By Dan Emicus

05/15/13

"I got under the old guys: Frank Shirley, Bennie Williams, Lee Black, Carmine Graziano, Lee Black, Tommy Parks, Eddie Aliano, Percy Richardson, Walter Smith, Bill Miller, Luther Burgess, Slim Jim Robinson, Jimmy Glenn, Floyd Logan, and I also held court up close and personal with the man whom many perceive to be one of, if not the very best trainer ever, Emanuel Steward! I took something from each and every one of these men and it has helped me tremendously in my life as a teacher and trainer!"

Check out what SylvanaBoxing's own legendary trainer James Ali Bashir would like to share with you, and teach you about BOXING. Dan went one on one with James and looked at the terminology and rules used within the sport, and explain what they really mean. A really deep insight that you will not want to miss!

DE: How different is it to train an amateur fighter in comparison to a professional?

JB: There's a contrast between the two. Amateurs are taught to box under more strained circumstances. They have to get a lot done in a small amount of time - points, points, points! Whereas pros are more calculated and less likely to go about their business in the same manner. Pros are more laid back because they know that any wrong move could cause them to be KO'd! They’re applications are quite different!

DE: What kind of things does a trainer do in order to prepare an orthodox fighter for a southpaw opponent? Is it all about familiarity of the different angles when attacking and defending, or is there more to it than that?

JB: Orthodox, southpaw, much to do about nothing! No fighter should overly concern themselves with the stance of another. They should instead train their body and minds to overcome whatever the obstacles that they are presented with from the opposition. 3 fighters immediately come to mind when I think of "style breakers" - Henry Armstrong, Rocky Marciano, and Joe Frazier. They had the attitudes that stated whatever you are and whatever you're bringing, it had better be good because I'm coming to fight no matter what your stance is!

As a young boxer, Frank Shirley, my very first teacher and trainer, taught me to pressure the southpaw no matter how good he was or how hard he punched. Force him into a fire fight, land left hooks to his very available liver and repeat on top! The lead rights are made available only after those have done their work. By making the ring small by cutting the ring and staying close to the southpaw, it basically neutralizes his stance and is just like facing an ordinary stance. Of course, this is easier said than done, but this is the way I would have any guy I worked with to do it. The brain is such an amazing computer and is capable. Studying films can help, with Marvin Johnson v Eddie Mustafa Muhammad being a great example. Right handed fighters can present the same problems for lefties.  

DE: How does a boxer's style typically develop? Is it a case of identifying the things that a fighter is good at, or does it depend largely on the influence of one's coaching when a fighter learns to box?

JB: I think the greatest influence on any person's style is their environment. The thugs, the bullies, the tough guys, slap boxing, and of course the initial entrance into boxing and the most important, in my mind, is the amateur coach. They are highly disregarded, but they are actually the ones who lay the blueprint, and are the first teachers to most of the successful fighters of today and yesterday. They need to be given more respect for their labors in raising the young boxers. It's easier for pro trainers to teach a guy who's making the transition to the pros. This is because of the tutelage of the amateur coach, who in many cases develops these people from babies to adulthood, so these people are valuable in that they pay a heavy price in nurturing boxers!

DE: To what extent can a trainer improve a fighter's power?

JB: A trainer can only work with what he has in front of him! He's not a magician. He can teach a boxer how to get the most out of what he or she possesses, but he can't teach a person how to punch harder unless he provides rocks. It comes with the birth package, you either have it or you don't.

DE: How important is sparring as a part of preparation? Is there a direct link between performances in sparring and how a boxer goes on to perform in their actual fight?

JB: I am big on sparring. I mean what better way is there for an athlete to learn his or her craft? I can hear the critics and skeptics grawling as they read this, but I don't care! I've been involved in this sport at every level for 40 hard-earned years. I know what makes contenders, and yes, in some cases even champions. It has much to do with quality sparring, not to be confused with gym wars. Some people want to do 4 rounds in sparring, then come out the ring and hit the mitts for 8 rounds, and the heavy bag for another 6 rounds? I don't get it, on the night of the fight, they will have to be able to stand up for those rounds and in many cases the climate can and will change at any given time. Good, solid sparring prepares you for that.

DE: What is the significance of a fighter's fat %? 

JB: A boxer being totally ripped means absolutely nothing as far as I'm concerned. Don't get me wrong, because it doesn't hurt to be in great condition, but boxing isn't about a competing in a beautiful body contest. I'm a boxing trainer, not a nutritionist! And one of the reasons that I am so successful at what l do is because I don't try to wear a lot of hats. I'm speaking from the experiences that I have encountered in the sport. l've had fighters who have had the greatest physiques that money could buy, yet couldn't break a carton of eggs standing on them. And then I've had others with soft muscle tone, chubby, skinny, smooth operators that would knock you out with one or two clean shots. There's a Polish woman (Agata Klacha) that I am currently training as an amateur boxer at the Global Boxing Gym who punches harder than most of the guys that I work with! It's all in the body chemistry and how the shots are delivered.

DE: How is a boxer's weight class determined? In what situations is it better for a boxer to make the lowest weight that they can, and when is it a case of "just because they can, doesn't mean they should?"

JB: Making weight does not mean that a fighter is healthy or strong; it simply means that they have arrived at the agreed upon weight class that he/she is boxing in. My belief is that no boxer should ever be more that 12 to 15 lbs over their weight at any given time. If they go above that limit then they should seriously consider moving on to the next weight class. Not being responsible with weight can cause very serious repercussions in the anatomy and brain. I got that info directly from a qualified, licensed, doctor!

DE: What kind of age is too old to take up boxing in terms of still having a chance of pursuing a meaningful career in the sport?

JB: No one can ever dismiss the spirit within! I think that Bernard Hopkins and Juan Manuel Marquez are living examples of that spirit! It depends on the individual, but I don't think that anyone should consider starting a career in pro boxing once they're past 30 years old, because by the time they actually learn, they'll likely be too punchy to understand it.

Jimmy Glenn and James Bashir

DE: What would you say are the biggest differences between boxing a few decades ago and now?

JB: The technique of then and now are as different as Key West and the North Pole! There are only a dozen or so real teachers left alive in the sport today. There are lots of trainers but very few teachers. Part of the reason things are so different is that the young guys coming up tend to be very impatient and arrogant. They refuse to get under, to listen and study under the senior trainers that are left because they think they know it all, and as a result look at the condition the sport is in! Here in America, no one wants to labor to make it anymore. They want to put it in a jar, shake it up and hey presto, I'm a champion! When I realized that I didn't have the tools that I needed to be a boxer, I got under the old guys: Frank Shirley, Bennie Williams, Lee Black, Carmine Graziano, Lee Black, Tommy Parks, Eddie Aliano, Percy Richardson, Walter Smith, Bill Miller, Luther Burgess, Slim Jim Robinson, Jimmy Glenn, Floyd Logan, and I also held court up close and personal with the man whom many perceive to be one of, if not the very best trainer ever, Emanuel Steward! I took something from each and every one of these men and it has helped me tremendously in my life as a teacher and trainer! I spent 17 years with Emanuel, and man we would have these conversations into the wee hours of the night about boxing. He always would share different books and articles about the sport with me and would quiz me on what I had read. We would bump heads on different issues, but he would just as quickly get back to our usual stance, boxing 101. I've been blessed to dine with the some of the best boxing minds in the past 50 years. I've been to school and I graduated with flying colors!

DE: If a boxer takes a competitive fight on short notice, say 2 weeks or less, what kind of training camp does he typically have? Does a trainer have to try and cram-in a little bit of everything?

JB: I don't operate by taking fights on short notice. I don't want to be aligned with that opponent syndrome! However, I do understand that these kinds of opportunities do happen in boxing all of the time, but it's up to the trainer to know the distinct difference between being an opponent or an opportunist. The opponent is the one who's not ready spiritually, physically, or mentally, while the opportunist is just the opposite! The fighter has to convince me that they are prepared with their actions leading up to the fight. If they've been in the gym sparring and are looking great, then sure, why not, but I would never want to make it a regular occurrence in any case. It's just not good professionalism.

DE: How important is mental preparation for a fight?

JB: Mental preparation is two thirds of winning the fight! It's an absolute condition in order to give one the best chance of winning, and that's in life period! That's one of the major reasons why I don't like family and friends hanging around the fighters in their hotel rooms or the locker room, especially because they always manage to say the wrong things to influence the boxer to do something totally different from what we've worked on. I'll say go out and work behind some good feints and then the jab consistently, and then out of nowhere, someone says something like "you better watch out for this person's left hook , cause he's won his last two fights with it!" You get what I mean here? Haha!

DE: During a fight, from a trainer's point of view, what kind of things are analyzed meticulously from round-to-round?

JB: Boxing is like driving in many ways. You always have to be prepared for the unexpected, while at the same time continuing on to your on objective without deviation. Create a strategy that's going to abort all the good things that the opponent can and might do! Be as different in each round as possible so that the opposite corner can't possibly get a pattern on what you will do next! And all the time while they are trying to figure you out, just keep hitting the target everywhere above the waist. This question reminded me of something. I noticed that when a modern boxer cuts their foe, they'll almost always spend the rest of the fight trying to land on that cut, instead of doing a demolition job on the entire body to try and open up another wound!

DE: How important is it for a boxing prospect to meet a variety of opponents during his learning curve? Punchers, quicker smaller guys, taller guys, defensive guys, etc.?

JB: It's quite important for a young pro to engage various styles while traveling through the ranks. That's why I like to introduce them to different gym environments. This proves valuable throughout their entire careers. It's my preference for them to sample and make their mistakes in the gyms as opposed to them being surprised in the actual fight. It's sort of like taking sample tests before the real test.

James and Wladimir Klitschko

DE: How exactly is a boxer able to take away his opponent's jabs with movement? How much is it a case of upsetting the opponent's rhythm and how much is it about making them second guess the necessary distance in order to land?

JB: In an effort to reduce or totally take away an opponent’s jab, there's a combination of ingredients that can be used to do so. One of them is to upset their rhythm with head, body and foot feints, causing the person to second guess their jab, especially if it's backed up with good solid counter jabs. No jabber likes to be in with another jabber! Pinklon Thomas v.s. James "Quick" Tillis is a great example.

DE: What does it really mean to "establish the jab?"

JB: Establishing the jab simply and plainly means to be able to control the tempo of the fight by being able to effectively shut down the opponent's every effort. e.g. Muhammad Ali v Sonny Liston. Make the opponent concentrate on fighting your jab instead of fighting you!

DE: When a quick boxer feints, why is it so effective?

JB: When a fighter uses good feints, it's disruptive to the opponent because of the way that the anatomy works. If someone acts as though they were going to throw something at you, the body's defensive system kicks in automatically. The eyes are extremely important in relaying messages to the brain and its actions therein!

DE: What are the consequences of over-training and how is a trainer able to identify it? Is it a case of knowing the fighter and his limitations, or are there 'signs' to watch out for?

JB: Most trainers know their boxers very well and they have an uncanny way of knowing when their charge is in danger being over-trained! You know, I believe that in most cases that term "over trained" is an excuse for failure, a crutch of some kind to cover failure! In the 40 years that I've been actively training boxers, I only hear Americans use this reasoning! I'm not saying that over-training doesn't happen, but I just never hear this term used elsewhere, and I have spent time in a lot of countries ever since the 80's, and I am hard pressed to recall ever hearing this term. What I'm saying is: as a person thinks, then so they are!

DE: How is a game plan for a fight devised? How much time might a trainer spend going through recordings of the opponent's fights with their fighter?

JB: Devising a game plan is based on what you know or find out about the opponent. Observation of whatever videos you can get your hands on, having access to boxers that can emulate your adversary, etc. This, in my opinion, is one thing that never has and never will change. You can never know enough about the opponent and a good trainer will never leave a stone unturned.

James and Lennox Lewis

DE: Why do most taller boxers look uncomfortable against pressure fighters? 

JB: A taller boxer being uncomfortable is a matter of chemistry. One guy needs distance, the other needs an inside show! It's all a matter of dynamics. And if the shorter fighter just happens to be an aggressive power puncher, ala' Mike Tyson, it is very understandable as to why the taller guy would be agitated. Taller boxers struggle to fight on the inside simply because they've got no business being there in the first place. If they are there, it's usually a case of them not being educated, or prepared properly for the type of style that they are facing. 

DE: What is the difference between competitive rounds and gym rounds? If a novice has only ever gone 6 rounds in his pro career, but he is doing 10/12 rounds in the gym, why is it that he sometimes struggles when he finally gets to the point where he's finally being forced to go the distance in a competitive fight?

JB: First of all, you really can't honestly gauge a fighter's ability in the gym and what he/she will do in the actual fight. I am big on lots of educated sparring, not gym wars. There are distinct differences between the two. Muhammad Ali was not a great gym fighter, but excelled when it counted under the big lights. A fighter has to deal with a lot of different scenarios heading into a fight. Fears, doubts, insecurities, they all equal equate to shortcomings going into the fight. If a young fighter has to go the distance a few times while stepping up in competition, it's not a bad thing; it can only provide confidence and stability going forward. I spent a lot of time in Muhammad Ali's Deer Lake PA training camp many years ago, and I observed a very young Holmes, Dokes, Witherspoon, Mustafa Muhammad, and countless others who all became world champions! They honed their skills the old fashioned way by competing in great sparring.

DE: What is your philosophy as a trainer and what do you expect from your fighters?

JB: I expect young fighters to first be true to themselves long before they come to me. I am not running a day care center or charity organization. I'm a boxing trainer. I don't have time to hold anybody's hand. They must be able to accept constructive criticism in the gym and in the fight. To be able to make the required adjustments on command and be dedicated to their craft!

DE: Why did the cross arm guard become obsolete?

JB: The crossed arm defense is something that has worked for some fighters in the past, but for others it was a disaster! I never liked it and so I never tried to teach it, but I do know it's rather difficult to punch effectively or accurately when your arms are crossed. It would require lightning fast reflexes to make it effective and get something done consistently, and even then there are flaws. Just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

DE: Under what circumstance might a fighter be encouraged to box with their lead hand lowered, or even to use a ‘philly shell’ stance?

JB: Honestly, I don't know why any trainer in their right mind would purposely teach a boxer to lower their hands. Some fighters have had some success in this practice, but it's never something that I would suggest. Philly shell, la dee da, hum dee dum, much to do about nothing! Who cares? If someone goes for this, then in my opinion it is their own undoing. For every tactic there is a remedy if the trainer has a discerned eye.

Mike Tyson

DE: What are the main differences between USA and European boxers?

JB; American boxers are usually softer than drug store cotton. Most of them aren't going to lick a stamp with somebody else's tongue! They don't want to put the work in anymore, they simply want to put success and all its trappings into a jar, shake it up, and bam, I got it! In contrast, Europeans approach the sport with a completely different perspective and their unyielding efforts can be witnessed right from the very beginning. Can you imagine the divisions looking the way that they do now 30 years ago? Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Finland, Bulgaria, Britain, Argentina, etc. at the top of divisions, especially at heavyweight! Can you believe it? I respect all fighters, but even more so for those who respect their trainers and the sport! The European block is the new norm and if American fighters don't change their attitudes, they're going to find themselves bringing up the rear!

DE: Final words or message to boxing fans?

JB: The sport is missing teachers who are profoundly knowledgeable in the logistics of the sport! There are a lot of so-called trainers around today, but probably only a couple of dozen teachers left in the world. I spent many years honing my skills by working and learning under so many really good teachers, and a little piece of those guys in the form of their know-how will live in me until it's my time to exit this life! Frank Shirley, Bennie Williams, Lee Black, Jimmy Glenn, Tommy Parks, Slim Jim Robinson, Carmine Graziano, Percy Richardson, Eddie Aliano, Walter Smith, Bill Miller, Floyd Logan, and I spent the last 17 years with Emanuel Steward! I'd like to think that I took a small part of these great boxing minds and shaped them into my own custom formula! Because I had more time with Frank Shirley and Emanuel Steward, I was able to pick up a bit more from them than the other guys, and I can appreciate those things now looking back. Emanuel and I would spend hours on a phone and even in training camps discussing strategic remedies for practically any style, amongst other things in life. We did not always agree, but we survived and depended on each other's insight throughout those years. I am grateful for my experiences and accomplishments. 

James, Wladimir Klitschko and Emanuel Steward

[NOTE: SylvanaBoxing would like to welcome the talents of Dan Emicus to the team.]