By Joe Goossen
Every so often, a veteran trainer will get a call from a promoter, manager or an associate
of a professional boxer to take over as his new trainer. Sometimes the fighter being discussed could be an up and comer who needs a more seasoned trainer or a top rated fighter who may have lost a pivotal fight and needs a change in the gym for any number of reasons.
I received such a call in late January of 2001. On the phone was Dan Goossen, promoter of world rated heavyweight David Tua. Tua had lost his bid for the championship against Lennox Lewis months earlier in 2000. Disappointed with David’s
performance,” Team Tua” opted for a change.
A meeting was arranged for me to fly into Las Vegas from my base in California to meet with David, Kevin Barry, his manager, and a round table of associates. Needless to say, I
was quite excited to get a chance to work with David Tua.
Nevertheless, there were many questions and answers both of us needed to hammer out. Indeed, this was a crucial move on Tua’s part because he was parting company with his longtime trainer Ronnie Shields, a well respected trainer. Tua’s camp was curious of course as to what methods I employ in the gym. Questions about my ideas on running, heavy bag work, focus mitts, the body cushion, speed bag, weave bag, double-end bag, shadow boxing, rope work, sparring, etc., etc., etc.
Beyond all the technical issues, there also has to be some sort of connection between the minds and hearts of all concerned. The meeting ended after an hour or so and David’s camp and I agreed to start work immediately. February 10th I returned to Las Vegas to begin our training. Now the first couple of days with David in the gym were basically observation. I knew very little of how he prepared in the past with his trainer Ronnie Shields. But I did know that David had been out of the gym for many months after his defeat by Lennox Lewis, and it showed.
Abnormally overweight, Tua knew he had a miserable road ahead of him to shed an abundance of poundage. Tua’s manager Kevin Barry attacked this particular problem by hiring a nutritionist who worked out a balanced diet for David, a combination of healthy foods, vitamins, supplements and blended concoctions.
Back to the gym-clearly Tua needed a lot of help. But he was very motivated to do what was necessary to lose the weight and learn new things in the gym. Taking Tua through his first few days of training was very difficult; the weight slowed him down quite a bit. Footwork was at a snail’s pace – punches slow and lethargic, all of this predictable, but disconcerting, knowing that this fight was coming up quickly – March 23rd.
We basically had 6 weeks to prepare. I personally like to have a minimum of 6 weeks when a fighter comes to work in decent shape. This wasn’t the case here. This was going to be a pressure cooker to get Tua down approximately 45 pounds and in shape to fight the #3 rated heavyweight in the world, Donnel Nicholson. Nicholson is a tall boxer with a long reach, good footwork and a big right hand. Exactly the same style as the man who beat Tua, Lennox Lewis. Tua’s camp in the secluded mountains of Las Vegas’ Mt. Charleston provided the setting Tua needed to concentrate on his duties aimed at winning this title eliminator. Knowing Tua’s style in the ring and understanding his opponent’s strengths, I knew what we had to do and so I commenced to pick up the pace after the first week was over, and started to apply all available methods to win this fight.
Surprisingly, David had never worked with some of the instruments of training that I use as standard practice with my fighters. Namely, the double-end bag, one of my favorites. It’s attached from floor to ceiling with bungee cord at the bottom, rope at the top, and the round, inflated ball in the center. Pulled taut, the bag is used to throw sharp, short controlled punches in bunches, combo after combo, no rest from the start of the 3 minutes to the end. There are many other variables to be worked on that bag as well. The weave bag is another favorite of mine, it’s simple but effective. A bag small in diameter hung from the ceiling by rope, which hangs approximately to shoulder height. Tyson made this bag well known by his use of it in the gym. Remember that great slip left, right, left, right movement of Tyson’s head when he was in his prime? Tua never used it before, but became quite adept after a short time.
The body cushion. Not used as much as the popular focus mitts, but I think it’s an invaluable piece of equipment. The cushion is just that. A round cushion, made firm, supported by two leather handles. This bag is held close to the body – you maneuver it into positions which the fighter can strike with power. It’s a power and accuracy drill and it’s quite exhausting.
Conventional uses of the focus mitts were applied in the standard fashion – whereby the trainer wearing these pads on his hands can give the fighter dozens of combinations and pinpoint punching. The omnipresent heavy bag – normally weighing 150 pounds – is a staple in the gym – a must in training for my fighters. Round after round of savage punching is required to build up endurance and power – but there are also other techniques and tactics that can be reinforced on the bag.
The speed bag is another station that can be utilized for a myriad of technical drills – it’s not there just to hit and keep a rhythm – rather you may want to use the weave and strike method – or jab and hook – circle and slip – use combos on it, on and on. Shadow boxing can be rudimentary, or you can add to it by stringing a thin rope from post to post on all four corner posts, giving you a ring cut into four quarters. This forces the fighter to move his head and hands in and out and under the ropes, keeping his upper and lower body moving in perpetual motion – thus encouraging the boxer not to be a stationary target.
We haven’t even gotten to the sparring sessions with other qualified professional boxers who may emulate your opponent. Diet, roadwork, heavy bag, weave bag, double-end bag, cushion, mitts, exercises, push-ups, sit-ups, early to bed, early to rise, these were the sacrifices necessary to win – to punish your body and mind to the point of tears. Tua responded with the effort of an ancient warrior. With weeks passed, pounds lost, and with his body and mind transformed, Tua got over the critical stage- the one where you constantly ask yourself if you’ll ever get to the point of feeling like you’re not going to drop from exhaustion. In a short 6 weeks, Tua lost over 40 pounds – ripped through his sparring – tore up the gym – and acquired a whole new work ethic and had an abundance of new found confidence.
The Tua experience for me was a wonderful one. We found common ground on all matters related to boxing and personal subjects as well. The deep friendship exists to this day. It was one of those calls a veteran trainer gets every so often.
P.S. – Tua KO’d Nicholson in the 6th round.
Joe Goossen has trained World Champions Gabriel Ruelas, Rafael Ruelas, Michael Nunn, Joel Casamayor, Frank Liles, Terry Norris, Goyo Vargas, and many other world contenders. His gym is based in Van Nuys, California. His brother Dan recently formed a new promotional company called Goossen/Tutor Promotions – they are currently promoting shows on Fox Sports Net.