Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 2012 SNB Rankings Update

The big action in January occurred in the junior featherweight division, where Guillermo Rigondeaux knocked out Rico Ramos. As a result, Rigondeaux's strong performance leads to his reentrance in the SNB Rankings while Ramos exits. In addition, two young fighters, Kazuto Ioka (Japan) and Scott Quigg (England), make their debuts in the Rankings.

Elevated: Guillermo Rigondeaux Rigondeaux's decisive sixth-round knockout of Rico Ramos demonstrated the Cuban's skill and, more impressively, power. Ramos was never the same after a vicious first-round knockdown. Rigondeaux also exhibited some of the veteran tricks and maneuvers that will make him tough to beat in the pro ranks. Rigondeaux reenters the SNB Rankings in the Bubbling Under list.

Elevated: Kazuto Ioka The strawweight phenomenon from Japan one-upped Rigondeaux by winning a title belt in just his seventh pro fight; it took Rigondeaux nine fights to win his crown (boy, he's slacking). Unlike Rigondeaux (31), Ioka (22) is still a baby. Ioka has transitioned well to the pro style. He features power in both hands and excellent foot and hand speed. He enters the SNB Rankings in the Bubbling Under list.

Elevated: Scott Quigg Quigg has quietly built a name for himself in the U.K. He is heavy-handed, tough and has good boxing skills. He seems to get better with each fight. In a junior featherweight division loaded with big names, it will be interesting to see how aggressively Hatton Promotions decides to move him internationally. Irrespective of promotional maneuverings, Quigg is one to keep an eye on.  He debuts in the rankings in the Bubbling Under list. 

Demoted: Rico Ramos Ramos was overmatched physically, technically and psychologically against Rigondeaux. Ramos was gun-shy almost the entire fight and was afraid to let his hands go. Even though he had previously won a title belt, he demonstrated against Rigondeaux that he needs a lot of work to triumph at the world-class level. The Californian exits the SNB Rankings.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

The SNB Interview: Steve Cunningham -- Part III

Saturday Night Boxing recently talked to Steve Cunningham, the former two-time cruiserweight champion, in a wide-ranging interview that touched on many aspects of his boxing career and his life outside of the ring. On February 4th, in Frankfurt, Germany, Cunningham faces Yoan Pablo Hernandez in an IBF-mandated rematch of their first fight, which took place in October, 2011.

In Part III of the interview, Cunningham talks about the Philadlephia gym scene and recounts his memorable fight with Tomasz Adamek.  Cunningham also discusses his work with at-risk youth in Philadelphia and reveals what he wants to accomplish in boxing before he retires.
Here is Part I and Part II of the interview.

Interview by Adam Abramowitz

SNB:  I know you've sparred with a lot of Philadelphians, like Eddie Chambers and Yusaf Mack.  What’s the Philadelphia gym scene like these days and what does the phrase “Philly fighter” mean to you?

SC:  The gym scene is a lot smarter, more intelligent.  It’s guys who understand the business of boxing.  You got Mike Jones.  You got [Teon] Kennedy.  Philly's got a lot of up-and-coming guys: Danny Garcia, Eddie, myself, Yusaf.  You have other guys that you probably haven’t heard of as well – Hank Lundy.  These guys are winners.  Fighters now are business-minded more so than they were, and intelligent in the ring.  We’re more like a family here in Philly.  Of course, we spar each other.  I spar Eddie, Yusaf, Chazz [Witherspoon].  We’re like brothers.  We know we got to get in and work with each other, but we love each other.  It’s a family.

The Philly fighter to me now is a little bit as it is always has been – a rugged, underestimated, tough, intelligent boxer.  That’s a Philly fighter to me.  You know a lot of people, they hear "Philly," they say Philly gym wars.  That happens here and there, but not like the old days.  We’re smarter fighters now.  The Philly fighter is intelligent, business-minded, but he’s underestimated though.  That’s Philly.  They’ll call you for a fight and you steal the show.    

SNB:  You fought many of your biggest fights overseas. What was the feeling for you when you finally had that U.S.-televised appearance against [Tomasz] Adamek, which was close enough to home that your friends and family could be there to support you?

SC:  That was great, man.  That was like a dream come true, to an extent.  Thanks to HBO, actually the Versus network – but still, that did what it had to do.  I had friends there.  I had family there.  I had people from church. It was crazy.  It was unbelievable.  I was very happy to have that opportunity.  I’m thanking the Lord for that.   

When you go overseas, you think, “This guy’s good.” You always say that.  “He can beat me if, if, if.”  But then, when you go overseas, you got to deal with fighting the fighter and fighting the politics. At least, fighting at home, I thought it wasn’t going to be like that. 

With the Adamek fight, I was so hyped.  I was happy.  I was on a high.  I felt Adamek couldn’t beat me and I think that was my downfall with him.  I underestimated him a little bit.  He did what he was supposed to do and he got the victory, but that overall thing for me was that I gave 110% or 100%. I wasn’t mad at my performance that much – just the knockdowns did it.  I wasn’t mad; I was just mad at losing my belt. 

With the outpouring of respect and the love I got just for showing the heart…people think that’s something that I decided to do right there – pull the heart out.  That’s who I am.  “You’ve got to pull the heart out right now.  He just knocked me down, I got to fight.”  No, that’s who Cunningham is and I’ve always been [that way].  That was a big opportunity for me.  It did wonders for me, actually – even in the loss. 

SNB:  You’ve been a two-time champion.  You’ve traveled the world.  What’s been your best moment in boxing so far?

SC:  In the ring, or who I’ve beaten, or just best moment overall?

SNB:  What’s the one thing that you are proudest of or the one thing that you think about where you said, “I did this?”

SC:  That’s pretty easy.  I work with these kids down at the Rock Ministries gym in Philadelphia.  It’s a gym that basically brings kids off the streets to help them learn to box.  Also, it teaches them about Christ.  My best moment is just having these guys.  This is the roughest part of Philadelphia right here.  This place is in the heart of it.  You come out from Bible Study and you got dudes hustling crack ten feet away from the building.  It’s a zoo down there, but this is where a place like this is needed. 

Me being a part of this building and being a part of this ministry has been uplifting for me.  It helps drive me too.  It’s like, “Wow, these kids see a champ in a place like this.”  They go nuts and they really respect it.  You can see it in their eyes. Then, it takes me back.  This is where I grew up, so it takes me back.  Wow.  What if – when I was coming up, we had Sugar Ray Leonard; in basketball, we had David Robinson – what if David Robinson lived in my city and came to my gym when I was little?  I’d have went nuts.  That would’ve just been awesome! 

To be able to talk to these dudes and to just hear some of them and tell them what I think, that’s been so uplifting.  That’s basically been a big part of my career, a big, uplifting part of my career…the response that I get to just being a champion – what you can do with being a champion, the good stuff you can do with it.

SNB:  Before you retire, what would you like to accomplish in boxing?

SC:  There are a couple of things. I haven’t tasted big checks.  People would think that a two-time world champion has...I still feel that there’s a lot I want to accomplish.  Of course, making “x” amount of money would be awesome.  Make a million-dollar fight would be great. [laughs]  That would be sick.  To win a heavyweight world title from cruiserweight would be beautiful.  There’s a lot of on my list.  To unify, to be recognized as the best cruiserweight of all time, that’s my goal.  I want to try to do better than Evander [Holyfield] did.  That’s my goal.  There’s a long list.  Hopefully, we’ll just start chipping away at it.       

SNB:  I’ve read that you’ve been a male model.  You’ve opened a pizza shop.  I’ve actually seen you on ESPN when you did your guest spot of Friday Night Fights.  What do you see yourself doing when your career is over?  You seem to have a lot of options.

SC:  What we are doing now with the amount of money, with the little bit we make as champion, we invest in real estate.  We got a couple of properties.  We got a pizza shop.  We got an apartment.  We just bought another home at auction.  We try to do that a little more to help revitalize the neighborhood and to give us steady income.  So once boxing’s over, we’ve got our plans about how many properties we want that would bring in “x” amount of dollars per month.  If we can more, that would be awesome.  Even beyond that though, I see me getting a little deeper into ministry.  I see that happening.

Part I | Part II     

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

The SNB Interview: Steve Cunningham -- Part II

Saturday Night Boxing recently talked to Steve Cunningham, the former two-time cruiserweight champion, in a wide-ranging interview that touched on many aspects of his boxing career and his life outside of the ring. On February 4th, in Frankfurt, Germany, Cunningham faces Yoan Pablo Hernandez in an IBF-mandated rematch of their first fight, which took place in October, 2011.

In Part II of the interview, Cunningham discusses his time in the U.S. navy and how he learned boxing in the service.  He also talks about his early professional career and how former heavyweight champion Chris Byrd provided a crucial turning point in his development. 
Here is Part I of the Interview.

Interview by Adam Abramowitz

SNB: I want to get back to your amateur days.  You started boxing in the navy.  What drew you to the sport?

SC: Growing up in Philly, I always fought.  It was like a prestigious thing in Philly, being able to fight when I grew up in the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s – 91, 92.  That was right before everybody was carrying guns.  We would fight, square off.  That’s how you got your respect.  That’s how you got your name.  That’s how people knew not to mess with you.  Philly is a dog-eat-dog world.  If they picked on you at school, you needed to fight back, or everybody picked on you.  So, I remember, at a young age, I was fighting back.  You know, I didn’t win them all but I didn’t get bothered that much. 

I actually went to a gym a couple of times in Philly.  Even in the streets growing up, I got into a few fights where I won and, you know, I had a little name in the neighborhood – nothing big – but just, “Steve could fight.”  When I joined the navy, I wanted to box. I always wanted to box, even in Philly, but the gym that I lived close to was in a neighborhood where it was really rough…and those guys, I had a beef with them.  I just couldn’t go into that neighborhood. 

Once I joined the navy and got stationed...there are two bases in Virginia:  there’s Norfolk Naval Base; then you’ve got Little Creek Amphibious Base, which is about 10 minutes away.  I would drive after work, when I was in port, to the Little Creek fitness gym and just train by myself, just box. 

It was just something inside of me burning.  I’m a follower of Christ and I read the Bible.  I know that everything that happens to you, God’s got a hand in it, especially in my life.  It was something that burned in me.  I wanted to fight.  I wanted to box.  I wanted to learn.  I wanted to do this.  I started getting amateur fights in the navy.  My first amateur fight was against the light heavyweight champ of the navy, and I beat him.  That was basically God showing me that you could do this.   I felt that it was like, “this is what I want you to do.” 

It just went on from there.  I became a national champ, and state, regional champ...Mayor’s Cup champ. [The Mayor's cup is an annual amateur boxing tournament held in Washington, D.C.]  It was something I wanted to do.  It was like that job you always want that you love.  You want to be good at it.  You want to do the extra stuff to be better at it.  That’s what boxing was to me.

SNB: I’m interested in your career in navy.  You were stationed in Virginia for most of your active duty but you were out on an aircraft carrier for six months.  From my research, this was the late '90s.  It was during peacetime.  What were your days like at sea and what were some of your memorable experiences?

SC: I was stationed on an aircraft carrier.  When you get stationed, you either get stationed to a base or a ship.  I was stationed to originally the USS America, CV-66.  That was decommissioned in 1996.  Before that decommission, we went over to Europe for six months on that bad boy.  Then I got stationed on the USS Enterprise, CVA-65. 

The experience on the ship is unlike anything.  You have to live there and it’s unlike any living anywhere.  First, it’s small, tight quarters, yet it’s the size of a city – all on an aircraft carrier.  It took me about a week to find my way from the chow hall to work, back to where we slept. You had to have someone walk with you.  There were so many rooms and corridors.  It’s just unbelievable.  But it’s a system, a great system that the military has – the navy has – and it works.  It’s very uplifting knowing all the stuff you do during the days, the weeks...it’s being part of a big picture. 

We’re going overseas.  We’re loading up bombs on these jets.  I was an aircraft refueller, so we were refueling jets as they came, helicopters.  It was a very, very exciting job.  We just got to travel the seas – we traveled the seven seas.  It was a very good experience. 

SNB: You first promoter was a guy named Andy Zulewski.  He was from Poland but he lived in Chicago.  He put you in a lot of fights in the southeastern part of the United States.  How did you get hooked up with him and what was that period of your life like?

SC: I fought my first fight as a pro in Savannah, Georgia, but I lived in Atlanta after I left the navy.  I got moved to Atlanta.  That’s where I started training as a pro and I also finished my amateur career in Atlanta.  My first fight was against, I think, Norman Jones and they called me that day.  Actually, Ebo Elder – I don’t know if you remember Ebo Elder [Elder was a former fighter in the lightweight division] – actually, Ebo’s dad called me on a Saturday morning.  Me and my wife were in bed.  (We weren’t married then, but we were asleep.)  He woke me up and he said, “Hey Cunningham, listen, I know you just said you were going on the pro market.  There’s a fight for you tonight.” 

Of course, coming out of the amateurs, I wanted a promoter.  You know, I wanted the sweet setup.  I wanted like everybody else had, but I wasn’t an Olympian or nothing.  I was just a national champ.  

But I was broke.  I wasn’t working.  I lost a job.  I just needed money and I still wanted to go pro.  He said, “Next four rounds for $1,000,” and I was like, “What!” [laughs] 

He said, “You beat this kid.  It’s his pro debut too.”  So, we went down there.  I beat the kid, smoked him, and made a quick $1,000.

Then, after that fight, I switched trainers, because Anthony Chase, who trained me at the time, had moved to Florida. So, I was training with these other guys.  They knew Andy Zulewski.  They took me to Andy, got me on one of his cards, which was a great experience, actually.  Andy Zulewski had shows running about once or twice a month, down in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia – all types of places in southeastern America.  He put me on his shows.  I fought once a month for like 11 months almost – 10 months, 11 months.  Actually, one time I fought twice in one month.  You know, it was a $100 dollars a round and I thought I was making money. 

They took me to Andy Zulewski.  It was a good setup.  He was just running shows.  We were building a little fan base down South.  It was great.  It was a great experience. 

SNB: What was the turning point for you as a professional when you knew that you could compete with the best in the world?

SC: To be truthful, we always felt...we always had in our mind, and I mean "we" as in me and my wife – she has been there from the beginning...we always had in our mind that we would be world champion.  It wasn’t really too much thought to that.  We knew that with hard work...or at least that's how we felt at the time [laughs].  “Oh, you can do this with hard work,” not thinking how political everything is.  That’s how naïve we were at the time.  We always felt that we were going to be a world champion. 

A real turning point for me wasn’t really in the ring, per se, [in] a professional fight.  It was who I was working with.  I got a chance to go spar with Chris Byrd right before he beat Vitali [Klitschko], and I went for a week, two weeks.  You know, sparring with him changed my fights, literally changed the way I fought.  Not that I fought like him, but it changed my outlook on who I was and how good I could be.  He was one of the slickest dudes in boxing. 

SNB: Yeah, he was a very smart fighter.

SC: Smart, good and he was always in shape. We were going at it in sparring, not that I was getting over on him.  He could have took me out any time, I guess.  It was just uplifting to be in there with him, and that elevated my mindset to where I could go and what I could do.  That really was the turning point for me. 

After I fought with Chris and I came back to my gym where I was training at, I sparred with this other guy who used to get with me all the time.  Man, I ate this dude up.  He didn’t touch me.  I was like, “Wow!” [laughs] I attributed that to training with Chris.  Every chance I got to go into camp with Chris, I went.  I was in about three or four of Chris’ camps.

SNB: You’ve had some pretty long layoffs in your career.  How do you deal with the downtime and what keeps you sharp?

SC: Well, physically, dealing with the downtime is basically taking boxing as a job.  I signed with Don [King].  I was with Don for eight years and I was fighting twice a year – a couple times once, which was ridiculous.  There was no way I wanted that.  If I thought it was going to be like that, I probably wouldn’t have signed with him.  But, one thing with Don is that he’ll put you in a fight, the hard fight.  The fight that he put me in, I won, which placed me in the world [rankings]. 

In between fights, I was always training.  I was going to training camps with different people.  I’ve been in camp with Keith Holmes.  I’ve been in camp with Oliver McCall, Larry Donald, Chris Byrd.  I’ve been in camps, man – just going to training camps and training camps.  At home, I’m working, but my job was boxing.  So I would get up and run every day, just like I was training.  And then I get the call, “Hey, you’ve got a fight in six weeks.” Cool.  Let’s go.

Part I | Part III

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Friday, January 20, 2012

The SNB Interview: Steve Cunningham -- Part I

Saturday Night Boxing recently talked to Steve Cunningham, the former two-time cruiserweight champion, in a wide-ranging interview that touched on many aspects of his boxing career and his life outside of the ring.  On February 4th, in Frankfurt, Germany, Cunningham faces Yoan Pablo Hernandez in an IBF-mandated rematch of their first fight, which took place in October, 2011. 

In Part I of the interview, Cunningham discusses the controversial ending of the Hernandez bout, where Hernandez was awarded a technical decision as Cunningham started to establish control of the fight.  Cunningham, a Philadelphian who has fought in Germany, Poland and South Africa, also talks about his experiences fighting overseas, German boxing culture and the unique situation of being an American boxer affiliated with a German promoter.  He also touched on his relationship with Naazim Richardson and how the world-reknown trainer has made improvements to his boxing style. 

Interview by Adam Abramowitz

SNB: You are preparing to face Yoan Pablo Hernandez on February 4th in Germany. My first question for you is how is your German?  It seems like Germany is your second home.  Do you have any good restaurant recommendations?

SC: Yeah. We go to a place called the Blockhouse – Blockhouse Steaks when we are in Berlin.  But the fights are always in a different part of Germany.  This time it’s going to be in Frankfurt.  This will be my first time going to Frankfurt.  With German, we just bought Rosetta Stone, so we’re working on that. We’re trying to learn German better.  Much better (laughs). 

SNB: Let me ask you about the first fight with Hernandez. When the fight was stopped in that nature, what was going through your mind?

SC: When the fight was stopped, we were confused.  You know the first cut [on Hernandez] that happened from accidental head butt was bad.  It was the first round I think.  No, it was the third round.  That cut was bad.  It was bleeding a lot.  I thought the fight might have been stopped because of that.  But when they stopped the bleeding, everything was cool.  So, we continued on and the second cut happened, and there was no bleeding.  There was no bleeding from it.  So when they stopped the fight on the cut, I was thinking it was from the eye cut.  When we saw what they were doing, what it was, I just knew these guys were trying to end it. I knew his trainer was very popular there and really cool with the doctor and some of the judges.

So we asked the ref, “Hey ref, what the call?”  The ref told us initially a technical draw, so we were like, OK, whatever.  But I felt I was winning the fight.  I felt in a few more rounds he would have went down. He was just weak.  When they gave the decision, not that I was blown away, but I was very angry. I felt, “Wow, how could they do this?”

SNB: You are promoted by Sauerland Events, as is Hernandez.  When you see Hernandez’s trainer, Ulli Wegner, who is basically the house trainer for many of Sauerland’s champions, wearing the Team Sauerland jacket in the corner, what’s your reaction to that?

SC: In Europe, the promoter can also be the manager.  Sauerland also manages [Marco] Huck and Hernandez.  When we see that…it’s one of those things.  You know truthfully I’m in Europe because I have to. I’m a cruiserweight. No promoters are willing to pay me what the European promoters are willing to pay.  There’s no television for cruiserweights in America.  I got to go where the exposure is.  I’m there, but I also feel like I am the best cruiserweight in the world.  So they can get as underhanded as they want.  No matter where you go they are going to be underhanded.  Even in America, underhanded things are going on. 

I just feel I’m so much better than these guys that I can beat them even with the help.  I have to think that way (laughs).  What the heck.  Knowing these guys are all together, I know that they got a little bit of the upper hand, if the hand gets shifted.  But it’s our job to work harder in the gym, so it can be obvious to people I won.   

SNB: How would describe your time or your experience fighting under Sauerland?

SC: It’s been good.  We got a real relationship, to an extent.  We signed with them in hopes of getting a rematch, but not totally on the Huck rematch.  Truthfully, the rematch with Huck, I beat him already.  I would love to unify.  If we could have made that happen, that would've been great.  I signed with Sauerland because they got shoe holds.  We already had a fan base in Europe, in Germany, so it made sense.  And then with the possibility of the Huck rematch being made, that was just a great incentive to go ahead and sign.  It’s been cool.  They flew us out to the fight, to watch Huck fight.  We were trying to rev up the Huck rematch.  They do decent business.  It’s just that with every promoter there are ups and downs. 

SNB: I think American boxing fans would be really interested in your experiences with fighting in Germany.  What are the fans like over there?  What’s the boxing culture?  What are some similarities and differences that you’ve noticed? 

SC: The fans really respect boxing.  They respect the fighter.  It’s not about “Oh, that’s a star, or this guy is just a beginner.”  They respect the athlete, which is beautiful across the board.   It not “Oh Floyd’s not fighting, so I don’t care. Or Manny Pacquiao’s not fighting, so who cares.”  It’s not that.  The fans show up to support fighters.  Fights are on television all the time.  It reminds me of the ‘80s with boxing in America, to an extent. 

SNB: Going back to the Hernandez fight for a second, for me, it seems that he did hurt you in the first round with the counter left hand before you established control as the fight progressed.  What adjustments, if any, are you making for the rematch?

SC: With that shot, it was a very good, well-placed shot.  It was one of those things where the trainer says you keep your hand up all the time and you keep your defense up all the time.  You see why, in that situation right there.  We spun.  We turned.  I went for a wide, looping hook.  He went for a straight shot.  The straight shot makes it there first every time.  It was on point.  It hurt me, obviously (laughs).  We got up and the game plan is still the same – just go to work.  And he faded much faster than I thought he would, so it made it easier for me to do what I had to do. 

The game plan [for the rematch] is to win – win at all costs.  But not just win, to rip this title [belt] off his waist.  Go in and establish dominance and to let the world know, let this division know, I am the best cruiserweight in the world.  I have been.  I am and I always will be.  We’re going to rip this belt off of his waist and keep it here.  That’s the game plan.   

SNB: I noticed throughout your career you fought a lot of heavy hitters in the cruiserweight division – guys like Guillermo Jones, Wayne Braithwaite, Troy Ross, Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, Tomasz Adamek and Marco Huck.  Who’s been your toughest opponent in the cruiserweight division and why?

SC: The toughest opponent was Sebastiaan Rothmann. I fought him when I was 16-0 or 14-0 [he was 14-0].

SNB: That was in South Africa, right?

SC: Yeah. It was tough because it was my first trip abroad.  It wasn’t too much of an adjustment getting in.  My thing is if we fight, we fight. It’s getting used to different faces in the crowd.  The altitude was bananas.  The altitude was really off-the-hook.  It was somewhere between 7,000 to 9,000 feet where we fought, something like that. 

He was a good fighter.  He was a former world champion.  He was an IBO world champion and he just lost his title.  He was a very good fighter and we were fighting in his home country.  With the altitude, I felt like I was fighting two people.  It was just unbearable. I pushed through.  From the fourth round on, it was just a push, an extreme push.  But I just wouldn’t be denied.  I kept going and working. 

SNB: I’ve seen a lot of your fights.  I’ve seen you definitely box at times.  I’ve seen you really open up and brawl.  What would you describe your fighting style?  How would you say “this is the way Steve Cunningham fights?”

SC: Some people consider me a boxer-puncher.  I consider myself more of a boxer.  I do crack here and there.  I don’t know.  I let the fans do that.  I know that growing up you let other people say or give you their assessment of what you are doing.  We always get a gauge of what I think I am (laughs), and then someone informs me of this and that. 

Truthfully, I’m just a guy that works hard, who will give it all to win, who will work hard in the gym and even in the offseason to be the best.  I’m still learning.  I feel like I still have room to get better and better and it’s getting better that has got me here. 

SNB: What are some of the changes that Naazim Richardson has made to your style and how has he been different for you than your previous trainers like Richie Giachetti and Anthony Chase?

SC: He’s [Richardson] way better than Giachetti because Giachetti really wasn’t hands on.  Giachetti couldn’t work pads.  Giachetti had been in the business so long that he’s like a stubborn-type trainer.  It’s either this…or nothing else works but my way.

With Naz versus Giachetti, Naz is hands on.  He’s more of a teacher than Giachetti.  He’s more of a friend than Giachetti. He’s someone you trust and you believe him and he shows you this is why it works.  He’s more of a talker and a teacher and explains it.  He does so much and he makes it a mindset.  It’s not just “this is what you do.”  It’s a mindset.  It’s a way of life with Naazim. 

He’s like a step up from Anthony Chase.  Anthony Chase was my amateur trainer.  Me and him have a great relationship; we still do.  It’s just with Anthony Chase, I was his introduction to the professional world title scene, and there were things that he didn’t know that Naz does know, because Naz has been there.  I think he’s a few steps up from Anthony Chase.  Anthony Chase just needs more experience and he’ll get to that level. 

But Naazim, oh man.  He brings a mindset.  He brings weapons that you don’t think you have.  He brings to mind things that you didn’t even know were there.  It’s like a knife if your boot that you forgot about when you’re getting jumped (laughs).  It’s something like that.  Naz is so intelligent and knowledgeable.  It’s unbelievable. 

Part II | Part III

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Legacy of Glen Johnson

Slow. Lumbering. One-dimensional. Athletically-limited. Predictable. Fights at one speed.  

These are not the typical adjectives that one would use to describe a one-time fighter-of-the-year and world champion, yet they all could aptly describe Glen Johnson in the ring. Many fighters, promoters, managers, trainers and handlers watched the videotapes and saw the same thing. "This guy is so beatable," they would say. "All he has is the jab and straight right hand."  

But many dismissed Johnson at their own peril. Ask Roy Jones, Antonio Tarver, Chad Dawson or Thomas Ulrich about Glen Johnson. How about some younger fighters, like Allan Green or Yusaf Mack?  Glen Johnson dented (and, in some cases, derailed) the futures of all of these fighters.
Peak Glen Johnson had crucial psychological and emotional advantages that are missed on "Tale of the Tape" comparisons and rudimentary scouting reports: heart, determination, consistency and professionalism. Johnson never beat himself. There was no out-of-the ring turmoil with him. Johnson was there to fight. If a top boxer was on his "A" game, Johnson was beatable, but if there was any slippage, Johnson would seize his opportunity.   

Essentially, Johnson was the ultimate spoiler. He lacked the top-shelf talent to stay dominant at the highest levels of the sport, but anyone beneath that level or anyone who overlooked him faced significant difficulties.

The life of boxing spoiler can be a difficult one. The spoiler often fights for short money and has little promotional or television support. He goes into a champion's hometown – often on foreign soil – as the "opponent," someone who is supposed to lose but will provide a good effort. In addition, the spoiler is often a fallback option. His number gets called when a bigger fight falls through or a more attractive name backs out because of an injury. The spoiler must stay in the gym almost all year, waiting for the phone to ring with that offer of hope and promise.  

Johnson worked construction well into his mid 30s. During this time, he was taking on some of the best light heavyweights in the world. Throughout most of his career, he was affiliated with lesser promoters, like Warriors Boxing. He fought in Germany, Italy, the U.K. and Canada. Many times he lost close fights in his opponents' backyards (Sven Ottke, Julio Cesar Gonzalez, Silvio Branco). Somehow, he even pulled a few wins out on foreign soil. 

Through it all, Johnson built up goodwill in the boxing community. He became a cause célèbre for a number of influential boxing writers because of his blue-collar attitude, his willingness to take fights on short notice and his general affability. TV networks knew that a "Glen Johnson" fight would deliver action for their viewers.  Boxing fans admired his perseverance and likability.  

Everything came together for him in 2004, when he defeated the tricky Clinton Woods in England, knocked out boxing royalty in Roy Jones and outhustled light heavyweight head honcho Antonio Tarver. For a brief moment, he was on top of the world.

Early in 2005, he was outboxed by Tarver (hey, these things happen) and it took him until 2008 until he had another title shot in America, where he faced undefeated light heavyweight titlist Chad Dawson. Johnson was robbed in the fight. His pressure and right hands caused Dawson to resort to survival tactics.  The rematch, which only occurred because Dawson was shamed into the fight, saw the champion outlast Johnson by running and playing pitty-pat. It was an embarrassing display for a top-level fighter.  

But Johnson persevered, as he always did. He got himself back into contention by knocking out Mack and acquitted himself well in a loss to Tavoris Cloud, who is almost a more athletic version of Johnson. At the age of 41, he was called into duty to help save Showtime's Super Six tournament, dropping down for his first super middleweight fight in ten years. In a final moment of glory, he knocked out Allan Green to earn a spot in the tournament's semifinals.  

Age and class finally caught up to Johnson in 2011. Despite some good moments, he was soundly outpointed by Carl Froch. In his last fight, he was dominated by titlist Lucian Bute, where for the first time since 1997, when he faced Bernard Hopkins, he was uncompetitive. Perhaps, if he fought these opponents in his prime, the outcome would have been different, but most likely, Johnson would never have gotten the opportunity. Few fighters wanted to face Johnson; they did so only because of the demands of the sanctioning bodies or television networks. 

Ultimately, few fighters possess elite skills or athleticism. Most will not win shiny Olympic medals, receive fat promotional contracts or obtain cushy network deals. But Glen Johnson demonstrates that a fighter can overcome sizable disadvantages to reach the apex of the sport. Johnson had to endure bad decisions, fight cancellations, boxers ducking him, the whims of network executives, the shunning of top promoters and a demanding full-time job to reach his summit. In addition, he wasn't blessed with natural athleticism or an abundance of boxing technique. These obstacles would cripple most fighters – and often do. 

However, Johnson is proof that boxing glory can be accomplished by hard work, the perfection of craft and a willingness to learn and get better. Most fighters can never approach the talent level of Roy Jones, but there are hundreds of fighters with better skills than Johnson had. Maybe they all won't become champions, but what if they continue their professional careers without making excuses? What if they don't blame their managers or their upbringings or the judges or their promoters? What if they set out to become the best fighters that they possibly can be, and let the chips fall where they may?

For emerging boxers, Johnson's career provides many valuable lessons: one loss, or even a series of losses, does not have to end a career; a boxer's life outside of the gym is just as important as what happens between the ropes; and the importance of always staying in shape, for a life-changing opportunity could be just a phone call away.

Johnson will retire soon. He will leave the ring as the “Road Warrior,” the former undisputed light heavyweight champion, and an inspiring figure in a sport which is in dire need of positive role models. He wasn't the flashiest fighter. He wasn't a "badass." But he was tough, durable and successful. Boxing is full of Daniel Judahs and Antonio Tarvers and Yusaf Macks – fighters who dithered through the pro ranks, extracting only a portion of their vast potential. But how many squeezed out every ounce of ability and perfected their craft to reach their best? Glen Johnson did. That’s who he was and how he will be remembered.  

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