Gerald Tucker returns from 15-year layoff to resume career
Much had changed about the world since Gerald Tucker last walked up the steps to participate in a professional boxing match. The last time Tucker had fought, a first-round knockout of Jose Castro in August 2001 in Utah, it was the beginning of George W. Bush’s first term as U.S. President.
He wouldn’t fight again until the end of Barack Obama’s second term. Now 37, the Cincinnati native has a lot of lost time to make up for.
Tucker (6-0-1, 3 knockouts) picked up where he left off, scoring a four-round unanimous decision win over Anthony Napunyi on the undercard of Adrien Broner vs. Ashley Theophane in Washington D.C. on Friday.
“Been a long time coming, 15 years away,” Tucker reflected on the win. “I had fun in there tonight.”
The fight was the culmination of a long journey, one which began with a Little Leaguer’s bad report card and saw a boxing career sidetracked by tragedy before shedding 60 pounds and jumping countless other hurdles led back to the ring.
A career interrupted
Tucker still recalls the day he received the phone call. It was August 18, 2001, and he was at the weigh-in for what would be his final fight for a long time. His brother had been shot and killed back home in Cincinnati, and the emotional conflict put him in a tough position.
“I had to make the decision to either keep fighting and then go home, or just go straight home.”
Tucker decided to fight, finishing the night early before relocating to Ohio from where he’d been living in Las Vegas. But being back in Cincinnati wasn’t the most conducive environment to staying on track.
“Long story short, days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months. I look up and 7, 8 years had passed,” said Tucker.
Tucker had been on the fast track to stardom. An Olympic alternate in 1996 just a couple years after picking up the sport, the junior featherweight had racked up nearly a dozen national titles before signing with co-managers Floyd Mayweather Jr. and James Prince.
Once back home, he got caught up by the allure of fast money.
“I was only making $1,200 a fight and I was from the streets and I’d done stuff in the past that I don’t want to brag on or anything like that,” said Tucker. “I would never do it these days, but I was making way more money, way faster than training for a month or so and making $1,200 at the end, give this person this much money and give Uncle Sam this much money.”
Tucker was a natural for the sport but boxing wasn’t his first passion. He grew up playing baseball, and did well until his grades began to slip and his mother banned him from practice.
That’s when Tucker began to take note of the trophy case in the living room of his childhood friend, future U.S. Olympian Ricardo Williams. “He had a big old trophy case with 50 medals, 50 trophies, like 20 belts and all I had at my house was two little baseball trophies the size of my hand.”
Tucker brought his grades up and began following Williams to the boxing gym. Within four months he was ranked No. 2 in the country as a Junior Olympian. After 12 fights he was runner-up in the 1995 National Golden Gloves. The following year he won the National Gloves at 106 pounds, then beat future champion Ivan Calderon in the Eastern trials en route to the Olympic trials, where he finished third.
Matured and more experienced, Tucker continued to tear through the amateur ranks, winning the bantamweight gold at the 1999 Pan American Games by defeating former Cuban world amateur champion Waldemar Font and then Nehomar Cermeno in the final. At the 2000 Olympic trials, Tucker lost in the finals and turned pro afterward.
Fighting to training to fighting
Tucker admits that it hurt to even watch boxing in the years after he walked away from the sport, knowing what he had left behind. After five years, Tucker got hyped about the sport again watching the build-up to his old manager Mayweather’s fight against Zab Judah in 2006.
He tried returning to Las Vegas, but by now he was a grown man with grown-up responsibilities. “You get a girl, have kids, you need a job. It gets kinda hard to get back into it like you were when you were fresh.”
Younger boxing fans may only know Gerald Tucker’s name as a trainer. He had no plans of putting a towel over his shoulder until he was approached by a boxer named Donte Strayhorn and his upstart promoter, Curtis Jackson, AKA rapper 50 Cent.
“I had never trained a fighter a day in my life,” said Tucker. “I went to the gym, met (Strayhorn) and 50. He looked like something I could work with and make better. The next day I became a trainer.”
Though Strayhorn was focused on his own career, he couldn’t help but notice that his mentor still had something to offer the sport between the ropes.
“I told him he would come back when he use to play around on the bag,” said Strayhorn.
“You only live once, so why not still chase your dream? It’s his time now.”
Tucker did a short spell training James Kirkland, working his corner for his fight against Canelo Alvarez in 2015. More prominently, he’s been in the gym as an assistant to his old trainer Mike Stafford, who currently works with Cincinnati-based fighters Adrien Broner, Raynell Williams, Robert Easter Jr. and Jamel Herring.
Herring recalls seeing Tucker show up to the gym with his punch mitts and sparring gloves and thinking he wasn’t finished just yet as a fighter.
“He still has it,” said Herring, a 15-0 (8 KOs) lightweight prospect and 2012 U.S. Olympian. “Of course he needs to sharpen up more but you gotta realize he’s been out for quite some time. Everyone isn’t Bernard Hopkins but I believe if you stay disciplined and have the will to succeed, you can do anything.”
It was Broner, who used to watch Tucker in the gym as a kid, who told Tucker that his days as a trainer were over.
“He said I’ve got too much talent, too much skills. He said it in front of all the fighters ‘F–k them. You’re about to get in the ring. You’re done training them.'”
That was all the motivation Tucker needed to make his return. The only problem is, he was seriously out of shape and would need to make serious lifestyle adjustments.
“I made up a list of stuff I wasn’t ever going to do again,” Tucker said, which included starting and ending each day with either a drink of Jack Daniels, R├®my Martin or Hennessy.
“I had to sacrifice everything I knew was bad for me in order to get the weight off me. No drinking, no fried chicken, no cupcakes, no M&Ms.”
From a high of 190 pounds, Tucker weighed in at 128.8 pounds for his return and got to open the show as his gym mates Easter and Broner pulled off knockout victories.
Now that he’s back in fighting shape, Tucker isn’t wasting any time. He says he’s already considering a quick turnaround for an April 23 fight date in Cincinnati. He says his children, his supporters and his unfulfilled dreams are what pushes him, and he wants to prove that it’s never too late to start again.
“I’m not fighting just no one damn time. I’m about to go after those checks,” said Tucker.
“I’m here to shock the world and inspire a lot of people. They might not be able to do exactly what I’m doing but it might be something like playing the saxophone, pull the saxophone out of the closet and join a band like you always wanted to do.”