or her witch doctor had placed a picture of Julio in an ice bucket in one of the gyms. She was putting a spell on him, so that before the fight he would be weakened by the cold and would struggle throughout. Julio was then advised, to wear a red headband into the ring to counteract the spell. As it would turn out, the fight ended up being much easier than Julio had expected, so the red headband became a standard part of his outfit throughout the remainder of his boxing career. on.
Legendary trainer, Cus D’Amato firmly believed in astrology and that a fighter’s sign helped determine their chances of success. Certain characteristics were inherent in specific signs. He felt that Aquarius, Taurus and Capricorns made better fighters.
Famed Kronk Boxing trainer, Emanuel Steward never liked his fighters to wear dark or black boxing shoes. He believed that, energetically, they make a fighter slower on his feet. The “heaviness” and weight of a darker shoe, compared to a white one, he felt, would weigh his fighter down and cause them to fatigue more quickly.
Ring belts hold a distinct place in boxing and in ring superstitions. Two shining examples are of the great John L. Sullivan, who religiously wore green trunks and always placed a magic stone within his sash.
It was believed that the talisman had magic powers and brought him good luck. This charm was also given to him by his mother, when he first started fighting. You gotta trust your Mom.
After that, his ”gloved” counterpart and legendary heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, never entered the ring without a lucky rabbit’s foot tucked away in the sash that was tied around his waist.
Who knew that “strap” would have so much significance for almost 120 years?!
OH, THAT STINKS!
There are numerous fighters throughout history that are known for refusing to shower leading up to a fight. “Two Ton” Tony Galento, Marvin Johnson and Roberto Duran are among a few that reportedly would not bathe once training camp started, until the fight was over.
This may have been as much strategy as superstition though. It was used to distract their opponents and gain a competitive edge.
Even modern day gladiator, Timothy Bradley, admitted that he didn’t shower the week leading up to the fight.
That’s either terrible ring etiquette or a terrific game plan.
LEAD WITH YOUR LEFT
Here's a ritual from modern-day legendary trainer, Freddie Roach. The founder of the Wildcard Boxing Gym in Los Angeles, California, admits to having a slight ritual/superstition when it comes to his boxing days.
During his career as a boxing contender at featherweight and lightweight, Freddie always started every session by putting his left shoe on first before the right. That also applied to gloves.
Freddie said, "If I put my right on first I might have a bad day. I won't risk it,"
It is believed that Joe Louis subscribed to this same approach.