By Mitch Abramson
It almost doesn’t make sense, given his ability to render a man senseless. But Randall Bailey, who will face Mike Jones for the vacant IBF welterweight title on Saturday night, is a compassionate man. Bailey, one of the hardest punchers in boxing, admits to feeling bad for his opponents after depositing them on their fanny. He confesses to feeling a little nervous as he watches them crash to the canvas, a few even losing consciousness before touching down. In 49 fights, he has stopped 36 of his opponents, many of them on highlight-reel type knockouts.
“Randall Bailey is the hardest single puncher in the entire business,” says Lou DiBella, his promoter. “His punching power is extraordinary.”
During a free moment, Bailey will peruse through his career record online and check on some of the foes he has fought, curious to see what they’re up to. He was surprised to see a lot of them have stopped fighting and retired, soon after losing to Bailey, who’s been blessed with one of the best right hands in recent memory, a weapon that just obliterates opponents.
“That made me feel a little bad,” Bailey said from Las Vegas, where he will face Jones on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley at the MGM Grand. “I mean, I want to win my fight, but I don’t want to retire anybody. I don’t want to keep anyone from accomplishing their dreams of winning a world title. If I could see them again, I’d apologize and tell them I was sorry.”
He chuckles at that, as if it’s really possible, a fighter asking forgiveness of another fighter for knocking him out, as if a meeting could be set up, like an intervention, where Bailey sits down and expresses his regret for ending another man's career. It’s a funny thought, he says. He grows serious and animated, however, when the topic switches to the twists and turns that have recently held sway over his career.
Bailey (42-7, 36 knockouts) is not given to long speeches or much introspection when discussing the sport of boxing. Like his manner in the ring, he’s short and to the point in conversation. But when the mood hits him, he can say some moving stuff. By his own account, Bailey has been the No. 1 or No. 2 mandatory contender to the IBF belt for the past two years, an inordinate amount of time to wait for a title shot. During that period, Bailey was paid step-aside money to do just that- step aside rather than fight Jan Zaveck for the IBF title last year. Zaveck fought and lost to Andre Berto instead. Berto then relinquished the title rather than face Bailey as his mandatory at the end of last year when HBO reportedly refused to televise that match.
"It's been so long," Bailey's longtime manager, Si Stern says of the wait for the title shot. "You can't imagine how long it's been. It's always something- the other fighter backs out. It goes on and on. Fortunately, the IBF was very competent in stepping up and making certain that this fight took place."
It all adds up to a lot of waiting for Bailey, who first vaulted to stardom, or pretty close to it, with a devastating third-round knockout of Demetrio Ceballos for the WBA junior welterweight title in 2002. Now, after two more failed attempts to win a title, he is on the brink of becoming a world champion for the second time in his career with a win against Jones on Saturday.
“I’m very excited about this fight,” he says. “I’ve been waiting for awhile to get this kind of fight and now I’m finally here. I’m just ready. I knew it would come. I’m a very patient person. So I just waited it out. [The waiting] doesn’t bother me. The way I look at it- it’s rest. I get to rest and when I get in the ring I’m explosive.”
He will enter the ring angry because of the time spent watching others fight for a title he viewed as rightfully his.
“The anger is already there,” Bailey says. “I have to control it, because you don’t want to go in there with that type of attitude. When you’re angry, you make a lot of mistakes, so I try to keep myself very calm when I’m going in the ring, so I don’t make any silly mistakes. I knew this day would come. And it’s here now.”
He is being trained by John David Jackson, known for his defensive expertise. Yet Bailey intends to stalk his opponent, looking for a knockout.
At the same time, he understands, as does DiBella, that he is the underdog. After all, while Jones (26-0, 19 knockouts) is the undefeated up-and-comer, trying to break through to elite status, Bailey is a 37-year-old, trying to show he’s more than just a gate keeper.
“I know a lot of people are picking Mike Jones because he’s younger and fresher, etc.,” DiBella says. “But if Randall lands flush on Mike Jones? Mike Jones is going to go to sleep.”
He’s always been able to punch with concussive force, for as long as he can remember, even dating back to the amateurs.
“I always had the right hand,” Bailey says.
But it wasn’t always the finished product it is now. Bailey recalls back in the early 90’s being in the same Miami gym with Tommy Brooks, who was preparing Freddie Pendleton for one of his two fights with Tracy Spann. Bailey was just 16 when Brooks showed Bailey a little hitch on the way he uncorked his right hand that would allow him to gain more leverage on the punch. Since that day, Bailey says he spends the first three rounds of every workout, practicing that very same move.
“I’m not saying he’s the reason I can do what I do with it,” Bailey says laughing. “He just showed me a little technique. The power was already there.”
He credits his longevity in the sport to taking care of himself, keeping his body fit and having a good team around him. Stern, his manager, attributes his staying power to the brevity of most of his fights since he turned pro in 1996.
“He probably averages around four rounds a fight," Stern says. "Where other fighters would be pretty beat up. Randall's body is in remarkable condition and you realize that he hasn't had that many rounds."
Bailey doesn’t put a timetable for when he plans to retire from the sport, taking things one right-hand at a time.
“I’m not saying how many fights I have left or making any plans to stop fighting," he says. "When the time comes, I’ll know.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.