You could call a series of happy coincidences that lead to the creation of this blog post. First, my favourite litigator got himself interviewed in the mainstream media and was presented as a champion of underdogs. Then for some reason I decided to get onto youtube to watch “Tyson vs Lewis.” Both these events got me thinking about the concept of “underdogs.”
The concept of the “underdog” is a most curious one. On one hand, we all have an emotional pull towards supporting “underdogs.” However, when it comes to life, we often try our best to avoid being underdogs and move into situations where our success becomes a forgone conclusion.
I think of Singapore, the place I’ve called home for the last decade. On one hand, Singapore goes on and on about how it’s the perpetual “underdog” on the global scale. We are always the small island that wasn’t supposed to survive as an independent nation. Yet, if you look at the way Singapore is run, it’s all about BIG things – BIG GOVERNMENT AND BIG CORPORATIONS are, in practice, the only entities of significance in Singapore.
Anyway, I’ve spent the better part of a decade being an insignificant fly in this pool of people obsessed by “BIG” things. So, I figured that if there is topic that I am qualified to talk about, it is the topic of being successful despite being insignificant.
I think the key to success as an underdog is ‘self-belief.’ In order to succeed as underdog, you need to believe in yourself and you need to develop a healthy disregard for conventional perceptions of reality.
Let me clarify that there is a difference between having ‘self-belief’ and being “delusional.” I took karate at school (I was in fact the school captain). However, despite having some training in a martial art and being confident enough that when push comes to shove, I can handle myself in a fight, I’m not about to rush off and challenge Mike Tyson. That would be delusional and feeling Mike’s fist against my jaw would cure me of that pretty quickly.
Having ‘self-belief’ means that you recognize what you are and what you have. You recognize that you can’t win every battle but you can win others. A person with ‘self-belief’ creates situations where he or she can win.
One can see this when it comes to boxing. This is particularly true when you look at the career of Mike Tyson. In his heyday, Mike Tyson was considered an indestructible force of nature. Getting into the ring with Mike was as good as going into the ring against a tornado.
The beauty of Mike Tyson was a fighter was that his destruction of his opponents created a situation where people became terrified of him. I think of his 91 second demolition of Michael Spinks, who was in his own right, a decent fighter. How did Tyson win so easily? The answer was simple – Spinks was shitting in his pants the moment he stepped into the ring.
Tyson wasn’t the biggest fighter but he did have the biggest reputation. Many of Tyson’s opponents were superior physical specimens. Yet their physical strength was nothing when compared to Tyson’s reputation. Take Frank Bruno as an example. It was considered a major achievement for him to last five rounds the first time and nobody was terribly surprised that he got a three round hiding the second time they met. Frank Bruno was bigger and probably stronger than Mike Tyson. However, on the two occasions he got into the ring, he was shit scared of what Tyson would do to him.
His reign as heavy weight champion of the world ended when he ran into James Buster Douglas. The fight should have been a foregone conclusion. However, Douglas decided not to be intimidated and fought instead of rolling over. Hey presto – Mike Tyson got knocked out.
Latter on Tyson ran into Holyfield and much to everyone’s surprise, landed on his rear end. Then, came the fight with Lennox Lewis.
This was supposed to be the fight of all fights. Everyone expected Tyson to be at his ferocious best and would give Lennox the fight of his life. “Iron Mike” didn’t even come close to hurting Lennox. As one boxing commentator said, ‘The bad boy of boxing got a spanking from Lennox Lewis.”
How did Douglas, Holyfield and Lewis do it? I think all three men found the amazing ability to look beyond the reputation of Mike Tyson, understood what they had over him and used it to their advantage. They boxed in a way that suited them rather than Tyson. The Lewis fight was particularly instructional. Lennox was the bigger man so he used his jab. He never allowed Tyson to really get close to him. Then, when Tyson got tiered, Lewis demolished him.
Most of us tend to look at the obvious. It often becomes easy to become focused on what the other fellow has rather than on what you have. Let’s face it, gossip magazines that pry into the lives of the rich and famous would be thriving if human beings were not obsessed with other people.
While following gossip is good fun – it is a distraction. Checking out other people becomes a means in itself rather than an act to achieve an objective. Let’s face it, there would be a lot more fortunes in this world if ten percent of the people following gossip magazines about the rich and famous decided to focus on being rich and famous themselves.
We all have our talents as much as we have our weaknesses. Yet, despite this, many of us fail because we become so obsessed with everything else other than using what we have, that we end up going nowhere.
I stress again, self-belief is not fantasy. In order to be useful, it has to be based on reality. Let’s look at American military campaigns as an example. America has undoubtedly the most powerful military machine in the world. The American government spend more on developing its military than the rest of the G20 combined.
As such, the American military lives on Napoleon’s truism that “God is on the side of big battalions.” Simply put, no army in the world will ever be able to stand up to the force of the US military.
Yet, despite this, the Americans have got stuck in places like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The image of the “world’s strongest military” running away on top of its embassy in Saigon has become iconic.
What happened? The insurgents understood that they would NEVER beat the American military in a pitched battle. However, instead of being intimidated, they realized that they had certain advantages and played to them. The American military planners failed to realize that there were other battles other than the pitched ones that would become more important to the scheme of things.
American military planners in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have been focused on things like troop numbers and guns. The insurgents in these places were focused on ensuring their people had their support and that the American people would not support the military campaign. The insurgent movements have fought their battles in such a way where their own people would die for them, while the American people would be against whatever their own military did.
Take the “Tet Offensive” as an example. In strict military terms, the Americans won on the basis that they killed more of them enemy. However, this became the turning point against American military action in Vietnam because, it was the point where the American public lost its heart for the fight – Say what you like but it was a damn good move to get American soldiers appearing to gun down “innocent civilians” on American TV. For a nation that takes pride in its role as a guarantor of peace and stability (a beacon of all that’s good), this was a little bit too much to bear.
Underdogs are not delusional. They merely understand themselves and the situation beyond the “hype” and “expectation” of convention. They then play according to what they know they can do best at.