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From the streets to suites - why boxers so often come from poverty
Why so many boxing stars have roots in hardship
It is no secret that many of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport overcame significant childhood traumas before fighting their way to stardom. From Mike Tyson, who was abandoned by his father at two years old and arrested over thirty times before the age of thirteen, to Floyd Mayweather, who was used by a human shield by his father in a shootout with a rival drug dealer and who's mother also dealt with substance abuse issues, many of the sports best known figures have faced unimaginable difficulties on the roads to success.
The key question is, how did these experiences help shape the fighters and give them the drive to become the best in the world?
Straight out the frying pan into the fire
Whilst it is true that athletes from many sports come from difficult backgrounds, the trend in boxing is particularly pronounced with the fighting instinct developed on the streets often a natural allay for a career in the ring. Rising star of the featherweight division and Floyd Mayweather protege Gervonta Davis is a case in point - raised on the streets of Baltimore, setting for the television series The Wire in an area riddled with drugs and gangland murders he said ‘I’ve always been a fighter, I had to fight. I was in and out of orphanages as a foster kid and we were fighting other kids in the home’. Fighting was something he chose to do, it was a mechanism for survival. The turning point for Davis, like so many other young boxers, was when his uncle spotted his ability and fight and took him to a boxing gym in an attempt to channel that negative energy into something positive. As Davis says, ‘I’ve been there ever since’.
The absence of a parental father is another consistent theme and having to support not only a mother but also numerous siblings may be a defining factor as to why so many young boxers demonstrate such fierce work rate and refusal to give up in the face of adversity. From Guillermo Rigondeaux to Pernell Whitaker and Shawn Porter, so many of the world’s best boxers have had to teach themselves how to be men as well as fighters. One boxer who did have the full support of his family was Manny Pacquiao - despite this however, he regularly went without food and at the age of 15 he stowed away on a boat to Philippine capital Manila to pursue his dream of becoming a professional boxer, sleeping on the streets on gym floor so he could continue training. 4am runs were mandatory but what for normal people would be considered a severe hardship was seen as a natural progression to a better life for Pacquiao.
You have a lot to offer when you have nothing to lose
A final element to consider in the psychological makeup of boxers is the individual nature of the sport - unlike team sports, a boxer’s ability to improve his situation in life is solely dependent on himself. The self reliance developed through a childhood on the streets is perfect for a sport where success relies on nobody but oneself. As Floyd Mayweather, one of the greatest boxers of all time says, ‘when you have nothing to lose, you are willing to offer your life to be successful’. Whilst skill and talent are certainly important in boxing, simply refusing to give up no matter what difficulties you are faced with is arguably the single biggest factor in defining success.
Not every great boxer in the world has come from an impoverished background (Marco Antonio Barerra has a law degree and wealthy parents) but it is beyond doubt that the experiences of growing up in a tough environment helps develop the mindset and outlook required for life in the ring.