Boxing Robots – Real Steel Real Deal?

by Fran on October 6, 2011

Boxing Robots – Becoming a Reality?

With the release of the recent movie Real Steel, in which hulking metallic boxing robots do battle at the will of Hollywood-heart throb trainers, I got to thinking. We live in a world where progress and advancement are an expectation rather than an aspiration. This applies equally to boxing training which has enlisted the expert services of a range of specialised coaches and indeed specialised fitness techniques. Can the same embracing of advancement be said though of the equipment that we use in boxing?

In recent months my attention had been brought to the potential of mechanised hitting equipment; effectively boxing robots. Traditionally boxers will use the heavy bag, a coach with pads, fellow boxers (in the form of various types of sparring), double-end bags and so on. In fact, the methods of training and equipment used for a ‘striking’ sport like boxing has remained largely unchanged for many, many years.

It was with interest then that after becoming aware of the Jackman movie Real Steel, I became involved in a short series of communications with a gentleman who had produced a piece of mechanised hitting equipment. It was basically a boxing robot and enabled the setting of a particular speed for ‘shot’ to be thrown at you. The theory of this is that you can use defensive skills to block or less likely avoid the incoming shot. This sounded useful to me as by providing an actual timing of response times (in milliseconds) can motivate an athlete to get faster.

Now, the short bit of follow up research I have completed on boxing robots (and believe me, it is short) has resulted in my locating the video below. It’s obviously a boxing robot that is at a purely prototype stage, but it’s worth having a little look at after which I’ll give you my thoughts on the usefulness and likelihood of this becoming a common sight in a boxing gym.

Let’s Weigh Up the Opponent…

Let’s first talk about the specifics of this particular design of boxing robot. The first and probably most obvious observation is the fact that the punching mechanism is fixed and repetitive. It’s cyclical and whilst it appears that the speed of incoming shots can be adjusted, the angle and sequence of ‘punches’ that the boxing robot throws is conventional and built around a simple one-two, of sorts anyway.  I’m not sure that the robot’s creator is as fanatical on hip rotation as we are on MyBoxingCoach, or indeed the flaring of elbows, let’s just leave it at that.

The next point that stands out to me is that it appears that the length of the incoming punch stays fairly constant, that is, I’m not sure that the user of the boxing robot can vary the length of the shot thus simulating an opponent with a greater reach.  If you’ve checked out the article on range finding in boxing then you’ll know why this would be helpful.

The third and final main point is that this boxing robot does not strike me (no pun intended) as a piece of equipment that can take the kind of punishment that most boxers want to mete out when using fixed punching equipment. Whilst there is one other piece of boxing equipment that requires the boxer to go for speed and volume of punches rather than power, this equipment being the double-end bag, generally fixed equipment brings with it the unbearable temptation for the boxer to unleash hell.  Hell, even a double-end bag can have an all too fleeting existence in a boxing gym, hanging pathetically by a single chord after an over-exuberant uppercut.

It is probably worth pointing out that whilst the guy using this boxing robot throws some fairly decent straight shots, he is at the more novice end of the boxing spectrum and if an experienced fighter squared off against the boxing robot then the potential benefits may be more obvious.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the winner by…

So, cards on the table. I genuinely do believe that a piece of equipment of this nature, a boxing robot, has a place in boxing training. But, and this is a pretty big but, I don’t see boxing robots being widely adopted in boxing gyms and boxing clubs up and down the land. Why do I hold this apparently contradictory view? Well, there are two primary reasons:

  1. The sustainability and maintenance associated with a boxing robot. I would foresee the same problems with a boxing robot that we can experience with the double end bag. That problem is boxers looking to destroy the aforementioned piece of equipment with every punch that they throw. There would effectively be mini-competitions to see which boxer could decapitate the robot and leave a smoldering, sparking mess of wires and hydraulics that would leave the gym looking like the post-apocalyptic scene in Terminator. The maintenance costs of continually repairing a fighting C3PO would quickly become burdensome.
  2. In terms of function, why buy a boxing robot when a fellow boxer or a coach can simulate a live opponent in a much more effective and real-life way than a robot?

However, in terms of a person training alone, maybe purely for fitness reasons as opposed to fighting, then I think that a boxing robot could very well prove a beneficial addition to the boxing training regime. Even taking into account the limitations of the boxing robot in the video, I can personally see a range of attacking and defensive drills that may be executed. For example:

  • Phased attacks at long range (in and out with long range shots).
  • Use of the pivot and diagonal movement to open up a variation of angles.
  • Combined body/head attacks with an eye on the defensive capabilities before, during and after the shots.
  • The use of the boxing mobility drills to fully get in and out of range.

Will a boxing robot ever replace a heavy bag in a boxing gym? I personally don’t see this happening, certainly not in the near future. We may see speed measurement devices as a separate tool, but they won’t become too common place. However, I could definitely see the benefits of working into a lone gym session a couple of rounds with a boxing robot if just to experience the sensation of actual punches coming back your way, even if those punches are predictable in nature.

Now, where’s my remote control?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Karl-Heinz January 3, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Hi Fran,

Check out this excellent documentary. It even has a boxing robot!


Fran January 5, 2012 at 9:39 am

Hey Karl

I caught that documentary when it went out on BBC orignally and was absolutely mesmerised. Very touching and at times difficult to watch, but the brilliance of Cuban boxers for generation after generation is very easily understood after an hour of this. And yes, the boxing ‘robot’ was cool, especially as it was the boxer that gave life to the robot; a very effective way to think about punch angles and blocks.


JD October 18, 2011 at 3:25 pm

“”I’m simply trying to promote good, basic skills””
This is the most important thing to learn and remember in boxing, just ask Benard Hopkins.


Fran October 18, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Amen to that JD.


Jeremy October 11, 2011 at 11:13 am

Yup you are right, the basics are the basics

I dunno maybe its a personal thing, because for example, Im a shorter swarmer fighter who throws hooks like Joe Frazier, And my hooks never look like the “how to” instructional hooks LOL

1) Its like you got the… “make him walk onto it” hook like Floyd Mayweather’s check hook and Robinson/Fullmer…which is just plain whiplash rotation ON THE SPOT

2) Then you got the “Ima make my hook walk onto your face” hook LOL…like a crouching, leaping Tua, Tyson or Frazier (first knockdown of Ali) hook

3) Then youve also got a different type of speedy hook, like the Manny Pacquiao counter to a jab hook

The first type (body rotation on the spot) hook, might suit a counter puncher with a longer reach (Floyd check hook on Hatton) while the second hook (emphasising forward motion and leg explosion off the crouch) would suit a swarmer with the shorter reach (Tua leaping tight hook on Ruiz)

So you can see how a beginner might get confused…say if he is a shorter guy and does the typical “rotate on the spot” hook and hits thin air against a taller guy who simply steps back….when he should be doing the crouch and leap with forward motion hook

But yea the basics for all hooks are the same


Fran October 9, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Hey Jeremy. Thanks mate. Let’s get the rugby reference out of the way. You have the All Blacks, and I don’t intend to get involved in a discussion about that 😉

There’s a lot of substance to your points. I too am a big fan of long range aggressive boxing, putting together streams of shots. Aaron Pryor was indeed a master of this approach, as was Duran and yes, Martinez too is a fantastic fighter who takes this approach. Many top amateurs box in that way also; Cubans, Eastern Europeans and the US guys also bring big performers in this department. Where I am confused though is that good basic skills are good basic skills, whatever style these skills are used within. A good left hook is a good left hook, whoever throws it.

I try hard with the vids to not define the style that a boxer should use. I use individual skills (lots and lots of them) to provide a framework. How these individual skills are stitched together are up to the boxer. My ideal boxer is someone who can do it all, on the front foot or the back foot, up close or at long range. Suiting what they have dependent upon the opponent is the important point. This is really why I have created the fighter analysis articles, to show how the greats adapt their approach and show great versatility. If a boxer repeatedly performs the same sequence of skills (as you point out the slip outside the jab), then they will get found out.

I guess that you don’t particularly cherish the European style, and this is fine, I’m not promoting it. I’m simply trying to promote good, basic skills and why they are important. By the very nature of this objective, it means that versatility must be foremost in the boxer’s mind. Thanks Jeremy, great comment. Now let’s see the sublime All Blacks do their thing!


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