Terry Southerland

I was always taught that boxing was a sport that was 75% Mental, and 25% Physical. Even though it is a physically demanding sport, when you get in the ring, you both have two arms and two legs. Needless to say, it’s what each person chooses to do with those limbs that makes ALL of the difference. All of the movements are controlled by the mind. Oftentimes, the mind during a match is controlled by emotions.

The very first crucial lesson I learned in Boxing, was explained as “Control your emotions, Control your world”. I was in my first tournament, and I was fighting a kid that was really a dirty fighter. He was a very tough Mexican fighter from California. He was full of elbows, knees, shoulders, and anything else that was illegal in amateur boxing. The first two rounds were this close and I needed to do something to pull away. My trainer, a legendary trainer from Cincinnati, named Mazaughn Kemp, told me when I came back to the corner before the final round: “When you get in the clinches, call him a “Puta”. I had no idea what “Puta” was, but whatever my trainer said to do, I did. Almost immediately we got into the clinches. I called the kid a “Puta”, and he went ballistic. He got so angry that he chased me with so much rage, that without even realizing it, the fight was changing. He no longer cared what I threw at him, thus, not being able to avoid the many jabs and straight rights I placed on his head. Pretty soon his mouth was wide open and he was sucking air, trying to avoid the uppercuts I was throwing when he tried to go underneath my jab. The point was: He stopped thinking. We all know—the fighter who cannot think, loses. This was a lesson that stayed with me for many years. In fact, it caused me to clown many fighters when I was growing up. I would act like I might pull their shorts down in the clinches, stick my tongue out, and many times said crazy things in the clinches. Not surprising, most fighters talk crap in the clinches. All in the name of inducing anger. Getting in your opponent’s head.

Think about it: Before Roy Jones Junior’s first fight with Antonio Tarver, was Tarver in his head, or What? As soon as he called him out, asking “You got any excuses tonight Roy?”, when they went to touch gloves, you knew it was over. For Roy not to say a word, you knew, the fight was over. Another master at mental warfare is in my opinion one of the greatest Middleweights that ever lived, Bernard Hopkins. What about when he threw the Puerto Rican flag to the ground while in Puerto Rico, promoting the fight between him and Tito Trinidad. Unsportsmanlike, yes. Risky, yes, considering that he had to run out of the stadium. But—given the pride that Tito, like just about any fighter, feels for his country—this move was ingenious.

Those of course, are historical examples of external mental warfare. But let’s think about Internal Mental warfare. YOUR mind. A very good friend of mine, Prince Charles Williams, held the Light Heavyweight belt for many years. He was fierce in the ring. I asked him once, where does all of that fierceness come from? Is there ever fear?? He said to me his affirmation, what he says to himself about 50 times a day while training is: No matter who he is facing, he is stronger, faster, and always a winner. He was such a strong fighter. And, because he was such a fighter, an opposing World Champion at the time who was standing next to him was shaking while taking promotional pictures. He could be Vicious.

One time I entered the locker room in Gleason’s Gym, many years ago, while I was training. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that there was someone reading the bible with his locker open right next to mine. After I got dressed, he was still there and I noticed it was the legendary fighter Iran Barkley. I was a bit blown away. We had never met before. I said “Excuse me Iran, I hate to interrupt you reading the bible, but I have to say, before you started the fight with Tommy Hearns, you had the craziest look on your face. I’ve never seen anything like it. You have to tell me, where was your head at? What were you thinking about at that time??” Surprisingly enough, he had a very simple answer for me. He said: “I had just found God. I felt like no MAN could hurt me”. Needless to say, I was surprised. Not that it came from him, and I grew up in a religious family so saying that it came from god didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was that this was the source of all of what I thought was rage, when it was really just strength.

I have a very good friend named Maureen Shea. She is one of the top Jr. Lightweights and one of the most talented female fighters in the world. Before every fight she reads a book by Paulo Coelho called “Warrior of the Light – A manual”. She says it relaxes her and reminds her every time that we are human. We can only do our best. It puts her mind in a place where she can do her very best. She says, “It’s not the kind of book that you read cover to cover, but when going to battle anywhere in life, there is always something in there to encourage you”. I’ve read parts of it, and it really is a remarkable text to take into battle.

Every one of us has to find his or her method of getting to that place where you can give it your very best. Whatever the method, it’s all yours. Personally, isolation did that for me. My optimum training scenario would be to stay in a room filled with only books, boxing tapes, music, and myself. I would do nothing else after every run, or every training session but come back to my room and think boxing. Needless to say, I was a caged “Panther” when it was time to fight. My first professional trainer in Cincinnati (Ohio) was George Foster. He always made me go into a corner and visualize what I’ve worked on in training, and me doing the same things to my opponent. Isolation allowed me to go inside to find the dark place that I sometimes needed to be in for my fight. It was the total opposite of the gregarious personality that would be normal for me.

So, whether you’re getting into your opponents head or dealing with your own, top down (head first), might be a good place to start. My challenge this time is for you to find that place or method needed to be your best in a match or fight. I would also love to hear from some of you, your methods and mental preparation. I’m sure that judging from past emails I received about previous articles, you’ll all have much to say. Please feel free to write to me here to comment and tell me what you do, and how you get your mind ready. I will be posting some of my favorites, along with the names of the fighters who wrote them, in upcoming articles. You can reach me here at: <a href=””></a>.

Fight Ferociously….

One Response to “TOP DOWN / BOTTOM UP?”

  1. Irma N. says:

    Dear Terry,

    I read your story and thought it was very moving. You are an inspiration and a great example for all young aspiring athletes. I pray that you and your family are healthy. Take care and drop me an e-mail if you can.

    Irma from Brooklyn!