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

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Photo By: Randy OHC Flickr License

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