The Last Round
By Paul Jay Reed
A man can be destroyed but not defeated – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and The Sea.
When Sugar Ray Leonard first fought Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, the world of professional boxing knew he was out of his league. Hearns was younger, stronger, bigger, and perhaps the hardest hitting middle weight boxer of all time. Few expected Leonard to win a single round, let alone finish the fight.
The critics were right. The fight was scheduled for twelve rounds, and for eleven rounds “Hitman” Hearns pounded Leonard, who couldn’t win a single round. The fight would be over in one more round and the “Hitman” would be crowned the world’s champion. The fact is Leonard had no reason to come out for the last round. Realistically the fight was over. The only way Leonard could win the fight would be by knocking Hearns out, a possibility, but certainly not probable. Leonard chose to come out for the last round.
Sugar Ray came out with an apparent new zeal and attacked his opponent with surprising gusto. Hearns was caught completely off guard. Leonard’s punches came fast and furiously. The fight’s momentum quickly swung in Leonard’s favor. Halfway through the last round, Leonard backed the “Hitman” against the ropes and unleashed a flurry of punches, sending Hearns through the ropes and out of the ring! The audience became ecstatic as they witnessed the unthinkable, the seemingly impossible – Ray Leonard had won the fight! Somehow Leonard was able to summon all of his God-given strength at the last minute and defeat Hearns.
Of course for me, looking back on this classic moment in boxing history, I could see that this wasn’t simply about two athletes in the ring, fighting for a belt. There is something deep and rich that emerges from this that both inspires and encourages me.
Like Sugar Ray’s predicament in that match, many of us have been beaten over and again by a seemingly bigger and stronger foe than us. Some of us have all but given up completely. Many of us are at the verge of throwing in the towel and accepting ultimate defeat.
Keep in mind that for eleven rounds Sugar Ray fought with everything he had, but it wasn’t enough. His very best was no match for Hearns. Sugar Ray’s athletic skills weren’t good enough to outbox or outscore the “Hitman” for the duration of the fight. However, although Ray was losing the fight, he never stopped fighting. He kept coming out each round, giving his best. Why? Because it is the nature of the fighter to keep fighting until the fight is over. The fighter realizes that, at any point, the fight can switch momentum in his favor. Which leads me to my first point: no matter how bad things are going in your life, no matter how much of a failure you think you are, if you are still breathing then the fight’s not over.
I am reminded of my great aunt Irene, who we endeared “Aunt Krickett.” One day I called her to see how she was doing, and she told me she had jut come from therapy. I assumed it was for her arthritis. “No, sweetheart, I didn’t tell you? I have both lung and brain cancer.” Taken aback by this alarming revelation, I said in a pathetic voice “Oh my, Aunt Krickett, I didn’t know…” She quickly interrupted me, before I could finish, and said in a calm gentle voice “Don’t do that. Don’t you dare do that. As long as I’ve got a breath in my body, don’t` you dare ever feel sorry for me. This fight isn’t over, as long as God is still good and I am still breathing.”
I realized then that the petty problems I faced daily, whining “Poor l’il ol‘ me” were miniscule compared to her condition. Aunt Krickett faced death with more dignity and determination than I faced life. It wasn’t death she was fighting. Death is not an enemy to be fought, but a reality we must accept. Rather, she was fighting against fear, hopelessness, and anxiety, the greatest opponents to the human spirit. It is our fear of death that must be defeated, not death itself. It is our fear of success or failure that keeps us from giving our very best. It is our feelings of unworthiness that keeps us wanting to throw in the towel.
If you are reading this then you are still breathing. If you are still breathing, there is at least one more round in you. If you have a round left, there is at least one more chance to win.
Despite what boxing analysts thought, Sugar Ray Leonard believed he could defeat Hearns. He trained believing he could win. And after eleven rounds of losing, with only one round left, he still believed he could win. He wasn’t just trying to survive twelve rounds, accept his loss, and collect his money. He really believed he could beat the “Hitman.” Which brings me to my second point: no matter how bad things may seem, no matter how many losses we’ve suffered over the years, no matter how great our opposition, we must believe we can overcome it. We must fight to win.
Some may ask, “If I’ve lost everything, including my dignity, freedom, and self respect, what reason do I have to keep fighting?” If you have nothing left to lose then you have everything to gain. So why not fight to win? Leonard had nothing left to lose – he’d lost every round – yet he came out believing, despite how badly he’d been beaten, that he could still win, although no one else believed he could. Michael Jordan once said, “You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.”
How many of us have lost confidence in our God-given strengths of character? How many of us have lost faith in ourselves, resigning ourselves to just making it through another day? How many of us refuse to come out of our corners because we refuse to face our fears, doubts, sense of worthlessness, etc.? Fear doesn’t just go away, it must be challenged. Doubt doesn’t stop beating us just because we’ve stopped resisting; we must challenge it. We must be willing to come out and fight back, knowing that courage is stronger than fear, faith is greater than doubt, and that virtue is always victorious over vice.
Some readers will assume that The Last Round is about those, who after fifty plus years of facing life’s difficulties, need extra courage just to face another day. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The feeling of being beaten, bewildered, and beguiled by life is a very real experience whether you are young or old. The fact is, many of the youth in our culture are afraid to come out and fight, even after only a few rounds with life. The teen drug abuse and suicide rates are evidence of this sad reality.
The major difference between our lives and Leonard’s match against Hearns is that we don’t know how many rounds our lives are scheduled for. Therefore, it behooves us to face each day, each challenge, or each obstacle, as if it were our last.
So whether you’re sixteen or sixty, getting out on parole, or just beginning a life sentence, whether you’re facing final exams or just got laid off, whether brimming with perfect health or fighting cancer; no matter how badly you’ve messed up, if you’re still breathing (enough to read this) then get out there and fight with everything you’ve got, believing that you can and will win because nothing can defeat your best efforts. Nothing beats failure but a try.