|Witherspoon: “The Gentleman” Answers the Call
By Gabriel Montoya , Photo © Tom Casino/SHOWTIME (July 9, 2006)
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with up and coming heavyweight prospect Chazz Witherspoon before his first high profile fight on Showtime against undefeated heavyweight Michael Alexander. The first thing I noticed about him was not only how articulate he was but how brutally honest he was without any prompting from me at all. Witherspoon recognizes that he “ is a work in progress “ and this is only the beginning of a long road of experience gathering. Having never seen him fight, it was interesting to put together the image of what he hopes to become and what he is at the moment. The following interview is the conversation I had with him Monday night after his hard earned victory. I was lucky enough to catch him while he was breaking down the fight for his own purposes. Witherspoon was again honest, forthright and incredibly insightful while displaying a never satisfied attitude about his performance which bodes well for his future.
GM: First off , I just want to say great fight , man .
CW: You think so ? I thought it was pretty horrible man. I ‘m mad that it’s On Demand so people can still keeping see it.
GM: Well I suppose you are coming at it from a totally different perspective .
CW : Yeah. See I know what I am capable and that’s not how I fight . That’s about the only good thing about it. People will underestimate me and think less of me by seeing that so I might get some fights I might normally not get if I looked really good on there . So it can help me , too .
GM: Did you know the guy is a natural southpaw?
CW: No. I didn’t find that out until I was actually there at the fight and I seen him signing autographs with his left hand. That’s when I seen he was a natural southpaw. Like, I didn’t have any tapes. And you know what’s funny? I heard the announcers say that they had tapes of [Alexander] but I couldn’t get any tapes. Every time I tried to get tapes, I couldn’t find anybody that had tapes of him…that will never happen again. When I am fighting someone that actually fights like that, that’s somebody you need to know and prepare for. None of my sparring was with anyone who fights remotely
close to that. I spar with people who come forward and are there to be hit. And that guy … I hardly landed any clean punches on that guy.
CW (continued): First couple of rounds, that why I was looking like that. He was faster than I anticipated and I was trying to box. I was trying to stick with the boxing plan but that was working so I abandoned any type of technique I had and went full out. I panicked, really. I didn’t want to lose the fight and when it got to about the fifth round, I told myself I had lost the first four. And I needed to win every last one of these rounds to end the fight so I kind of abandoned technique to try and win the rounds and out point him.
GM: You got him clean right around the top of the fifth. Did you have him hurt?
CW: I didn’t think so. I wasn’t really loading up on my shots. And the funny thing is …when I first watched the fight [today], I watched it without sound just to see what I thought of the fight …before I heard what the commentators had to say or anybody else had to say. And then I watched it with the sound to see what they were saying. When they were saying I wasn’t too much of a puncher or I wasn’t putting too much on it …that wasn’t the plan. My thing was to outwork him, out punch and just win the fight. The one time I think I did have him hurt was in the eighth. And after that I only one or two hard shots and I missed with them. So then I stopped cause I didn’t want to punch myself out.
GM: You mentioned in our last interview that you wanted to work on finishing. Is that something you think you need to go back to the drawing board on? Or was this just a tough guy with a good chin?
CW: No …see I don’t even know how good his chin was cause I never really caught him clean. The one or two times I did catch him he seemed effected by it but I never really caught him with something I thought was clean or hard. Like a hard shot where I hit him and went ‘Wow. He took my best shot ‘. I kept glancing and missing. I just really couldn’t catch him clean. But yeah I definitely still need to go back to the drawing board on finishing. Like when I drop my left hand and try to turn to that side stance. I think Mayweather calls it staying in the pocket? When he turns and draws in? I can’t do that. I tried to do that against him a couple times and he caught me with a right hand. I got to get that down a little better before I try that in a fight against a fighter of his caliber. Maybe a lesser caliber of opponent I could do that against but not at that caliber of opponent.
GM: Do you think the next guy is going to be that caliber or are you going to take a step back?
CW: I wasn’t even mad that he was that caliber if I had known what I was getting myself into. I have sparring partners that actually fight just like him. But the first day that I spar with them, I might not hit them that many times because I’m doing the regular thing that I do. But if I get into the mindset that I know I have 4-5 shots to even hit this person. And the first three that I throw might miss and he’ll rock and the last two will land. That’s the mindset I had to be in and I never went to that mindset. I panicked at first. One thing my cut man told me after the fight was “Chazz, what you got to stop doing is keeping score in your own head “. And that’s something I did. I kept score in my head. After seeing the fight, I don’t think I lost the first four. I think I still lost the first three and then after that it turned around a little bit. In my head at the fight, I was like “ Wow. I just dropped the first four rounds. I’m really watching my career go down the drain here.” And with that in my mind, that’s when I said I got to bully this guy .I got to push him around. It’s not going to look pretty. But I got to win.
CW (continued): In between the fifth and sixth, I said, “ Chazz, you got to win every one of these last rounds just to come out with a draw” because the fifth round could still be a tossup. And you’ll see from then on I didn’t care if I was stepping with the right foot [etc]. ____I can’t do that anymore as far as abandoning technique and just doing that trying to win. I have to do that under control next time. I didn’t want to lose on national television because I let him out point me. Another thing I did too was … I got hit with some shots. I knew he couldn’t hurt me and because [of that] I got hit with shots that I didn’t have to let hit me.
GM: One of the best things that you can take out of the fight is that you found a way to win.
CW: That’s true but … I tried to get him at angles twice. I know how to step around and step back and give myself space, get my footing right. I know how to do those things if I want to fight in close. And I didn’t utilize all of those things when I was fighting. I went into panic mode and I just went to throw a bunch of punches. That’s not acceptable. I mean, I glad I won. Don’t get that twisted at all. I could be sitting here with a loss behind my name and saying all the same things. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. But all I’m saying is next time …if it goes like that I just have to keep in my mind “ Hey, don’t just abandon everything you’ve learned just because you think you have to win these next couple rounds. You got to do it under control and with some intelligence behind it.
GM: On the Showtime broadcast they mentioned it was a slower, softer surface in the ring? Did you notice that? Did it affect you?
CW: I knew it was a slow ring or whatever. I felt that when I got in there. My legs were in great shape. I really wasn’t worried about that. See, my conditioning is one thing that I can bank on. See, that was I in shape for an eight rounder. They never said that [it was going to be a ten rounder] .I didn’t find out it was a ten rounder until a week before the fight.
GM: How can the do that?
CW: I don’t know. They said they wanted to make one bout stand out from the rest _____that’s one of the reasons [Alexander] was sucking wind extra hard also. He thought it as supposed to be an eight, too.
GM: He seemed to hit a wall in the late rounds.
CW: That’s one of things the announcers said, too. They said in the later rounds [on the tapes they viewed] he always faded. And I’m thinking, …” Damn. That would have helped me. “ If I had known he faded in the later rounds, I would have pushed him that much harder in the first couple of rounds when he was throwing punches. I had to pace myself. I normally don’t have to pace myself through a fight. I can just put my foot on the gas and push it straight through the fight. But when I found out it was a ten round fight and I had never been past six, I had to take some time off so I took them off in the early rounds. Had I known he fades in the end I’d have just ran wide open from the beginning. When he ran out of steam, I’d have been a little tired myself but not as tired as he was. I’m never going to let that happen again.
CW: I made some mistakes but it’s also some stuff I could have avoided if I had a tape. It would have made life a lot easier ____-I is so disappointed because I know what I am capable of. And once I can start translating what I do in the gym, under calmer circumstances when I am not quite as antsy or nervous… once that calmness translates into the ring when I am fighting it’s going to be a beautiful situation.
GM: How much do refs effect you during a fight ?
CW: I don’t really pay much attention to them. Luckily so far to this point, I haven’t had a ref that bothered me. I just listen to his commands and that’s about it.
GM: We had talked about finding you a new nickname but watching the fight , I think the name fits considering how polite you were to the ref and how you fight .
CW: The Gentleman …That basically encompasses the things that I am about. That’s what I strive to be. A lot of people tell me that am what I am.
GM: How do you feel about open scoring? :
CW: It can help the sport and it could hurt it. For people that are ahead, they could cruise or showboat. [But] It can make for a more exciting fight. If the guy is down, he will push that much harder to get back in. It can keep judges honest. It would help the sport in that aspect.
Writer's Note: In this day and age of self hyping fighters who campaign mainly in the press as opposed to the ring , it’s are to hear a fighter speak so candidly. Hopefully as success comes, Mr. Witherspoon will continue to remain true to himself and to the sport he so earnestly wishes to represent in a positive light as well as excel in. My thanks to him for taking time out of his night to speak with me.
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