Best I’ve Trained: Ronnie Shields
Long before Ronnie Shields became a world-class trainer to some of the best boxers of the past four decades, he was a renowned boxer himself.
Shields tried out for the 1976 Olympics, losing to the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard in the trials. He exited the unpaid ranks with a highly respectable mark of 242-21.
After turning pro Shields fought in the junior welterweight division during the 1980s. He enjoyed a solid career, twice unsuccessfully challenging for a version of the world championship, losing to Billy Costello and Tsuyoshi Hamada – both times by decision.
Shields, who retired in ’88 with a record of 26-6-1 (19 knockouts), looks back on his career with fond memories.
“I think overall I had a good career,” Shields told RingTV.com. “I thought I won the world title when I went to Japan and fought Hamada. There’s no way in the world I thought I lost that fight; I really thought I won. I didn’t get the decision, it was very disappointing to me. I thought I did what I can do, the best I can do, it just wasn’t good enough to win a world title.”
While it wasn’t apparent to Shields that he’d make a good trainer, others clearly saw those traits in his personality. In late 1987, Shields received a phone call from Lou Duva and George Benton. Both men were in Houston training the now-professional members of the 1984 U.S Olympic team and wanted some assistance. Shields rebuffed their initial advance.
Duva and Benton tried a second time and a curious Shields said he’d visit the camp and see if it was for him. He took to it like a duck to water.
“The first guy I worked with was Evander Holyfield and he loved it. He said, ‘You should be doing this, I love the way you do pads,'” said the venerable boxer-turned-trainer. “Then I started doing the pads with Rocky Lockridge, Meldrick Taylor, Tyrell Biggs, Livingstone Bramble ÔÇª I enjoyed it, it was really fun for me.”
Shields spent a lot of time with Benton, whom he describes as an “encyclopedia,” as the two worked out game plans and watched tape of their fighters opponents. It was a key point in his development.
Shields lists Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Vernon Forrest, Pernell Whitaker, Arturo Gatti, Juan Diaz and Guillermo Rigondeaux among his former clients. Today, the 57-year-old works out of Plex, a state-of-the-art facility in Houston, with renowned strength and conditioning coach Danny Arnold. Shields currently works with reigning junior middleweight titlists Erislandy Lara and Jermall Charlo, who will face Vanes Martirosyan and Austin Trout, respectively, Saturday on a Showtime broadcast from Las Vegas. The Texan native also works with several other fighters including Polish heavyweight Artur Szpilka and light heavyweight contender Edwin Rodriguez, as well as a host of up-and-comers not limited to Steve Lovett, Semajay Thomas and Darwin Price.
Away from boxing, Shields has been married for 30 years; he has three children and three grandchildren. Once a week, schedule permitting, he has date night with his wife.
Shields graciously agreed to speak with RingTV.com about the best fighters he has trained in his career.
Pernell Whitaker: I think Pernell Whitaker. I’d say he landed about 85 percent of his jabs; he didn’t waste anything. He set everything up with his jab, then he played everything off his defense. With Pernell, if you’re watching him he might give you a feint, he might give you this and that but he’s always going to jab to make sure he’s at the right distance when he’s throwing combinations. Right now, I think the best and strongest jab is Jermall Charlo.
Whitaker: It has to be Pernell Whitaker, he was a very hard guy to hit. The thing about Pernell was he used every aspect of his game for defense. Everything he did he made a defensive move first, to make you do something so he can create his offense and that’s why Pernell Whitaker was the best defensive guy I ever worked with.
Evander Holyfield: Evander Holyfield, no doubt. Evander was always the smallest guy no matter what weight he was in, even as an amateur. Evander loved fighting bigger guys. He was a very smart guy because he realized when he was a heavyweight he was a very small heavyweight but he was the fastest heavyweight — he has the best hand-speed, he has the best foot-speed. There was nobody in the heavyweight division who could match him in speed and he knew this; this is why he was able to become champion of the world and he got away with it for so long. People didn’t realize the speed of his combinations, the footwork he had that they couldn’t keep up. These guys might hit him and hurt him but you’re not going to knock him out. This guy has an iron chin.
David Tua had a great chin but he didn’t fight the guys Evander Holyfield fought in their prime. When you look at Holyfield, you’ve got to look at Ray Mercer, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson — all those guys in that era and Evander fought every last one of them. It was hard to become champion in that division in that era and Evander fought them all and this is why he was four-time heavyweight champion — because of his chin.
Oh yeah, Arturo (Gatti) did have a great chin, and the reason I say Evander Holyfield is because heavyweights hit much harder than anybody else.
Meldrick Taylor: Nobody was faster than Meldrick Taylor. He was just unbelievable with his hand-speed. Meldrick was a guy who could throw 50 punches and he’s going to land at least 25 to 30 of them.
Only one other guy comes close: Eddie Hopson. I was never Eddie’s head trainer but I did a lot of pads with him. He became champion of the world (IBF junior lightweight). He had hand- and foot-speed.
Taylor: Without a doubt Meldrick Taylor because you’ve just got to go back and look at him. It’s unbelievable what this kid was able to do at a very young age.
Whitaker: Pernell was a guy who was very smart. Also, this kid named John John Molina — he was a very talented junior lightweight, he was like a three-time junior lightweight champion (WBO once, IBF twice). Very, very intelligent; he was a hard guy to beat. They are the two smartest guys I ever worked with but I’d pick Pernell.
Vernon Forrest probably falls in the category of one of the smartest fighters I ever worked with. He fought some good guys, but his era wasn’t over when he got killed. I would put Guillermo Rigondeaux in that equation but he still has a ways to go and he still has to fight the best guys out there. These guys I’m naming, they fought the best in their divisions and I don’t think Rigondeaux has done that yet.
David Tua: Tua and Rocky Lockridge. Rocky was a very strong fighter; he was a featherweight and junior lightweight and guys tried to bully him around and he just wasn’t having it. I remember when he fought Roger Mayweather, everybody said Roger was gonna knock him out. What happened? Boom, second round, Rocky Lockridge knocked him out. (Lockridge actually KO’d Mayweather midway through Round 1.)
David Tua, you couldn’t move him. You see David Tua’s legs, they were the biggest legs I ever saw on a heavyweight and for a short guy, only 5-foot-10. His thighs are bigger than guys’ bodies. Everybody tried to move David but they couldn’t. But David, hands down, was the strongest guy.
Tua: I’m not going to count Mike Tyson because I only trained him for one fight versus Lennox Lewis. That wasn’t the Mike Tyson everybody knew, that was someone else.
I think David Tua would probably be the biggest puncher that I worked with. David was one of these guys that if he hit you solid he was going to knock you out. There is very few guys he hit solid that didn’t go down — the one was Ike Ibeabuchi. David hit him with good shots but he took ’em. But what he did to John Ruiz, knocking him out in 27 seconds of the fight, a perfectly timed left hook and just put him out.
Jermall Charlo is an honorable mention as a puncher.
Whitaker: He had a great jab, his defense was probably the best you’re going to see in a very long time and he had all the technical skills in the world. Evander Holyfield also; he had a great jab, he threw combinations for a heavyweight like nobody else — that’s what kept him in fights. That’s how he was able to beat those guys who were really big.
Whitaker: That’s a toss-up between Evander Holyfield and Pernell Whitaker. Talent-wise you just can’t beat Pernell Whitaker. If Holyfield has stayed at light heavyweight he would have ruled that division. He went up to cruiserweight and he ruled that division without a doubt and then he went up to heavyweight and ruled. But overall talent, nobody could match Whitaker.