“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” – Muhammad Ali
They say that winning isn’t everything, but part of me always figured that’s just what parents say to console their kids when they lose. Then I won a fight, and I’m not so sure anymore. Winning didn’t at all feel as I’d imagined it would. In fact, I found that winning doesn’t feel much different from losing. This is, perhaps, why I’ve struggled to write this post for nearly a month. Yeah, it felt better to be the one with the raised hand at the end of the fight. It was really nice to hear the congratulations from so many people and have 40 likes on a Facebook status update. (I realize that many of you get 40 likes for “heading to the grocery store—gotta buy TP,” but for me, it’s a big deal.) Winning felt a little better than losing, overall. The feeling that I just got beat up was still there though. I didn’t feel any less humbled than I did after I lost.
The girl I fought was tougher than I’d expected. Usually, if I can land a couple hard straight rights, people stop coming at me quite so fervently. She, on the other hand, seemed completely un-phased by anything I did. Her head flew back with each solid shot I threw, but her fists kept coming like the Energizer Bunny. My trainer later said that I sat down on the stool after the first round with a look that said, “Shit. I wasn’t expecting this shit.” Which pretty much sums up how I felt. She proceeded to come at me in the second and third rounds with as much determination and ferocity as she had in the first. The only thing that kept me calm and held me together was the knowledge that I was the better boxer. It wasn’t that I thought I was better—I knew that I was because I had been training longer, and I was more experienced. So I simply kept fighting through the three rounds, knowing that I would come out on top.
And I did. Rather than feeling like a victor, though, I was left with the feeling of, “well, so what?” Maybe the reason winning didn’t feel so much like winning is because, after I lost my first fight, I told myself that if it had been a different girl, or if I’d had a few more weeks to train, the outcome would have been different. The thing is, that’s a two way street—I can’t have it one way without the other. I won because I fought that girl on that night. There are only a million other boxers who could knock me senseless in less than two minutes, and the chances are good that if this girl had another month or so of training, she would have won. So, I wonder, what does it really mean to be a winner?
I connected instantly with the Muhammad Ali quote above when I saw it for the first time last summer. Initially, I thought it meant that in order to win, you have to work hard behind the scenes. Which is true. There are very few winners who haven’t put in their time back stage. After the last fight, however, this quote flipped on itself to mean something entirely different and, somehow, exactly the same. It helped me define what it means to be a winner—perhaps not as Merriam-Webster would have, but in a way that is meaningful to me. I suspect that Ali did not have this in mind when he said it, but in a way, his quote implies that we make ourselves winners or losers before we step into the ring. Maybe this means that what happens in the ring actually matters less than we imagine—or not at all. People create winners within themselves by working hard, persevering, and passionately pursuing their dreams. Maybe when you’ve already made the winner, the outcome of a boxing match can’t change that title.