3 Life Lessons From ‘The Fight Of The Century’

Jun 05, 2015 1 Min Read


Yes, many of us anticipated and watched the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight last month, dubbed as the “fight of the century”.

It probably took us a week or more to accept the fact that our Asian hero wasn’t able to bring home the bacon. Despite his loss, Pacquiao remains the winner in our hearts.

His failure in that match made us realise how much more we value him for being the ultimate Asian pride.

The support wasn’t just evident among his fellowmen, but the rest of the world clearly cheered Pacquiao on as the real winner.

In the spirit of celebrating Pacquiao and our pursuit of hacking the corporate world, here are some life lessons Pacquiao taught us despite his defeat.

1. Your choice of ‘being feared’ vs ‘being liked’ to succeed in life matters

You may have noticed that while Mayweather is already too expensive to endorse any brand, his boxing shorts carried zero logos compared with Pacquiao’s.

He is the star athlete that sponsors don’t want to touch, as CNN quotes. After all, which company likes to be associated with someone who prefers “money” as his nickname?

His last endorsement deal was in 2009 for a telecommunications and shoe company, and neither was renewed the year after.

His records of domestic violence and racist rants online will probably take more than an Olivia Pope to clean his image.

This is not to say that Pacquiao is a saint (as our Pinoy hero himself has his own fair share of personal shortcomings), but the latter does a better job in keeping an image that the general public aspires for.

The biggest dilemma everyone faces in life is the choice between “being feared” vs “being liked” to succeed in our goals.

There is no right or wrong option to this. In South-East Asia, prosperous neighbours like Singapore and Malaysia prove that in the context of pursuing progress amid chaos, an iron hand can be effective (and in the long run, earns the respect of people after good results become visible).

Research shows that a commanding ruler works best if subordinates accept hierarchy as part of society.

But nice guys can also finish first as long as they use the right strategies that prevent others from “taking advantage of them”, as studies suggest.

Harvard Business Review cites studies where acts of altruism, something which Pacquiao is known for, can increase someone’s status in the group. Leaders who project warmth (and smile like Pacquiao), even before they exhibit competence, are trusted more than others.

While the numbers clearly show that he lost the fight, you can say that Pacquiao was the real victor in the eyes of the spectators – the battle which we all aspire for in real life.

The reason is simple: people love him more. He smiles while he is being weighed, he shares his personal life, he introduces us to his mother (and the world was never the same again), he sings whenever there was a microphone.

He knows that even though he is a sports icon, he still takes the time to show that he’s one of us.

In the context of sports where every athlete is celebrated with the ideals of motivation, discipline, and drive, Pacquiao simply wins the people’s hearts by a mile, and a smile.

2. Look for a ‘higher purpose’ once you reach the top

While I’m not a big fan of Pacquiao as a politician, you have to give it to the man who decided to get out of the ring to help and inspire people to greatness.

He makes the Philippines prouder than balut or dried mangoes does. He generously gives back to the people he associates himself with, and proves that success is best enjoyed when it is shared with others.

Like Pacquiao, people who sustain their success all realise one thing when they get to the top: they start thinking about others before themselves.

They reach out to discover their higher purpose. They look for opportunities to develop people because they feel good when they share what they know.

They take accountability when their people fail to succeed because they own the responsibility of setting them up for success.

Beyond fame or making more money, they look for opportunities to give back to communities, and they don’t need press conferences to shout these deeds.

It is no wonder that when these people fail, they easily get the support they need to start all over again.

Like Pacquiao, they still have people’s unwavering loyalty, win or lose. Indeed, it is crucially important to have people beside you who will lift you up when you get shot down.

In John Maxwell’s Five Stages of Leadership, he demonstrates that successful people influence best because of what they represent, and because of what they have personally done for others.

At work, being the fastest worker, the most creative Powerpoint slide maker, or the most strategic planner are well rewarded only if you work alone.

But these are not enough to succeed if teamwork is at play (and who works alone these days anyway?).

This is the same reason why I get so frustrated whenever I see brilliant managers or students who do so well when given a solo task, but fail painfully when they’re asked to work with a team.

They refuse to trust people with work, and they refuse to share what they know because getting ahead of the race is their main priority.

In life, finding a higher purpose that involves “others” may just be the most fulfilling task to achieve when you have conquered all the mountains available.

It matters to show to your friends and colleagues that while you have a personal race to fulfill, you also got their back.

3. Fight the fight that you promised

The world voted for Pacquiao because he fought the sport the way we expect it to be fought. After waiting for five years, we were promised a good fight and while it’s wrong to say we wanted to see blood, we were disappointed that we didn’t.

Credit goes to Mayweather for his technical gracefulness in defending himself in the ring – he avoided many punches and reserved much of his strength until the end.

He was also a very patient fighter who refused to win by volume of punches, but by the quality of it. He fought smarter, and he deserves the victory for this strategy.

But this isn’t the boxing that the people were waiting for.

“Boxing is dead!” was an outcry on social media by many fans who were expecting a slugfest between the two legendary fighters.

The world cheered for Pacquiao because while both athletes played fair and square, Pacquiao gave the fight that he promised. He walked the talk.

Successful people are those who fulfil their words and hold on to what they commit to the public. They commit to a specific goal, and work hard on it, until they finally accomplish it.

They pick themselves up no matter how many times they fall down. They simply have grit.

Pacquiao chased Mayweather to fight even if all the conditions were stacked against him because he sincerely wanted to prove himself as the best. He also wanted to prove that he can give both a good show and emerge victorious at the same time.

And when he lost, he showed his usual sportsmanship by sincerely congratulating his opponent but firm enough to share his side of the story (of course the man has the right to believe he won!).

On a final note

This is why we all love Pacquiao, no matter how many times he will lose his fights. We all like him for what he has done, and what he continues to represents.

At work or in life, we all wish we can leave a legacy as big as Pacquiao did. Not because we’re simply good at what we do, but because the most fulfilling thing to do is to consciously share what we’re good at.

To engage Jonathan for organisational work in your organisation, email us at training@leaderonomics.com. For more Career Advice articles, click here.

Reposted with permission on Leaderonomics.com.

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Jonathan is the winner of The Apprentice Asia and is currently based in Kuala Lumpur as the managing director of The JY Ventures & Consultancy. He is also an author of the book From Grit to Great, and a Leaderonomics faculty partner.

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