Mayweather: The Art and Mastery of the Mental Game


Word out of Vegas is that Floyd Mayweather Jr. is focused in a manner even those who work with him would admit is extraordinary. Considered by many to be not only the best pound-for-pound boxer today, Mayweather takes it to the next level in claiming to be, with apologies to Muhammad Ali, “the best ever.” This greatness, objective observers will readily admit, not only applies to the art that is the Mayweather skill-set, but includes his complete mastery of the mental game. It is the mental game that is, according to the great fighters of the past and present, the more compelling and difficult aspect of the fight game. Interview past Mike Tyson victims for example, and to a person, they will wax poetic about the profound effects of fear and the importance of managing thoughts and controlling emotions.

While Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach claims that Mayweather is self-trained, having never been formally trained in the technical aspects of the game, he does admit that Mayweather is gifted beyond measure. Roach’s reference to formal training is a direct allusion to Mayweather’s seemingly inborn and untaught gift for executing movement, punches, angles and a quality of defense that is not only rarely ever seen, it is literally never seen outside of a Mayweather performance. While Money May’s boxing ability is indeed the stuff of legend, it pales when compared to his stand-alone mastery of the mental aspects of the game.

What most observers and fans are not aware of is that Mayweather has mastered what is otherwise referred to as neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). While he is not formally educated in the scientific/academic aspects of same, he is clearly one of its greatest practitioners. When Mayweather boasts that he is “the best ever,” he is modeling NLP for all the world to see. NLP consists quite simply in immersing oneself in the language of not only the positive, as many motivational speakers preach, but a scientifically-informed quality of self-talk and communication that allows him to do and be whatever he so chooses and what others can only dream of, much less accomplish. Motivational speakers will tell a person that he or she “can do this,” or that they “can be that,” while the science of NLP declares that it is entirely possible for a person to “be this” or “be that” in the “here and now.”

For Mayweather and other practitioners and athletes predisposed in the art and mastery of the mental game, this distinction is critical as the brain, at its primitive (instinctual) level, does not employ higher critical-thinking strategies like analysis and discernment, it simply buys into whatever propositional truth statement it is presented with. That is, when an athlete is told that he or she “cannot,” or becomes unsure of competitive success, the brain/mind does not challenge or dissect the negative assertion, rather, it accepts the truth statement as the ultimate truth and responds accordingly. That selfsame athlete however, when introduced to a positive affirmation or propositional truth statement, likewise responds as it if were true. The primitive brain does not differentiate between fantasy and reality, right or wrong, truth verses error –  it simply acts on the truth presented.

NLP exploits this phenomenon and uses it for positive, progressive purposes. When the formal school of psychology, for example, discovers that the adult mind, when presented with a perfectly viable opportunity regularly, will eight times out of ten sabotage it through negative self-talk, it is telling not just the athlete, but human-kind generally, that it needs to challenge the cultural and societal-based negativity that informs it, and counter it by changing the nature and quality of self and other-talk, replacing them with positive, affirmative language. In general terms, studies indicate that from the point of birth throughout a given life span, most people’s communications are primarily not only negative, but defeatist in nature, but that this does not need to continue if it is challenged appropriately. There is too much, studies suggest, in the way of cannot, will not, not good enough, never will be, etc., especially for athletes in the field of competition.

NLP is simply turning the negative “cannot” statement into not just a “can do’ statement, but an “I am” propositional truth statement. That is, as one imagines the thing he or she wants to be, instead of declaring that one “wants” to be this or that, as many motivational speakers teach, one must simply declare “I am,” then fill in the blanks. The mind, when left to its own devices, will then accommodate the truth statement and work, on both an unconscious and conscious level, to make the “I am” truth a reality. This then leads to what is referred to as the Pygmalion Effect, or self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, if one imagines it, exercises faith in it, modifies one’s behavior to accommodate it and demonstrates courage in the conviction, then whatever follows the “I am” declaration will not be a matter of wish, but a matter of time. Great athletes like Mayweather incorporate this “I am” self-talk and utilize it as a part of their training strategy.

Mayweather, for all his apparent braggadocio, ego and “best ever” rhetoric, is simply declaring to a sometimes incredulous world what he has known from his earliest days; indeed, something his father and the Mayweather family have preached from the beginning. That is, “as a man thinketh in his heart so is he.” The brilliance of Mayweather is less the physical and technical, but rather the mind of a man who has willed himself into a quality of greatness that few, saving perhaps Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson, have ever known.

While much can be and will be said of his rather unsavory lifestyle and bristly personality, it is likewise true that Mayweather has no peer in the art and mastery of the mental game. That is, until one configures into the equation one Manny Pacquiao, whose mental game, it can be argued, is likewise legendary. While Mayweather insiders continue to claim extraordinary focus, recent events and the prospects of a determined Pacquiao may well test this mastery. Indeed, many are suggesting that with the prospects of a May 2 battle with Pacquiao, one of the greats of his generation, the Mayweather art and mastery of the mental game will be sorely tested. For those interested in the high stakes mental game, May 2 cannot come soon enough.

Commentary By Matthew R. Fellows

Cayman Compass
Fight Saga
Tha Boxing Voice

Photo By: Randy OHC Flickr License

18 Responses to "Mayweather: The Art and Mastery of the Mental Game"

  1. mario   March 24, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    I am” is a very powerful statement mental game. This will be a challenge on may 2.

  2. Paul Newman   March 24, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Wow, great article. Finally something different in terms of boxing journalism

  3. Kelvin   March 24, 2015 at 4:57 am

    Mayweather is the best,haters could hate him as much as they want,the guy is a master in his trade and has re-written the history books.

    • Mo Thomas   March 24, 2015 at 11:07 am

      Yup and after Floyd beat manny its gonna be a million and one excuses like it always is.

  4. Jehovahnissi7   March 24, 2015 at 4:12 am

    I agree. Mental game is part and parcel of the sweet science and plays a significant role in winning. Suffice to say most fights are won mentally prior to the fighting day.

  5. Thomas McNeill   March 24, 2015 at 3:19 am

    The art boxing to is to figure how to beat your opponent ,and actually do it every time!

  6. Chenequaferguson   March 24, 2015 at 2:37 am

    Thanks for sharing this article. I believe it just changed my life.

  7. Jesús Pimentel   March 23, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    Interesting and thought-provoking article. In boxing, the mental aspect is as important, if not more important, than boxing ability. The two go together like PB&J. My concern for Mayweather is if he lets outside influences, those saying ‘he’s scared’ or that Pacquiao will beat him, overwhelm his mental state. It’s been 6 years of the same thing, and you have to believe Mayweather is tired of it. Though, as a counter argument, I’d like to mention a truth this article failed to liberate–that external negativity can be an incredible fuel for productivity and success in terms of motivation. I think May 2nd we’ll see either a fascinating and perfectly focused Mayweather with a chip on his shoulder, or a try-hard Mayweather who doesn’t land enough punches.

  8. kshel   March 23, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    It sure helps that he’s undefeated. Mayweather’s coping mechanism is not so uncommon as a child of poverty who envisioned himself as the greatest.(fill in the blank) ever. Society tells these kids not to be braggarts or think too highly of themselves. Generally they grow up in a world in which they must overcompensate for a lack of opportunity, unstable family structure, or a host of other negative self-identifying character traits. More times than not, someone better tempers their talk of being the greatest, or a set of life choices that seem to only offer the alternatives of bad options or worse. The Mayweather miracle is not that he can speak his positives into realty, but the fact that he has never allowed himself to have a bad night in the ring relative to the performance of his opponent. To say that he is the best (ever) is nothing if he is constantly losing (and even one loss makes the claim tenuous). Mayweather says what he says simply because no one has ever been able to prove otherwise (as far as the judges’ score cards are concerned). If he beats Pacquiao, it will be because of the work and commitment he has applied to being at the top of his craft. Let’s not gloss over that minor detail. And if he loses, then its all just talk anyway.

  9. Manny   March 23, 2015 at 2:44 am

    Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted come May 2nd, God willing!

  10. wbox   March 22, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    this fight smells TOILET

  11. Nazareno   March 22, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    I think both fighters have mastered mental game strategy. The only thing here is the article expounded more on the Mayweather side while the author forgot to explore the psychological analysis of Pacquiao technique and skills. If mental game of talking to himself and fixing and changing the tactics while on top of the ring that is always seen among the seasoned fighters but not enough to claim the best ever title. I would say that Mayweather defensive technique is his style and he perfected it and it is given. If a fighter like Pacquiao can neutralize Mayweather style and sustain his offense and defense to confuse him most likely his rhythm will be out of tune. Remember, how Pacquiao remained focus and with reflexes varied one round after the other throughout his match with Hatton, de la Hoya and Margarito where Pacquiao punching power found their marks.

  12. royclosa   March 22, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    Self-talk brings the allusion that you are what you are not. Come May 2, the first punch that hits Floyd will change all the self-talk. RUN, RUN FLOYD !!!

  13. BongB   March 22, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    This just means that FMJ is upping his game level because of the type of competition is about to face. He knows that Pacman is no walk in the park for him.

  14.   March 22, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    Manny was fighting for survival growing up. He probably was chopping wood as a kid to use it for cooking. There’s nothing Floyd can do to intimidate him. Manny has been playing with house money ever since he made more than $100 from fighting.

  15. Deogracias M. de Leon, Jr   March 22, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    very well said, Pacman is not awed by FMJ’s money, legacy, nor clout.On May 2, he has to prove everything he says, with the Pac refuting each point. he is not scared of losing, he risk to win. and to win against FMJ is to try everything. wish manny the best of luck.hope he ends this man’s bad will on boxing for good.
    god be with you, Pacman!

  16. Gregg p. Bautista   March 22, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    May 2, 2015: The Nightmare of Mayweather…

  17. ben victoria   March 22, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    All these mental/psychological games has no effect on Manny Pacquiao who is known to have no respect to whoever his opponent no matter how great and big they are like de la hoya, cotto margarito etc. so expect this fight to end like the aforementioned three, or worse a KO.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.