Mother’s Love: A Fighter’s Motivation

There’s nothing like a mother’s love to drive a fighter towards their ring goals and career dreams.

This Mother’s Day, look back at eight unique stories of how a fighter’s mother has inspired and motivated them to boxing success.

Oscar De La Hoya

An emotional Oscar De La Hoya dedicated his Olympic success to his late mother (Image: Associated Press).

Two years before the 1992 Olympic Games, Oscar De La Hoya’s mother Cecilia sadly passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. She was the future boxing superstar’s most cherished person; one whose belief in him would fuel his pursuit of glory.

It was her dream to see her son win an Olympic Gold medal, which pushed the future ‘Golden Boy’ to achieve that feat for her. His mother’s fight with cancer became his biggest inspiration in life, propelling him to claim Gold medal success in Barcelona and fulfil her dying wish.

A decade on from his mother’s death, then a professional world champion and former Olympic Gold medallist, De La Hoya opened the Cecilia Gonzalez De La Hoya Cancer Center in East Los Angeles dedicated to cancer treatment in her honour.

Buster Douglas

It was the devastating loss of a mother that would help inspire the greatest upset ever in boxing. In 1990, Buster Douglas earned the highest point of his career but it came just weeks after the lowest in his life.

In Tokyo, Japan, Douglas shocked the world as he knocked out the previously undefeated and seemingly unstoppable Mike Tyson to become the new world heavyweight champion. While he had enough within himself to pull off a seismic upset, Douglas was struggling inside.

Just weeks prior to the bout, his mother Lula suffered a stroke and passed away at just 46. "She was telling her friends before she passed that I was gonna win. Mom’s intuition," stated Douglas. "I got a call that she was going to the hospital. When I got over there, she had already passed.

"There were times when I was training, I’d break down. After the workout, I would go into the locker room and my trainer came in there and I’d have the towel over my head and he’d be talking to me. Then when he pulled the towel off, he saw I was just bawling."

Despite his pain, Douglas used his mother as inspiration to achieve one of the most famous victories in sporting history.

Joe Gans

The legendary Joe Gans was motivated by a telegraph from his mother.

In the lead up to the original ‘Fight of the Century’ in 1906, lightweight legend Joe Gans would receive some helpful motivation from his mother ahead of an incredible 42-round battle with ‘Battling’ Nelson.

Prior to the bout, ‘The Old Master’ was sent a wired message from his mother which urged him to "bring back the bacon", to which he telegraphed her back that he would be "bringing the bacon and lots of gravy."

Not only did Gans, boxing’s first-ever African-American world champion, 'bring back the bacon' with a victory over his rival but his mother’s encouragement later became a popularised phrase in modern culture.

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson grew up surrounded by strong women in his life (Image: Library of Congress).

The iconic Jack Johnson shared a very close relationship with his mother; one that would help him at times of need during his rise to prominence as the first-ever black world heavyweight champion in history.

Someone to turn to for comfort, ahead of his high-profile defeat and loss of his crown to Jess Willard in 1915, Johnson telegraphed his mum to say, "I am tired of knocking around." A hint towards his eventual downfall in the ring and the years of running from the law abroad.

Tina ‘Tiny’ Johnson was a former slave who raised the future heavyweight ruler alongside eight other children, while working as a janitor and dishwasher to support them and put them through school.

Being surrounded by so many strong women in his family, with his two older sisters and grandma helping his mother raise him too, Johnson’s foundations were laid from a young age to go on and stand up for his beliefs inside and outside of the ring.

Max Baer

Max Baer's mother helped him on his way to a boxing career (Image: Associated Press).

Before ever becoming world heavyweight champion in 1935, Max Baer was steered towards a life in the ring by the passion his mother had for boxing.

His mother, Dora, spoke of how the future champion would come home with his pockets torn out from bullies he was afraid of and too timid to stand up to. "Now son, you have to go out there and stick up for yourself," she told him, as he eventually gained the courage to fight back.

When Baer was little his mother also admitted to dressing him and his brother Buddy up in sparring gear at home for both "amusement" and to help learn the sport. It was here that the seed was planted for a boxing career, as Baer carried on from his mother’s early teachings to become heavyweight king.

Canelo Alvarez

Pound-for-pound star Canelo Alvarez shares a touching moment with his mother.

The support and pride of a mother can go a long way in helping a fighter achieve greatness. Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez has benefited from exactly that in some of the biggest fights of his illustrious career to date.

Regularly at ringside, his mother passionately cheers on her son with a deep emotional connection to all of his fights. In the pound-for-pound number one’s first clash with rival Gennadiy Golovkin, his mother shouted from ringside, "You’ll pay for that GGG. You know that you got your ass kicked!"

Canelo has benefited from the close support of his mother his entire career, having turned professional at the age of just 15, with the Mexican now a four-weight world champion and one of his country's greatest ever fighters.

Anthony Joshua

Despite being the mother of a former world heavyweight champion, Yeta Odusanya can rarely attend the high-profile showdowns her son Anthony Joshua is involved in.

While the ringside action is too much to deal with, admitting she had only attended a couple of his bouts because it’s "too emotional", she supports his career through their close relationship.

Their bond was shown in 2017 when, after overcoming Wladimir Klitschko in a mammoth pay-per-view heavyweight title clash, ‘AJ’ opted to move back into his mother’s north London council flat.

She was made aware of what was ahead for her son from early on, stating: "I remember one of the trainers dropped him off at home and said , ‘You know what mum, your son is gonna be a world champion one day.'"

Charlie and Sunny Edwards

Charlie Edwards celebrates his world title win with his mother (Image: Matchroom).

Two brothers have used their mother’s courageous battle with illness as motivation and inspiration to go on and reach the pinnacle in boxing. Both Charlie and Sunny Edwards have become world champions but it’s their mum Terry who showed the heart and grit that pushed them towards success.

For years, Charlie Edwards had been driven by the promise he had made to his mother to become world champion. He did exactly that in 2018 and poignantly dedicated his victory to her.

"Before she got ill, she said to me, ‘Promise how bad it gets for me, you’ll keep on boxing and one day you’ll be world champion’. That’s always stuck with me and even now gives me goosebumps," said Edwards.

Three years later, younger brother Sunny was also crowned world champion as well, as both siblings realised their mother’s dream.



Header image: Associated Press