by David P. Greisman
Bernard Hopkins’ trainer, Naazim Richardson, spoke with BoxingScene.com on March 11 in advance of Hopkins’ fight with Beibut Shumenov, which takes place on April 19 in Washington, D.C.
BoxingScene.com: What do you think of Beibut Shumenov as an opponent?
Richardson: “Exceptional athlete. Fast learning curve. Extremely determined. And highly intelligent. He’s a worthy opponent.”
BoxingScene.com: That’s high praise, given that Shumenov’s opposition hasn’t been anywhere on par with what Hopkins is, even at 49.
Richardson: “I’ve worked a little closer with him, so I know him on more of a personal note. This is why I give him these particular accolades. But like I said, can’t nobody tell you what it’s like to face a legend. When he looks across the ring that night, he’s seeing something that few men in history have seen. He’s seeing something that other people that fought Bernard Hopkins haven’t seen. Simon Brown didn’t look across the ring and didn’t see a legend. He wasn’t a legend yet.”
BoxingScene.com: What do you feel that Shumenov does well?
Richardson: “He’s an exceptional athlete. Most Olympians are. You have to be to be an Olympian.”
BoxingScene.com: And what about his weaknesses?
Richardson: “Well, the inexperience[Shumenov is 14-1 with 9 knockouts] speaks for itself. Lack of experience, we all can drive now, but the first time we got in the car we couldn’t. That’s just the way it goes.”
BoxingScene.com: Shumenov is his own head coach in camp, as he puts it. He doesn’t have a true trainer, though he does work with camp members, including his brother. You are a trainer. What do you think about an athlete running his own show the way that Shumenov does?
Richardson: “It’s like a cat in a courtroom defending itself. You hear that statement about when you defend yourself in a courtroom, you have a fool for a client. I mean, there’s some of that, but there’s a million ways to get what we do done. This guy’s found a way to get what he’s doing done the way he does it. I saw that when I was around him. I’m one of the people that told him, ‘Son, you need to go ahead and do your thing. You don’t need me. Because if you’re not going to listen, there’s no reason for us to be there.’ ”
BoxingScene.com: But Hopkins himself is one of the brightest minds in boxing, and he still wants to have you in camp.
Richardson: “He’s earned it. He’s took a different walk. He can tell you what I told him. He can tell you what every trainer he’s ever had told him back to when he was a kid.”
BoxingScene.com: What I’m saying is even with his stature and intelligence, he still works with a trainer, when Shumenov does not.
Richardson: “Enough intelligence to know. You just said it yourself. You answered your own question. Enough intelligence to know. He took a long walk, so he realized that even though there those of us who are smart enough to realize, ‘I’m probably sharper than my parents now, but we still don’t exclude the wisdom that they carry. We still hang around them.’ Mom, Pop, Grandma, Grandpa, they’ll drop a jewel on you, sometimes they’re far and few between, but every once in a while they’ll drop a jewel on you, something real subtle. And you’re like, ‘Hey, OK pops, I got you.’ ”
BoxingScene.com: Last time we saw Hopkins was against Karo Murat, and he was a lot more willing to exchange so as to entertain the fans. Do you feel as if that’d be the wrong strategy against Shumenov?
Richardson: “You understand that every athlete, every endeavor, every milestone is approached differently. Shumenov is not Murat. Murat is not Tavoris Cloud. So you take on each endeavor differently.”
BoxingScene.com: So you’re saying that Shumenov is more dangerous if Bernard were to get hit by him?
Richardson: “That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is it might be more beneficial to fight him a different way. There might be more benefits to doing something this way as opposed to that way. He might be able to do it that way, but it may not be as effective. This guy might start running on you, where the other guy couldn’t run on you when you start training with him. So it turns into a different kind of fight. You just find the game plan that matches that particular endeavor.”
BoxingScene.com: You were talking about Shumenov’s inexperience. Are there certain fights you look back on, for example the Gabriel Campillo fight, which people thought Campillo won?
Richardson: “When you become a millionaire, very seldom do they go to the audience and the audience is all wrong. So sometimes these things tell us things. There’s different things you study. Mainly I have to make sure — I’ve got an athlete that’s 111 years old — I got to make sure that he’s at his best. When he’s at his best and he can perform at his highest level mentally and physically, they got a problem. I got to go catch up to him, because for an old man, he still moves fast.”
Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]