I cringed together with the majority of boxing fans when I recently watched a video of ex-heavyweight boxing world champion Deontay Wilder, which he released on his Instagram, in which he makes some controversial excuses for his defeat to Tyson Fury in their February 2020 bout.
In the video, Wilder accuses Fury of hiding “egg weights” in his gloves and claims that the shape of the dent in the side of his head left by one of Fury’s punches is evidence of this. He goes on to accuse his rival of purposefully having his gloves pulled down into an improper position so that he could scratch his ears, explaining that this was why he was bleeding from one of his ears during the bout.
A few days after Wilder posted his Instagram video he did an interview with 78SPORTSTV in which he further added to his list of outlandish excuses, claiming that his former trainer Mark Breland had “spiked” his water with “a muscle relaxant or something like that” before the Tyson Fury fight.
As has been made clear by those in the boxing community who are knowledgeable about how high-levels fights such as Wilder’s against Fury are organized; it would have been nigh on impossible for Fury’s gloves to have been tampered with in any way due to the strict monitoring procedures that are in place when a fighter has his hands wrapped and gloved before such a fight.
Wilder’s accusations leveled against his former trainer, of spiking his water, are equally baseless. Given that it was Breland who threw in the towel during Wilder’s fight (and rightly so given the beating that his fighter was receiving) this excuse seems like nothing more than the cries of a fighter’s wounded ego, a fighter who refuses to acknowledge his own insufficiencies in the wake of defeat, and who cannot accept the simple fact that on that February night in Las Vegas, Fury was the better man and he just wasn’t good enough.
Joining Wilder in the club of ‘high profile people who refuse to accept defeat’, is everyone’s favorite (soon to be ex-)American president: Donald Trump. Just like Wilder, Trump too has been airing some outlandish conspiracy theories and excuses for his defeat to Joe Biden in the recent presidential election.
Trump’s excuses — centered around claims of election fraud and a purposeful miscounting of mail-in ballots — are as equally outlandish and baseless as those provided by Wilder, the public reaction to Trump’s claims has also been similar; disapproval and disdain, with Twitter even wanting to distance themselves from the promotion of such views.
There has been speculation about the mental health of both Wilder and Trump after their recent behavior. Trump has had question marks over his mental capacity for a long while now, while speculation around Wilder’s mental health have centered more on the possibility of a drug problem, though it is worth noting that the only categorical evidence to even remotely back up such claims is the one prosecution Wilder received for possession of marijuana back in 2017.
Questions marks over their mental health aside, how we define success in society makes it hard for anyone, Trump and Wilder included, to accept failure. Whether your the president of the United States, a champion boxer, or an aspiring freelance writer like myself, none of us are immune to the feelings of shame and inadequacy that come from a failure to achieve or maintain a successful life as our society so deems it. In reaction to such failure, our pride takes a hit and we can do or say things that make little rational sense in an effort to defend what little semblance of pride we feel we have left — I know this all too well.
I’ve had a taste of success in my attempts to become a freelance writer; I finally managed to get paid a decent sum of money for an article I wrote earlier this year, and I’ve been published in a national magazine centered on a cause that is dear to my heart (Carers UK). Consequent to these achievements, when things started not to go my way — rejections from a variety of publications piling up — it wasn’t long before I joined Trump and Wilder in thinking up some outlandish excuses and conspiracy theories for my failure to succeed, all of which attempted to divest myself of any sense of blame and protect my sense of pride. I refused to accept that I simply wasn’t good enough, and I blamed other people for my own insufficiencies.
“That article I submitted was amazing, that editor mustn’t know what good writing is, or maybe they only accept articles from their friends!"
“This writing platform is rigged, certain people have special access to publications and get treated favorably because of who they are!”
“I must just be better than the publications I’m sending my articles too, their content is too shallow, they don’t appreciate truly meaningful writing!”
So why do myself, Trump, Wilder, and many others struggle so much with accepting failure? Psychological baggage aside, there are ample sociological reasons for such disquiet, the American Dream lives on and is most definitely “killing us” as Mark Manson laments. Manson rightly points out that when we fail to achieve success as it is popularly defined, such as the success of achieving the American dream, “the blame game begins” as we refuse to accept responsibility for our failures and assume “it must be someone else who is screwing all this up”, which is exactly what Wilder, Trump, and myself have been doing.
We live in a world where there is pressure to “do it all” and “be it all” in order to see our lives as a success and if the pursuit of such success doesn’t destroy us, the inevitable fall from the pedestal we manage to reach will — the plaudits, prizes, and lifestyle, that we are granted when we achieve even a hint of such success make it so hard to take if this same success is taken away from us. The financial benefits and public admiration that we so often equate with success can begin to make you feel like a god, even if only in your own circle of relevance. Such omnipotence is a dangerous feeling to latch on to, as we can begin to expect the world around us to obey our every wish and command, and when they don’t our wounded egos scramble to remain intact, spouting lunacy in the process, as is evidenced by Deontay Wilder and Donald Trump’s recent comments.
A new way to define success
Changing our definition of success can help us to cope a lot better with failure. I’ve found this in my own life, as I’ve made efforts to pursue a kind of success more in line with my Christian beliefs — success as the ability to simply “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12: 31) — which has helped me to shift my focus away from the ups and downs of my own life and more towards what I can do for, and with, other people. This shift has helped me to develop a more humble attitude towards my failures as I realize that there is more to life than just my egocentric desires. If one of my freelance pitches gets a speedy rejection I (try to) say; So what, there are more meaningful things to worry about, like the health of my relationships with my family and friends.
A definition of success that is more holistic (it needn’t be overtly Christian as with myself) could help people to cope with failure in a similar way. The success of being healthy in mind and body, the success of being a decent human being, with good moral values, a kind heart, and thriving relationships with other people — all things that would help people to focus less on individual successes and failures, and look more at the ‘whole’ picture.
It seems fitting that the two individuals central to Wilder and Trump’s downfalls, Tyson Fury and Joe Biden respectively, each, in their own way, embodies the kind of holistic success that I’m talking about. Fury is a passionate advocate for those who suffer from mental health issues, having struggled similarly himself, he is also a Christian and is open about how central his faith is to his life and his achievements. He dedicates his boxing wins to those suffering from mental health issues and he never accepts sole responsibility for his boxing success, but lets his God take the glory instead.
Biden on the other hand has widely been seen as the “good guy” of the American electoral race, the candidate who stood for some of those holistic human values I mentioned above, or, as Frank Bruni in the New York Times describes, the candidate who’s campaign hinged on “honesty, decency, empathy, humanity” — all qualities which both Trump and Wilder seem to have been bereft of, especially during their recent refusals to accept defeat.
I for one will be trying to learn from the recent downfall of both Trump and Wilder. Despite my Christian intentions, I have fallen victim to chasing the vacuous kind of success described in this article one too many times and my mental health has always suffered as a result. We all have the ability to change our definition of success — arguably the whole of 2020 has been one big Covid-shaped failure but how we cope with that failure is largely dependent on how we choose to define success. The pandemic and the limitations it has put on how we usually lead our success-driven lives provides us with the perfect opportunity to stop and take stock, and consider what kind of life-goals are really worth fighting for.
During a time when anxiety and fear lace the air we breathe as much as the virus that is in our midst, a more holistic definition of success could help us all to cope with the uncertain future that is ahead of us — success as the attainment of those human qualities that draw us together as a society, instead of pulling us apart as individuals concerned only with ourselves. A society bonded by such qualities is not unthinkable, there is evidence already that a kindness contagion is in our midst, if we can each do our bit to help it spread, then we will be able to face whatever the future holds together and that, to me at least, is the kind of success worth fighting for — I hope you agree.
Thank you for reading,