Styles Make Fights

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Abstract

“Styles Make Fights” is a popular saying in the sport of boxing that underscores the importance of different fighting styles inside the boxing ring. Coaches, boxers, and commentators use the notion of “style” as a fluid term to explain a boxer’s competence, identity, and performance during a fight. This article interrogates the sociological significance of boxing style, particularly in the context of the highly racialized context of boxing training gyms. Based on participant observation in gyms and interviews with coaches and boxers, the article argues that boxing style is a “racial project,” in which coaches help upcoming boxers develop not only athletic prowess but also racial and ethnic identities. As Black coaches teach style to young Black boxers, they cultivate a “Black” boxing style that assigns to Black boxers particular athletic and cultural resources they associate with resistance to racist social structures.