The fear of losing is the worst opponent a fighter can ever meet. It's the only opponent a fighter should ever avoid. I’m not talking about nervousness, anxiety, or weak knees when taking on a tough opponent at a big event. No, that’s normal and in some ways will always be with the fighter. The fear of losing, however, can take away a fighter's will, potential, and promise and, more often than not, he'll never get it back.
A really good boxer I trained with, let’s call him Perry Greene, had a ton of potential but let the fear of losing get the best of him. In the gym, in the amateurs, and in his early pro fights, he was the one to watch. As he progressed through the pro ranks, however, he started to hold back his talent. You couldn’t really put your finger on it—he was throwing a lot of jabs, power punches, good movement, but there was something missing. Something was wrong. As soon as he got more attention from the press and fans, whatever it was that was missing, was gone for good. Fighters that he should beat easily, he would struggle with. Fighters that he would hurt badly, he would let survive. What was going on? Why wouldn’t he finish off and beat easier competition? Was he afraid that with showing his true potential people would expect more? In fact, people did expect more from him in each fight.
His father may have been the main issue. His father was a perfectionist who expected nothing but excellence from his son. Being very good wasn’t enough. Perry had to be perfect. After a particular disappointing win at the Great Western Forum, Perry’s father was giving him a verbal beat-down for not knocking his opponent out in the four-round fight. I even saw his father actually smack his son outside of the gym once or twice for not dominating a sparring partner. The father’s arguments with Perry's trainer were a common occurrence.
Now I’m no psychiatrist, but seemed to me that Perry was afraid – terrified even, of disappointing his father. Little by little that fear started overtaking him, and instead of motivating him, started to take away his will, talent, and potential. It’s been said that a little fear is a good thing—it keeps you sharp, focused, and ready. But if a fighter is afraid of losing, he has already lost. Fighting like that is like playing poker with scared money. It’s just a matter of time before you lose all your chips.