Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Sweet Dream" Kliewer Shines with win over Bonsante

Mark Connor
© copyright Mark Connor, 2010

Anthony Bonsante vs. Bobby kliewer

Kliewer started fast, moving and jabbing and landing probably ten good punches, dominating the first round. He was able to time and counter Bonsante’s wide combinations. Kliewer knocked Bonsante down with a quick combination early in the second as Bonsante already appeared out of shape and tired. A straight right hand dropped him suddenly again. Bonsante lost a 10-7 round and went back to the corner appearing desperate.

Bonsante came out swinging and missing with more wild punches that Kliewer made him pay for in the third. Bonsante straightened out his right hand midway through the round, landing a total of three of them by the time the bell rang, and taking control for the first time in the fight. Bonsante won the fourth round also, but Kliewer did land a good right hand that effected him near the end. What remained to be seen was whether kliewer was conditioned well enough to cope with Bonsante’s years of experience and skill. Bonsante knocked Kliewer down in the fifth round with a hook off the break, but in frustration during the next clinch he picked kliewer up and threw him down, losing a point. Then Kliewer knocked him down, making it a 10-9 round for Kliewer. Kliewer appeared to have the sixth round, landing more punches than Bonsante. In the seventh Kliewer landed a good left and a good right uppercut early. He’d been trying to land that right uppercut all night. He kept moving, catching Bonsante with punches as he came in. An accidental butt cut Kliewer under his left eye. Inside Kliewer continued rights to the body while attempting to land the right uppercut to the head. Kliewer clearly seemed to have the seventh round. Kliewer kept on the move and landed the majority of punches with combinations at the end of the tenth and final round.

The clear winner was Kliewer. One judge scored it inexplicably for Bonsante, so Kliewer scored a split decision victory. Boxers and Writers Magazine’s unofficial score was 78-72, Kliewer.

Wilshaun Boxley vs. John Jackson

Minneapolis’ Wilshaun Boxley brought a 6-7-0 record with 4 KOs into a lightweight fight against an experienced John Jackson, 15-1-0, 13 KOs, of Miami FL. This fight was probably the best display of skill all night. The fight started with Boxley taking good combinations from Jackson, but Boxley found his rhythm and drew Jackson into it with excellent footwork, then turned it on at the end of the first to apparently win the round. He was dominated in the second but still competitive, and he continued to maintain a slight edge in the third. It was close through the middle rounds. Boxley was visibly hurt in round 6, taking solid combinations to the body and head, but came on in the latter portion of the round. Boxers and Writers Magazine gave most of the rounds to Boxley, but each one was close enough for Jackson to make his case. Denny Nelson and John Mariano had it 57-57 and Dale Jackson had it 58-57 for Jackson, yielding a majority draw.

Antwun Robertson vs. Brad Patraw
(For Robertson’s Minnesota State Bantamweight Championship)

Patraw took control from beginning, attacking the body and catching him with hard hooks upstairs, opening up further against the ropes. Robertson landed a big right hand in the second, then a big jab he forced Patraw into with skillful footwork. He landed a good left hook, a couple of more damaging jabs and a right hand that were all power shots with effective movement, taking the round on the Boxers and Writers Magazine scorecard. In the third round Patraw came back with a body and head attack, Robertson still moving and covering a lot. Although Robertson landed a couple of good uppercuts and a good right hand, Patraw dominated the round and appeared to be taking a toll on him. Patraw won the fourth round with pure pressure. Robinson landed a good short left hook inside in the last minute, but did not follow through. Then he landed a strong overhand right on two occasions, the second one visibly slowing Patraw, but Patraw still applied enough pressure to win the round. Although Patraw visibly slowed while loading up with power shots, he still dominated the round and every time Robinson landed a decent shot Patraw had an answer. Robinson appeared slightly hurt and tired near the end of the round. Patraw continued control in the final round and finished strong in an easy victory and an admirable recovery from his knockout loss to Vicente Alfaro. Patraw now will look to advance his career as the new Minnesota State Bantamweight Champion.

Tony Lee vs. David Laque

This lightweight fight is only the second in Lee’s career after his professional debut in December last year. Lee began finding his right hand midway through the first round, landing many combinations. Laque took them well and did land a few shots, but the round was clearly Lee’s. In the second Lee opened up with the jab and continued landing effective combinations, but although he won the round Laque weathered it well and also landed a perfectly timed left hand that knocked Lee’s mouthpiece out. Lee continued with the same effort, but halfway through the round Laque proved he was there to fight. Lee tired a bit as his nose began bleeding, and although Lee won the round he took some serious left uppercuts and right hooks to the head. Laque stood toe to toe with Lee, backed him up ant made him fight in the fourth round. Lee was visibly tired, as was Laque, but Laque obviously got the better of the round Going into the decision the Boxers and Writers Magazine view was 39-37 for Lee, but the third round had been close enough to make one wonder. It’s a mystery how all three judges scored the fight 40-36 rather than 39-37 for Lee.

Donny Tierney vs. Bobby Butters, Jr.
After beginning his career last summer with a TKO loss in St. Paul, Minneapolis’ Bobby Butters, Jr. entered this junior middleweight fight determined to get his first win. But Tierney survived an early body onslaught in the first to take the round with superior combinations and movement. He opened the second round with a commanding jab and body and head combinations as Butters attacked the body and occasionally landed effective head shots, Tierney always finishing with a little more. Tierney continued controlling the fight in the third round with an effective jab, and although Butters threw numerous punches, too many of them were wide shots only landing on the arms. Tierney also always answered with damaging blows whenever Butters was successful. Although Tierney did the same for the first half of the fourth round, he got caught in a corner and went down from a Butters combination to the head. Butters unfortunately hit him twice when he was down, to which Tierney responded by jumping up to hit Butters with a right hand. The referee should have taken a point from Butters. After taking the 8 count Tierney covered a bit and fought back. Unfortunately the judges got it wrong. Nelson and Mariano had it 40-35 Butters, and Dale Jackson had it more accurately at 38-37 Butters. Boxers and Writers had it 38-37, Tierney.

In his third professional fight welterweight Jamal James of Minneapolis won by 1st round TKO over Ryan Gronvold. It was an obvious mismatch that did nothing for James’ development, given his amateur career of hundreds of matches with very few losses and a national ranking. Of his three opponents so far, the most noteworthy is southpaw Justin Danforth, 6-15 of Mahnomen, MN, whom James defeated by third round TKO in a professional debut last May.

In a clear case of overmatching, bantamweight Jonathon Perez of Minneapolis won his professional debut when he knocked Randy Ronchi of Superior, WI down three times.

Monday, December 13, 2010

As "The Fighter" premiers, Savage boxing coach John Rafuse Remembers his fight with "Irish" Micky Ward

Mark Connor
© Copyright 2010, Mark

On December 17 Paramount Pictures presentation of “The Fighter” based on the biography of professional boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward will premier in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. While St. Paul and Minneapolis area fight fans and movie enthusiasts enjoy the drama, few may know that a local boxing trainer gave Ward one of the toughest battles of his early career.

John Rafuse battled Ward to the end of an 8 round fight in a sold out Lowell Auditorium on August 29, 1986. A native of Malden Massachusetts, a Boston area town not far from Ward’s native Lowell, Rafuse (who on his mother’s side is just as Irish as Ward) began boxing at age 19 and fought a total of ten years, eight of them professionally. His professional career lasted from April 1983 to August 1991.

“I don’t think I lost the fight,” Rafuse remembers. “I ain’t gonna tell ya I beat him, but I don’t’ think I lost.”

In the book the film is based on, Rafuse is mentioned from pages 55 through 60, as well as on pages 97 and 98. The fight was broadcast on ESPN sports network, and it was an exciting event for fans in the area. Al Bernstein’s ringside commentary is quoted in “Irish Thunder” and it is very favorable to both fighters.

Later Rafuse sparred with Ward before fighting Harold Brazier for the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) Light Welterweight title in 1988. He lost a 12 round unanimous decision to Brazier on September 2 of that year, and Ward also lost a unanimous decision to Brazier on April 26, 1990 in a fight for the IBF Intercontinental title. As Ward went on to challenge some big name fighters, including a legendary three fight series with Light Welterweight Champion Arturo Gatti, Rafuse fought some big names himself and also trained with future hall of fame fighters.

In 1987 Rafuse flew to Houston, Texas to spar with Vinnie Pazienza, who was preparing for the first of his three fight rivalry for the World Lightweight Championship against Greg Haugen. On the undercard of that fight Rafuse won an 8 round split decision over Haugen’s sparring partner, Javier Suazo. While in Houston, Rafuse explains that he ended up sparring with a slew of fighters training under Lou Douva, including World Champions and Gold Medalists Meldrick Taylor, Pernel ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker, and Mark Breland. He also Sparred many times with John John Molina, and sparred with Frankie Warren and Johnny ‘Bump City’ Bumpus. While Bumpus never won a world title, he was one of the most successful U.S. amateur boxers of the late 1970s and an accomplished professional on the world class level. Rafuse acknowledges that, while he did not fight for a world championship title, there is satisfaction in having trained and sparred with such an elite group of fighters. Although he didn’t spar with him, Rafuse says legendary Olympian and Heavyweight Champion Evander Holyfield also trained at the Houston facility when he was there, and he was happy to be in the presence of such greatness.

Planning to attend a sneak preview on Wednesday, December 15 of ‘The Fighter,’ which is produced by and stars Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward and co-stars Christian Bale as Ward’s brother, Dickie Eklund, Rafuse was unsure of whether his fight with Ward would be prominently mentioned. But he had good feelings to share about Ward anyway.

“I got all the respect in the world for the kid,” he said; “I really like Micky and he stuck around long enough to make some money, and God bless him.”

Rafuse, whose nickname was ‘Rapid’ because of his fast hands, became quite the accomplished professional boxer, particularly for a man who had little amateur experience. He didn’t start till age 19 and by the time he turned professional at 21 he remembers having less than 20 amateur fights. But besides his match with Ward he fought 12 rounds with World Champion Brazier, made it to the 4th round before losing by TKO to José Luis Ramirez (a World Champion whose final record is 99 wins, 6 losses), and lost a 10 round decision to eventual IBF Light Welterweight Champion Jake Rodriguez. He really learned boxing as a professional, being tough enough and strong enough to compete with the world class. He had been a wrestler through high school, and so it is no surprise that he was an excellent athlete or that the rough physical style of his life left him with a bum elbow that never healed properly after being broken in childhood. So he retired from boxing after winning a split decision over José Hiram Torres in a welterweight fight on August 23, 1991. Now a union carpenter in Minnesota, he continues teaching amateur boxing to teenagers in Savage, and teaching professional Mixed Martial Artists how to punch.

“I tell them, nine out of ten fights end up on the ground,” Rafuse explains, “but ten out of ten start on your feet.”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mark Breland Talks With Boxers and Writers

Mark Connor
© Copyright 2010, Mark Connor

On Friday, July 23, Mark Breland spoke with Boxers and Writers Magazine via telephone from his home in Brooklyn, New York. He answered questions about his celebrated professional and amateur boxing careers, as well as his experience training fighters in recent years. He made sharp observations about the current state of United States amateur boxing and the degree of dedication found in today’s professional fighters, and he also shared news about his upcoming appearance in Lights Out, a new TV series on the FX channel. Breland trained the show’s lead man, Holt McCallany.

Breland is well known among serious boxing fans, having been considered the most successful amateur boxer in American history with a final record of 110 wins, 1 loss, and an Olympic Gold Medal in the Welterweight Division from the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, California. In his professional career he reigned two times as World Boxing Association (WBA) Welterweight Champion, from February 6 through August 22, 1987, and from February 4, 1989 through July 8, 1990. Upon his professional debut he was expected to be at least as big of a superstar as Sugar Ray Leonard, but he never reached that household name level of fame. He is happy, however, with his level of success in and out of the ring.

“Everything I set out to do I’ve done,” Breland says. “Not too many people can say that.”

Breland’s overwhelming amateur success and exceptional championship professional career—he ended with a record of 35-3-1, 25 KOs—positioned him well to train professional fighters and also share his skills outside the profession, as he’s done with McCallany. He currently trains 6’-7” Heavyweight Deontay Wilder, who won a Bronze Medal at the 2008 Olympics in China. Also, Breland previously trained Lightweight Jorge Teron, and successfully trained the late World Champion Vernon Forrest for his victory over former Welterweight Champion Ike Quartey.

Breland was happy with the results, a 10 round unanimous decision over Quartey on August 5, 2006. He’s also happy with the progress Wilder, now 11-0, 11 KOs, has made. He recognizes a high quality in Teron, whom he no longer trains, but still points to some weaknesses that made work with him more challenging.

“Every time he got hit he wanted to fight toe-to-toe,” Breland says, emphasizing that Teron, who at 6 feet always has a size advantage at the 135 pound Lightweight limit, only maintained his maximum effectiveness when he moved and utilized his reach. There is no need to stand and trade punches when a fighter is more effective and powerful with movement, but Teron, who held the North American Boxing Organization (NABO) title in 2008 and whose current record is 23-2-1, 15 KOs, habitually would abandon that strategy and stand his ground whenever he got caught with a hard punch. Such observations about Teron and other fighters are indicative of the difference between successfully fighting and becoming a trainer.

“The difference in the transition from fighter to trainer is, you know, it’s easier to fight than train people,” Breland explains. “Because you know what you’re doing, you know what to do; and half these guys have no clue what they’re doing. It’s easier for me to fight than to train [fighters].”

He also observes that he’s hard pressed to find many young boxers willing to dedicate themselves to training and fighting. Most kids would rather play video games, he says. Also, many will be trying to imitate their favorite professional fighter rather than boxing to their own physical stature, or else will begin to think they have it figured out for themselves once they win a fight or two.

“The main [concern] is getting the right fighter,” he says, “because you got guys who listen and you got a lot of them who don’t listen. You got a lot who think they know it all already. . . The first thing, they want to be Floyd Mayweather. They got their hands down in position, and I’m like, you know, ‘You’re starting off backwards.’ And when they’re good in sparring or might win a fight, they think they know it all then. You know, teach a guy to throw a jab; ‘Well, Floyd throws it this way.’ ‘You’re not Floyd.’” But aside from the obvious frustrations, he enjoys the process.

“It’s a lot of fun. It can get frustrating at times, but it’s a lot of fun just showing guys how to do different things and it’s rewarding when you get a guy who listens,” he says.

Breland is content to have gotten out of competition when he did, knowing he’d been on top and was able to retire with his faculties. He said that near the end of his career he ran into a boxer he’d known while growing up who was respected within the sport and very talented. When the man spoke Breland couldn’t understand him, and he knew it was because the man had brain damage. So Breland decided not to push his career into extra years, even though he recognizes some fighters are able to do so without the same damage less fortunate fighters endure.

“I think it really depends on how the fighter takes care of himself as a fighter. Is he a drinker or partier? Is a guy who trains hard, is always in shape? Or he’s one of these guys who gets in shape when he found out about a fight. Well then you’re beating the body up, really.”

The question is legitimate not just in contemporary times, but in exceptional cases over many years. Archie Moore was Light Heavyweight Champion when he was 48, George Foreman regained the Heavyweight title at 45, former Middleweight and Light Heavyweight Champion Bernard Hopkins still fights at 41, as does Middleweight, Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight Champion James Toney. Former Cruiserweight and Heavyweight Champion and Breland’s former Olympic teammate, Evander Holyfield continues fighting in his late forties.

“If you’re a guy who pretty much stays in shape all the time, never drank, smoked and all that stuff, you know you really don’t got too much wear and tear on you. Evander, he’s never been a drinker or smoker, but he had tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough fights coming up, even in the amateurs. So it takes its toll somewhere along the line. You know, here’s a guy who made millions and millions of dollars who I thought, ‘If I would’ve been you I would’ve been out.’ You know, I mean, you got to know when enough is enough.”

Breland, who co-starred with David Keith in the movie The Lords of Discipline before competing in the Olympics, plans to return to more frequent acting in the future. Having trained McCallany for the FX series Lights Out, he was able to land a small part as the trainer of a fighter squaring off against McCallany’s character, Patrick “Lights Out” Leary. That episode and the series, which deals with the effects experienced by a boxer pushing his career beyond its normal life span, should be an interesting and entertaining journey into the pugilistic world.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Making of Silk

Michael Olajide, Jr. found the smooth road after hard times and injuries ended a world class boxing career

Mark Connor
© Copyright 2010, Mark Connor

Michael “The Silk” Olajide, Jr. built a successful professional boxing career from December 17, 1981 through April 25, 1991, compiling a record of 27 wins, 5 losses, 0 draws and 18 knockouts. Debuting professionally as a Jr. Welterweight nine days after turning 18, he knocked out Johnny Gains, 0-1, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Olajide knocked out two more fighters who respectively had 0-1 records before fighting an 8 round battle with veteran Lightweight Al Ford, a 31-year-old with a record of 55-18-0 with 19 knockouts, who’d gone the distance in a 10 round loss to eventual Lightweight Champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. Olajide won a unanimous decision, and suddenly, after only six months and less than 13 total rounds of professional boxing, he was on the road to world class competition.

The high level of early competition and the tender age at which Olajide’s professional career began indicate the situation he and his father, a native of Nigeria, found themselves in as immigrants. Olajide had been born in Liverpool, England, but hard times prompted a family move to Vancouver, where his father worked in the shipyards. After his father coached him through roughly 18 amateur fights, Olajide turned professional immediately upon entering adulthood because of financial necessity. So there was no time to move slowly and no time to avoid challenges when larger purses were available against tougher opponents.

“Yeah, I fought some really tough guys when I started,” he said in February as we sat in the front lobby of his boxing fitness gym, Aerospace High Performance Center on West 13th Street in New York. Although he grew in physical size to fight at the 160 pound Middleweight and 168 pound Super Middleweight divisions, the fight against Ford would be considered risky and bold for most beginning professional boxers. Physically, Ford was made for Olajide because he was shorter—5’-5” to Olajide’s 6’-1”—and Olajide is smooth with a long jab and good movement, but a man with that much experience is able to relax and minimize a younger, stronger fighter’s physical prowess so as to go the distance or even win. Olajide’s ability to defeat him so early in his career came from a combination of his own talent and the strategic skill and motivational influence of his father.

“There’s the fighter, but then there’s the trainer,” Olajide says. “And I think one of the trainer’s responsibilities is to develop the skills of this individual so when he does come up against that guy who’s beaten everybody as you’re beating everybody, you’re gonna know what to do.”

Such high expectations backed up with an accentuation of his strengths and a concentration on his weaknesses in the gym prepared him for his fights and enabled him to continually progress to world title challenges. It was an intellectual approach that probably brought Michael Olajide, Jr. much further than if Michael Olajide, Sr. would have concentrated on just strengthening him up for brute force battles.

“I think too many trainers just take for granted . . . that boxing is just about punching someone in the mouth, and if you’re not hitting somebody then that’s because you didn’t train right, because you didn’t eat right or run right or something, when really it’s about, ‘what kind of skills have you given this individual?’. That’s what training’s about, because a fighter’s only gonna do in the ring what he did in the gym. You can’t do any better than that.”

It’s true. Even a fighter with tremendous athletic talent and natural boxing skill can’t sustain success at a high level without the guidance of a competent trainer. Michael Olajide, SR’s understanding of this along with Michael Olajide, JR’s athleticism and willingness to learn facilitated a decade of success. But in retrospect, says Olajide, Jr., it’s preferable to have more time to develop oneself as an amateur before tackling a professional endeavor.

“I would have loved to get more experience because what happens, especially when you fight on the international level, is you see so many different styles. But when you’re just in Vancouver you have that focused style. So most people fight the same way; they’re just coming in at you head first,” he explains. “So that would have been amazing [to have more amateur experience], because to have to figure out [a difficult style] in the middle of a 15 round fight is not cool. You know what I mean? When the title’s on the line it’s like, ‘Oh, man, how do I get by this one?’”

He had that experience on October 10, 1987, while fighting 1984 Junior Middleweight Olympic Gold Medalist Frank Tate for the vacant International Boxing Federation (IBF) Middleweight Championship of the World.

“His style to me was really awkward,” he says. “A lot of people thought he was very beatable. I thought, looking at him, he was beatable, but when you’re in the ring with someone—you know as a fighter—things change up . . .”

Olajide lost a unanimous decision to Tate, and although he was dominated in that fight he felt he had the skill to win and wished he could have been better prepared for it. He and his father were not getting along at that point as much as when he’d begun, and he had trouble adjusting to Tate’s strategy.

“I’m like, ‘Man, this guy’s punches are coming from weird angles,” Olajide says, describing the moves Tate made; “he’s dropping [bobbing downwards to the right] and then the right hand’s coming, and I’d never seen that before, it was so strange.”

It was a move Tate used regularly and one that is effective in different variations for a number of fighters. By rolling to the right and dropping down from a right hand punch at his face, Tate was able to draw his opponent closer to him because of the momentum generated by the punch; then he countered with a right hand of his own. It’s the kind of punch that catches a fighter coming in, capitalizing on the momentum generated both by the opponent’s punch and his body’s tendency to automatically follow the direction of the target that moved just at the presumed moment of impact. Olajide mentioned former Heavyweight Champion of the World, Tim Whitherspoon, and Junior Middleweight Buster Drayton as fighters who were good at that move. (I couldn’t find Olajide’s challenge of Tate on line, or any of Tate’s other professional fights for that matter, but I did find Tate’s Gold Medal performance against Canada’s Shawn O’Sullivan at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and he uses that move very effectively.)

“He would drop,” Olajide says, “and then the punch would come afterwards, and it was a delay, and I’d be like, ‘Wow, that’s weird.”

Olajide recounts the story respectfully, with a sense of awe and humor revealing a degree of gratitude that seems to outweigh any regrets.

“So there was a lot of figuring out and there are a lot of things that kept me hesitating, but that’s the game of boxing.”

Olajide followed that title fight with two wins, a 6th round TKO over Franklin Owens and a 10 round unanimous decision over Cecil Petigrew, before fighting Bronx native Iran Barkley in a World Boxing Council (WBC) Middleweight title elimination fight at the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden. It was a classic New York event wherein two of its sons, the adopted transplant from Canada who’d established his credentials under his father’s guidance in Manhattan and a neighborhood kid from the Bronx chasing his own dreams, battling for the chance to become stars. It began just as intensely as it ended, with Barkley pressing the action and Olajide moving a lot but also standing and punching with him. While Olajide suffered a flash knockdown in the 2nd round he got up and survived, and in the 4th landed a left hook that dropped Barkley. Barkley was back on the offensive from the opening of the 5th, and when Olajide tried to match his aggression and brought his right hand back low after delivering an inside body shot, Barkley landed a left hook Olajide did not see, dropping him again. Olajide moved and fought back, but as he was pressed against the ropes for a sustained period referee Arthur Mercante, Jr. stepped in and stopped the fight against Olajide’s vehement protest. Olajide appeared to know where he was and was determinedly attempting to block and slip punches, but he wasn’t fully out of trouble yet and Arthur Mercante, Jr. apparently thought him shaky enough to stop the fight. (The fight is available on Youtube in three parts. Although the referee is the man in the ring with the clearest view of each fighter’s condition, Olajide looks well enough and is making a great enough effort to support his contention that the fight was stopped too early.)

“I think it’s very important for the referee to know the fighter,” Olajide says. “There’s never been a case in my life when I’ve fought that I’ve been hit and I’ve been dropped that I didn’t come back. And if you know that, that’s kind of like, ‘Okay, I know he’s not out on his feet.’ I mean I’ve seen guys get hit and they’re out on their feet and their eyes are just dazed and rolling in their head and they’re defenseless. Is that fighter showing the ability to defend himself? And in every case I was. Even when I was falling back into the ropes you can see me moving my head. I know what’s coming at me. I just needed that one second to gather it; you know what I mean?”
Olajide made the fight very competitive and obviously had the ability to win, but he mistakenly slugged with Barkley too much, trying to match him left hook for left hook. If he could have controlled the ring more with his superior movement and made Barkley move into his combinations, the fact that he’d put Barkley down earlier suggests he may have been able to win the fight.

If Olajide could have survived and won the fight he could have challenged Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns for the WBC Middleweight Championship. There’s no way to know what would have happened had he faced Hearns exactly three months later on June 6, 1988, but Barkley—who Olajide was able to drop—defeated Hearns with a 3rd round TKO. Hearns then moved up to the 168 pound Super Middleweight division, where Olajide would eventually face him.

Michael Olajide, Jr. won by a 7th round TKO victory over middleweight Troy Watson in September of that year, followed by a 4th round TKO over Jr. Middleweight Kenny Lopez in late June, 1989. Then, after a December 1, 1989 10 round split decision loss to Dennis Milton at Middleweight, he was granted a challenge against Hearns for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) Super Middleweight Championship of the World on April 28, 1990. He lost a 12 round split decision. But knowing now how diminished he was at this point of his career because of a debilitating eye injury, Olajide’s performance is beyond impressive.

After the Barkley fight Olajide’s father turned trainer responsibilities over to Barkley’s former trainer, Hector Rocha at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. For the Hearns fight Olajide and Rocha traveled together to Florida to train with Angelo Dundee, who added his motivational and strategic brilliance to the overall arsenal. But Olajide had already suffered some retinal problems in his right eye at that point of his career, having sustained an orbital fracture while sparring at Gleason’s in 1986, followed by an exacerbation of the injury when sparring with contender Merqui Sosa. He had gotten medical treatment but was not describing how serious his vision problems were to his doctors and trainers, and after already having a detached retina he suffered an orbital fracture against Hearns that caused severe swelling of his eyeball. His final fight was a 8th round TKO loss to Ray Moncrief in Mobile, Alabama on April 25, 1999.

At 28 Michael Olajide, Jr. was through with professional boxing. He wasn’t world champion and didn’t retire rich and famous, but he found a new form in which to practice the profession. For the last two decades he has used boxing to teach fitness along with self defense, and his Aerospace High Performance Center is thriving. He has been a personal trainer to some top actors and business professionals, and he also worked as a consultant on the film ‘Ali’. Our February interview included a discussion of that transition, as well as the differences in the trainers—his father, Hector Rocha, and Angelo Dundee—who guided his career. Furthermore, we discussed the ability of a fighter to come back from injury, the marketing of a career, and the financial challenges facing actively professional boxers and trainers. These subjects will be explored thoroughly in subsequent articles.