Ronnie Shields has reached a crossroads matchup with his fighter Juan Diaz. The pair has gone 2-3 in their last 5 fights, with 1 of the wins being a highly controversial decision. Their last fight was a decision loss to Paulie Malignaggi in December. But Shields still has faith in his fighter as they head to a July 31 PPV showdown and rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez.

The first fight was a high-intensity brawl that earned Fight of the Year honors. But Diaz was on the wrong side of a TKO in the ninth after controlling the fight early. Does Shields need to create a completely new strategy, or can Marquez’s precise counter-punching be subdued by smaller adjustments? The 2003 Trainer of Year expounds on his fight plan, his era compared to today’s junior welterweights, and how his past fighters (Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield) match up with the Klitschkos.

Ismael AbduSalaam: Before we get into the Marquez-Diaz rematch, give me your take on what went wrong with the Malignaggi fight?

Ronnie Shields: The thing is Paulie Malignaggi is a really good boxer. He was on that night and Juan wasn’t; he couldn’t get off [even though] he did everything he could. But he kept saying he didn’t feel right, [that] his punches weren’t coming the way they normally do. And Paulie Malignaggi had a great night.

Ismael: With the training camp you’ve had this time with Juan, how would you rate his focus in comparison to when he was champion or coming up the ranks? There is speculation that his studying for the bar exam has taken away some of his focus.

Shields: Oh no, Juan is very focused fighter and an intelligent person. He knows how to put things in perspective. He realizes that this fight has a lot to do with his [future] boxing career. He loses this fight [and] it puts him in a bad situation. His focus is really there, he’s listening to everything all the trainers are telling him. And that’s pretty much all you can ask of a fighter, to listen, work hard, and focus on the game plan established. We have to make some adjustments because we lost the last fight.

Ismael: In terms of strategy what can Diaz do differently to prevent giving Marquez the counter openings he got in the last fight?

Shields: I think we had the perfect game plan last time, up until Juan stopped using his jab. Once that happened that caused Marquez, one of the best counter punchers in boxing, to not have to worry about anything. He just had to get off on the counter. We have to fight the same fight as last time, but we have to remember that we can’t fall in to punches and be smart. We can put pressure on him, but we can’t be careless and drop our hands and let this guy tee off on us. Juan is better than that.

I think the excitement of fighting in his hometown of Houston and who he was fighting had a big impact on the way he fought the first fight. We have to be careful and I think he will. Juan is showing in the gym that he really wants to win and show everybody he is one of the best fighters out there.

Ismael: When you’re reviewing tapes of Marquez, do you put much stock in his last fight against Floyd Mayweather? Or is it not really a factor because he was above a comfortable weight?

Shields: I did look at it, but Juan Diaz’s style and Mayweather’s style are completely different. Floyd Mayweather was just too big and Marquez couldn’t do anything. Mayweather’s size and skill were just too much to overcome. Marquez fought a good fight, but there’s nothing we can learn from it. Their styles are just too different.

Ismael: You trained Tomasz Adamek for his last fight against Chris Arreola, and you’ve trained Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. What is the main problem you see in the division now as opposed to the 90s and 80s?

Shields: Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko! These guys are big, strong, and great boxers. I don’t see anyone in the near future beating them. You can beat them, because they have been beaten before, but you have to be on that night. You have to have a great strategy. But for the last couple years, people are just getting there and trying to overpower them. That’s just not working. You have to have a better strategy because they have size, strength, and good jabs.

Ismael: Even with the Klitschko’s size, how do you think they would have matched up with some of your former fighters like Holyfield and Tyson?

Shields: Oh man Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis; all those guys would’ve beaten them. Look at Evander. Holyfield was a religious guy. It didn’t matter how big you were; his boxing skills were so good he could match up with anyone. That’s how he was able to match up well with big guys like Bowe and Lewis. When Lennox fought Vitali, he was just as big and strong. With Wladimir, Lennox would have knocked him out early because Wladimir is the one who takes more chances.

But the guys today in the United States are not as hungry as those guys in the 90s. I just don’t see it. Although we have the talent to beat the Klitschkos, these guys just aren’t as hungry. Our heavyweights have to get it together and decide they are going to give in their best. Nobody [right now] is willing to step up.

Ismael: You’re one of the more passionate trainers in the corner. I can see when you are frustrated with a fighter who is not following instructions and what was planned in the gym. In particular I’ve seen it a lot with Rocky Juarez and Dominick Guinn. How hard is it for you to get over a loss when you know your fighter could have easily won if they followed the game plan?

Shields: It stays with you for a little bit. When you’re training your guy and you see him giving his all in the gym, and then in the fight that changes, it makes you wonder if it’s the fighter or your game plan. Of course you have to question yourself, but it ultimately comes down to the fighter. Why didn’t he do what he was supposed to do? There are guys who don’t even try and try to switch away from the game plan. As a trainer you try to tell them and they just don’t do it. It’s frustrating, but you have to move on because you have other fighters and not let it get the best of you.

Ismael: Let’s look at Kermit Cintron. Does he have any potential fights on the table following that controversial Paul Williams bout?

Shields: As a matter of fact we got a call about Kermit possibly going to Germany to fight Felix Strum for the middleweight championship. That was the offer, but I don’t think the money was right. But that’s an offer still on the table. It would be on September 4 in Germany.

Ismael: Now how has his mindset been lately? He’s been in controversial decisions that sometimes benefit him like the Martinez fight. And other times it goes against him like the Williams fight. Has he been able to remain confident and motivated?

Shields: Oh absolutely. We’re going to Sacramento, California to try and get the Williams decision overturned, at least to a No Contest. You saw the fight; everybody saw that Kermit was winning the fight. So that’s motivation for him. He was beating someone that everybody thought would just blow him away. People said that Paul Williams throws hundreds of punches per round, but you didn’t see that against Kermit Cintron. Why? Because he got caught with a right hand early, he felt the power and Kermit was going to knock him out, plain and simple. What happened outside the ring, that’s boxing. The doctor wouldn’t let him get up. There was nothing he could do about it. He wants the rematch, but they [Williams’ team] don’t want the fight. So what does that tell you?

Ismael: I asked Roger Mayweather this question because he also competed at 140. You were a contender in the early and mid 80s and fought guys like Hamada and Costello. How do you think the young junior welterweight fighters today compare to your era?

Shields: I certainly think my era was a lot stronger then guys who are out there now. I’m looking at Devon Alexander and Timothy Bradley, if they were around in my era I’d be champion of the world for a very long time. I don’t see any of these guys beating anyone of my class: the Saoul Mambys, the Billy Costellos, the Tsuyoshi Hamadas, and the Bruce Currys. We were big, strong, and our boxing skills were so much better than all of these guys. I don’t think these guys could compete. If I was fighting in this era the way I fought, I’d be champion of the world for as long as I wanted to be.

Ismael: How many fighters are you currently training right now?

Shields: Right now I’d say about ten.

Ismael: How do you manage the schedules to make sure every fighter gets the time they need?

Shields: For me it’s really simple. I spread my guys out. I’m not afraid to work [and] everybody gets their time. This is also why you have assistants because everyone wants head trainer attention. And this is what I try to give them by spreading guys out so they can get the attention they need. It’s very important for every fighter to feel they’re important whether it’s a four or twelve round fight. You have to focus and make sure everyone is happy. The good thing is everyone is not fighting at the same time, so I have a system that focuses on who is fighting now. We give them six weeks, and then we’re ready for the next guys. It’s hard sometimes when you have a lot of fights coming up, but that just means you have to spend longer hours in the gym.

Ismael: Last question. Out of all the fighters you trained, who had the most natural talent and who had the most will?

Shields: The guy with the most natural talent would be Pernell Whitaker. And the guy with the most heart is Evander Holyfield.

Ismael: Thank you very much for your time Ronnie and good luck on July 31.

Shields: Thank you very much I appreciate it.

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