For Manny Pacquiao and for our nation, it’s important to remember that this time of disappointment over his defeat in “the fight of the century” is a test of character and good sense.
Defeat, when faced sensibly and harnessed properly, can be turned into something positive. It can serve as a platform for turning the game of life around – from losing to winning.
This is not quack psychology. I’ve distilled it from years of study of the phenomenon of victory and defeat in sports – having been at some time in my life, a sports competitor, a sports manager and a sports leader.
In her books and lectures on business management and leadership at Harvard business School, Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter devotes a considerable part of her research to studying and interviewing athletes and sports coaches about the experience of winning and losing, and about the challenge of turning defeat and loss around.
Two reactions to the agony of defeat
Here’s a remarkable and unremarked sidelight to last Sunday’s events in Las Vegas.
In Los Angeles, USA, on the same night that Manny Pacquiao was battling Floyd Mayweather in their long-anticipated duel, the San Antonio Spurs, the reigning champion of the National Basketball Association (NBA), played the Los Angeles Clippers in the deciding game of their seven-game playoff series.
Like Manny, the Spurs lost the epic battle for the ages.
And yet, the two defeated competitors could not have been more unlike in dealing with the agony of defeat.
I thought myself fortunate to have caught on TV Gregg Popovich, the great multi-titled coach of the Spurs, as he spoke about his team’s setback. A great communicator, whom sports journalists dread to interview because of his biting wit and acid tongue, Popovich spoke about the subject with exceptional grace and equanimity.
Asked how it felt to see his beloved Spurs dethroned as champions, Popovich said simply and philosophically: “You have to be bigger than the loss.” He applauded and thank his team for giving the game their best shot. And then he generously commended the Clippers for their victory and wished them well.
The episode stands in sharp contrast to the reactions in the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. After the bout, Manny said he thought he had won the fight and was surprised by the unanimous decision given to Mayweather. Pacquiao fans at the MGM gym booed the verdict. Here at home, most Filipinos were disbelieving and despondent; they thought Mayweather did nothing but run away from Manny during the fight.
But the real story was more crushing. When I checked the reports of reputable analysts and columnists on the fight, I was startled to find how they totally agreed with the official verdict.
Pacquiao did not deliver
The report of Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports summed it up conclusively for me. In a key passage, he wrote:Share
“The fight didn’t live up to its billing, at least on Pacquiao’s end. Mayweather was his typically brilliant self, blunting the Filipino’s charge with a stiff jab he doubled up on repeatedly, and cracking him with the occasional lead right hand.
On the rare occasions Pacquiao cut off the ring and trap him, Mayweather would use a short hook and then spin out of his corner to create space.
“He ran very well,” sniffed Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer.
But that came across as sour grapes, considering that Team Pacquiao knew full well what it was getting into when it signed to fight Mayweather.
One sign that something was amiss with Pacquiao was the punch totals. Pacquiao landed 81 of 429 punches. It wasn’t all that shocking that Mayweather landed more, or that he landed at a higher percentage.
But it is almost beyond comprehension that Mayweather threw more punches. He landed 148 of 435.
Pacquiao’s best chance was to throw in volume and overwhelm Mayweather.
But he may not have been physically able to do that. Pacquiao suffered a right shoulder injury in training three to four weeks ago that Arum described as similar to the torn rotator cuff that knocked the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant out for the season in January.
Pacquiao’s team requested to have Dr. Yue Yu sit in his corner, but the Nevada Athletic Commission denied that. It also denied a request Pacquiao made just after arriving at the arena to take three anti-inflammatory shots. Chairman Francisco Aguilar said the first time he learned of the injury was when he heard about it from Arum shortly after 6 p.m. [Philippine Time].
The injury may have made a difference, and Pacquiao’s ardent fan base will cling to that thought, but it’s hard to imagine him doing anything substantive to move the needle.
Sports and the Game of Life
In her fascinating book, Confidence, Dr. Kanter explains why she has been drawn to the study of sports.
“Sports has a great deal in common with life – but sports is just a small slice of life.
“In sports, as in political campaigns, courtroom battles or competition for a share of any fixed market, every game produces winners and losers….
“The only good thing about losing is that it sounds an alarm bell. If people hear the wake-up call and heed it, losing can shake them out of complacency and into action – the way a mild heart attack might propel someone to diet and exercise…”
People have different attitudes to failure or loss. Some are optimists, others are pessimists.
Says Kanter: “The decision to build rather than retreat, to rally rather than get discouraged, involves viewing setbacks through an optimistic lens, as an opportunity to learn and move on. Optimists assume that negative events are temporary glitches rather than the permanent state of affairs that pessimists see.”
You have to defeat defeat
In memorable and vivid language, Andy Reid, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in American football, once declared:
“You have to turn a negative into a positive. You have to defeat defeat.”
In the end, it comes down to character. Character is shaped by values. And values can be taught and communicated. The development of character is an integral part in the making of champions in sports.
Pacquiao did not get to where he is without having a startling constitution and character. As surely as night follows day, Manny will emerge from this setback to Mayweather a winner, not only richer but a better man. Or perhaps even a better political leader.
He will not indulge in what Gregg Popovich derisively calls “a pity party,” because then, that would make him truly a loser.