Dealing With Defeat

27.01.05 - Matthew Hurley: In the wake of his razor thin decision loss to Marco Antonio Barrera many boxing fans and writers were wondering how Erik Morales would deal with the bitter after taste of losing to his most heated rival. After all, it was Morales who stormed out of the ring after losing a close, disputed decision in their rematch and his emotions got the better of him again in the rubber match when he threw water in Barrera's face after his nemesis approached him at fights end in a conciliatory manor. Would this tough fighter succumb to his emotions and implode or would he move on? We quickly got our answer. Morales immediately signed on to fight perhaps the most dangerous opponent out there in Manny Pacquiao. How a fighter deals with defeat often separates the good from the potentially great fighters. From Joe Louis to Muhammad Ali, from Sugar Ray Leonard to Evander Holyfield, how a fighter reacts to a loss reveals everything we need to know about him..

Several fighters who now reside comfortably in the pound for pound rankings do so because they refused to allow defeat to destroy them mentally. A perfect example of this is lightweight champion Diego Corrales. Corrales lost in overwhelming fashion to Floyd Mayweather and then spent a year in jail on a domestic violence plea bargain. He returned a division higher in weight and lost on cuts to Joel Casamayor. Instead of allowing all these setbacks to stall or derail his career Corrales regrouped and beat Casamayor in the rematch and then beat down lightweight champion Acelino Frietas. Other examples of perseverance in the face of defeat are Kostya Tszyu and Marco Antonio Barrera. Tszu lost by knockout to Vince Phillips in 1997 and many wrote him off as one dimensional. He retreated, took some time off and then reemerged with a more multi-faceted game plan and has slowly climbed towards the top of the pound for pound rankings. His destruction of Sharmba Mitchell has many believing he might be the best fighter in boxing.

Marco Antonio Barrera's ability to recover from a loss is even more impressive. The mighty Mexican looked like the second coming of Julio Cesar Chavez early in his career but then he ran into a right hand from Junior Jones. Bang, his run for ring supremacy was knocked flat. He lost again to Jones in the rematch and remained on the boxing periphery until his first showdown with Erik Morales. In the consensus fight of the year Barrera reemerged as a pound for pound great. Then he ran into the blazing fists of Manny Pacquiao and was brutally stopped. Again he was written off, but Barrera returned as an underdog in his rubber match with Morales and pulled out a close decision in another fight of the year.

Yet for every career resurrection there are graphic examples of fighters who never recover from their first taste of defeat. In 1985 Donald Curry was vying for pound for pound supremacy with Marvelous Marvin Hagler. The classy Texan welterweight champion was seen as Marvin's heir apparent. He decided to defend his title one final time before moving up in hopes of a proposed super fight with Hagler. His opponent, Lloyd Honeyghan, was an overwhelming underdog but the tough as nails British fighter pulled off the upset in six lopsided rounds. Curry's fragile psyche never recovered. He moved up to junior middleweight and was immediately knocked out with one punch by champion Mike McCallum. In one year he went from a potential all time great to an also ran.

Recent Hall Of Fame inductee Barry McGuigan suffered a similar fate. The "Clones Cyclone" entered the ring in Las Vegas against unheralded Stevie Cruz in 1986 as a fighter on the cusp of superstar status. After fifteen brutal rounds beneath a blazing, desert sun Barry lost his featherweight title and never regained his form. He retired a year later.

For every exceptional fighter like Thomas Hearns who proved his mental toughness by coming back from defeat there are fighters like Michael Nunn, John Mugabi, or Meldrick Taylor who simply never recover. A fighter can have all the natural ability in the world but if he lacks the mental toughness to deal with defeat, humble himself and regroup then talent will only carry him so far. A fighter like Taylor, however, is an exception to the rule. He possessed all the talent and toughness in the world. But in his bout with Julio Cesar Chavez all the fight was simply beaten out of him. In one fight he went from a great fighter to a helpless shell that would fight on with sad but predictable results. The beating he absorbed from Chavez ruined him as a fighter.

It will be interesting to see how aging fighters like Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley and Antonio Tarver deal with their recent defeats. All have come back from a loss before but, at least with Mosley and De La Hoya, they've never been quite the same. Ultimately, undefeated records are never true indicators of a fighter's worth. It's those fighters who have lost and come back with the steely resolve of redeeming themselves who have the chance of achieving ring immortality. It's that special quality which separates them from the rest of the pack and may lead to a plaque at the boxing Hall Of Fame in Canastota.

Article posted on 27.01.2005

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