40 have tried, 40 have failed. Undefeated fighter Floyd Mayweather, Jr has been fond of that quote in recent weeks when assessing his May 1 showdown with Shane Mosley. But Mosley trainer Naazim Richardson has spent the last several years specializing in destroying the mystique of feared and previously undefeated fighters like Kelly Pavlik and Antonio Margarito. In Mayweather, the man known in boxing circles as Brother Naazim recognizes his greatest challenge as a trainer, but also sees a delusional, arrogant man weeks away from a brutal reality check.
In this exclusive and thorough interview, Naazim Richardson lays out his thoughts on everything: from Mayweather-Mosley, to Ray Robinson’s chances in today’s welterweight division, and whether Antonio Margarito should ever be allowed in the ring again.
Ismael AbduSalaam: There been a lot of criticism regarding the Hopkins-Jones rematch, but more so at Hopkins’ antics. How would you rate both their performances?
Naazim Richardson: I wasn’t in favor of the fight from the beginning, because there was nothing Bernard can do to win favor. If you kill Roy they’re going to call you a bully, and if he goes the distance then they’re going to start questioning your mortality in the sport. To me it was a lose-lose situation. But I also thought he has been in the sport long enough where he’s entitled to clean up some personal residue, which is why I supported him in his effort.
I thought he dominated and initiated all the exchanges as I felt he would. Unfortunately he got hit in the back of the head, and in boxing when you’re hit there no one ever feels it’s authentic [the reaction]. They think you’re exaggerating. The trip to the hospital was for observation, and luckily everything was negative and he was released.
Ismael: Based on how he’s been carrying the weight at light-heavyweight, do you think his goal to move up to heavyweight to face David Haye is realistic?
Richardson: I feel if Bernard can hold some weight on his body, then he can outbox David Haye. But I question if he can hold the weight. Bernard’s metabolism is in training he starts cutting and dropping weight immediately. And he’s not even a big light-heavyweight. I force him to keep weight on for camp to be ready for light-heavyweight. But his boxing IQ is tremendous, and he does better with punchers than any other type of style.
But in my personal opinion, and I’ve told him this, that he’s done everything there is to do in the sport of boxing except lose badly. And I’ve told him leave the sport before you’ve done everything in it.
Ismael: There’s been a persistent rumor that Shane hasn’t looked too good in sparring. Can you verify his progress at this point?
Richardson: He’s doing fine in camp. [Pauses] I’ve never been impressed with Shane as a sparring partner. But his [great] ability is following the path we’ve worked on. Now he just has to complete the task on the night of fight.
Ismael: Was there any worry about him overtraining since he already had a full camp for the canceled Andre Berto fight, and now had to do everything over for Mayweather? Is that a real concern due to Mosley’s age?
Richardson: I know he’ll be ok because he’s been going in the sport for so long. It’s been 16 months since he last fought, and if people pay attention he was off for another year prior to the Margarito fight. So it’s been about 3 years and this guy is only having his second fight! He’ll be fine.
Ismael: Let’s run a Mayweather strategy by you. He said recently that he was going to make Mosley “think” in there, implying a criticism of many that Shane cannot adjust in the ring as the fight develops. Is that something you’ve been working on to improve with Shane as Mayweather will no doubt switch up in the fight?
Richardson: The whole thing about a fighter like Mayweather is you can’t assume there would be one mode of attack anyway. My assumption that I told Shane is I predict that he hits Floyd with a right hand, and Mayweather grows wings with fangs out his mouth like a dragon. And when he turns into a dragon I’m going to tell Shane to move laterally so that the fireballs don’t hit you, step on his tail, and drive shots to the body. Meaning even if he turns into a dragon we’re not going to surrender the fight. We’ll let the audience run out the dag on theater.
I’m going that deep as far as adaption for this fight in the ring.
Ismael: Another favorite Mayweather quote is that since he’s undefeated, there’s no blueprint to beating him and he has no weaknesses. But watching him for his whole career as a trainer, what do you feel are his weakest points?
Richardson: The thing is this, the only being that is flawless is God Allah, and any man that feels as though they are flawless thinks they are God. And any man who thinks they are God is a pure fool. And that speaks for itself.
When I was a young man, I saw Ray Robinson lose, and I saw Muhammad Ali lose. I was like yo; that was my awakening that anyone can come up short in this game. What people fail to realize is that with Shane Mosley, Mayweather goes on and on about the blueprint, but you can have a blueprint to stop a lion and that doesn’t mean you can stop one! I feel that after Shane beats him, there still won’t be a blueprint to beat Floyd, because unless you’re Shane Mosley you can’t do it.
Mayweather is verbally cute. He talks so much, that people underestimate him, because normally people who talk that much can’t fight that well. I’ve known him since the amateurs, and he’s always talked like that. I videotaped him talking like that before the Olympics, and he went in there and lost.
He’s a tremendous fighter, but he’s still a young man. Becoming educated is how you become an older man. So there’s still a lot for Floyd Mayweather to learn.
Ismael: The Olympic style drug testing is underway. Do you think this will be a major distraction for the fighters?
Richardson: Nah, it won’t be a problem. It’s more hoopla. Floyd needs as much attention as he can before a fight because he tells you he’s an entertainer. That’s why he does 24/7, because he’s more entertaining there than when he fights. You’ll pay to see Floyd hit the pads before you’ll pay to see him fight! Pad work with him and Roger is more exciting than the actual fight.
You never saw Mike Tyson put on fake armor or wearing crocodile trunks. Because in the center of the ring Mike Tyson was entertaining. He put guys on their backs and we got our entertainment out of him. Tyson’s entertainment was cracking you upside the head and laying you out. All the extra is needed for Floyd to give people and reporters something to talk about. More questions for people to ask him and he can bark more.
Ismael: Just based on what you’ve seen, do you think steroids are a big problem in boxing?
Richardson: Like most sports you see a bunch of guys around the athletes, and no one has been able to figure out why. Why you need your lawyer in the ring at fight time? But it happens. Everybody wants to be a part of the big fight.
I got reporters calling and telling me how I should fight Floyd. [chuckles] This guy’s a reporter! He’s telling me he’s studied Floyd for weeks and I should do this and that. You get people stopping me in the casinos about how I should fight Roy Jones. It gets ridiculous, but when you’re around that much energy you’ll get vibes.
After the fight if there’s a knockout there’s always some guy in the winner’s dressing room saying “I knew he would knock him out that round.” And I say well damn, we didn’t need to go to camp if you knew it would be the left hook! So you get fitness trainers that want to get involved and be the ones who made the fighter stronger and faster. They get overzealous, and the next thing you know they’re rubbing something on your ass you don’t need! Everybody is looking for that edge.
You have to recognize who is in your circle. Shane has a private gym, and you [still] got rumors about his sparring. So how does that get out? So either someone is full of shit and just saying things or someone has a cell phone and is running their mouth after camp with their opinions. I wouldn’t believe anyone telling me what’s going on in Floyd’s camp. Fight night we’ll see who has the best game plan.
Ismael: Antonio Margarito will be fighting in Mexico since he can’t get reinstated in the United States. Do you believe as many do that he should be banned permanently from the sport considering what happened with Luis Resto and Billy Collins in the 80s?
Richardson: You can’t ask me because I’m biased. If the joker tried to hit my son with a car, even though he missed, you can’t have me on that jury because I know what I’m going to say. We have to ask what might have happened if he would’ve gotten through with those blocks in his hands. Shane has little kids, and how would it have looked seeing him laid out or with a hole in his head? Miguel Cotto got a hole in his head. That ain’t a cut, it’s a hole! I thought he’d do good in the Pacquiao fight, but I picked Pacquiao because of that hole in Cotto’s head.
Ismael: You’re also training cruiserweight Steve Cunningham. His scheduled fight last month was canceled due to Don King not being able to come to terms with ESPN. How has he been holding up with this layoff?
Richardson: They put it on Don [King]. He played a part in it. Main Events picked up the fight and it was going to Chicago. But then Matt Godfrey said he missed two days of training and said he wasn’t ready for the fight. I had the pleasure of working with Matt Godfrey before. So it didn’t come down to Don, it was saved by Main Events.
But Steve is a professional. He’s never been discouraged by any stops in his career. He doesn’t fall apart. Unfortunately when he was under Don he fought very little. None of these things are going to distract him. When the fight fell out we were still in the gym training and preparing for the next day. I told him to take some time off and he got a little mad at me because I didn’t want him even running. He’s driving his wife crazy now, but he’s coming back soon to help out some other guys.
Ismael: There have been Muslim boxers throughout the history of the sport. You had some who were outspoken about it like Muhammad Ali, Naseem Hamed, and Dwight Muhammad Qawi. And you have others who are more subdued about it like Amir Khan. How has Islam helped your approach to the sport of boxing?
Richardson: Islam allows me to understand my identity of who and what I am, and not let the nonsense restructure my thoughts and ideas. When they cut the cameras on I won’t turn into a buffoon. It’s hard not to, but I won’t let boxing turn me into something I’m not. On 24/7, I saw nothing but Floyd Mayweather Sr. and Freddie Roach going back and forth. I thought they were going to pick up gloves on an episode! I told 24/7 you can keep that with me. I don’t want the camera in my face every time I’m talking to my athletes.
Ismael: Why do you think they’re trying to make celebrities out of the trainers? For the last few years this has gone on from Buddy McGirt to now Freddie Roach.
Richardson: The trainers stick around longer in the game than the boxers. If they can make them celebrities, they can run it out longer. A lot us fought before, so those who didn’t get the limelight as boxers now see their chance to get it. These guys want it! Some of them want to step out and push the fighter to the side. I don’t knock them, that’s what they do, but I’m not interested. The athlete is the prime principal, and has to carry out the game plan. It goes back even further than Buddy McGirt. They did it with Cus D’Amato.
We’re the only sport where we disrespect each other as trainers and fighters. I just read an article with James Toney attacking Bernard’s performance in the Jones rematch. He’s talking about Bernard’s mother and all kinds of stuff. I understand that Toney is trying to get back on television, I get it. But then we wonder why we can’t get respect.
You don’t hear George Karl telling Phil Jackson “you’re only winning because you got Kobe [Bryant].” You don’t hear that type of nonsense. It just embarrasses us and says you are not getting enough attention on your own and need to stand on somebody else to be seen. I don’t want that, I want to just do the work and what God has planned for me. These guys, it’s just foolishness.
When Margarito has illegal hand wraps it is a black eye on all of us. It’s not just an embarrassment to Margarito; it’s embarrassment to all of us.
You’ve been writing on boxing for awhile. I was so tired a few years back when people would say “you train boxers? I hope you’re not training them to bite ears off!” I was like oh lord, I wish I could change what happened with Tyson myself I was so sick of hearing about it. It made us all look bad. That was the position we were put in.
We don’t realize we’re all under the same umbrella. You see, Muhammad Ali did something we call now trash talking. But he had flair and was charismatic in the way he went about that. Now everybody think they can do it to sell some extra tickets. Mayweather likes to run his mouth but it’s only his opinion.
He likes to run off about PPV numbers like people pay to watch him shadowbox! Those numbers are because Oscar De La Hoya and other guys were across the ring from you! He makes it sound likes it’s just his numbers. Akh if you had clout like that you never would have gotten voted off Dancing with the Stars. You would’ve won the show with just your boxing fans and blew everyone off the show. But you got voted off quite quickly. But that’s neither here nor there.
Floyd knows his audience; he got the barbershop and Hip-Hop audience, the young boys on the corner. A lot of them don’t check things on details. If you say something they buy it as true. You’re dealing with that young media audience that doesn’t do a lot of investigating. You keep saying something loud enough people take it as true. So the IRS can be on your ass, but you get on TV and say “my stuff is paid for, how about yours,” and no one is going to look up income taxes. They’ll go to YouTube.
But this is boxing, the sport we signed up for; the good, the bad, everything rolled into one. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the sport.
Ismael: Floyd is fighting the Sugar of his generation, and awhile back I asked him how he would do with the previous Sugars in Ray Robinson and Ray Leonard. He was very respectful of Robinson but laid into Leonard, claiming he lost to his lightweight challenge in Roberto Duran. At the same time, Floyd said he dominated his lightweight moving up. As a trainer who’s seen both, how do you think they’d match up with Floyd or other guys today at welterweight?
Richardson: Ray Robinson you can’t even do because that’s another generation. This is the microwave era. Ray Robinson and them came from an era that was first and second generation poor. These guys were fighting because they were hungry; these weren’t spoiled kids with $400 video games and $100 sneakers. They didn’t come from that era. Those cats would’ve blown most of these guys [today] out of the water with their desire and hunger alone.
Ray Leonard is a talent that would be a problem in any era. He could punch good, great hand speed and boxing IQ.
Floyd knows what he’s doing. Muhammad Ali called himself great before he even knew he was. How many people have we called great who didn’t call themselves that first? So Floyd is just following what history has shown. If he can protect his undefeated record, he can say “Ray Robinson was great but I am greater. How many fights did he lose?” This is his goal.
It’s not a bad plan; so far it worked out for him. I think it was genius when he retired. If he would’ve beat Cotto they would’ve said fight Margarito. If he beats Margarito they say fight Kermit Cintron. If he beats Cintron they say fight Shane Mosley. He beats Mosley they say fight Paul Williams. And that was just a little too much for him to run down. So if I retire and let these killers fight each other, I can pick up the leftovers. Because you couldn’t pull Margarito on top of this dude!
Bob Arum used to disrespect him with Margarito. He used to be like “Hey bitch you ain’t #1, I got Margarito!” And Floyd would turn his head and start talking about basketball. Like he never heard of him, because he knew Margarito had the kind of chin where he would just walk through whatever he was doing. If he sat on the ropes Margarito would just walk through that shit. If you can’t hurt Margarito you can’t beat Margarito! And Floyd knew he couldn’t beat or hurt him.
Nobody really wanted to fight Margarito. And after Shane blew him out, nobody really wanted to fight Shane. But Mayweather’s perspective makes sense in saying “I’ll take a chance with a man that can hurt me, and I can keep myself from getting hurt, opposed to a man I cannot hurt at all.” People said Margarito was one-dimensional. We can sit on a train track and know the train is coming the same way, but stand your ass on the track and what still happens? That’s what Margarito was.
Ismael: This has been a great interview, Naazim. Any closing thoughts?
Richardson: I will say this. You have good fighters, then you have champions, then you have elite champions, and finally fighters who are special. This is the rare time we will see two fighters who are special. They got past the elites in the Margaritos and Ricky Hattons. Both have special fighters on their resume in Oscar De La Hoya. Floyd is an undefeated special fighter, which Shane has faced before.
I have a great deal of respect for both. All special guys are what I call misleading fighters. Hopkins talks so much shit you forget he’s more technical than gorilla. All that prison, gangsta talk misleads you. Pacquiao they call him small like he’s four feet tall. But when you get in the ring you realize he ain’t that small! Mayweather, all that shit talking, you think you can hit him right in the mouth. But he isn’t that easy to hit. Mosley, he looks like he should be selling you car insurance with all that smiling, but he’s a gorilla.
Pioneers don’t need blueprints, Floyd. Muhammad Ali and Wilt Chamberlain didn’t need them. There was none on Margarito. That’s how the world works. We’re up for the task. It won’t be easy. But if it was, anyone could do it.