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Blog : David vs Goliath


David vs Goliath

Jon Reed takes some lessons from the boxing ring.

I'm not a huge boxing fan, but I got completely immersed in the build up to the David Haye Vs Nicolai Valuev Boxing Match that took place in Germany earlier this month.

David Haye - a 6ft 2", 15 stone former Cruiserweight Champion from East London - had given up his title in pursuit of his dream to become the Heavyweight Champion and was coming up against the 'beast from the east'; Nicolai Valuev who stood 11 inches taller and weighed in at a massive 23 stone.

Most people believe there was nothing mythical about this fight and that a working title of David Vs Goliath was merely a marketers dream come true. However, maybe the fight did have one or two resemblances to the mythical tale and maybe that's what helped to spur 'David' on.

My interest is this came when I saw the two boxers face up many months earlier at a press conference. As a sports fan and a fairly typical Brit, I do love an underdog. Not many people gave David Haye much of a chance to even reach Valuev, let alone keep him quiet for 12 rounds of 3 minutes and apply enough pressure to dethrone the Russian.

The build up was exciting, and watching David Haye taunt and tease the Russian added to the tension. Then fight night came and it was one of the least entertaining, yet most satisfying boxing matches I'd ever witnessed. For 12 rounds Haye danced around the ring with his smaller frame literally dwarfed by Valuev. However, he didn't give Valuev any opportunity to impose himself or enough time to do Haye any damage. It seemed Haye had decided to focus on his fitness and his brain, rather than just his ability to box.

Haye landed no more than 50 punches in the 12 rounds (the average would be 200+) and did very little boxing in favour of dancing around and waiting for his opportunities with which to attack Valuev.

Valuev just didn't know what to do and having chased David Haye around the ring for 12 rounds was obviously tired and devoid of ideas. The commentators were brandishing the fight as poor - highlighting how little boxing had actually taken place.

Then in the 12th round it was almost as though David Haye suddenly woke up, realised he had to do something or he might not win this fight. Half way through the round he manoeuvred himself into position and landed a combination of shots that shook the weary Valuev and nearly brought him to his knees. Although the huge Russian did not tumble, the sight of his legs trembling gave Haye confidence and highlighted to all commentators and judges just how intelligent Haye's approach had been.

Haye went on to win the fight and win the WBA Heavyweight Championship Belt. This was a crazy night of boxing and I would imagine a very satisfactory night for the bookmakers! The unbelievable had been achieved and 'David', with his 8 stone weight and 11 inch height disadvantage, had overcome his 'Goliath'.

As I reflected on how this had happened, I thought about how David's strategy was one that many successful entrepreneurs and goal focused people use to their benefit everyday:

Focus on the goal

David Haye had the dream of becoming the Heavyweight champion of the world since age eleven and had worked towards this dream since that time. All the fights along the way were the steps to achieve this main goal. Most successful business people adopt that same mentality - if they want IT enough they usually achieve IT. And that is done through breaking down the goal into steps, and remaining focused on the outcome.

Strategy and tactics

David Haye knew he couldn't compete for size or weight so rather than focus on areas he couldn't impact, he focused on what he could do to win the fight. He played the fight out in his head and kept to his plan. Isn't it often the case that business people focus on problems/barriers whereas Haye's focus was purely on what he could do, not what he couldn't. Have a plan that plays to your strengths.

Invest in the right areas

David invested in two key areas to achieve his goal: 1. He invested heavily on his training camp, his trainers, and equipment. 2. He brought in tall sparring partners to train with in order to prepare for the fight... Investing both time and money in the right places is imperative for smaller companies and individuals in order to reach their goal.


Haye believed in his ability and was so confident that some felt he was over confident. Prior to the fight he said "I've never been in the ring with an opponent - amateur, sparring, or as a pro, who hasn't respected my punching power. I've floored top heavyweights in the gym and in the ring, and none of them can ever believe how hard I punch for a smaller guy." Even when others doubted him, he had unwavering belief in himself. In business having unfaltering belief is like fuel that keeps the fire going. The difference between successful and non-successful people is surely how well they keep their fire burning, regardless of knock backs.

Planning and Flexibility

In round three Haye broke his hand having connected with Valuev and therefore had to change his game plan for the remainder of the fight. Haye had is contingency plan and switched to it effortlessly to win the fight. I wonder when the pressure is on, how many organisations have a 'plan B' they can switch to.

So David really did overcome Goliath and much like the mythical story, David stepped up and rather than accepting any armour (or any new fighting style), he used what he had (which in Haye's case was his brain rather than brawn) and with practise and a defined strategy overcame Goliath.

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