On May 2nd, 2015, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Floyd “Money” Mayweather won by unanimous decision over Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao in what was billed as “the fight of the century.” Around the world, there was tremendous public attention given to this bout between two champions. Because of their experience, it can be easy to overlook or downplay the abuse each is absorbing during the contest - something much more apparent in lower ranks and between rising stars.
I want to reflect on the ability of a fighter to take a punch (or hundreds), and choose to keep going. If you are a leader in business today, you’ve likely had to take more than a few big hits lately. If you find yourself reeling - consider what it takes for a champion to stay on his feet and come back for more.
George Foreman said, “Boxing is like jazz. The better it is, the less people appreciate it.” The Sweet Science has a lot to teach, about process, engagement, resilience, and culture.
Existing at the very limit of your potential
A top boxer must be conditioned to perform - they have to exist at the very limit of their potential. The process that surrounds him must be efficient and effective. The ubiquitous punching bags, skip ropes, and medicine balls are still there because they work. For hundreds of years, fighters devoted to this “the most difficult sport” have paid in blood and teeth to prove only what aids performance can remain in the gym.
So the process is sound. What about the mindset of the boxer? If a boxer is going to reach the limit of their potential they must be fully committed to the process. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. says it simply, “I always put my boxing first.” As the fight approaches, there is no room for excess, caprice, self-doubt, or pretense- these must all fall away.
“The first time you get hit in a boxing ring you just do all the wrong things... All your instincts are to cover-up, bend over - or flail - and then you're just an amazing target” - Louis C.K.
Comedian and entertainment heavyweight Louis C.K., an avid boxing fan, maintains that he trains as a boxer to prepare for performing and the heckling that comes with it. With Bill Simmons on his popular video blog, Grantland, C.K. said, "...you need adversity to get good. You need to be tested a lot... You need to learn to absorb pain. ...The first time you get hit in a boxing ring you just do all the wrong things... All your instincts are to cover-up, bend over - or flail - and then you're just an amazing target if you do that.”
When external forces are pushing us around, we dig deep and regain our sense of control. We must see these challenges simply as part of the process of winning. Find your feet, slip the next punch they throw, jab and close the distance.
Taking a hit means staying open, loose and relaxed.
Louis C.K. put it like this: “You have to do something very counterintuitive as a fighter. When you get punched you have to just stay right there, you have to stay open and loose, and relax, because then you are intelligent and you're able to see. You can say, ‘you did that, but you're hitting me is part of my plan...’ You hit me but I'm still doing what I want to do, I'm actually controlling you through you hitting me."
“you're hitting me is part of my plan... I'm still doing what I want to do, I'm actually controlling you” - Louis C.K.
Character equals performance.
Being prepared to take hits yet stay loose. Choosing to be in the line of fire. Refusing to succumb to panic and not being a victim. This is the character of a leader.
We take risks, be fully accountable, and choose to remain in control. According to Manny Pacquiao, “Boxing is not about your feelings. It's about performance,” and the ability to perform in the face of adversity is all about character.
In the middle of the fight, as condition, commitment and character are pushed to the limit, there is one more defining factor of the boxing culture: the corner.
A boxer never enters the ring alone.
They surround themselves with the expertise and support of others. Between each round, a fighter’s corner is a one-minute sanctuary. In this corner must fit the strategic, physical, mental and spiritual support the boxer needs in that minute.
A Cut Man: As one boxer put it to me, “he stops the life leaking out my face.” He is an expert at staunching the flow of blood and reducing swelling so a fighter can see to perform. A cut man limits damage and makes short-term repairs that allow a boxer to exercise his will beyond the limits of his body.
The Manager: While not always in the corner during a single fight, the Manager helps the boxer capitalize on the finite amount of time they have as a contender. They ensure the boxer’s career reflects the arc of his or her potential. While the boxer is focused on winning the battle, they focus on the war.
The Trainer: The trainer knows the fighter’s physical and mental limits sometimes better than the fighter himself. They know the style of the boxer, the strengths, the weaknesses, the bad habits and the weapons that fighter can unleash.
The Corner Man: It’s not always easy to maintain your focus - try to focus when you’ve been punched repeatedly in the face. During a fight it’s the corner man’s voice that rings loudest in the boxer’s ears. The corner man watches the fight from the outside– he observes every nuance of the boxer’s performance. He helps the boxer see a way through the other’s tactics.
Between rounds, a corner man holds the boxer true to the game plan, when adrenaline, trauma, exhaustion or fear has sapped the boxer of his memory. He is the priest that must deliver the chastising sermon when the boxer shows sloth or vanity, and it is he who hears a confession of self-doubt and provides absolution before the next round. He is the coach.
Find people who believe in you.
Every high performing leader needs a corner. Who you put in your corner will determine your resilience, development, how you set and achieve your goals. Above all, these people must believe, even when you have doubts.
It’s easy to discount boxing as a brutish sport. It’s easy to assume that we have little to learn from those that liquidate their body for money. But look beyond the spectacle and you’ll find that the fundamental culture of the boxer – the boxing way of life. It has elevated countless more people to success than just those who have been declared champions.
Taken a few good hits lately? Consider your conditioning, commitment, character and corner - then find your feet, slip the next punch and jab.
Want to let someone know you're in their corner? Want someone in yours? Please share this article and start the conversation.
Tim Sweet is Consulting Partner with SLP global, and has been a ring-announcer since 2005.
You're hitting me is part of my plan... I'm still doing what I want to do, I'm actually controlling you