Story by Laurel McLean
“Boxing gives you that insane confidence that you need for the rest of your life.”
While talking to Calgarian boxer Mackenzie Burge, her sentiment rings true as it is immediately apparent that the 23-year-old athlete possesses a great deal of confidence – in the best sense of the word. In fact, Burge exudes confidence in a warm, down-to-earth manner as she talks knowledgeably and passionately about the sport, sharing insight into fitness, nutrition, the trend of boutique boxing studios, her own personal journey as an athlete, and being a female in the sport.
Always having a passion for exercise and fitness, Burge was immersed in the world of weightlifting when she was first introduced to boxing. About four years ago, when a bodybuilding competition she was participating in got cancelled, a pro-boxer friend introduced her to the sport and she never looked back.
“It ended up being a saving grace,” reflects Burge. “Everything happens for a reason, of course.”
She recalls, “The day I put on the gloves, I never went back to weightlifting again. I hated lifting after that; it’s so boring and mindless and boxing has such a huge mental aspect as well as the physical aspect.”
Making the switch from bodybuilding to boxing was an eye-opening experience for Burge. Although she considered herself to be in good shape while she was weightlifting, her transition to boxing showed her just how different strength is from stamina. Burge went on to explain that, in her opinion, boxing consists of three equal parts: stamina, physical ability, and mental focus – emphasizing that many people aren’t aware of how important the mental aspect is in boxing.
“Visualization is a key aspect of boxing,” elaborates Burge. “You want to be strategic when you’re boxing and you want to be losing the least amount of energy moving around. You’re thinking about the person in front of you – mimicking their movements, creating opportunities and angles to hit them at their hardest or trick them.”
“There’s so much going on,” she continues. “Whether you’re getting hit in the face or have people yelling at you, there’s so many distractions and it’s hard to stay focused. So, the mental aspect is really important.”
Possessing a natural talent and progressing quickly in the sport led Burge to become a coach at The Sweat Science boxing studio when it opened in 2016.
“There are a thousand things I could say about what I love about coaching,” enthuses Burge. “There’s no comparison to teaching someone something they had no idea how to do before. When I get to see something just click for a person and see them falling in love with boxing in the same way that I love it…there’s nothing comparable to being able to share your passion with someone.”
However, Burge left the studio in 2017 after injuring her wrist and has since been recovering and working on her own boxing game. Her injury gave her the opportunity to slow down and assess what she wants to do. Rather than returning as a coach to fitness boxing, she instead may take on a few clients while primarily focusing on herself as she aims to start fighting in the near future.
“I’d love to bring a good women’s fight and show people we can actually fight,” says Burge, sharing that the women’s fights she has seen in the past have been horrible. “I want to be the person that brings the heat.”
Burge says that, currently, the sport is dominated by men and that women’s boxing is just not as popular. She believes that a lot of intimidation surrounds the sport, which may be preventing females from trying it.
“People also need to be aware that if you’re a boxer, you don’t have to fight. It’s not mandatory,” states Burge. Fortunately, with the popularity of boutique boxing studios on the rise, Burge believes these studios are helping to bring a more feminine light to the sport.
“A lot of people walk into a studio and don’t know what to expect. You don’t know if you’re going to walk in and see blood in the sink and people hitting each other in the face. But with these new studios, a lot of them separate their sparring session times because people don’t want to see that aspect.”
Although Burge appreciates that the boutique studios are shedding light on boxing and introducing more people to the sport, she feels as though many of the studios are lacking in the technical area. While coaching at The Sweat Science, Burge recalls having people come in to their studio after having been taught at another and “throwing a punch so wrong that they could end up hurting themselves.”
“As a coach, that is really disappointing to see. When you’re paying as much as you are to go to a boutique studio, you should really get your bang for your buck.”
In general, Burge recommends that people try to avoid learning to box in a group fitness class. This is because it’s difficult for the coach to observe the students and offer advice in a large class held in a dark room, therefore creating the potential for injuries and students learning improper techniques. She urges newcomers to educate themselves on the background of the studios and to do research when picking a coach.
“If you pick a coach who is going to teach you bad habits and you learn bad habits for six months, it’s going to take you longer than six months to get rid of those habits,” advises Burge. “So, you’re wasting your time and money and you could get hurt.”
Burge also suggests that boxers consider training under a few coaches, which is something she wishes she’d done sooner as it has allowed her to merge advice from multiple coaches into a style that’s her own.
“It’s nice because now I have a few styles going on and it’s good to have that outside perspective that is so totally new on something you know so well. It’s refreshing.”
Although she has been boxing for several years, Burge says she has no difficulty finding the motivation to continue progressing as an athlete, which she attributes to being a primarily self-taught learner with an affinity for challenging herself.
“Learning is my absolute favourite thing to do,” explains Burge. “I think you always need to keep learning because curiosity keeps you on your toes.”
And so, with Burge intending to set her focus on fighting, it is without a doubt that she will, in her words, “bring the heat” to women’s boxing due to her obvious passion, skill, and determination.