By Eddie Mustafa Muhammad
HOW I BECAME A TRAINER: After I retired from fighting, like many others I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. You know who got me back into boxing? Bob Arum! I was in Monte Carlo to support Mike McCallum. During the fight, I am seated in the official’s box screaming at Mike. He is doing everything I am telling him to do, and he is winning. Later on Arum says to me, “You have a lot of knowledge. Come back with me to Vegas, become a trainer, and I will help you out.” The rest is history.
BEING A TRAINER
This is a mind game. I tell boxers, “If you don’t want to listen to me, then what do you need me for?” I have even told world class fighters the same thing. I have incorporated techniques into my training that make it fun. I don’t make it a Herculean task. I had a fighter, a white guy, who came to me from Canada. He came down to the gym and said, “I heard about you. I want to be a champion.” I am standing around with a group of black guys and so what do I do? I want to test his mettle. I tell him to get into the ring and loosen up. I said, “Hold it! Go in the back and get a James Brown record.” I want to get this guy some soul. We are all laughing. He loves it. He will be a champion some day. NO QUESTION. I know that because he comes to the gym every day. He is dedicated. In fact, he beats me to the gym. We were together eighteen months before he even got into the ring (his record is 3-0-1). Do you know how he got the draw? He broke his ankle during the first round, but he hung in there. So, when you ask me if I know he is going to be a champion, I know because he has dedication, that competitive drive…in addition to a great jab! One day, he came in said, “I think I hurt my right hand.” You know what I said, “Okay, work your jab! You can do that all day. You’ve got two hands.” As a trainer I am a no nonsense guy. There is a time to have fun and a time to be serious.
When I fought Benny Bristol, I broke my hand in the third round. So, I just used my left hook and jab all day. This is “mano y mano.” If you get a slight cut, how could you quit? Too many guys today are Primadonnas. Ten fights and you can be a world champion. I took my time. I had a great career.
I don’t like to train too many fighters at one time, six at most, so I can give everyone ample time. I do not like to have others help me. Why? They want to be Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, but they can’t be me. They may even tell the fighter something entirely different than I would. I never lost control of the fighter, but I lost control of the guy working with me. In truth, there are three guys I would trust with my fighters: Buddy McGirt, Bouie Fisher, and Emanuel Steward. They are from the “old school.” Many today don’t understand that mind set. You can’t forget the basics, balance, and a left hook.
I was always dedicated as a fighter for the simple reason that once that bell rings, the trainer and seconds take their seats, and I, alone, have to go across the ring to face my opponent. No one else can do that for me.
So many fighters lose focus because there are so many temptations. Every famous person comes to a championship fight at one time or another. That attracts money, glamour, and beautiful women. They love fighters. I tell my fighters, if you find someone you are compatible with, great! However, it is tough to be a fighter and have a personal life. Too many fighters fall victim to temptations because they don’t have someone like me talking to them about these issues.
I can usually tell right away from simple tasks if a fighter is going to last. If I see he is progressing, we continue. If undisciplined, I tell them, “I don’t mean any harm, but….” I had a fighter by the name of Carl Daniels. He came to me before he became a champion. He thought he knew it all, “Oh, I don’t need to do this.” So, I said, “I tell you what you do, son. McCarran Airport is only ten miles from the gym. I don’t need you. I have guys here I am going to make into world champions.” I would never associate with a fighter that just quit in his corner, unless he was hurt. When Carl fought Bernard Hopkins, he just quit. Some fighters are in the wrong game. They are missing determination, heart. Others have too much.
One of the most disciplined and undisciplined guys I ever trained was Iran Barkley. When everyone counted him out, he came back and won three world titles. He knows I am the type of guy that will come to your house and pick you up to go running. If I am going to be there at 5am, get your butt out of bed and be out front waiting. Iran parties hard all night, it’s 4:30, he tells his friends he has to run. He drags himself up the steps and I am right up at the top. I look at him and said, “It’s 4:55. You have five minutes to get ready! Needless to say, he got ready. I have a lot of respect for him because what you see is what you get.
Another guy who had all the tools in the world, but was very undisciplined until I got hold of him was James Toney. He never professed to know it all. I had him for 12 fights. After he lost the rematch with Montell Griffin, he never came back to Vegas. His weight problem came from a lack of discipline. His problems were: 1. He never did roadwork, and 2. He never hit the heavy bag. All he wanted to do was come to the gym and box. Prior to the Montell fight, he came to the gym weighing about 250lbs. He was supposed to fight light-heavyweight! Arum said to me, “You have to get the weight off.” Toney came in weighing 174. Arum was astounded. He didn’t get the win and that broke him. He took off boxing for two years, and ballooned up.
Fighters want to come in with the fancy shoes, trunks, and the big promoter. This is “make-up.” These guys have all this money behind them. I could have done that too, but then I would not have appreciated my career. That is why I respect my career. I was world champion and I did it my way.
I was told, if you are a real athlete, you don’t drink, you don’t smoke, and you don’t do drugs. I just turned 50. I never smoked; never did drugs. I wanted to be world champion and make my mother proud. I couldn’t do that standing on the corner taking drugs. A fighter is an extension of the trainer. There is no question a trainer is a father figure to a fighter. However, I will never get involved in my fighters’ personal lives. What I would tell them is to take a walk and come back when ready.
Being champion is a platform. Boxing is a platform. Once a boxer becomes a world champion, they might think they are above the law, untouchable. If I get arrested and am on TV, maybe people will then come to see me fight. My career was successful without my going to jail….except to visit! The majority of people are there for a long stretch of time. Why are they in jail? Mainly because they couldn’t run as fast as I could! When I was young, there were times I was just one or two steps ahead of the law, but I went on to learn from that experience.
HOW TO COME BACK FROM A LOSS
No problem. I always say, “Let’s sit down.” I then tell them my story. I was the number one contender, knocking everyone out. I was to fight a guy by the name of James Scott. He was beating up everybody. I didn’t train the way I was supposed to train. My mother said it was too many women, which it probably was. I went there and got my “behind” handed to me. That “smoked” me. I looked around for all the friends that came in with me. Only one came out. I said, “No problem.” My eyes began to open up. There was one girl still with me and she said, “Where are your friends?” She had a good point!
So, I got myself together and alienated myself from everyone. I still trained very hard even though I got dropped from number one to number 10. No problem. So, how did I deal with that? I got myself into the best possible shape. I then knocked out number 9, 8,7, 6,5,4, and so on until I had to fight the number 1 contender. It was Vladimir Whalen at the old Showboat in Vegas. I knocked him out in two rounds. I told everyone on ESPN, “I’m back!” From there I went on to win the championship. After the fight I said, “I want to thank this young lady for letting me know what time it was.”
So, if a fighter loses, he has to go over that loss and say let me fight him again after I have figured out why I lost. Most of the time the fighters blame everyone: their mother, their father, their trainer, the judges…. That’s wrong and they are only fooling themselves.
IMPROVING THE SPORT
I believe in mandatory testing for HIV/Hepatitis. I don’t think the gyms should be monitored. However, credibility in the sport is needed to improve boxing. Boxing needs to be policed by the right people who know the game. The fighters need someone in charge they can relate to, someone that understands the various issues they face on a day-to-day basis.
Eddie Mustafa Muhammad resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he is a well-known and respected trainer. We had worked with world champions including Iran Barkley and James Toney, and currently Danny Romero. His Professional record was 50 (39 KO’s)-1-8. He was the 1980-81 WBA light-heavyweight Champion.
Part One: Eddie Gregory – The Fighter