I think most of the world imagines professional boxers looking something like Iike Ivan Drago from Rocky. An athletic build with big muscles, broad shoulders, and a small waist. Well, there are plenty of boxers who fit this stereotype but there are also plenty of boxers who don’t.
Sometimes you’ll see elite fighters, particularly heavyweights, who are able to carry more fat which actually allows them to perform better. I think the recent interest in this question stems from the success of both Tyson Fury and Andy Ruiz Jr. Neither of these athletes has impressive physiques yet they’ve been able to put on stunning performances and shock the world.
This is because of their body type. They are endomorph boxers which means they naturally carry quite a lot of fat and muscle. They could theoretically drop the weight but it could potentially hinder their performances as they may not be comfortable at that weight. Furthermore, the heavyweight division has no weight limit, so holding onto extra fat can sometimes give them a weight advantage. For more information on the body types that are found in boxing, visit our article on The Best Body Types For Boxing.
Why Some Boxers Carry Extra Fat
- Some Fighters have an Endomorph body type – This is a body type that allows fighters to carry a lot of fat and muscle while still being in peak condition. Endomorph fighters often have very wide frames and while they don’t look particularly lean, they are incredibly strong and durable.
- They are Heavyweights – Heavyweight boxers are the most likely to possess an Endomorph body type. This isn’t always the case but the fighters with the highest body fat percentages tend to belong to the heavyweight division.
- Heavyweights can carry extra fat for a weight advantage without it affecting their ability – In Boxing, weighing more than your opponent can be a massive advantage. Since there is no limit on weight for the heavyweight division, the fighters don’t have to cut weight. This means they can fight at their natural weight or whichever weight they feel most comfortable fighting.
- They want to feel as strong and healthy as possible – When you don’t have cut weight or get incredibly lean for a fight, you’ll feel stronger and healthier. While having an incredibly low body fat will make you look good, it won’t make you feel good and it simply isn’t sustainable in the long term.
- Fat can be used to absorb punches – While its difficult to confirm the veracity behind this claim, I think there is some real truth to it. Providing that the fighters have a strong core underneath, a layer of fat could help protect fighters from body shots.
When Fat Is Good For Boxing
Fat can give a weight advantage – Fat is simply extra weight and weight is a major component of boxing. In the event that you are able to carry more weight without it affecting your cardio and general skills, it may be advisable to keep the weight on.
This usually only applies to heavyweights because there is no weight limit. However, you need to have a particular type of frame in order to carry that extra fat. Fighters like Tyson Fury, Dillian Whyte, and Andy Ruiz Jr all possess a frame that allows them to carry extra fat without it hindering their performances. Since Fat doesn’t need a supply of oxygen, its not like having big muscles which may drain your energy, providing that your cardio is good and you are healthy, holding onto some extra fat for a fight can be beneficial.
For example, when Tyson Fury first fought Deontay Wilder, he weighed in at 256lbs and the fight was competitive. For the rematch, however, he put on some fat and muscle, weighing in at 271lbs, nearly having 40lbs on his rival. In the rematch Fury put on a masterclass and walked Wilder down, stopping him with a TKO in the 7th round.
Having some fat is healthy – A lot of fighters cut weight for their fights. This means draining all the water weight from the body so that you can step onto the scales, 15-20lbs lighter than you’ll be on the day of the fight. This isn’t a particularly safe practice but it is often done so that fighters can gain a weight advantage over their opponent. The most iconic example of this is Conor McGregor. While he isn’t a boxer, his weigh-ins at 145lbs and 170lbs perfectly demonstrate the effects of weight cutting.
When he weighed in at his natural weight of 170lbs, he looked normal and healthy. However, when he was cutting down to 145lbs as shown above, McGregor looked completely drained. He was carrying too little fat and water, which allowed him to have a weight advantage during his fights but cutting that much weight is never advisable.
Fat Can Absorb Punches – There is limited knowledge behind this but theoretically, a layer of fat can help protect fighters from body shots. This is nearly entirely dependent on whether the fighter has a strong, developed core underneath the fat. However, in the instance that they do, an extra layer of fat can help absorb some of the power out of body shots.
When Fat Is Bad For Boxing
Fat is bad for boxers that need to make weight – If a fighter has to cut weight in order to get into a weight category, they want to have as little fat as possible. This is because they are working under a specific limit so they need to maximize lean muscle mass. Muscle holds water and Fat doesn’t so by being lean, fighters are able to maximize the amount of water they can drain from their bodies for weigh-ins.
Fat can mean poor conditioning – For a lot of people having high body fat can mean they haven’t been training or they haven’t been getting the right nutrition. Both of which are a major concern in boxing. If you have been training rigorously every day and fueling your body with the appropriate food for boxing, you should start to get lean. When boxers are in training camp, they are often trying to lose weight in a safe controlled manner. This means training and eating a lot while ensuring they are in a calorie deficit. If a boxer who isn’t a cruiserweight or heavyweight steps onto the scales with a high body fat percentage, they are either out of shape or in the wrong weight class.
Your health and wellbeing – While this isn’t only applicable to boxing, it is extremely relevant. Being out of shape is never a good thing but especially when you’re in a competitive bout. In boxing, you have to be able to protect yourself at all times and if you don’t have the cardiovascular endurance or the physical ability to correctly and safely protect yourself, things could become increasingly and unnecessarily dangerous. To summarize, holding onto the extra fat is completely fine if it gives you an advantage in the ring and improves your performance. Below are some tables from HealthLine.com which display the various categories for body fat, including athletes:
Male Body Fat Percentages:
Female Body Fate Percentages:
To conclude, some boxers are “fat” because they operate best at that physique. They are typically heavyweights with an endomorph body type and carrying the extra fat is beneficial to them. That being said, they still work just as hard in the gym and are in phenomenal condition when the fight occurs. The only difference is that they don’t eat in a calorie deficit and their diet doesn’t need to be as clean.
Of course, there are also plenty of fighters who are shredded for fights but everyone’s body is different. Your genetics play a large role in how look but boxers aren’t particularly bothered about aesthetics. Everything is about functionality and how well they will be able to perform on the night. Essentially, different fighters will have different physiques but their goal is the same. To come into the fight in optimal shape which will allow them to put on the best possible performance.