A candid conversation with the Houston trainer
Holy Moly! Unless you’re a member of the Nikolai Valuev Fan Club, the consensus is that Evander Holyfield was robbed in the December 20 fight that took place in Zurich, Switzerland against the seven-foot Valuev.
Everyone’s still up in arms over the outcome of the match since Valuev was far from valiant–but was still given the decision by the judges. “The Russian Giant’s” victory has provided a lot of ammo for boxing fans, critics and pundits–log on to any boxing chat room and you’ll find pages galore with heated discussions of this so-called travesty.
If you love boxing like I do, it consumes you–even during the holidays. So on Christmas Eve, while I should have had sugar plum fairies dancing in my head, I’m compelled to call trainer Kenny Weldon and wish him a Merry Christmas. It’s been a busy week for all and this is the first chance I get to chat with the boxing veteran since last Saturday’s bout.
I can’t wait to hear what he thought about Evander’s fight (Holyfield weighing in at 214 pounds vs. the Eastern European’s 310 pounds) this past weekend. Weldon has known the heavyweight for years–he was his assistant trainer–and keeps in close contact with the Atlanta, Georgia resident. Holyfield had done some training for the Valuev fight in Weldon’s Houston, Texas gym.
I originally met Kenny in 2006 through Canadian coach Louie Raposo while we were all at the Ringside World Championships Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. I then got to know him better when he flew out to participate in an International amateur show that my boyfriend promoted last year in Los Angeles, where Kenny put on a coaches clinic while he was in town.
The longtime coach is as passionate about boxing as anyone you will ever meet, so it comes as no surprise that I happen to catch Kenny at his gym on Christmas Eve. He was working on an article about Golden Gloves fighters living in the Houston area, before heading off to join his family for a holiday celebration.
Kenny Weldon’s resume would impress anyone involved in the sweet science: amateur fighter (with a 216-11 record), former featherweight boxer (42-7-1, 18 KOs), trainer, teacher, manager, promoter, technique and balance trainer for elite fight promoters, and author of several boxing training and fitness DVDs. He served as the Coaches Committee Chairman for USA Boxing and owns a non-profit gym with a large stable of boxers trained by his Texas World Class Boxing Team.
With over 40 years in the fight game, he has traveled to 31 countries while working in the sport of boxing. These contributions alone are worthy enough of being voted in on first ballot entry into any boxing Hall of Fame. He’s definitely well-known and respected in the Texas region–July 20, 2006 was proclaimed “Kenny Weldon Day” by the Mayor of Houston.
The Houston local can be outspoken–some would say opinionated. He does not filter his statements, never one to shy away from speaking his mind. Make no bones about it, Weldon does not mince words. So I’m choosing to edit some statements–not to protect the “innocent”–but rather to protect the “guilty” ones he speaks of!
He is also knowledgeable, humorous, warm, friendly, with a down-home personality. And you can’t forget his Southern upbringing–when saying goodbye, he always closes with “God Bless” in his Texas drawl. A signature trait of the renowned trainer is that strong Southern accent, although he probably thinks I’m the one with an accent–with an L.A. “Valley Girl” twang of my own.
You should also know that Weldon is a funny guy. During our “no holds barred” talk, he calls Evander Holyfield by his camp name of “Holy,” but he never, ever refers to Nikolai Valuev by his given name, calling him only “the giant” through our entire conversation that begins below.
Question: How did you begin working with Evander Holyfield?
Answer: Holy started his pro career at my gym through Main Events.
Q: When is the last time you worked with him?
A: He’s always in Houston. He trained at my gym before the fight and was here for about a month–he said “I came back home to train.” He got ready here and said he’d be champion when he came back. Holy had practiced some stuff in the gym and left here totally confident that the giant would not win.
Q: Did you have plans to go to Switzerland for the fight?
A: I was asked to go, but I have the Golden Gloves. And I’m training Ernie Gonzales and John Rarden (11-0), so I had to choose not to go. But Tommy Brooks (who’s a friend) went and we talked the whole time they were there.
Q: What did you think of Evander’s fight strategy?
A: He fought the strategy he needed to fight. Holy outboxed him. When he fought this giant, he didn’t pay any mind to pleasing the fight diehards by knocking him out. He fought the giant the way he was supposed to…to beat him. He had a great strategy; he stuck to it and Holy beat the giant.
Q: What did you think of Evander’s overall performance in the fight?
A: He’s 46 years old and beat the giant like a baby! He had good people in his corner; Tim Hallmark is the best strength trainer in the world. Holy is his own man–I don’t want any credit for his success. He is a consummate professional.
Q: Were you surprised by what happened?
A: Holy kicked the giant’s tail between his legs but they gave it to the other guy. The European judges should wear the shame by giving the decision to the giant–even the giant knew he lost.
Q: Your advice on how to fight Nikolay Valuev?
A: The way you box the giant to win is to make him be first, then counter him. It may be a boring fight…but the giant is a boring fighter!
Q: So I guess you don’t want a rematch?
A: (Weldon laughs) The people are sick watching this, they’re saying, “How can the giant get beat by a 46 year old, who’s half his size?” Holy beat him like he owned him–and he did for 36 minutes!
Q: What did you think of Evander’s reaction to the decision?
A: They stole the fight from him but he still showed his class, even then. He didn’t pour beer on anyone or scream or yell.
Q: Besides Evander, you’ve also worked with Mike McCallum, Vinny Pazienza, and heavyweight Sergei Liakhovich…
A: I worked with Pernell Whitaker for five years. We worked on technique, balance, range, turns and pivots. And I saw Tyson fight at 15, worked with him in Squall Valley during the Junior Olympics.
Q: What fighters are you currently working with now?
A: I’m working with Ernie, Jesus “El Martillo” Gonzales (24-1, 13 KOs). I’ve known his father, Ernie Sr., for years. Ernie has just one loss, which he had before I got him; I’ve had him for seven fights now. He’s a junior middleweight who just signed with Star Boxing Promotions. In the amateurs, he beat Andre Berto four times and he also beat Andre Ward (and Alfredo Angulo). He’s got a Continental Americas title. Ernie will be fighting Richard Gutierrez (24-2-1, 14 KOs) on February 13 in Phoenix in an ESPN fight.
Q: Tell me about your gym, the Galena Park Boxing Academy and Youth Center.
A: It’s a 10,000 square foot gym in a suburb of Houston and right now there are 340 members in my gym. I’ve never entered less than 30 kids in the Houston Golden Gloves. We host shows every weekend–it’s great. I work with the community and we’re making “good kids”–which is more important than making “good fighters”!
Q: You always have a lot going on. What else is happening over there?
A: Well, they’re also filming a “Termite” Watkins movie here at the gym. He was the first National Amateur Champ I coached. He went on to coach the Iraqi boxing team. He brought them over here and took them to the Olympics. A Houston actor is playing “Termite,” he’s Patrick Swayze’s brother (Don Swayze).
(Maurice “Termite” Watkins coached Iraqi boxer Najah Ali in the 2004 Olympics).
Q: Do you prefer working with amateurs or pros?
A: From the very beginning, I’ve always been involved in amateur boxing, even when I had Top Ten pros.
Q: Tell me the benefits of a building a good amateur record.
A: Everything a fighter becomes starts when he’s a kid growing up in the sport. As a pro, success comes from someone who’s helped him as an amateur. Ninety percent of the kids who grow up to be world champs first learn everything from the amateurs.
Q: Your advice for any young fighter?
A: He’s got to be fundamentally sound–he has to be able to get in a stance, a rhythm, move in all four directions and throw all ten punches equally. That is the definition of being fundamentally sound and if I have someone that can’t do all that, they don’t box for me! How can you teach boxing if you don’t know the fundamentals? It starts with the coaching. It’s not what you can do that gets you beat, it’s what you CANNOT do that gets you beat. Without foot speed, hand speed means nothing. You fight in a square, not in a circle.
Weldon suddenly stops and asks me a question: What is the definition of boxing? He then answers his own question.
A: This will be in the Webster’s Dictionary in two years: Boxing is the art of hitting an opponent from the furthest distance away, exposing the least amount of your body while getting into position to punch with maximum leverage and not getting hit. That has always been the definition of boxing. I have this printed on flags and if anyone wants one, I will send them one for free!
Q: What trainers or managers influenced your style of teaching?
A: I learned from Benny Leonard and Bill Gore. Bill Gore had Willie Pep and Joey Maxim. I also like George Gainford (who trained Sugar Ray Robinson), Cuyo Hernandez (Ruben Olivares’ trainer) and Jackie McCoy (trainer of Mando Ramos).
Q: Great old-school trainers. Any current trainers you admire?
A: Al Stankie is one I admire. I’ve never met him, but I think we share the same boxing philosophy. I admire what he teaches and I know where his boxing philosophy comes from; what he teaches is what I teach. I think he’s mistreated more than anyone in boxing. He developed two fighters in the Olympics (Paul Gonzales and Oscar De La Hoya) and he’s one of the best trainers, but he’s totally ignored by boxing. He develops world class fighters–I would recognize a “Stankie product” in a second. He is recognized by boxing purists like me (and others) for being a “developer of talent” and I would love for him to get more credit.
Q: Any other peers you’d like to acknowledge?
A: I love Freddie Roach! His personality is great, he’s very sociable. I like what he represents. Back when he was a fighter, I promoted one of his last fights. I’m friends with Mickey Gilley, so it was an ESPN fight at Gilley’s Rodeo Arena.
Q: Your thoughts on the the De La Hoya-Pacquiao fight?
A: If he has a torn rotator cuff, he can’t jab…so my thought was, “Oscar cannot win this fight.”
Q: In a nutshell, what did you think of U.S. boxing in this year’s Olympics?
A: (He chuckles for several seconds) Oh, my thoughts about the Olympics “in a nutshell”? When myself and others have been telling everyone that we haven’t been really great since the 1988 Olympics? Our fighters are getting worse, not better. We’ve been telling them that for 20 years. The team got slaughtered. It’s been 20 years of saying this, what more can we do? USA Boxing made some wrong decisions. But they have goodness in their heart–it’s not their fault. But they need to spend time qualifying the coaches…
Q: You must have seen a lot of changes during your career?
A: There’s a struggle in boxing right now–there’s a lot of criticism going on. Some amateur trainers don’t get credit they deserve. Some were the greatest in the world; they work their whole lives teaching boxing, only to be “put on the shelf.” Most of us have gone on to pro boxing, but I love kids so I also stayed in amateur boxing too. Now I get MMA people calling me all the time, begging me to do MMA stuff. They ask me to put an octagon in my gym and I say, “No–I’m a boxing purist!” I love the pureness of boxing.
Q: You’ve had a great career. What are your favorite accomplishments?
A: I think I’ve been successful with my intentions in boxing: I’ve had 31 Amateur National Champions, three U.S. Olympians, and three amateur World Champions.
Q: And in your personal life, what are you most proud of?
A: I’ve been married for 41 years–that’s rougher than the fight game! (He jokes and laughs). We have three kids. One daughter’s a scriptwriter, another daughter is married with three kids. And I have a son, 26 years old. He’s in his final year of law school; he’s a smart kid. He’s a boxing purist like myself and fought unopposed in the Golden Gloves, no one would fight him. But he’s sparred thousands of rounds. He likes training kids and will probably do that in the future. We also have six grandchildren.
Speaking of family, we both suddenly realize Christmas is here so we have to sign off, with Kenny finishing his business at the gym in Houston and I begin wrapping some holiday gifts for a family brunch in L.A.
This weekend, after the holidays, we pick up our discussion about boxing and he’s eager to read me some of his favorite phrases from signs on his gym wall, where I find him again on this Saturday afternoon. Weldon can be a very patient man when he believes he is helping someone who wants to learn more about boxing, in or out of the ring, and I can tell he enjoys teaching and training others more than anything else.
Weldon’s lifelong commitment and dedication to boxing is evident; he’s a self-described “diehard purist who appreciates the art and science of boxing.” He remains humble, never mentioning the sacrifices I’m sure he had to make in carving out such a legacy in boxing. Like his good friend Evander Holyfield, Kenny Weldon is the “real deal.” And if I were a young fighter, it would be a honor and a life-changing experience to have this man in my corner.
I want to give Kenny the last word with his Top Five adages about boxing:
Second place in a fight is last place.
Coaches can only teach what they’ve been taught.
When you box, ask questions and then give answers.
A cornerman with no knowledge is like a cutman with no medicine.
A boxing coach who has never boxed is like a sandwich without meat!
L.A. photos by Michele Chong/ Archive photos courtesy of Kenny Weldon, kennyweldon.net, www.galenaparkboxingacademy.com, houstonboxingscene.com, www.impactboxing.ca and Louie Raposo: Kenny in L.A. with the boxing Orubor twins; In the ring at “Northern Explosion” show in L.A.; Weldon (third from left) 1968 Golden Gloves; Evander Holyfield works out with Weldon the night before the John Ruiz fight; Jesus “El Martillo” Gonzales with promoter Bobby Jones and Weldon; Freddie Roach, Louie Raposo and Kenny Weldon at Wild Card Boxing Club