Wednesday, May 31, 2023  |


Stroke hasn’t slowed trainer Richardson down

Fighters Network

Naazim Richardson, Shane Mosley's trainer, appreciates boxing and those around him more than ever after a life-threatening stroke. Photo / Tom

Naazim Richardson is blessed.

He’s blessed to have found his calling in life, the role of boxing coach, an occupation that has allowed the 44-year-old Philadelphiam to put his sharp mind and strong will to good use by instilling discipline in inner-city youth.

He’s blessed to have boxing talent in his own family – his son Rock Allen was a 2004 U.S. Olympian and his nephew Karl Dargan won the 2007 Pan-Am Games – which has helped earn his “Concrete Jungle Tribe” an international reputation as one of the top amateur programs in the sport.

He’s blessed to have learned the finer points of teaching boxing from Bouie Fisher, the master trainer who helped turn an ex-con named Bernard Hopkins from a street tough to a world champion.

He’s blessed to have worked with two future hall of famers – Hopkins and now Shane Mosley, who he trained for Saturday’s challenge to WBA welterweight titleholder Antonio Margarito.

And, Richardson will tell you, he’s most blessed for knowing that he’s blessed, which he fully realized only after a debilitating stroke in early 2007.

Prior to the stroke, Richardson, who has spent the last 20 years of his life coaching amateurs and pros, was finally receiving overdue recognition as a trainer after taking over as chief second for Hopkins after Fisher retired.

Richardson, long known for his sharp analytical mind among those in the Philadelphia gym scene, let the world know of his talent by devising the game plan that Hopkins implemented to perfection against 3-to-1 favorite Antonio Tarver in 2006. He also helped Hopkins come up with the strategies used to dissect and dominate dangerous punchers like Antwun Echols, Felix Trinidad and most recently Kelly Pavlik.

Richardson knows how a smart fighter can out-box a tough, forward-marching banger, the type of fighter Mosley will face in front of 20,000 fans at Staples Center in Los Angeles. He believes the 37-year-old veteran has what it takes to pull off the upset.

“All the preconceived ideas I had about Shane were true,” Richardson said at Thursday’s final press conference, following an eight-week camp in Big Bear, Calif. “He’s a great athlete with a great work ethic, but he’s also a good student. Usually someone with his kind of talent won’t listen to anybody, but Shane’s got a great ear. He wants to learn new things.”

However, both trainer and fighter have stressed to the media that they didn’t try to reinvent Mosley in camp.

“Shane already knows how to box,” Richardson said. “His father did a great job of teaching him. My role is to help him improve in areas where he needs it and to help find weaknesses in his opponent that he can exploit.”

Mosley welcomed Richardson’s strategic approach in camp, which included watching more DVDs than he usually does – not just Margarito’s bouts, but also his own fights.

“We watched a lot of fight film,” Mosley said. “I expected to watch some of Margarito, but I was surprised when he broke out DVDs of my fights. It was something new for me, but I welcomed it. We analyzed (Margarito’s) mistakes, but also his strengths. We also took a look at my mistakes and what I do well.

“The way Naazim looks at me is the way he would if he was in the opposite corner. He figures out all the little things he would exploit if he was training someone to beat me, and that’s what we worked on improving.

“He didn’t teach me anything new, but I would say he helped me to relearn certain things.”

Richardson is a master at relearning.

Almost two years ago he had to relearn how to talk and walk.

Richardson had no idea that he was a candidate for a stroke or any indication that one was coming. It struck without warning the evening of March 29. He had finished up a workout with cruiserweight contender Matt Godfrey at the James Shuler Memorial Gym in Philadelphia. It was vigorous session that included mitt and medicine ball work, but he felt fine until an hour or so after he arrived home.

“I had a slight headache,” Richardson recalled. “I tried to take some aspirin but I kept dropping the bottle. I tried to pick it up but it would drop out of my hand without my wanting it to. I’d try to pick it up again and the same thing kept happening over and over. I couldn’t understand why and then I started to feel something come over me.

“The whole left side of my body gave out and I collapsed.”

Richardson had no idea what was happening inside his skull but he knew it was something bad. The devout Muslim began to pray – or at least he tried to – as his youngest son, Bear, rushed to his aid.

“I got up to pray, but I kept falling,” Richardson said. “My son was at home with me and he called his mother and his brother Rock over to help.”

He was rushed to the nearest hospital where doctors recognized his symptoms and immediately began running tests to determine the severity of the stroke.

Richardson, laying helpless somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, could hear his doctors talking as they observed the color images of the damaged portions of his brain. He could also hear the concern in their voices.

“I remember them saying that I had so much blood on my brain that they might have to operate,” he said. “When I was conscious enough for them to talk to me, they said that it would be a long time before I could talk or walk.

“Whether I would be able to train fighters again was the farthest thing from their minds.”

It was never far from Richardson’s mind. The amateur and professional boxers he trained are like family. In fact, many of them are relatives.

He credits his family – those of blood and boxing – for his amazing recovery.

“My sons, my nephews, Bernard, and the whole Concrete Jungle were there with me in the hospital everyday to support me as I relearned how to do everything,” Richardson said.

“My mother came in and sat in a chair next to my bed every night. She crochets, so she just sat in that chair crocheting and talking to me when I couldn’t talk back, telling me things like ‘You gotta get better so you can get back to work with those kids at the gym’.”

As Richardson recovered, those kids, including 6-year-old Steve Cunningham Jr., the son of former cruiserweight titleholder Steve Cunningham, made frequent visits, raising his spirits and strengthening his resolve to get out of bed.

“I would hold the mitts for Steve Jr. right there in bed,” Richardson said. “Back at the gym I would swing a towel back and forth and have the kids bob and weave under it. Steve Jr. told me to hurry up and get better. He said ‘My mom don’t swing the towel right.'”

Richardson got better, in part because of his own stubbornness. At night, behind the backs of his nurses, he would struggle out of bed and practice walking on his own.

By early May, he felt ready to resume his life.

However, his doctors were skeptical. He had just begun his physical rehab in late April.

“They tried to see how I would get around with a walker,” Richardson said. “I told them I live in a tough part of North Philly. I ain’t using that thing. I’ll look like a sitting duck.

“The nurse said ‘OK, then get up and show me you can walk on your own if you’re not going to use it.'”

He did.

“Then she said ‘Your doctor is down the hall. Why don’t you go and tap him on the shoulder and let him know you’re OK.'”

He did.

The doctor was shocked. He took Richardson around and showed him to the other physicians.

“The doctors didn’t anticipate that I would recover as fast as I did. In fact, they couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I really didn’t know how sick I was, just how bad the stroke was, until I saw the way they reacted to my recovery.

“When I saw how crazy they acted, I knew I was blessed to have come through it.”

Two months after being released from the hospital Richardson worked the corner for Hopkins’ victory over Winky Wright. He resumed his role as Hopkins’ head trainer for the 44-year-old marvel’s one-sided decision over Pavlik, a 3-to-1 favorite, last October.

It was a bitter-sweet victory for Richardson as his mother passed away during that camp.

Many believe that he is doing his finest training post-stroke.

He doesn’t think he’s doing anything different from what he did before the stroke. The difference, he says, is that he appreciates what he does and the people around him more than ever.

“The stroke was a wake up call,” he said. “I don’t take anything or anybody for granted. I know God has a plan for me.”

When Richardson started the Concrete Jungle Tribe almost 20 years ago, boxing was about survival of the fittest. It was about overcoming all obstacles through strength of will, body and character.

It still is. But now it’s also about the good people the sport has brought into his life; people he can call family and friends.

It’s a circle that now extends to Southern California.

“You know who Shane Mosley is to me?” Richardson asked rhetorically. “He’s a great human being who just happens to be able to box his ass off.”

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]