The Wisdom of Naazim Richardson
The following Jabs and Straight Writes column was originally scheduled to run in the November 2020 issue of The Ring before the decision was made to dedicate that magazine to the career of Manny Pacquiao. With no space left in the special issue, we decided to run Thomas Hauser’s recollections of Naazim Richardson, and his thoughts on other subjects, on RingTV.com.
The sad news spread like a black fog through the boxing community on July 24. Naazim Richardson, who overcome a stroke in 2007 and returned to training fighters, had died.
Brother Naazim, as he liked to be called, came from hard origins that included a stint in prison when he was young. He was best known for training Bernard Hopkins late in The Executioner’s ring career. He was also the man who discovered illegal inserts in Antonio Margarito’s knuckle-pads before Margarito fought Shane Mosley in 2009. The inserts were removed. Mosley knocked Margarito out in the ninth round.
Richardson was a philosopher and story-teller. “Verbally, I can dance with you,” he said. The thoughts he shared over the years include:
* “Fights between elite fighters aren’t won in training camp. Fights at the highest level are won on lifestyle. People make a joke out of Ricky Hatton blowing up, gaining forty, fifty pounds between fights. And then they say, ‘Look how hard he works when he’s training.’ But think about how much better he’d be if he stayed in shape all year long.” Bernard fought Felix Trinidad on a Saturday night. He was back in the gym on Tuesday.”
* “Things are at a point now where, when you fight Manny Pacquiao, you’re fighting the man and you’re also fighting the perception of how great he is. People are so busy watching Pacquiao that they don’t see what the other guy does. It’s like Joe Frazier said about fighting Ali. When Joe hit Ali, they talked about how great Ali’s jaw was. When Ali hit Joe, it was, ‘Look how fast Ali’s hands are.’”
* “Continuity is one of the keys to training a fighter. Sometimes you see a kid who has gone from foster home to foster home, and he doesn’t know what it’s like to have a parent. It’s the same thing with a fighter who moves from trainer to trainer.”
* “There are times when being a trainer is like being a parent. A lot of trainers spend years building a kid. And then a celebrity trainer steals him. It’s like raising a child. Imagine if you raise a child; change his diapers; teach him to walk and talk. And then, after years of parenting, if he turns out to be the kind of person you hoped he’d be, someone comes along and tells you that he’s not your kid anymore.”
* “A fighter takes two things from every fight – punishment and experience.”
Naazim Richardson brought out the best in the people. There was a quiet strength and great dignity about him. When I heard he’d died, I said to myself, “Oh, no! That’s so sad.”
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Kudos to Matt Christie (editor of Boxing News, our counterpart in the United Kingdom). In a recent editorial, Christie spoke to those who complain when writers take off their rose-colored glasses and address boxing’s problems honestly and in depth.
In part, Christie wrote, “If the people in power are never challenged and get too used to talking to those they know they can control – those who try a little too hard to please their subjects and fire questions but don’t come armed with evidence to challenge the answers – it will become increasingly difficult for the rulebreakers to be held accountable for their crimes. To produce an in-depth investigation or feature, one that is balanced and fair and factually correct, one that uncovers the truth for the benefit of boxing and its fighters and holds decision makers accountable, can take several weeks or even months. The process of researching and securing the right interviews, conducting them and transcribing them and then crafting the story, is a long and arduous one if done correctly. Though I accept that we now play a numbers game – views, likes, comments – the real purpose of the story should always be considered while telling it. The job of the boxing journalist isn’t to try and trip up anyone. Very often, those at the heart of the sport deserve tremendous praise. [But] ultimately the job of the boxing journalist is to serve boxing’s interests: the fighters, the fans and its future by shining a light on both the good and the bad.”
* * *
A boxing analogy, if I may.
COVID-19 is a puncher. And it’s relentless. You can’t let your guard down. That means wearing a mask, social distancing, washing your hands. You know the moves. Your trainer taught them to you. If you’re careless or too stubborn to follow the advice, you’ll get whacked. And like a fighter in the ring, even if you do what you’re supposed to do, you might get hit. Hard.
Maybe you’ll shake it off without much damage. Maybe you’ll be hurt but recover. Or maybe – like Jimmy Glenn and some others we loved – you’ll be out for the count.
They say that boxing is a metaphor for life. So true.
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In recent months, I’ve exchanged emails regularly with a reader known to me only as John. He expresses himself well and his comments are thought-provoking. A few worth sharing are:
* “The boxing fan is treated like yesterday’s garbage. They call us ‘The Gate’ as if we are just a number, a digit, a less then important piece of the fight game. It hits me every so often. It gets at me.”
* ” I never liked dancers other than the woman on the floor. Defense is fine, but don’t forget to fight. Give me a guy who walks like he is hungry, like the world is a big lie and I am going to hurt someone tonight. Nothing wrong with a little nasty from time to time. Got to keep the street in your blood.”
* “I had a thought of writing about what it means to have a favorite fighter. What that is like, how that happens, how it turns into something good. Stats; throw them out. Wins and loses; I do not care. Height, reach advantage; stick it buddy. He is my fighter.”
* “If boxing wasn’t a sport, someone would invent it today. Hell, fighting is all that’s happening now.”
* * *
A cautionary tale for those who would invest in boxing.
Steve Lott (who worked for years with Bill Cayton and Jim Jacobs) was in Las Vegas when Craig Hamilton (who co-managed Michael Grant with Cayton) asked Steve if he’d like to join him at the blackjack table.
“Do you see all those guys playing blackjack?” Steve responded. “Most of them are playing now just to get even. I’m already even.”
Think about that before investing in boxing. If you like the action, fine. But the action can be very expensive. And most investors don’t get back to even.
Thomas Hauser’s email address is [email protected] His next book – Staredown: Another Year Inside Boxing – will be published by the University of Arkansas Press this autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. He will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020.