Father-Trainer: Boxing’s Most Difficult Combination

Boxing’s defiant and determined father-trainers have forged many of boxing’s all-time greats, but few have finished the journey together

I have to share two observations to set up some quick thoughts on a recurring problem in boxing: overbearing Boxing Dads.

First, I sat next to veteran boxer “King” Gabriel Rosado in media row at Ray Beltran vs Jose Pedraza in Glendale, AZ in 2018. The affable two-time world title challenger passionately punctuated a thought of his on the industry with, “Bro, boxing is a poor people’s sport.”

As the fight unfolded and the likelihood of Beltran’s Lightweight WBO title being secured around the waist of former Super Featherweight champion Pedraza at the fight’s conclusion became certain, I sat calmly still fixated on Rosado’s earlier “bar.” Poor people… damn.

Last week, a day before Thanksgiving, I found myself unable to turn away from HBO’s new documentary, DMX: Don’t Try to Understand Me, featuring late multi-platinum selling rapper Earl “DMX” Simmons. I came in at a point where DMX was sitting down for a meeting to finalize a contract to resume his relationship with Def Jam Recordings. Starting with his debut album It’s Dark and Hell is Hot in 1998, the Yonkers, New Yorker native generated tens of millions of dollars as one of the central figures that reestablished the pioneering NYC-based label as hip hop’s home in the industry. The ship eventually ran aground. DMX’s troubling personal finances became a long-running story.

During the meeting in the documentary, former LOUD Records founder/CEO Steve Rifkind talked about the importance of the rapper returning to his recording home. DMX sat on a couch with his toddler son and his lawyer. His lawyer asked him if he wanted to go over the major terms of the deal. The restless rapper quickly declined as if his thoughts were, “We’re all good friends here… let’s just get this over with.”

Def Jam’s lawyer, interjected via speakerphone, urging DMX and his rep to talk through the crucial details so to avoid any misunderstandings, after the fact. DMX’s son, Exodus, grabbed at anything in sight and erupted with random toddler talk while $100,000s were discussed, and at some point the rapper put pen to paper.

DMX unexpectedly passed away April 9 this year. He is survived by an ex-wife, a fiancée and 15 children. The details of that contract needed to be “100.” DMX could’ve cared less what the packet of documents truly guaranteed him and his family.

Boxing’s Dads of Late

I watched and enjoyed the recently released Richard Williams biopic King Richard. Fathers like Kenny Porter, Teofimo Lopez Sr., Angel Garcia, Gary Russell Sr., Derrick “Bozy” Ennis and even stand-ins like Mike Stafford have all been transporting pre-teen amateur fighters across their regions like Venus and Serena Williams’ daddy did them for decades. I could imagine some of these vans and SUVs started out packed with multiple kids for the trips to various competitions. Gradually, 5-7 kids became the lone son. Shawn, Teofimo, Danny, Gary and Jaron kept winning and giving those father the reason to press forward in one of the most difficult pursuits in sports and entertainment.

The gamble – to become a world champion prizefighter – paid off for most of the aforementioned fathers and sons. Team Ennis is one of the hottest duos in boxing. And after some delays, they’re knocking on the door. There are many others to add to the list. Mosley, Jones Sr., and Trinidad Sr. guided some fantastic fighters.

Unfortunately, most fighters lose fights. Those losses sometimes require someone to take the blame. In many instances, the father either hands over the reins, or they’re forced out as the head trainer. The fighter, as an adult male, attempts to move on and either pursue new goals or earn a living in their chosen profession. The father-son relationship likely died inside one of the early vehicles used to travel from city to city. Taking a kid to lofty places like a world champion doesn’t exactly get accomplished with coddling. Along the way the proud and determined father undoubtedly experienced his own highs and lows.

Let’s take a look at a few recent scenarios involving father-trainer and sons in action.

On the Come Up

Back in July promising Detroit, Michigan-based Welterweight Janelson Bocachica (17-0-1, 11 KOs) saw his 3-fight run on Showtime Boxing’s’ ShoBox: The New Generation end on a sour note. The 23-year old delivered an explosive first round knockout of one-loss Nicklaus Flaz in his October 2020 debut. He returned in February, with higher expectations, but looked skittish the second half of a 10-round majority decision against then undefeated Mark Reyes Jr. Janelson and his father failed to tighten things up when they appeared back on ShoBox in July. Shinard Bunch (15-1, 13 KOs) out-boxed Bocachica convincingly. Father and trainer Nelson encouraged his son enough for the pair to return to the Motor City with a majority draw, but Bunch’s movement and quickness confirmed that, back in the gym, Nelson hadn’t yet added other essential dimensions to go along with his son’s power.

 Closing Out a Standout Career

Akron, Ohio native Kenny Porter is rarely mentioned as one of the go-to trainers in boxing. Unlike the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy and its group of fighters who train together in Oxnard, Calif., “The Porter Way” is more than often what the name suggests. I’ve seen other fighters at the Porter Hy-Performance, but two-time Welterweight champion Shawn Porter was the main pupil fighting out of that facility.

Father Kenny obviously played an instrumental role in Shawn’s IBF and WBC titles. In fact, Kenny probably didn’t receive nearly as much praise as deserved for the tandem’s remarkable performance September 2019 when they pushed undefeated unified champion Errol Spence Jr to a split decision inside downtown LA’s Staples Center. Spence scored an 11th round knockdown to secure the hard-fought victory.

Unfortunately, for many fans of the sport the lasting memory of Kenny will be the way he stopped his son’s last fight before retirement. On November 20, Shawn faced undefeated three-division champion Terence Crawford, entering the fight recognized as the WBO Welterweight champion’s career-best opponent. After being told by his corner he was down, Crawford dropped Porter twice in the 10th round. Porter slammed his fist on the canvas before standing up to resume fighting, but Kenny stepped up onto the apron and advised referee Celestino Ruiz to stop the fight. The decision marked Porter’s first and only loss inside the distance among his 36 professional fights.

Terence Crawford
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 20: Terence Crawford (R) knocks down Shawn Porter (L) during their fight for the WBO welterweight championship at Michelob ULTRA Arena on November 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

If Kenny’s intervention wasn’t puzzling, in the eyes of some, he made matters worst during the post-fight interview. He shared that he stopped the fight because his son hadn’t prepared properly – in a camp the veteran chief second directed. With Shawn announcing his immediate retirement during the post-fight press conference, fans were left to infer all kinds of thoughts about the father/trainer’s motivations to help his son avoid a potentially unceremonious send-off at the hands of Crawford.

How To Kill Your Own Brand

Teofimo Lopez Jr.’s stock soared exponentially in October 2020 after he successfully dethroned unified Lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko (cornered by his father Anatoly) live on ESPN. While collecting a string of impressive knockouts on Lomachenko undercard, a testy hotel encounter between the Ukrainian’s camp and Teofimo Lopez Sr fueled Junior’s coup. Well, it cemented the father and son’s 3-year ‘The Takeover’ campaign.

Lopez was immediately hit with a mandatory defense by the WBO, and Greek Australian George Kambosos Jr. became the next opponent. Here’s why the DMX contract scene was mentioned.

In short, Team Lopez’s dissatisfaction with their contract at the time, and their perception of their worth post-Lomachenko, set a series of events in motion. Over the last year the fight versus Kambosos spent time as a Triller Pay Per View promotion with a few different dates. Triller ultimately defaulted on the fight it overpaid for by 2-3 times, Matchroom Boxing was awarded the fight based on its purse bid, and the two fighters met in the ring last Saturday inside the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Leading up to the fight Top Rank announced new terms were agreed to with the IBF, WBA, WBC Franchise and WBO Lightweight champion. During last Saturday’s fight, the broadcast team mentioned that Lopez revealed that in the months leading up to the defense, he was down to $20,000 in the bank. Reportedly, some pre-fight grumbling from his team, led to a $1.5 million payday when he faced Lomachenko. You can do your own math.

I can’t speak on any poor money management because I don’t know any details. I can deduce that the multiple postponements caused the camp for the Kambosos fight to be significantly more expensive. Presumably it exceeded well over six months. Sparring partners and their expenses cost money. I can also say with total confidence that the prophetic Lopez Sr. mismanaged his duties as chief second on fight night.

During DAZN’s stream Lopez’s detailed instructions at a point late in the fight included, “F— this motherf—– already.”

There was more negligence. Boxing Scene’s Corey Erdman reported that prior to the pivotal 11th round, Lopez was sitting down on the stool while Lopez Sr. had his back to the ring celebrating wildly on the floor after his son scored a knockdown in the 10th. The corner’s inattention to a severe cut above Lopez’s left eye was alarming. And, the fading champion inexplicably stood up facing the corner during the final break. Several errors contributed to Kambosos fighting with the better body language throughout the championship rounds.

November 27, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Teofimo Lopez and George Kambosos during their November 27, 2021 fight at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom.

I don’t want to label the Lopez family as poor prior to the rise of their ‘Takeover.’ I would lean towards believing they have made the same missteps people who’ve never had real money make.

I truly hope that one day Rosado’s “poor people” that he mentioned boxing belonging to, really take heed to examples like Team Lopez’s shoddy approach to a winnable fight. So many of these fighters sacrifice the most while enabling the sport to live on to entertain and thrill us in its highest moments. So it’s only fitting that they gain on the fairest level possible. The man thing holding a fighter back should never be their own blood.

Bill Haney’s The Next Dad Up

Team Haney – father/trainer Bill and son Devin – is working this weekend the renowned MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The WBC Lightweight title defense versus Olympian and former Super Featherweight champion Joseph Diaz present 23-year old Haney with arguably the best opponent in his brief career.

Devin Haney
November 24, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Devin Haney holds an open media workout in preparation for his December 4, 2021 bout against Joseph Diaz Jr. The two will headline the Matchroom Boxing card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Mandatory Credit: Al Powers/Matchroom.

The versatile undefeated Haney’s been billed as a prodigy. He started fighting professionally in Mexico at 17 years old. His father has guided him to a sterling record of 26-0 with 15 KOs over the past 6 years. The rub – Haney became a champion following the WBC’s decision to elevate Lomachenko from its regular champion to something called a Franchise Champion. The WBC doesn’t have the rules down for the distinction, so I can’t begin to explain it neither.

Being awarded the championship raised Haney’s guarantee, but left how good he is in question. Haney went 3-0 in his subsequent title defenses including solid decisions against veterans Yuriorkis Gamboa and Jorge Linares in May. Based on the history’s of those two fighters, wide decisions did very little to quell various criticisms about Haney’s skills and attributes.

Father Bill was also under fire. Why couldn’t he instruct his son to stop a pretty worn Gamboa? Why did he allow his son to be rocked late against Linares?

Saturday we’ll learn whether Bill has his son at his very best in the biggest moment of his career. Bill is an excellent communicator, he’s observant, and calm. His performance of his chief second duties have impressed me over the pair’s eight fights I’ve watched. One doesn’t get the sense that Bill’s background is in the world of the music business. In the recent years Bill stepped aside as his son hit the gym with other trainers, but the father remains his son’s chief second.

Diaz lost to WBC Featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. in May 2018. He defeated Tevin Farmer to become IBF Super Featherweight champion in January 2020. And he won a unanimous decision over awkward former champion Javier Fortuna in his Lightweight debut in December. Diaz’s confidence, experience and ability should tell us quite a bit about both Haney and his father.

The major kicker for Haney-Diaz is the winner could potentially be matched against the division’s newly crowned emperor – IBF/WBA/WBO champion Kambosos. A victory over Diaz followed by a win to become the undisputed 135-pound champion – plus lineal – would complete all the statements Haney needs to make.

The business of boxing, and its politics, forced Team Haney onto the campaign trail. The WBC gave Lomachenko an out when Haney picked up an interim title and had the Pound-For-Pound champion in his sights. Ryan Garcia won an eliminator to fight for Haney’s title, and then balked at the opportunity. Diaz intended to face Garcia whose withdrawal set up Saturday’s fight.

With Bill’s career in the music business, I don’t get the sense that he and son made their way into boxing from the humblest of beginnings. I haven’t seen them make too many moves out of desperation. Diaz may prove he’s the better man Saturday night, but I don’t believe Haney will lose as a direct result of any action of his father. That is, barring Bill having to throw in a towel.

November 24, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Devin Haney holds an open media workout in preparation for his December 4, 2021 bout against Joseph Diaz Jr. The two will headline the Matchroom Boxing card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Mandatory Credit: Al Powers/Matchroom.

We all saw Teofimo Jr.’s ‘Takeover’ mantra become interesting. The victory over Lomachenko gave it real teeth. Teofimo Sr.’s negligence, once the two truly arrived, undermined any hopes of the fruits of their work having real staying power. Bill shopped around for a deal with the usual suspects before forming a partnership with Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn for Devin to pursue his dreams on the DAZN platform. An opponent that checks the right boxes finally fell into place, and Saturday’s result just may set things in motion for Team Haney’s coup de grâce in the Land Down Under.

Thus far, Bill appears to run a tighter ship, in comparison to what we saw lead up to and unfold last week on DAZN inside the Hulu Theater. Devin just needs to turn out to be the goods in said ship’s hull. But this is boxing which has often given the best father-son teams a cold reminder that a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. Just a few days left to batten down those hatches!

Featured image and Haney media workout images by Al Powers/Matchroom 

RL Woodson

I'm all over the place, literally. Click on something and I'll explain it all. A Tribe Called Quest fan, Good Will Hunting, HTTR and Michigan athletics... #DLTCYO

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