No Mas – when is it quitting time?
Roberto Duran is widely regarded as one of the toughest and greatest fighters of all time. Duran literally fought his way out of the slums to become a national hero in his native Panama. Nicknamed “hands of stone,” he won 30 fights in a row to start his professional career and was known as a brawler with a brash style and devastating power. Duran never backed down from a fight or an opponent, until one day, he did.
While Roberto Duran is considered by Ring Magazine to be one of the top 5 professional boxers of the past 80 years, he is perhaps best known for committing the greatest sin a fighter can perpetrate – quitting. In 1980, during the middle of a welterweight title fight with the great Sugar Ray Leonard, Duran suddenly quit in the 8th round of the fight. After being taunted by Leonard and unable to handle his speed, Duran abruptly stopped fighting, simply saying, “No mas.”
In some ways Duran has never out lived down this black mark on an otherwise storied career. In other ways though, Duran’s infamous act is compelling to many as it’s something we all face sooner or later – the notion of quitting. Many of us tend to think of quitting in unfavorable terms, conjuring up harsh words such as spineless and cowardly. Calling someone a quitter is synonymous with calling them a loser. We applaud the fighter who gets back up and the boxer who’s on the ropes and battles back. Conversely we hold disdain for the fighter who throws in the towel. But though the word quit carries with it a stigma and a negative connotation, it's not that cut and dry.
In fact in taking a closer look at the origin of the word quit, the Middle English meaning of quit (te) means exempt, freed, and acquitted of. The Latin meaning of quittare is to release, discharge, and put to rest. These descriptives hardly sound like the unheroic meaning of quit that many of us are accustomed to. After all, quitters never win and winners never quit…right?
As someone who boxed for years, I‘ve always relished the notion of courage as a difference maker. While in many other endeavors, natural talent seems to reign supreme, in boxing, ‘heart’ matters immensely and at least as much as talent. If you’re willing to stand and fight, odds are you’ll be a tough opponent. That attitude always served me in martial arts schools and in boxing rings, not to mention other arenas of life. I’ve always thought of myself as resilient and scrappy. Though I got my ass handed to me much of the time in boxing, I wasn’t going to back down. With such an attitude, the concept of quitting seemed reprehensible to me until I found out the hard way that quitters don’t always lose and you’re not always a loser if you quit.
Following my divorce, I felt like such a failure for throwing in the towel and quitting after making a commitment before God and family. I had never felt such shame and embarrassment, until someone who helped me through the process reminded me that quitting isn’t always cowardly, while fighting isn’t always courageous. In fact, in lose-lose situations, in situations of abuse and trauma, and in scenarios where we’ve done our best – ‘quitting’ can be perhaps the bravest thing you can do.
Every day, people wake up and change their lives. They decide to never take a drink again. They quit cigarettes, soda, or destructive relationships. Some of these battles we fight gallantly while others we simply quit and/or walk away. But being the bigger man is not about the willingness to never back down, it’s about having the guts to know when your body, mind, or heart has had enough. Facing yourself after a tumultuous loss shows far more toughness than taking more abuse and punishment. All of us have things in our lives that don’t serve us – toxic things and toxic people. The most courageous thing we can say to them is “no mas.”