Monday, February 25, 2019

Tevin Farmer: Finding the Peak

As junior lightweight champion Tevin Farmer (28-4-1, one no contest) prepares to make his third title defense on March 15th against Jono Carroll (16-0-1), it's business as usual at TKO Fitness in Cherry Hill, New Jersey (about 20 minutes east of Farmer's hometown of Philadelphia). It's early in training camp and while Farmer has stayed as active as any current champion in the sport – the Carroll fight will be his fourth in just over seven months – Farmer and head trainer Raul "Chino" Rivas look at every training camp as an opportunity for improvement. 

Today's menu features a sparring session between Farmer and three-time Tajikistani Olympian Anvar Yunusov, who is now based out of Philadelphia and has a 6-0 record as a professional. Yunusov, like Carroll, is a southpaw and this will be his fourth time sparring Farmer. Yunusov has also sparred notables such as Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jason Sosa (a Farmer stablemate). Farmer rolls in just after 12 p.m. and after exchanging a few pleasantries with the gang at the gym he sits down to get his hands wrapped.   

Farmer is now at an interesting place in his career. Until recently he was a virtually anonymous contender that no one seemed eager to face. Now he is a champion, but one who hasn't yet been in a high-profile fight. He certainly is known within the sport; however, he has yet to expand his popularity beyond hardcore boxing fans and his local supporters in the Philadelphia area. His headlining slot against Carroll at the Liacouras Center (the home of the Temple Owls basketball team) will hope to expand his popularity in the region further. The fight will be broadcasted in the U.S. by DAZN and in the U.K. by Sky. 

Since winning the title last year, Farmer has had to transition from the hunter to the hunted. Less accomplished fighters now call him out, whereas for years  Farmer sought the best at junior lightweight, but his challenges fell on deaf ears. Farmer still wants big fights, but he knows that he has to win for those to happen. He's had a years-long feud with fellow champion Gervonta Davis via social media that at times has been both entertaining and tedious. Farmer understands the current politics of boxing, but he also doesn't want to be bound by them. After years of waiting for his shot, he wants to build a legacy.

Photo Courtesy of DiBella Entertainment

At some point during Farmer's career he got mislabeled as a pure boxer, or a stick-and-mover. Although it's true that he lacks true knockout power (only six KOs in 34 bouts), and has a tricky southpaw style that relies on his superior footwork, he actually fights a lot in the pocket or at close range. Increasingly, Farmer has become an adept inside fighter, especially in impressive performances against Ivan Redkach and Billy Dib. Under Rivas's tutelage, Farmer has learned not only how to attack at close range, but also how to protect himself adeptly in tight. 

I asked Chino (everybody calls him as Chino) what has made Farmer successful at close range and his answer focused on Tevin's mindset. "I could tell each fighter the same thing," he said, "and it comes down to who has the ability to adapt. I go back to the IQ that he [Farmer] has. I have fighters that have been with me longer than Tevin and their inside game is nowhere near as good as Tevin’s.

"I give the same instructions. I use the same defense. And I give the same angles. Tevin was able to master it. Some people just adapt faster than others...I work on the mindset first because after that everything else can fall into place. If you can build a chemistry with your fighter, the rest is easy. My chemistry with Tevin is one-of-a-kind. It’s something special. It’s like we think together. It’s something special."

Rivas wasn't Farmer's first professional trainer, but once the two aligned with each other after some early setbacks in Tevin's career, Farmer has been undefeated (in full disclosure, Farmer did lose a disputed decision to Kenichi Ogawa in 2017 that was subsequently changed to a "no contest" after Ogawa failed a post-fight drug test). 

Farmer's professional career started unceremoniously with a 7-4-1 record, certainly not on the path to a title. Farmer told me in a past interview that after his loss to future titleholder Jose Pedraza in 2012, he decided to take boxing more seriously. It was at that point where he joined forces with Rivas. Their relationship went beyond teacher and pupil. Farmer actually lived with Rivas and his wife for almost two years. 

But even before Rivas was Farmer's official trainer, he had seen something in Tevin from when Farmer sparred some of his fighters. "There would be times when he would be sparring one of my guys," Rivas said, "where I was able to give direction, and he would just click. I was very impressed with how easily he was able to adapt to what I was telling him. He went from being a sparring partner for one of my guys to being someone who could get the best out of my fighters. 

"His defense was very impressive. It needed to be corrected, which is something that through the years has been corrected, but I loved his IQ and I loved his feet. I thought with that combination, once I taught him how to sit down with power shots, that he could be very entertaining."

Lou DiBella was also impressed with Farmer, even in the early stages of his career when Farmer was losing a number of his fights. DiBella had brought Farmer into face Pedraza on short notice. And although Farmer, who admittedly was out-of-shape, wound up losing the fight, he was winning the early rounds of that bout until his conditioning hit a wall. Based on that performance, DiBella developed an affinity for Farmer and would subsequently become his promoter.  

It took Farmer over five years to establish himself as a title contender after the Pedraza loss, but Rivas noted that Farmer's positive outlook was a big difference-maker. "We had that time to stay focused and hungry," he said. "Honestly, it’s been very easy for me to be able to keep him focused. He’s so strong-minded, which is a plus for me. He makes it much easier for me. And I thank the Lord every day for that."


During today's spirited sparring session, Farmer and Rivas focus on the right hand. Working with a lot of jabs to the body and double right hooks to the body and head, Farmer treats sparring as a day's work, not a point of machismo pride. Yunusov certainly has his moments throughout the six rounds and it's clear with his punch accuracy and hard, straight shots that he could have a bright future in the sport. 

Much of the sparring takes place in close quarters, where Farmer, with Rivas's exclamations from the corner, works on creating angles to land his shots. Farmer does an excellent job of using his body and Yunusov's positioning to get quality work done in the trenches. It isn't always aesthetically pleasing to watch, but it's effective. After the sparring concludes, Farmer and Rivas go to the speed bag to work on timing exercises. 

Farmer's next opponent, Carroll, is a rugged fighter who likes to throw a lot of shots. Although Rivas wouldn't divulge his particular fight strategy for Carroll, certainly physicality and grappling are techniques that can reduce a foe's punch volume. 

Before Farmer leaves for the day, I talk with him for a few minutes about his career and what headlining in Philadelphia means to him. Farmer has fought in and around Philly almost a dozen times, but this is his most significant opportunity in the famous fight town. 

“To box in Philadelphia is always great," he said, "because some of the best boxers come from Philadelphia. I’ve headlined in Philly before, but to headline on the big stage, it’s definitely special. This fight means a lot to me. I’ve been working the last eight, nine years to become recognized and known as one of the best in the sport.”

In truth, neither Farmer nor Rivas seem overly concerned with what Carroll brings to the table. Rivas acknowledges Carroll's high-volume attack, but it's a style he believes that Farmer has faced a number of times in his career. What Rivas is most interested in is ensuring that Tevin can reach his full potential as a fighter; there are always areas to improve.

Farmer has appreciated his recent fight activity and believes it has helped him fine-tune his skills. “I'm working on just getting better little by little," he said. "Just taking it one day at a time. At a certain point in your career, you don’t see big improvements. Everything is little improvements now."

Despite numerous junctures where he could have lost hope, Farmer continued to work on becoming a better fighter. Even after getting shot in 2017, he refused to let that episode derail his grand plans. (A bullet went clear through his right hand. He acknowledges that he doesn't know if his hand will ever be 100%, but he's also not letting it be an excuse. With his customary positive outlook, he said, "[The hand] hasn't let me down yet.")

For Farmer and Rivas, March 15th is about continuing to progress toward Tevin's peak. There are still areas to master, from sitting down on his lead left hand to better angles to more consistency with his power shots. Bigger fights may be on the horizon, but they need Tevin to be at his absolute best, and they believe that while they are close, their work is not yet done. And perhaps it never will be. Farmer and Rivas are certainly confident, but no one could accuse them of being self-satisfied. They know that real challenges lie ahead. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
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