Boxers at the poker tables
It’s a strange life being a professional boxer. Some of the top fighters only have two or three bouts a year. They spend a lot of time training for those fights, but how do they spend the rest of their free time? Several boxers over the years have decided to try their hand at playing poker.
It’s perhaps logical that boxers can enjoy some success at the poker table. They need to be good at concentrating, or the next punch landed by their opponent might just be a knockout blow. It’s the same with poker because a lapse of concentration can easily cost you a hand and your place at the table.
Boxers also need to be able to work out the next move their opponent makes. In poker, it’s helpful to spot what tactics are employed by the other players. When you step in the ring, it’s a massive challenge, and fighters need to build their confidence up to a level where they believe losing is out of the question. That can be applied to when they play poker, too.
A savage left hook may be hugely threatening, but so is your opponent going all-in during a poker tournament. Losing at poker might not be as painful as losing a fight (unless you count the money you can lose), but you still want to avoid it.
Audley Harrison won an Olympic super heavyweight title in 2000. His boxing career didn’t quite reach those heights and a challenge for the WBA heavyweight belt 13 years ago saw him lose to David Haye (more about him soon) in three rounds.
There are plenty of activities a boxer can enjoy after they retire. There are reality TV shows, of course. Harrison participated in Strictly Come Dancing (well, he always did have good footwork) and Celebrity Big Brother.
But Harrison became interested in poker while training in Las Vegas. He took a crash course in poker strategy and finished second in his first-ever tournament.
The former European heavyweight champion has continued to take his time to study and learn the game. He sees the similarities between poker and boxing, and even around the table, Harrison says he has “the conviction to come out on top”.
He’s now won over $250,000 in live poker tournaments. That included playing in a World Series of Poker (WSOP) tournament in June 2022. He aims to win a WSOP Bracelet, and Harrison believes “I’m good enough to get it”, adding that winning one would make him “feel satisfied with my poker journey”.
David Haye is another boxer who has turned his gloved hands to poker. After winning world titles at both cruiserweight and heavyweight, his career went downhill after a couple of defeats by Tony Bellew.
It seems these days that when there’s a retired sportsman, there’s a documentary close by. That was the case for Haye, who in 2019 filmed the poker documentary ‘David vs Goliath.’ Just like preparing for a significant fight, Haye was shown training for a year with some of the best poker players in the world.
It proved to be an incredible experience for the former boxer. He was confident of doing well but soon discovered that poker “is not something you can pick up in five minutes". The tables were then turned as former opponent Audley Harrison taught him how to play poker.
The extensive training given to Haye paid off. He finished 28th out of 500 in a tournament held in Manila.
When it came to his end goal of playing in the Goliath, one of the largest poker tournaments held outside of Las Vegas, Haye finished 40th out of over 9,000 players. It seems that he hasn’t been doing too well when up against another boxer who loves playing poker, Chris Eubank Jr.
The middleweight has enjoyed success against Haye and Froch and regularly plays in tournaments. He’s even played against Ryan Garcia in Las Vegas. Fans would love to see him go one-on-one against rival Conor Benn after their scheduled boxing fight last year was cancelled.
Eubank Jr describes his style of playing poker as “all-action,” not too different from how he fights then. He also likes being underestimated by those he plays poker against “as it makes me play better.” That’s another similarity between his time around a poker table and in the boxing ring. Will he continue to be a knockout in 2023? He’s certainly not one to pull his punches, whether playing poker or trying to win his next fight.