On February 11, 1990, James “Buster” Douglas and Mike Tyson entered the boxing ring. Until the fight began, everyone believed Mike would easily defeat James. Mike had never lost in 37 matches, and certainly never been knocked down. Mike had won by knock out 33 times. His last opponent had only lasted 93 seconds before getting knocked out. Mike seemed invincible. And to the world, this was an inconsequential fight in preparation for the real contest between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. Even in Las Vegas, where anyone can find a bet, there was only one casino willing to take bets on the fight and listed James as a 42-1 underdog. No one placed any bets.
With everyone sure James was going to lose, and probably would get knocked out within the first few rounds, why would he take the fight? Countless experts had questioned his heart and focus in fighting. Why go up against one of the most feared boxers in the world? As if that wasn’t enough, his mom died of a massive stroke, his son’s mother was battling a kidney disease and he was sick just days before the match. He had opportunities to call off the fight, especially when his mom died, but he told his mom he was going to win.
That’s the crucial ingredient for success. You must believe in yourself, even if no one else does.
James focused in on the fight and believed he could win. From the beginning, James used his height and reach advantage to get in more shots. Commentators continually expressed surprise and disbelief as they watched James land more than 73 punches through 3 rounds. They only wondered if he could keep it going. Then in the 8th round a familiar sight occurred. A Mike Tyson opponent fell down after a hard right upper cut.
He was down but not out.
Unlike most of those other fighters, he was disappointed with himself but not knocked out. He got up and the bell rang almost immediately after. In his corner, James knew the champion smelled blood and was going to come after him. James had quit before. He had given up early in other fights, but this time, he came out and matched Mike’s intensity, and once again reclaimed the momentum in the 9th round.
James had inflicted some damage on Mike, so that by the 9th and 10th round Mike’s left eye was almost completely swollen shut. Mike became more desperate to land that knock-out punch. Most of the match, he was trying to end it with each hit, while James continued to chop away with quick combinations.
With 1:51 to go in the 10th round, James accomplished the biggest victory of his career and the most unlikely outcome anyone could imagine: he knocked out Mike Tyson.
Inside the ring, with his team cheering and hugging the new heavyweight champion of the world, James was interviewed by Larry Merchant. When asked why he was able to defeat Mike Tyson, he said three times, ” For my mother.” Then the last time he added, “God bless her heart.” And he cried.
James had told his mother he would win. He wanted to win for his father too. He believed he could do it. He focused on the task and executed his plan.
No one pays as much attention to you as yourself. And at the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself, even if no one else does. You will probably never have to step in a ring and face mortal danger, but everyone gets challenged socially, professionally, or physically. In those moments, you need to know what you are fighting for and believe you can win. Don’t sell yourself short just because others don’t believe in you.
So take a minute to look in the mirror and tell yourself you are a champion. Identify your goal, prize or challenge and tell yourself you can and will succeed. Giving up may be convenient, but don’t give in. Take a breather if you need it, but don’t forget the vision and get back to work.