The rule of thumb in boxing is that after the first time a fighter quits it becomes easier for that fighter to quit in the future. Boxers learn how to give up. After they have dealt with the public chastising once it is easier to do so a second time.
Boxing history is littered with fighters who either learned to quit or learned to stop fighting to win. Oscar de la Hoya was suddenly able to be outworked over the second half of a fight after he decided to retreat against Felix Trinidad. Acelino Freitas learned to quit after his fights against Diego Corrales and Juan Diaz, two men who made careers of out-willing their opponents. The less said about Andrew Golota’s ability to leave a fight the better.
There are numerous other examples.
While this is the general rule, there are fighters who go the opposite direction. There are fighters who so hate the questioning of their heart that they become stronger and re-dedicate themselves to never backing down. Following is a list of notable fighters who quit once and then showed exceptional willpower in subsequent fights.
As a side note: Referencing de la Hoya, Freitas or Golota as having quit a fight is by no means meant to infer that they are in any way cowards. Any individual willing to step into a boxing ring against the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Corrales or Lennox Lewis cannot be deemed a coward.
Also, James "Buster" Douglas is not included in this list. Although he came back from previously quitting to famously upset Mike Tyson, the change in character did not last.
Victor Ortiz appeared to quit against Marcos Maidana when Maidana successfully turned the tide of the fight to his favor. Then Ortiz told everyone he quit in the post-fight interview.
Prior to the Madiana match, Ortiz was seen as a budding superstar. His good looks, entertaining style and emotional personal history had people heralding him as the second coming of Oscar de la Hoya.
Immediately following the fight and the even more damning post-fight interview, Ortiz’s status plummeted and most fans and writers wrote him off as another overhyped hopeful. Ortiz was seen as nothing more than a front-runner—a boxer that started strong but faded when the going got tough.
Then came the Andre Berto fight.
While Ortiz started aggressive and strong against Berto, this did little to change his reputation. What did change his reputation was the sixth round when everything went wrong and Ortiz did not quit.
In the sixth round, Berto found his range and was able to slow the pace of the fight. A perfect right-hand counter floored Ortiz and Berto followed this with numerous heavy punches that had the referee closely watching Ortiz’s condition. Suddenly, with seconds left in the round Ortiz stepped forward with a solid left that froze Berto before landing a second left that put Berto down and evened the round.
From that moment forward in the fight it seemed as though something had changed in Ortiz. Instead of tiring and seeming to question himself, Ortiz remained aggressive and controlled the geography of the fight by staying in Berto’s chest. During the last few rounds it was Berto, not Ortiz, who was looking at the clock during clenches, waiting for the fight to end.
Vitali Klitschko had shown a lot of promise early in his career as a large boxer with a strong amateur pedigree. He was someone who was being watched carefully as he rose the heavyweight ranks. This was until he fought Chris Byrd and quit in the ninth round.
Klitschko had injured his shoulder while missing the elusive Byrd and felt he was potentially putting his career at risk by continuing to use it. The boxing world saw things differently as they watched Klitschko, who was ahead on the scorecards, quit at the end of a fight against a man several inches shorter and numerous pounds heavier. That Byrd was never known as a hard puncher made Klitschko’s decision to not continue even worse.
This all changed one night against heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.
Lewis was at the end of his career and had seemingly lost his dedication to training when he met Klitschko but he was no less dangerous. Klitschko badly hurt Lewis early in the fight with straight rights. Suddenly, during Round 3, Lewis fought his back into the fight by opening a horrific gash over Klitschko’s left eye, then made a second smaller one under the same eye and finally tore Klitschko’s lip.
As with the Byrd fight, Klitschko was again stopped due to injuries. There would be one significant difference though. Klitschko was forced to stop and vehemently protested the stoppage, insisting he could still fight.
While fans were swayed at the image of a bloody Klitschko demanding to continue, what is lost is that in addition to the cuts, Klitschko had himself begun to take heavy punishment during the boxing match. Lewis had landed an uppercut reminiscent of the one that had destroyed the career of Michael Grant and Klitschko had still refused to go down.
In Zaire, Africa, George Foreman was out-talked, outfought and outwitted by Muhammad Ali. The buildup to the knockout in the fight referred to as the Rumble in the Jungle is well documented and well remembered. What people often forget is that following the clean right hand that put Foreman on the canvas, he had actually made it to his feet prior to the referee counting to 10 and waiving off the fight.
However, Foreman did not protest. Instead he went meekly to his corner, head hung low. Had he insisted to the referee that he was ready to continue, the fight might not have been stopped but Foreman was too beaten mentally in addition to physically to continue.
Foreman had quit.
Foreman promised himself that he would never quit again, proving it in a violent slugfest with Ron Lyle, but quitting was not his problem—starting was. Foreman had lost his confidence to throw punches like he meant them and to be a dominating force. After a surprise upset loss, Foreman faded into obscurity.
Years later, Foreman would return to boxing armed with time that allowed him to clear his head and regain confidence. Foreman had lost speed and mobility during retirement but had become a complete fighter mentally as he had gained a belief in himself.
This change in character was on display as Foreman moved from sideshow attraction to legitimate heavyweight contender. However, it was against heavyweight champion Michael Moorer that Foreman proved his mettle.
Over 10 rounds, Moorer gave Foreman a one-sided beating. Foreman did not quit though, nor did he deviate from his belief that if he could move Moorer into his right hand he could knock him out. Moorer fought a nearly perfect fight until he made his first and last mistake, resulting in Foreman winning by knockout and becoming the oldest man to win the heavyweight title.