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Sporting anecdotes: Boxing

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Anecdote 1 - For when you want to talk about persistence and determination

Rocky Marciano retired in 1956 as the world's only undefeated Heavyweight Boxing Champion, an achievement that still stands today. He had 49 fights and won every single one, 43 of them with knockouts.

Marciano Walcott

For a heavyweight, he was small, at just under 5'11", and he weighed only 185 lbs (13st 3lb), but he probably brought more heart into the boxing ring than any fighter in the history of the sport. He overcame his relative physical shortcomings with a willingness to endure as much punishment necessary to defeat his opponent. Seemingly impervious to pain, he was willing to take three or four punches in order to land one, his famous right-hand haymaker known as the 'Suzy-Q'.

So determined was his relentless pursuit of victory that nothing - and I mean nothing - would stop him. And never was this more apparent than when he fought for the heavyweight championship against 'Jersey Joe' Walcott in September 1952 as a 3 -1 underdog.

Within the first 40 seconds, Walcott dumps Rocky onto the seat of his pants, the first time anyone has ever knocked him down in his whole career. He's back on his feet within 3 seconds, but he takes a fearsome beating throughout the first 7 rounds, although he gradually begins to pull back and wear Walcott down with sledgehammer blows to his ribs and arms. But as the final round arrives, all 3 judges have Walcott ahead on points. It's do or die.

Battered, bruised, bleeding and hardly able to see, Rocky knows that the only way he can win is with a knockout. A gap opens in Walcott's defense and he throws the 'Suzy-Q' from a distance of only 6 inches, landing it squarely on his opponent's chin. Almost in slow motion, Walcott collapses against the ropes, falling first on to one knee and then slowly toppling on to his face. He doesn't get up. He's out for the count.

Rocky Marciano, the son of an Italian shoemaker from Massachusetts who once delivered coal for $10 per week, is the new heavyweight champion of the world. And he will never, ever be beaten.

Boxing is all about pain. And how a fighter handles it can be the difference between winning and losing, fighting on or giving up, victory or defeat. In sales we all feel pain from time to time. A different sort of pain than a boxer, but it's still pain. It's emotional rather than physical; the pain when we've painstakingly prepared a pitch or a presentation and the customer says, 'No.'

How you handle that pain - whether you fold or stand tall, whether you sit in silent depression in your car and want to give up, or smile and move on undaunted to the next call - shapes your character, and ultimately your ability to succeed. We can all learn from Rocky Marciano, whose determination and persistence and concentration kept him moving relentlessly forward like a battering ram, and helped him win. Again and again and again.

To mix sports and quote the great NFL coach Vince Lombardi: "The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall."

Anecdotes 2 - For when you want to talk about the importance of preparation

Bernard Hopkins the boxer won 4 middleweight and one light heavyweight championships and achieved a record of only 5 losses in 49 fights. Yet his life could have been very different. Born in one of Philadelphia's poorest neighborhoods, he had been stabbed three times by the time he was 13, and at age 17 was sentenced to 18 years in one of America's toughest prisons.

Realizing the direction his life had taken, he served 5 years as a model prisoner, earned his high school diploma and converted to Islam, and ever since his release has been on the straight and narrow, not even earning a speeding ticket.

His puts his amazing success as a boxer down to his preparation. Obviously, all boxers need to stay focused and prepare physically, but Hopkins is almost monk-like in his dedication. He trains 365 days a year, rising at 5 am for roadwork, working all day in the gym and going to bed at 9pm. That's hour after hour, day after day, of working on a heavy bag, speed bag, jumping rope, ring work, pushups, sit-ups, lifting weights, shadow boxing, sparring. Over and over, again and again.

When he's not in the gym he studies the sport and watches films of fights constantly to improve his understanding of the sport. He doesn't smoke and hasn't had a drink since he was 17. His diet is regimented, consisting mostly of fruit and vegetables, fish and protein supplements, and even today at the age of 45 he still has a 30" waist.

He fights with the philosophy of taking as little punishment as possible whilst dishing out as much as he can, made possible by his close scrutiny of his opponents' fighting styles. As a result, he very rarely gets hurt.

Bernard Hopkins

And nowhere can the benefits of this be seen more clearly than in his 2008 fight with Kelly Pavlik, the WBC and WBO World Middleweight Champion. With a record of 33 fights and no losses, 30 of his wins from knockouts, Pavlik was the clear favorite to win. He was aged only 26 whilst Hopkins was an unbelievable 43 (which is nearer 80 in boxing years). By any objective measure, the older man just could not win, and the press were unanimous in their opinion.

But as well as being in great condition, Hopkins had prepared by studying his opponent. He reckoned Pavlik couldn't jab going backward. And without his jab, he couldn't use his most effective weapon, the one-two combination. On the night, Pavlik was a toothless tiger. Hopkins outspend, outfought and outthought him the entire fight. His performance was sublime. And all at the age of 43.

He is living testament to the power and importance of preparation. And the quality of someone's preparation is just as importance in business. When you go into a sales call to make your pitch or presentation, can you really say you're thoroughly prepared? You are ? Really? To Hopkins' standards?

Because the level of your preparation can be the thing that gives you a competitive advantage against the salesperson following you. It can literally mean the difference between success and failure, between a sale and a rejection, between a 'yes' and a 'no'.

Bobby Knight, the NCAA coach with over 900 college basketball victories to his name, more than any other basketball coach in history, once said: "

"We talk in coaching about "winners", and I've had a lot of them, who just will not allow themselves or their team to lose. Coaches call that a will to win. I don't. I think that puts the emphasis in the wrong place. Everybody has a will to win. What's far more important is having the will to prepare to win."

Anecdote 3: When you want to talk about determination to overcome failure

In the late 1930s, two great boxers, the American Joe Louis and the German Max Schmeling, fought two tough fights that history has depicted as being symbolic of the war that would shortly break out between their two nations.The world watched as the man who symbolized American freedom and democracy fought a man unfairly (because he was no supporter of Hitler) perceived to be a symbol of Nazi aggression.

Louis was overconfident and accustomed to winning, having achieved national celebrity in only 3 short years, and predicted he'd make short work of Schmeling. He was 10-1 favorite and spent his days before the fight playing golf rather than training in the ring. Schmeling, on the other hand, trained intently and had identified a chink in Louis' armour; his tendency to drop his guard after he'd thrown a double jab.

For their first match they met in Yankee Stadium in June 1936. When Louis drooped his guard just as Schmeling had predicted, the German dropped him in the 4th round with an overhand right. It was the first time Louis had been floored in his career, and he never regained his composure or his confidence. He fought on unsteadily but Schmeling knocked him out in the 12th round. The world was shocked, and Nazi Germany shamelessly turned the victory into a propaganda pitch for white supremacy, feting Schmeling as an Aryan superman.

Louis felt that he had let the United States down, let Afro-Americans down, and let himself down. He felt humiliated.

But instead of turning inwards, he renewed his training with a vengeance. From that day on, he had only one objective: to beat Max Schmeling. It obsessed him and consumed his every waking moment. It even took precedence over winning the World Heavyweight Championship itself. When he won it by beating Jimmy Braddock the following year, he publicly announced he refused to recognize himself Champion until he'd avenged his loss to the German.

The rematch took place in June 1938 in a Yankee stadium crammed to capacity with an audience of 70,000 and millions tuned in by radio across the world. Despite his personal opposition to Nazism, Schmeling had become associated with Hitler's regime, and needed 25 police officers to protect him as he made his way to the ring s the crowd pelted him with rubbish.

Joe Louis

Fired up with his zeal to win, Louis launched an all-out barrage of blows and put the German on the canvas three times in the first round before the referee stopped the fight. It was a walkover. Louis threw 41 punches, 31 of which landed solidly, in contrast to Schmeling's two. Schmeling was in hospital for 10 days and it was discovered that Louis had cracked several vertebrae in his back.

As a postscript it should be noted that there was no personal animosity between the two men, and they formed a deep an lasting friendship outside the ring.

Life is full of battles. Some big, some small. But nobody wins them all. Whilst we all want to win all of the time, losing sometimes is part of life. It is how someone reacts to defeat or failure that separates winners from losers.

Some people are unable to cope and withdraw within themselves or retreat from public view for long periods. Others get mad, and even more determined to win next time. They become focused on not repeating their mistakes so when the opportunity arises a second time, they'll be ready.

President Calvin Coolidge once said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not, nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

More sports anecdotes articles you might enjoy:

NFL stories (NFL 1)

More stories from the NFL (NFL 2)

Even MORE stories from the NFL (NFL 3)

Still more stories from the NFL (NFL 4)

Basketball stories

Baseball stories

Hockey stories


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