I’ve been reading about the psychology of winning lately, and I came across this interesting anecdote from a New York Times article:
Cyclone Hart was a powerful puncher who fought as a middleweight out of Philadelphia about 25 years ago. He was as dangerous a one-punch knockout artist as there was in boxing, but he was at times weak mentally. One night he fought a little-known guy named Vito Antuofermo, who would later become middleweight champion. Antuofermo had little power and no physical attributes to brag about except he bled well. But he had other attributes you couldn’t see.The night they fought, Hart staggered Antuofermo in the first round and commenced to beat on and break his ribs. For four rounds Hart dominated, but Antuofermo kept absorbing the blows and fighting back. By the fifth round, Hart began to slow down. He was wavering. Not physically but mentally.
Quickly after that, Vito hit him with a series of punches, and the last one was a left hand that clearly hit Hart on the shoulder but he went down in a heap. The fight was over. Vito went from dire straits to a win.
When the fighters went back to their makeshift locker rooms, only a thin curtain was between them. Hart’s room was quiet, but on the other side he could hear Antuofermo’s cornermen talking about who would take the fighter to the hospital. Finally he heard Antuofermo say, “Every time he hit me with that left hook to the body, I was sure I was going to quit. After the second round, I thought if he hit me there again, I’d quit. I thought the same thing after the fourth round. Then he didn’t hit me no more.”
At that moment, Hart began to weep.
It was really soft at first, then harder. He was crying because for the first time he understood that Vito felt the same way he had and worse. The only thing that separated the guy talking from the guy crying was what they did. The coward and the hero feel the same emotions. They’re both human.
This story was really impactful to me because it addresses the biggest leak I have in tournaments – finishing.
Once the bubble bursts, there is a well known and documented let down for many players as the stress of earning some reward for hours of play is relieved. It becomes easy to let the aggressive players run you over.
This story kind of opened my eyes to the fact that the tournament can often go to the guy who keeps punching and doesn’t give up by making foolish plays.