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How Brad Pitt Got in Boxing Shape for ‘Snatch’

Men's Journal logoMen's Journal 6/18/2020 Charles Thorp
a man sitting in front of a crowd: Brad Pitt as bare-knuckle boxer Mickey, sitting in a boxing ring, in 'Snatch' © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Brad Pitt as bare-knuckle boxer Mickey, sitting in a boxing ring, in 'Snatch'

Brad Pitt has been fit since he came on the scene in Hollywood, but there are a few of his movie physiques that are etched indefinitely in our brains. The first is Fight Club, in which he played the underground resistance leader Tyler Durden. The dirty, shirtless image of him standing over a bloodied opponent, celebratory cigarette hanging from his lips, has remained a physical pillar of masculinity for many a young man (even if it’s a bit stereotypical).

But there is a movie that rivals his Fight Club physique—the gritty Guy Ritchie drama he filmed right after, Snatch.

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Onscreen as the tattooed Irish brawler, “One Punch” Mickey O’Neil, Pitt was still the epitome of lean but he gained more mass, specifically on his arms and shoulders. Between the two projects, he put on somewhere between five to 10 pounds of muscle, a fair amount given his frame. The feat was accomplished with help from legendary boxing coach Joe Goossen, who has trained pro fighters for decades out of the storied Ten Goose Boxing gym in Los Angeles.

“The fact is, when you spend a lot of your day hitting heavy objects, you’re going to get pumped,” says Goossen. “For those scenes in the movie, he didn’t want to just look strong, he wanted to be strong.”

Goossen gave us a peek into the five-week bootcamp he prepared for Pitt to play “One Punch” Mickey, as well as some insight into his training.

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How did Brad Pitt find you and the gym?

It started with actor Peter Dante. Peter knew Brad, who mentioned he was going to be doing Snatch and Fight Club, and brought up needing a boxing trainer. Peter recommended our gym, which I’ve been at since 1990, and that’s how he ended up there.

What were his training goals?

The first thing we did was have a discussion about the film and his role. The character he was playing was supposed to be a one-punch knockout artist—a brawler with ungodly power in his right hand. One of the goals was to give him a right hand that looked really good—the kind that put you on the ground—and of course a strong jab to complement it. To make his right hand look good, he had to have his shoulders, hips, hands, and everything else in the right position. The secret was to give him all the tools and teach him the fundamentals. You need to have balance and finesse. You only get that by working the left hand and everything else as well. It was a well-rounded program. I wanted to make him a complete fighter.

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What was your initial assessment of Pitt?

I treated him like any person who walks in my door wanting to become a boxer. I asked him if he’d ever done sports or boxed in high school, and I was shocked when he said he hadn’t. The way he’s put together, he looks like someone who’s been on a playing field or in a ring before. Brad showed up to work every day of those five weeks. The sessions were at least two hours every time. I always say, don’t estimate what some of these actors do. He put himself through the grinder to get where he ended up. I really put him through his paces.

How did the boxing instruction begin?

I didn’t have him throw any punches the first few days. And before we even got into jump rope or shadow boxing, I wanted to make sure he had the stance down right. I had him move back and forth, with his feet facing the right position, on the balls of his feet, with the heels up. The idea of footwork was probably the most challenging element of his training. But it only took about one week for him to start going in the right direction. I’ve worked with a lot of young amateurs who are coming up to become professional-level fighters. They come into the gym willing to work, but maybe have a few bad habits. I trained Brad in the same way I would train those amateur fighters, minus the heavy sparring of course.

There’s nothing like getting to punch something with the heft of a man and really getting to gas out fully.

How did you get him started with throwing punches?

First we started with the most fundamental of punches, the jab—keeping up those motions but adding the left jab into the process, then you uncork the right hand. This all has to be done to a straight point right in front of you. Once we got the basics out of the way, we started following up with hooks. Even though the script didn’t call for him to have a hook, I wanted to give him a full sense of his capabilities.

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What kind of bag work did you have him doing?

Following the first week of footwork and hand placement, I got him involved with the speed bag, which he got the hang of very quickly. We would follow that with the double-ended bag, to help with his timing. By the third week we were working the heavy bag, throwing his punches at the hanging 150 pounds. There’s nothing like getting to punch something with the heft of a man and really getting to gas out fully.

When did you have him step into the ring?

I brought him into the ring around the second week, and we started there by working with the focus mitts. I had him circling me doing jabs, hooks, and body shots. That’s when I could really test his speed and agility, while giving him some guidance on positioning. Later I threw the body cushion on and got him throwing punches at me. I’m used to taking some heavy punches from my fighters, so I wasn’t phased too much, but he could really swing. By the end he had some real force behind those hooks.

Did you have him shadowbox?

That was our finisher for most training days. The gym I work out of is filled with mirrors, so I was able to get a good look at his form and he was able to see how his own movements looked. The key to a great punch is torque. I had to see it, and I could only do that when he was unleashing. So once we got the form right, I let him go all-out—in shadowboxing and on the bags.

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What was it like doing those training days with him, beyond the fitness?

Brad was just a fun person to be around, no questions about it, and we enjoyed the time. He got to know all the guys at the gym. When he found out we loved Krispy Kreme donuts, the next day he brought a few boxes for everyone.

How did you feel about how the boxing looked onscreen?

You don’t get a true sense of where he was as a boxer in the movie because it’s peppered into various scenes. There was just a taste of his abilities. But it does show up onscreen in moments and glimpses—the feeling that he’s been in the ring before. The work we put in is not easily forgotten. Brad was in his mid-30s, with his full-man strength, and he was definitely showing it.

a man standing in a room: Brad Pitt as bare-knuckle boxer Mickey, sitting in a boxing ring, in 'Snatch' © Provided by Men's Journal Brad Pitt as bare-knuckle boxer Mickey, sitting in a boxing ring, in 'Snatch'

Train Like Brad Pitt: The Snatch Boxing Workout

Instructions: Perform the drills below in standard boxing rounds: work for 3 minutes, rest for 1 minute. Start with 3 rounds per move, then build up to 5. The best way to become well-versed in these drills is to find a good boxing or MMA gym in your area, but you can also do these drills on your own with a partner.

1. Jump Rope

Why it works: Jumping rope improves your foot coordination and strengthens the muscles surrounding your feet and ankles, preventing injuries.

How to do it: Hold both ends of the rope at hip level. Rotate your wrists to swing the rope, without moving your arms too much. When the rope comes around, jump with both feet at the same time. Be sure to stay on the balls of your feet, landing softly. Keep your abs engaged and shoulders loose. Repeat until the set is complete.

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2. Speed Bag

Why it works: Speed bags teach a fighter to keep their hands up and shift weight between feet when punching. The small surface area improves hand-eye coordination, too.

How to do it: Stand square in front of the bag, a little closer than arm’s length, with both feet equal distance from it. Eyes should be level with the bottom of the bag. Start by hitting the bag with a loose hand, on the fingers, to get used to the rhythm. Your hands should be moving in a small circle, going right-right-left-left, which is the easiest pattern for beginners.

3. Double-End Bag

Why it works: The rapid movements of a double-end bag—a small, circular bag fixed to anchor points on top and bottom by elastic cords—forces boxers to increase their reaction time and speed up punches. This reinforces the importance of head movement, promotes the use of angles and footwork, and encourages high-volume punching.

How to do it: Starting in the fighting position, hit the bag with constant combinations to keep it moving, without letting the bag slow down. Transition between throwing combinations, then going on the defense, letting the bag bounce off your guard, then starting on the attack again. The basic rhythm for beginners is left-left-right and right-right-left, using jabs and crosses.

4. Focus Mitts

Why it works: Focus mitts bridge the gap between bag work and sparring. They’re used as an augment to sparring, as well as develop good punch combinations and defensive maneuvers such as slipping, bobbing, and weaving.

How to do it: Getting an experience trainer in the mitts is always helpful, but not necessary. You can also put them on the hands of a training partner to start. Be sure to work out the punching patterns with your training partner, kicking off with basic combos; at the beginning, focus just on the jab. Keep hitting the pads with the jab, increasing the speed and power to get a feel for how a true punch feels on the mitts. Start to add the right or left cross to your jab, then finish with a hook, leading up to the jab-cross-hook combo.

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5. Heavy Bag

Why it works: The heavy bag is a vital piece of gear. It’s an incredible target for a boxer to practice and perfect jabs, power punches, hooks, angle punches, and combinations, in addition to increasing power, speed, footwork, and movement.

How to do it: The punches on a heavy bag are not all about power, they’re also about speed and snap. Don’t push the bag with your punches. Instead, focus on your form all the way to contact, then snap your hand back, keeping the bag moving as little as possible. Once you get comfortable throwing combinations properly at the bag, practice good footwork by moving around it, circling left and right, while in the flow.

6. Body Cushion

Why it works: The body cushions, or protectors, are designed to allow the boxer to practice their body punch combinations during pad workouts. They’re usually combined with focus mitts. They offer a more realistic workout because the boxer is able to throw a variety of punches.

How to do it: Like focus mitts, it’s good to get some sessions with an experienced boxing coach wearing the body cushion, but it can also be practiced with your training partner. Put all of the learned skills at play during this drill, throwing the previous combinations at the focus mitts but adding jabs to the body. Once you hit them with a combination—or a jab, slip to the left or right—follow with another attack. Practice your defense by having your training partner feint a punch with their mitts and blocking it with your guard.

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7. Shadow Boxing

Why it works: When done properly, and with the right goals in mind, shadow boxing can improve your boxing technique, strength, power, speed, endurance, rhythm, footwork, offense and defense, and overall fighting abilities.

How to do it: Stay light on your feet and throw punches at the air. Do basic jab, cross, and hook combos.


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