Everybody Has Plans Until They Get Hit for the First Time

Mike Tyson? Joe Louis? Helmuth von Moltke the Elder? Fair Play? Walter Payton? Mike Lupica? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The opponent of a well-known boxing champion stated that he had a plan to win an upcoming match. The champion replied with a caustic dismissive remark. Here are four versions:

(1) Everybody has plans until they get hit for the first time.
(2) Everyone has a game plan until they get hit.
(3) Everybody has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth.
(4) Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Would you please help me to locate a citation and identify the two boxers involved?

Quote Investigator: In August 1987 the Associated Press news service published a piece about a boxing match planned for October in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Tyrell Biggs says he has a plan to beat heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. But the man they call “Iron Mike” is not impressed.

“Everybody has plans until they get hit for the first time,” Tyson said.

QI believes that professional boxer Mike Tyson should receive credit for this remark. The phrasing has evolved over time. Thanks to researcher Barry Popik who found the above citation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The notion that the first contact between opposing forces throws all plans into disarray has a long history. In 1871 Prussian military strategist Helmuth von Moltke the Elder wrote an essay containing a pertinent statement. Here is an excerpt in German followed by an English translation: 2

Kein Operationsplan reicht mit einiger Sicherheit über das erste Zusammentreffen mit der feindlichen Hauptmacht hinaus.

No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main enemy forces.

A concise version of this guidance became popular in the twentieth century: No plan survives first contact with the enemy. A separate article about this saying is available here.

In 1926 a thematic precursor appeared in an article by pseudonymous sports journalist “Fair Play” who discussed the career of boxer Tiger Flowers. The pugilist won praise by quickly knocking out fighter Johnny Wilson. Unfortunately, during a subsequent match Flowers was hit hard by his opponent, and he was unable to recover: 3

Flowers is a pleasing fighter and he is both spectacular and clever—until he gets hit upon the chin.

The Tigah looked like a million dollars against Johnny Wilson; his quick knockout of the former boss of the middle weight put him up among the serious contenders for Greb’s crown. Then along came Jack Delaney and knocked the man-eating tiger into a cocked-hat in no time.

In August 1987 Mike Tyson delivered the memorable line when discussing the strategy of his upcoming opponent Tyrell Biggs as mentioned previously in this article:

“Everybody has plans until they get hit for the first time,” Tyson said.

In October 1987 news reports before the bout ascribed a shorter version of the line to Mike Tyson: 4

. . . Tyson is 31-0 and the overwhelming favorite to be 32-0. He takes all the doubting in stride, and dismisses Biggs’s fight plan as prefight hype. “Everybody has plans until they get hit,” Tyson said.

In November 1987 U.S. football player Walter Payton attributed the saying to Tyson: 5

Even after Dennis Gentry’s 88-yard touchdown run got the Bears back in it, 14-7, Chicago still had to throw. “As Mike Tyson said last week, everybody has a game plan, until he gets hit,” Payton said.

In February 1988 journalist Mike Lupica in “Esquire” magazine attributed an instance to Tyson: 6

Biggs was supposed to use his reach against Tyson, keep the jab in the smaller man’s face. That was the plan. But as Tyson says, “Everybody has a plan until they’re hit.”

In 2003 the “Lansing State Journal” of Michigan presented a version using the phrase “punched in the face” as an anonymous boxing adage 7

A bit of boxing wisdom says everyone has a plan – until they get punched in the face.

In 2004 a columnist in a Dayton, Ohio newspaper printed a version with the phrase “punched in the mouth”: 8

Heavy-handed champion boxers like to say this about their opponents, especially those quick of foot: Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

In 2008 a columnist in the “St. Louis Jewish Light” of Missouri attributed the saying to the famous boxer Joe Louis who had died in 1981: 9

Louis, labeled the “Brown Bomber”, had a six inch paralyzing left hook and a devastating right hand. Two of his quotes: “He can run, but he can’t hide”, and “Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit”, are well known.

In 2012 sports journalist Mike Berardino of the “South Florida Sun Sentinel” asked Mike Tyson about the origin of the quotation: 10

“People were asking me [before a fight], ‘What’s going to happen?,’” Tyson said. “They were talking about his style. ‘He’s going to give you a lot of lateral movement. He’s going to move, he’s going to dance. He’s going to do this, do that.’ I said, ‘Everybody has a plan until they get hit. Then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze.’”

In conclusion, QI believes that this saying should be ascribed to Mike Tyson. The phrasing in August 1987 appears to be the earliest. Many versions have proliferated over time, and Tyson may have used the saying on multiple occasions. The linkage to Joe Louis occurred rather late, and it is not well supported.

Image Notes: Public domain illustration of boxing gloves from geralt at Pixabay. Image has been cropped, resized, and retouched.

(Great thanks to James Callan, Ryan Rice, and Roy Allen whose comments and inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Many thanks to Barry Popik for his pioneering research on this topic. Additional thanks to Eric Columbus and Daniel Radosh who pointed to the 2012 article in the “South Florida Sun Sentinel”.)

Notes:

  1. 1987 August 19, Oroville Mercury-Register, Biggs has plans for Tyson (Associated Press), Quote Page 1B, Column 2, Oroville, California. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1900, Moltkes Militärische Werke: II. Die Thätigkeit als Chef des Generalstabes der Armee im Frieden. (Moltke’s Military Works: II. Activity as Chief of the Army General Staff in Peacetime) Zweiter Theil (Second Part), Aufsatz vom Jahre 1871 Ueber Strategie (Article from 1871 on strategy), Start Page 287, Quote Page 291, Publisher: Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn, Berlin, Germany. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1926 January 18, Ithaca Journal-News, Greb Prepared To Clash With Tiger Flowers by Fair Play (Special to The Journal-News), Quote Page 11, Column 4, Ithaca, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1987 October 16, The Record, Champ Tyson faces doubters in first defense (Continuation title: TYSON: Champ unamused) by John Rowe ( Record Staff Writer), Start Page E1, Quote Page E3, Column 4 and 5, Hackensack, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1987 November 2, The Washington Post, McMahon Puts Bears Past Chiefs by Michael Wilbon (Washington Post Staff Writer), Start Page B1, Quote Page B4, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)
  6. 1988 February 1, Esquire, Volume 109, Number 2, The Sporting Life: The Brawling Existentialist by Mike Lupica (Columnist for New York Daily News), Start Page 55, Quote Page 57, Published by Esquire Associates, New York. (Classic Esquire Archive Online; accessed August 25, 2021)
  7. 2003 January 28, Lansing State Journal, Izzo facing toughest test by Todd Schulz, Quote Page C1, Lansing, Michigan. (ProQuest)
  8. 2004 February 25, Dayton Daily News, Bull’s-eye squarely on Hawks’ backs by Dave Lance, Quote Page C1, Column 2, Dayton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 2008 March 19, St. Louis Jewish Light, Inside Sports by Skip Erwin, Quote Page 19, Column 5, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  10. Website: South Florida Sun Sentinel, Article title: Mike Tyson explains one of his most famous quotes, Article author: Mike Berardino, Date on website: November 9, 2012 , Website description: Newspaper from Tribune Publishing which covers Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. (Accessed sun-sentinel.com on August 25, 2021) link