Meet Maurice “Termite” Watkins

Rock Bottom and Back™–From Desperation to Inspiration

Stories of Hope

In American culture, sports figures are often idolized—placed on a pedestal and expected to perform at their highest level at all times, professionally and personally. In some cases, that pedestal can become an overwhelming burden. Trying to live up to the expectations of others and to an image created by the media can be a source of incredible stress to those who strive to be the best in their chosen sport. For some, like Maurice “Termite” Watkins, one failure in an otherwise stellar career can be the catalyst for rock bottom.

By the time he was sixteen, Termite had made a name for himself as the National Golden Gloves champion in the welterweight division. His father, worried about Termite’s propensity for fighting neighborhood children, had pushed his son into boxing at an early age with the hope that he could redirect Termite’s energies. His plan worked. Although Termite didn’t show a lot of technical ability early on, he could certainly take a punch. In fact, this stubborn young boy simply refused to fall to the mat, no matter how hard he was punched. This was a trait that would propel Termite to one of the biggest cards in boxing history.

On October 2, 1980, Termite fought Saoul Mamby in the junior welterweight division for the world championship. Termite didn’t know it at the time, but this night would go down in history. Also on the card were Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes. Ali lost what would become a career-ending fight.

Termite lost in a controversial decision. In the space of a few hours, two of America’s best boxers ended their careers.

For Termite, the loss was devastating. His 58-5-2 record with forty-eight knockouts didn’t matter. He had lost the most important fight of his life. He eventually fought a few more fights, but injuries forced his retirement at the age of twenty-six.

Starting over without boxing wasn’t easy, and Termite, haunted by his failure, eventually began using cocaine to mask his pain. Laughing with friends and recounting past victories was much easier when he was high. For the next five years, Termite spiraled downward until he hit bottom.

The imminent threat of losing his family forced Termite to reevaluate the way he was living. He quit using drugs and turned his life around. His willingness to help others would eventually take him to a war-torn country and then on to the Olympics.

Termite’s story shows that success can come through the most unexpected events, and that sometimes your own aspirations are not as important as what you do to help others achieve their dreams.

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