Worrying is a good thing
The other day I wanted to tell this fighter, my favorite fighter of all time, that he would win his next bout, but they had the gym closed. No visitors. Word had been that he was worried. He was my father’s favorite, and his fathers. I had never heard of him being concerned before, nor had anyone else.
I just wanted to tell him, maybe remind him that he has been in tough ones before and he had always won. He was undefeated. I decided to take out his record and look at it. It’s long. Goes back to the day he made his debut - the summer of ’76. In the early years he fought at home a lot.
Like with Marciano, there was even talk that he fought one of his brothers under an assumed name. And it was a bloody battle, a civil war. The purses were still small back then, but the stakes were always high. They said he didn’t want that fight but understood that it would give him what he needed to be great.
After that he took his career on the road. There were two great wars, the second one was later compared to an Arturo Gatti fight, where he was surprised and dropped early, then came back to score a sensational KO.
And along the way there were all those bouts he took despite being sick. There were two with a plague, then polio, the measles and several with the flu.
When Newsweek did a front-page story on him and the reporter asked him what kind of road work, he did to have legs strong enough to overcome such challenges, he credited it to the beaches of Normandy and the slopes of Bunker Hill. Later in the article he was asked where his fierce and unrelenting resolve came from. His back creaked a little as he adjusted himself from the wooden chair, and he paused a moment to hold his emotion. He said it came from that very first fight – where the people who ran the game back then said he’d never be able to have what they had; his own home. He never forgot that and said that every fight is to make sure he doesn’t lose his home.
The old timers always said that keeping a title was harder than winning it. And success can also have negative effects. There can be bickering internally, within the family, all things that can slow even the great ones down; turn them soft, or old.
So, when I heard that this great fighter, my hero, my children’s hero, was worried about his next fight, I wanted to remind him of what, perhaps, he had forgotten for a moment. I wanted to tell him he’s the greatest – and it was okay if he was worried – because that was always when he was at his best. And that’s why he’s undefeated.