By Derek Bonnett: Most of us can say that a lot has happened in the last five years. A new job, perhaps. A new house. A child born. All these things and more would gladly be embraced by most and shared with all to rejoice in one’s good fortune. For Matt Remillard, Connecticut’s one-time featherweight contender, the last five years were not so memorable even though their impact will also be felt for a lifetime.
Remillard, 30, completed a five year prison sentence for first degree assault stemming from an incident back in January 2010. I had met Remillard, the young man, back in 2008 whilst covering my first live event for SecondsOut. Remillard had won a tough ten round decision over Jose Magallon the day after his twenty-second birthday. I spoke with Remillard that evening and numerous others following bouts in Connecticut venues. Although a man, the world-rated boxer was not yet grown. There was some seasoning Remillard was due, both in life and the ring. Prison time provided a heavy rub.
Just shy of the New Year, I was able to sit down with Remillard and Paul Cichon at the Manchester Ring of Champions Society. Cichon, director of the facility, has been with Remillard since the start of his boxing venture. Manchester ROCS also sports another fine talent in Mykquan Williams, 18, who just completed his first year in the professional ranks going 5-0 (4).
Cichon cordially surrendered his office space so that I could speak privately with the boxer known as "Sharpshooter". Remillard amassed a fine 23-1-0 (13) record, but our conversation was more personal. Immediately, I noted a more mature man in front of me, his voice deeper and body fuller than I remembered.
"Right now, I am just trying to get my feet wet," Remillard said, pensively. "Inside, I tried to get my mind to a place where I could forget the reality of life. Current events were hard, especially with boxing. It’s tough to swallow seeing guys you were passing in the ranks get a few chances over the years."
Remillard’s career, and life, were on hold. Some went as far as to say they were over. However, the displaced fighter remained focused on keeping his body healthy. In five years, he attests to only taking a week off in total. He maintained good behavior inside because he saw that as his ticket out. He tried, and tried, but his early release was denied. Away from the gym, Remillard earned an Associate’s Degree.
"I’d love to sit down with Bernard Hopkins or Mike Tyson," Remillard said. "I’d like to pick their minds or others who have been in my shoes and still became successful. Boxing is so different for me. The guys who were on top got beat, moved on, or even disappeared. The confidence I hold right now is different; I have been on the other side of the wall. I hit rock bottom; I have been through my darkest time. I am a different dog now; I am coming to fight."
Remillard’s tone remained constant. He was serious, but never overly emotional about his plight. I looked for doubt, but found nothing of the like in our conversation. Our exchange was natural, and as my customary approach, I let the conversation dictate most of where we went. Matt missed a lot on the inside.
"I’m a meat eater, but I always maintained a healthy diet," Remillard stated. "I missed fresh fruit the most. My first meal out was breakfast, so I had waffles and eggs. I had a steak for dinner."
It was at this point that I more fully understood what Matt meant about "forgetting the reality of life." Over the years, I dropped several letters to the fighter, who helped me refine my interviewing capacity at the start of my time with SecondsOut. I described many of the events in my life, the boxing world, and some of my work. But, now I see that conversations can’t occur the same way on the inside as when you are free to make decisions on your own. Correspondence from the outside, while appreciated by Remillard, may have dealt more bruising blows than anything a single fighter had delivered on Matt in the ring.
At present, there is no firm timeline for Remillard’s return bout. He’s looking for a manager and the right promoter. Some interest has been expressed and matters are hopeful, but the wiser fighter is concerned about trust. He also has his mind set on a return bout with his lone conqueror Mikey Garcia.
"It’s tough to plan out how to work with Matt now," Cichon explained. "We have no date set, so I have to pace him carefully. I can’t have him peaking three weeks before a fight comes.
Cichon, a trusted support for Remillard, dizzily texted various boxing people to try to get some measure of interest, ideas, or information so that he could proceed in the best interest of his fighter.
"I have no fears when it comes to fighting; I’m just anxious," Remillard said. "I’d like to do an eight-rounder in January. I want to shake off some rust. I did twelve rounds of sparring the day I got out. I would have been more financially set for the future if this all did not happen. Now may be the first time when boxing may not be my only priority. I need to find a job. I have a mortgage to pay. I might have to put my time in at the gym after work. It will make for a longer day, but I will do it."
Remillard, like Garcia, is now a lightweight. He envisions his comeback taking place amid the super featherweight and lightweight divisions where opportunity should be plentiful.
"He’s still got the numbers," Cichon said. "He’s got experience. Having Matt and Mykey in the gym together is great. Mykey is faster, but Matt has that experience. Mykey will make Matt sharper and Matt will make Mykey better."
Cichon shared time with his two charges. While Remillard pounded the heavy bag with great tenacity, Williams worked the pads with precision. The two worked a variety of bags in all shapes and sizes and filaments. It was a very business-like workout. I even jumped in for several rounds of bag work to focus more on my listening instead of what my eyes observed. I heard something I had not expected. Amid the thuds, the grunts, and the rattling chains, I heard laughter.
The juxtaposition of a light chuckle preceded by a thunderous hook to a padded hand makes for an interesting soundtrack. After Williams finished his pad work, he switched places with Remillard. As customary when two fighters collide, Cichon and Remillard went to touch gloves before beginning their work -- they missed! The two shook their heads and let out a healthy guffaw before returning to their serious faces and getting down to business. Cichon was direct. He instructed Remillard on what he wanted to see and redirected when he did not see it. Among the most challenging skills a fighter loses through inactivity is timing. While Remillard looked more powerful on the heavy bags than I can recall, his hands were not always where Cichon needed them to be when he wanted them to be there. This contrast was evident in seeing Remillard follow Williams, who had five bouts this year. Williams’ punches were sharper, but lacked the thud of his stable mate further accentuating the need for both men to learn from each other.
One skill both fighters showed in abundance was good movement, both of foot and head. While drilling with a small aqua bag suspended by a spring to heighten his ability to avoid shots to the head, Sharpshooter knocked the bag to the floor.
"Is this more of your handiwork, Paul?" Remillard spat.
"It took me all day to hang that," Cichon countered. After that, all Cichon could offer was another laugh.
Then it was back to work with a circular hand held bag-punch mitt hybrid for body work. That was followed by defense drills which saw Cichon swatting his fighters with pool noodles and counting very loudly each time he managed to sneak one in. Again, the rapport between fighters and trainer stood out. It’d be a shame to see that relationship disappear. Rapport is something that is forged through hard work and is not a given. Hired gun trainers can surely hone a technique that is lacking in the gym, but the whole package is not so easily sold.
Remillard’s workout fuel could easily be dismissed as anger, an anger over the loss for what might have been, but I saw it as desire. Something obvious still does not sit well with Remillard concerning his last ring performance which saw him thrice dropped by fellow contender Mikey Garcia. Garcia was propelled on course to an eventual world title shot, one which he made good on.
Remillard divulged some demons leading up to that fight.
"I took the Garcia fight, but a civil suit was attached to it," Remillard said. "It beat me down mentally. I knew I was going to lose the money, so why even fight. I sparred a hundred plus rounds to prepare, but I was drinking through my entire camp, abusing my body. I never did that before. I was looking for a way out. I wanted something bad to happen. God had another plan for me though. I can’t let this eat me alive now and I can’t dwell on the past. I am not the monster I was portrayed to be, but I did my time. I just want to get back in the ring and share my experiences."
Matt Remillard had been in a confined square room for five years. It’s ironic that he would want to once again seek the confines of another limited space. However, there are no bars on a ring. The ropes give and you can pass through them in or out on your own accord provided you have the balls to do so. Regardless of what Remillard did or didn’t do outside of the ring in January 2010, that chapter of his life is done. Now begins the comeback trail, one of the most heavily romanticized aspects of sport. The road will be challenging, but it does not necessarily have to be long. Time is not the commodity for Remillard as it is with Williams. Remillard will be allowed few missteps, if any, but those missteps, should they occur, will take place in a prize ring and not out in the world. Matt is a different man, changed for the better even if his new found wisdom was forged not in the best of places.
The Sharpshooter is ready to take aim.
* A special thanks to Emily Harney for donating the use of her amazing photographs. Harney is a fixture on most ring aprons around the New England boxing scene.
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December 24, 2016