This year marks the 20th anniversary of the last great University of Nevada-Las Vegas basketball team.
During a two-year stretch where the Runnin’ Rebels ran up a record of 69-6 and earned two Final Four berths, they loved to share their secret to success, one that I feel can be applicable to all standards of competition.
“Because we practice harder than anyone else,” UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian once said, “we deserve to win.”
Such is the mentality behind NABO/NABF cruiserweight holder Lateef “Power” Kayode, 15-0 (14), who dreams of fighting under the glitz and glamorous lights of the Strip one day. Until then, the Nigerian tirelessly toils at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, looking to warrant a world title shot when he takes on Nicholas Iannuzzi, 16-1 (9), on tonight’s edition of “ShoBox: The New Generation” from the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.
“I want to show I deserve a title shot,” said the brick-fisted Kayode, who sports scars on his cheeks from a Yoruba tribal ritual. “I want to show that my hard work and everything I’ve been through are worth it.”
The accolades that accompany the crown recognize the magnitude of the achievement but it is the journey to reach that destination that elevates the man inside in ways only he can explain. For the 27year-old Kayode, such a path has brought him from the gang-infested streets of the Surulere district of Lagos, Nigeria, to his current life as Freddie Roach’s pupil on the sun-baked roads of Tinseltown.
After a distinguished amateur career took him to America, where he led a seemingly nomadic life by boarding a variety of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” Kayode landed in Southern California, where, in a chance meeting fit for a Hollywood script, he encountered someone who actually wrote them.
“I was training to keep from going crazy while I waited for the 2007-2008 Writers’ Strike to settle,” recalled Steven Feder, who both penned the screenplay and directed the 2000 Lions Gate film “It Had to Be You.” “As the strike neared to an end, I was at a gym when three Nigerian fighters came in to meet with a prospective manager that Young Dick Tiger had arranged for them to meet. The guy never showed up.
“At that moment, I honestly don't know what clicked but I went over and asked what the story was with the three young men. Among the three was Lateef Kayode. He was quiet, reserved and very polite. He didn't speak freely but he spoke enough to let me know about his passion to become a world champion and his yearning for a fair opportunity. Something told me the kid was special. I gave him 30 days to prove it. The rest is, as they say, history.”
“So many people in the past lied to me. They told me they were going to help me and it turned out they weren’t who I thought they were,” added Kayode, eliciting memories of Dennis Green in the process. “But Steve was different and I trusted him. I liked what he said.”
As fate would have it, Kayode decided to pin his professional hopes on a man with more experience dealing with the SAG than the WBC at the time. Feder soon realized that he not only was he learning on the job, he had to do it quickly or risk losing his only client in a scenario reminiscent of another Hollywood film, “Jerry Maguire.”
“I had a solid business background but in boxing, you have to have more than book smarts,” said Feder. “It's a tough business and it can disillusion even the greatest optimists but, like anything, you either love it or you don't.
“In boxing, you won't find too many success stories that begin and end on a lark. You can't half-step it and expect to be successful or respected. It's a day-in and day-out job to properly manage a fighter. I relied on my people skills, which I learned from nearly two decades as a writer in Hollywood.”
The fledgling manager found a friend in four-time BWAA “Trainer of the Year” Freddie Roach, who agreed to train Kayode as well.
“As for Freddie, I brought Lateef up to Wild Card to spar Ola Afolabi when he was preparing for Eric Fields,” remembered Feder. “Ola won that fight. Once Freddie started working the mitts with Lateef, he was impressed with his natural power. But Lateef was raw.”
Feder and Roach would soon establish Standing Eight Management and the company’s foundation could be best described as a bit unorthodox.
“About two-and-a-half years ago, I took a hundred-dollar bill and cut it in half,” said Feder. “I wrote my name on one side and Fred wrote his on the other. He pinned my half to his wall in the office. His half is in my wallet. That’s the contract. He is about as giving as a human being can be and with all his fame, he's still just Freddie. I have no fighters who train anywhere but Wild Card and that's just the way I like it.”
The partnership has worked out quite well for all parties involved. To label Kayode as an undefeated contender would be an understatement in describing the Nigerian’s rise. After earning a decision victory in his debut, Kayode has reeled off an eye-popping 14 consecutive knockouts, with the last five coming as a member of the Gary Shaw Productions stable.
What is probably most intriguing of all is the variety in which Kayode has closed the show. Vicious left hooks, crippling body shots, and straight right hands from Hell have all contributed to his finishing arsenal.
“I don’t really look for the knockout but if it’s there, I’ll go for it,” said Kayode. “I know it’s what the fans want to see and I love giving it to them.”
Of course, such rapid improvement didn’t suffice overnight. Over the last three years, Kayode has chiseled his raw power into a skill set a little more palatable for the pugilistic purist.
“I’ve worked on my jab and learning to box better,” said Kayode. “I learned how to set up my opponents for my punches. I’ve become a smarter fighter with Freddie.”
Case in point is his last bout in December against Ed Perry, who had never tasted the canvas in his 24bout, six-year pro career. Kayode set him up with a body attack and a double jab before the coup de grace arriving via a breakaway freight train of a right cross.
“I was surprised [Perry] decided to trade with me,” recalled Kayode at the time, his eyes rifling through his memory bank to find the right words to say. “The way he came aggressive was to my benefit. [Trainer] Jesse [Arevalo] told me to be patient and my combinations worked in the end to break him down.”
“Perry was looking to catch ‘Power’ as he was throwing but because he was getting hit with so many body shots he was constantly having to cover up, which left his head wide open,” said Feder. “Certain fighters will take the shots in the hope of getting one good one through. Perry landed a solid shot to ‘Power's’ chin and when that didn't work, I think Perry knew he was in for a tough night.”
Clearly, Kayode has developed an aura of confidence that has been the result of a Rebel-esque ethos of training so hard that victory is more of an expectation than a possibility. Ranked in the top six in three of the four major sanctioning bodies, Kayode feels he’s due for a crack at the world cruiserweight championship, mostly likely one in Berlin against WBO king Marco Huck. But the next stop on his tour to the title is Iannuzzi.
“I don't know much about him. He's never fought any big TV fight so we didn't have video on him except for one fight where he was knocked down three times,” said Kayode.
Let’s face it; Iannuzzi may only have one loss but the one Kayode refers to is a first-round stoppage to journeyman Harvey Jolly. The Tampa native is considered by everyone outside Ybor City to be entering the ring as an opponent and most predict that Kayode will exhibit enough power to keep his stoppage streak alive. The casual fan might not look at the fight as a box-office smash but the Nigerian needs to put on a critically-acclaimed performance to keep his reputation intact.
“Iannuzzi is all we focus on,” said Feder, dismissing any qualms about the fight. “We assume he will bring everything he has. It's the biggest stage he's ever fought on. It's national TV and it's in our backyard. That casino is our house. It's ‘Power's’ house and anyone that comes-a-knockin’ is in for the fight of their lives. We are not looking past this fight. We expect a fight and we plan on holding up our end.”
Still, by all accounts, Kayode did not enter this camp with a sense of entitlement. With Roach absent for the majority of the time due to his duties with Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., in Mexico, Jesse Arevalo again took over the reins until the bespectacled cornerman’s return this week. In fact, it is Kayode’s cognizance of the situation that has actually caused him to step up the rigor in his workouts.
“We added more rounds for sparring earlier in the camp,” said Kayode. “I was always going at least ten rounds. The more rounds the better for me. When we did 11 and 12 rounds, it was even better. I feel stronger as the rounds go. Some days we had four or five guys rotating in and I just kept going. I like to warm up the first few rounds so I can break down the opponent. I'm learning that patience is paying off for me. Freddie is teaching me that I don't have to rush to win.”
“Everything is ramped up now,” added Feder. “He wants to train so hard to give the fans the best show possible. In fact, because of their brotherhood, Ola Afolabi is now helping Lateef prepare for this fight, so it’s kind of like everything’s full-circle.”
Perhaps the latest addition to Kayode's life can be best categorized by another classic flick, “Parenthood.” Last September, his girlfriend, Monique, gave birth to a daughter, Hailey Ifemi Renay. During our talk, Kayode had just come out of a church ceremony where the baby was blessed by the couple’s pastor.
“It’s definitely been different for him,” said Feder. “Sometimes the baby will fall asleep on his shoulder and he won’t move for hours just so he won’t wake her up. Then there are times where he won’t get enough sleep and he’ll come to the gym cranky. He’s finding out what it’s all about being a dad.”
The new parent gave a glimpse of his new routine. “Monique's mom watches the baby when Monique goes to work and I go to train and then I get home first, so I take care of the baby until she gets home.”
So are there any parallels to be made between boxing and his newly-minted role as a father?
“The baby is heavy,” Kayode laughs. “I can't hold her too long. Changing the diaper was also difficult at first. Sometimes I joke with Steve that it’s much more dangerous to take care of the baby than it does to box but it gives me a lot to fight for. I always fight for my family and my country but now I have my daughter to fight for as well. I fight to make sure she has a good future.”
Tonight, the arduous journey to the head of the table continues. Will another spectacular finish vault him into the boardroom discussion for the next episode of “Showtime Championship Boxing”? Could he possibly be headed for a flight across the Atlantic Ocean for a bout with Huck?
“Are we ready?” asked Feder rhetorically. “I think the question is, ‘Are we talented enough?’ The answer is yes. It's easy for Huck's people to say we want a fight because it's always on their turf, their terms. I don't blame Huck for fighting over there. He's protected. ‘Pac-Man,’ the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world, gets on a plane. Amir Khan gets on a plane. Arthur Abraham had the guts to get on a plane. I'd say Marco Huck can get on a plane but we’ll go over the next move when it comes.”
“It’s up to God what will happen if we fight but when my coach thinks I'm ready, then we will fight,” stated Kayode. “I think with each fight, I am learning more and more and the experience is very important for me to grow as a fighter. But I know that when that day comes and we fight, he will not find it easy with me. He will be in for the fight of his life because he has never faced someone with my power, my speed, and my heart.”
With that said, a little over two decades ago, the UNLV team mentioned at the beginning of this piece hoisted a championship trophy by utilizing overwhelming power, breakneck speed, and exemplary heart. We will see by the end of the year if enough of these variables exist to keep the plot of the Lateef Kayode Story rolling toward the climax of a world title.
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FUNDRAISER BY THE BAY
After an accomplished amateur career that included a 2010 Northern California Golden Gloves title at light welterweight, San Francisco’s Denis “El Toro” Madriz is turning pro and he needs a little help getting started with his career.
“Denis wants to turn pro but he doesn’t have the money to pay for medicals, equipment and all that,” said USA Boxing Northern California president Ben Bautista, who owns the SFC Boxing Gym where Madriz trains. “He’s a great kid though. He helps me train kids in the afterschool program.”
As a result, SFC Boxing, which is located on 30 7th Street, has organized a fundraiser this Saturday from 3:00-7:00 PM. There will be three raffles involved, with tickets selling for $1.00 each. Raffle tickets can be purchased in advance at the gym.
The “Red” raffle will be for a beautiful new Fighting Sports all-purpose duffel bag and a new pair of Fighting Sports Pro Gel Glove Wraps.
The “White” raffle will be for a black Swarovski five-piece crystal jewelry set donated by Ultimate Elegance that just might be the right gift for Valentine’s Day.
The “Green” raffle will be for good ol’ cash; the winner will get 50-percent of the total pot, with Denis the beneficiary of the other half.
If enough people join, there will also be a Texas Hold'em poker tournament with a $50.00 buy-in starting at 3:00 PM.
In addition to meeting Denis, fans will have a chance to see three other pros from SFC. Undefeated welterweight prospect Karim “Hard Hitta” Mayfield and Jonathan Zamudio, who will fight in San Francisco on the Feb. 18 Telefutura “Sólo Boxeo Tecate” undercard, will be in attendance, as well as Ava “The Lady of Boxing” Knight, who is coming off an impressive first-round knockout of Gloria Salas three weeks ago in Indio.
Dig into some mouthwatering Mexican food from Pancho Villa Taqueria and El Toro Taqueria and meet Denis as he embarks on this exciting new journey!
For more information call Gary Gamper at (415) 606-1334.
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On Friday, Feb. 4, Gary Shaw Productions in association with Showtime present the latest installment of “ShoBox: The New Generation” at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif. Featured on the card are a featherweight attraction between Luis Franco and Leonilo Miranda and NABO/NABF cruiserweight champ Lateef Kayode’s latest defense vs. Nicholas Iannuzzi. Watch the fights LIVE on SHOWTIME (11 PM ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast).