I’ve had a few folks ask me what the qualities are that make a champion. Every trainer is going to have a different take on what they value most, but for me there’s one quality that I value over all others.
When I was a kid my old man told me a great story. I don’t recall what provoked the question. I imagine there must have been a fight at school that day, but I asked who was the ‘hardest’ kid in his school when he was my age.
I forget the boys name, but the story was that the ‘hardest’ kid was the smallest boy in class and never won a fight in his life.
The school bully and his couple of pals- the classic dick and two balls team- had it in for this little lad. When one day he took a beating from the bigger lads, he made a plan to exact his revenge. He tapped the biggest one on the shoulder, and as the bully turned to see who was behind him he belted him with an overhand right as hard as he could. Naturally he got a pasting in return, but returned the next day and repeated the plan. He waits patiently for one of them to turn their back, sneaks up, and cracks them with the best shot his little arms can muster. This goes on for a while, trading one sly dig for a barrage from the trio,but the hard little bastard won’t back down. Eventually his persecutors become the afflicted, watching their back for fear of that one sly shot.
I thought a lot about this story over the years. At first I thought it was just a simple moral about perseverance, but there’s a little more to it. The volume of punishment he caught was far worse, but the psychology was perfect. He knew exactly when he was about to get a hiding, because he controlled the schedule; but his persecutors never knew when theirs was due, and lived in fear and uncertainty until they had to back down.
God didn’t give him the physical attributes, but the kid had the mental fortitude to see it through, and too much pride to roll over. He had strategy. He had a plan and the sitzfleisch to see it through until he sickened his enemy.
I never get over excited anymore when someone with physical or technical talent comes in the gym. Anyone who’s been around the fight game for a while has seen front runners come and go, and the most promising of prospects disappoint when they quit at the first bump in the road. Resolve, assiduity, consistency, these things all trump talent. Often those with the most of the God-given have things too easy early on, and as a consequence cultivate the least of what it takes to be a champion. Toughness is the king of qualities in my book. The old-timers called it ‘Bottom’, back in the days of bareknuckle pugilism. As in – ‘so tough, you couldn’t find the bottom of the man’.
I have put such a premium on being hard, that I have sometimes run the risk of being misunderstood. Toughness, that true grit, isn’t compensation for a lack of skill. It’s the ability to continue to access a high level of skill under high levels of duress.