Michael Moorer: "I Consider Myself a Pretty Good Teacher"
INTERVIEW by Sean Newman (December 1, 2005)
It is only natural for a fighter who has reached the top of his profession to want to remain in the game after his time is over. Some do this by fighting on, as is the case with an endless list of heavyweight champions who toil on to this day, risking permanent injury with fight. Not so with two-time heavyweight champion, Michael Moorer. Moorer, who was the first southpaw to ever win the heavyweight title when he defeated Evander Holyfield in 1994, has done what few ex-heavyweight champions do, and that is to go out on a winning note. Now, he is training fighters to go to war in the ring, rather than engaging himself.
Moorer turned professional in 1988 as a light heavyweight with a first round TKO over Adrian Riggs, and ran off 26 straight wins by knockout. It would have been 27, except that the bell ending the tenth and final round against Mike ‘The Giant’ White saved White from being that unlucky victim. That run included winning the WBO light heavyweight title against Ramzi Hassan, a title that Moorer would defend successfully nine times before vacating and moving up to heavyweight, completely bypassing the cruiserweight division. During his early run as a heavyweight, Moorer engaged in an all out donnybrook against contender Alex Stewart, stopping Stewart in four rounds.
Moorer would again go the distance in his next fight following the fight against White, and got dropped by Everett ‘Bigfoot’ Martin in a ten round win. Following that fight, Moorer laid claim to the WBO heavyweight title by stopping ‘Smokin’’ Bert Cooper in five rounds. Cooper, fresh off a near-miss against undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, floored Moorer early in the first round and appeared on the way to victory. Moorer, not to be outdone, promptly leveled cooper in the same round. Moorer again went down in round three before knocking Cooper out in the fifth, and he was on his way.
When challenging Holyfield in 1994, Moorer used a more cautious, boxing approach, and though knocked down early in the fight, outfought Holyfield en route to a close decision win. Then came the infamous knockout loss to a 45 year old George Foreman, and the reclamation of the vacant IBF belt in a fight against Axel Schulz. Moorer defended this belt twice before suffering five knockdowns and a TKO loss to Holyfield in a rematch, and he then went on a three year sabbatical. He came back in 2000, had a couple of lackluster fights including an ignominious 30 second KO loss to David Tua, before ending his career with a come from behind knockout win over Vassiliy Jirov one year ago.
Now, Moorer has moved on with his life, and his career. Here, he speaks with Doghouse Boxing about his new life as a trainer. Read on to see what he had to say.
Sean Newman: How is retirement treating you, Michael?
MM: It’s treating me pretty good, I can’t complain.
SN: Still no itch to come back?
MM: No, none whatsoever.
SN: Alright. You’ve entered the training realm of boxing, and have been working with J.D. Chapman. How is he progressing in your estimation?
MM: He’s progressing gradually, you know, you have to guide him gradually. You don’t want him to get burned out. When I first got him he was green, and he’s still green now, he’s only 22 years old and he’s still learning. He had no amateur background, so it’s a process that you have to take your time with, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job with him. I consider myself a pretty good teacher.
SN: As opposed to fighting, how rewarding an experience is training for you?
MM: I couldn’t do anything with fighting anymore. I’ve done it all. People in the game now can do what I’ve done. Now I can close that chapter and open the new chapter that I’m in now, and that’s training fighters. Like I said, I think I’m a good teacher, and I’m teaching, I’m not sitting on the outside and yelling and screaming. I’m hands-on, because I’ve had good trainers in my career where I’ve learned a lot of different things from each of them. I just try to put everything together, and the things that I see I try to implement it with my guy.
SN: Are you involved in working with any other fighters?
MM: No, just JD.
SN: Let’s talk a bit about your career. Rather than get bogged down in the details of each major fight you had, I would like to ask a few questions on the periphery of those fights. You fought out of the fabled Kronk Gym in Detroit, headed up by Emanuel Steward. First of all, can you describe the conditions of the gym that you trained in?
MM: The condition of Kronk Gym is that it is in the basement of the Kronk Recreational Center, and I just found out today that it closed. There were no windows, one ring, two heavybags, and probably two speedbags, and a lot of champions came from there. You don’t have the best, most glamorous gym, you just have to have guys there who are willing to do what they have to do to be the best.
SN: Was it really as hot as it’s been said?
MM: Oh yeah. Phew…down in the basement, you had steam pipes running through there. It was so hot, you’d lose six pounds in a workout just because of the heat.
SN: What was it like working with Manny, and why did you eventually split with him?
MM: Working with Manny, you know, he started me out in my professional career, and he was a man who understood fighters, understood boxers, punchers, and I think back in 1987 I was training with a couple of pros he had and he wanted me to turn pro because he thought my style was better suited to become a professional fighter rather than fight as an amateur. I put everything in his hands, and it was the best move for me.
I think with me and Emanuel splitting, I wanted to progress with my career, not saying that he didn’t help me, but we sort of grew apart, me being stubborn as I was, and just moving on with life.
SN: You began your career as a light heavyweight, and were known as an absolute destroyer. Was making the weight limit at 175 pounds something that just became impossible for you, or were there other considerations in your move up to heavyweight?
MM: After awhile, it wasn’t possible. I was walking around at one point at 206 pounds, and I would get down to 173 pounds, and I told Emanuel that I was tired of making weight, I was rude, I was nasty, and all of that was a result of me losing so much weight. After awhile I told Emanuel I needed my body to grow and mature into a man. He said okay, and I bypassed the cruiserweight division and went straight up to heavyweight.
SN: So cruiserweight was never an option for you?
MM: None whatsoever. I was tired of losing weight.
SN: You were still known as a destroyer, especially after two unbelievable wars with Alex Stewart and Bert Cooper, but then beginning with the first Holyfield fight, you seemed to box more. Can you tell us why you changed your style so drastically?
MM: Being that Evander was such a superior boxer, at that time he was in his prime, and Teddy Atlas was my trainer at that time, Teddy figured that I had great sparring with guys who had speed. Evander had a lot of speed, and Teddy knew that I could just win the fight with my jab, he was convinced that I could, and he convinced me that I could.
I was sort of a boxer-puncher. I still had knockout power, but my thing was, why risk a chance of letting a guy get away and me getting hit and probably getting hurt when I could just box a guy and if the opportunity came for me to knock them out, I would knock them out?
SN: You fought during a very special era of heavyweights which included Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, and Riddick Bowe, among many other very good heavyweights. Even though you became a two-time world champion, is there ever a moment that you look at the heavyweight division today and think to yourself “Man, these guys wouldn’t have even cracked the top ten in my prime.”
MM: No. There’s a lot of talent, and I would never put a fighter down. They all have their individual talents. It’s a different era, now. There were a lot more seasoned professionals that were in the heavyweight division then. Now, you have guys coming up that are bigger than what we were at one time.
SN: Out of all the great and good heavyweights of the 1990’s, was there any particular one that you really wanted to fight, but never got the chance to?
MM: No, I did everything I was supposed to do, and I did it in great fashion. There was no one in particular that I wanted to fight, I took my experience, and what I had to do, I did it. I always went into the ring prepared.
SN: Going back to training, in addition to your own knowledge of boxing, how much does it help to have learned under such greats as Steward, Teddy Atlas, Freddie Roach and Buddy McGirt?
MM: I also worked under Georgie Benton and Lou Duva, there were just so many guys that offered so much, different styles and attributes to my style. I’m sure they all added to me being such an exceptional fighter, and I’m sure they all have their stories about, I don’t know it would be called discipline, or just being stubborn. It’s absolutely helped. Just having different ideas, and I learned so much from these guys. They were all legends in boxing in their own way.
SN: Is training fighters you plan to do from here on out, and do you have interests in becoming involved in boxing on other levels?
MM: I think about it. I would love to…well, I’m into training guys now. I want to be a trainer, and hopefully I’ll go down as one of the greatest trainers ever, because of my knowledge of boxing. But there are other things I want to get into with boxing, whether as a commissioner, or whatever. I would like to be where I can make boxing safer. First thing, these guys are 6’5, 6’6, 250 pounds, I think that we need, instead of having these young men getting brain injuries, we need to have heavyweights fight with 16 ounce gloves, and below that they should fight with 12 ounce gloves instead of 8. I just think that will help boxing, because if you can punch, you can punch. No matter what you have on, guys knock people out with 18 ounce gloves, why not go to 16 ounces if you’re a heavyweight at 250 or 260 pounds? I don’t see a problem with that. Boxing is just so brutal, and people want to see knockouts.
SN: Speaking of safety, your old trainer Teddy Atlas recently railed against the U.S. House of Representatives for voting down a bill that would create a national boxing commission. Do you think a national boxing commission would be a good idea for the sport?
MM: I don’t know what they’re trying to do exactly, but if you have a committee that is going to regulate boxing, I think it’s a good thing. I think that boxers these days are still taken advantage of by so many different people, and I think they should crack down on that. These guys put everything out, in fighting, in training, they’re the ones getting hit. When it’s all said and done, the managers and everyone else is taking their cut. I just think that you have people taking advantage of these guys who work so hard and after everything, they don’t have anything to show for it. Have a little pension for these guys, because we are the fighters.
SN: Finally, Michael, is there anything you would like to add to this interview?
MM: I just want to say thank you to all my fans who have supported me and been behind me through thick and thin. I always gave 100 percent when I fought, and thank you for your support. Look for bigger and brighter things from me as a boxing trainer.
SN: Thanks for your time, Mike.
MM: No problem.
Writer’s Note: I would like to thank my colleague ‘Big Dog’ Benny Henderson, Jr. for his help in arranging this interview. Be sure to check out his website for Gospel Gladiators at www.fighters-of-faith.com.
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