You never quite know where you might run into Malik Scott. On a Monday afternoon, he’s at Barnes and Noble with his partner Nancy Ramirez, buying a thriller by Joseph Finder. Later that same day, he’s at the library, coffee in hand, listening to opera music. At night, he enjoys a cigar as he helps Nancy with her oil paintings. Online, he and Nancy are also popular OnlyFans creators with over 14,000 likes on their page. (photo by Ryan Hafey)
“My life is really the sh!t without making it up. Most people's lives are glowing and glittering because they make it up. I swear on everything, what you see is what you get,” he said.
The 40-year old Scott labels himself “The Odd Guy,” a nod to his varied interests and fierce individuality. One look at Scott’s social media and it’s evident that he’s a man unconcerned with curating his online presence to fit a particular image. Many of Scott’s followers on Instagram might not have even known about his boxing career prior to this year, but rather as a Fashion Nova influencer and adult content creator.
These days, his trips to the bookstore and the set are a little less frequent, because he’s been spending his days at Deontay Wilder’s house in Alabama. After a tumultuous split with former trainer Mark Breland following a stoppage loss to Tyson Fury in their heavyweight title rematch, Wilder made what appeared to the public as a surprising decision to name Scott his new head trainer.
People can be forgiven for thinking the decision was well, odd. Scott’s career as an active fighter ended in 2016 after a loss to Luis Ortiz. Three fights prior to that, he actually fought Wilder and was stopped in the first round. Though Scott had been active in the community near his home in California training children, he wasn’t known to be an active professional trainer. Choosing Scott to help lead him into a career-defining fight felt like Wilder was drafting a player not in the board, in the first round.
But unless you were extremely perceptive or on-site in Alabama through the years, you wouldn’t have known that Scott has quietly been a part of Team Wilder for years, and is one of Wilder’s closest friends. In fact, they effectively decided to pause their friendship for three months so that they could fight one another in 2014 before getting back to their old ways.
“I've known Deontay Wilder for over a decade now. We've spent tons and tons of time together. We share the same birthday, our mothers both have the same birthday as each other. There's a real connection there,” said Scott. “I basically became a very close team member. We always went over game plans, we always went over strategy, I would give him tips if I'd seen openings, but I always did it in a respectful way, that I never would step on Jay Deas and Mark Breland's toes.”
Scott’s insertion into the leading role is certainly a sudden one, but it does feel like the logical next step for one of heavyweight boxing’s favorite hired guns over the last 15 years. Scott was a terrific amateur who only lost three times in the unpaid ranks before enjoying a successful pro career which only saw him lose to Wilder, Ortiz and Dereck Chisora. Scott developed a reputation as a slick boxer who pitched shutouts in eight rounders on his way up the ladder, earning him the tongue-in-cheek nickname “Mr. 80-72.” That boxing ability, combined with his 6’5” frame, was in vogue for top heavyweights during his career, leading names such as Lennox Lewis, Wilder and even Fury to seek him out for sparring.
“I really believe I was like a student of the game, I was like a sponge soaking up so much knowledge from so many boxing people from the age of 12, I believe it was all ordained. I'm in my moment right now. This is my moment right now. I'm doing what I was meant to do, and that's really teach,” said Scott. “Even though Deontay is a knockout puncher and I'm more of a back-footed boxer, my knowledge, my tools for the game, all the knowledge I have from the teachers that taught me, I'm putting it all into Deontay Wilder.”
Scott presides over Wilder’s camp, which is indeed at his house in Alabama, one that was converted for this fight in particular into a full-on training compound. The property features indoor and outdoor boxing training areas, a basketball court that doubles as an agility drill station, a weight room, a recovery room and more. When they aren’t training together, they’re watching classic heavyweight title fights such as Joe Louis-Max Schmeling, Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney and a selection of Muhammad Ali fights. Amongst his potpourri of interests, Scott is also a boxing historian.
He’s also re-watched every fight of Wilder’s career, looking both for mistakes to correct, but also for minutiae that might have gone unnoticed by those who feel Wilder is merely a one-dimensional puncher. Scott believes that there are subtleties to Wilder’s game that have both gone unknowledged by observers, but also underutilized by Wilder himself.
“This is not a hype job. I'm training the most dynamic, hardest puncher in the history of the sport, and he has a toolbox full of tools that he hasn't been using,” said Scott. “Credit to Tyson Fury. He has a lot of s--t going on, but he's a hell of a dance partner in all of this. A hell of a dance fighter. Tyson Fury isn't a good fighter, Tyson Fury is a very, very, very good fighter. But the Deontay Wilder that I'm training, he can make this the easiest fight of his career, or he can make it an absolute nightmare, it all depends on Deontay. He has the skills, he has the power, he has the attitude, he has the killer instinct to make this the easiest fight of his career.”
It's difficult to come up with an exact parallel in boxing history for what Wilder and Scott are looking to pull off. There’s no shortage of high-level fighters who have made trainer changes heading into big bouts. Some changes have catapulted or renovated careers, such as Emanuel Steward’s work with both Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko. Others, like Oscar De La Hoya’s myriad of trainer changes, or Ricky Hatton’s dalliance with Floyd Mayweather Sr., were either unsuccessful or relatively inconsequential. But in almost all cases, world-class fighters who make a change in trainers at this stage in their careers choose an established trainer, quite often ones like Steward or Buddy McGirt who have or have had a reputation for rehabilitating fighters.
“The switch to Scott makes sense only because after two tries, Wilder can't do much worse vs. Fury. Unfortunately, the circumstances, with Breland being canned for doing the right thing in the Fury rematch, are disturbing,” said SHOWTIME commentator and historian Steve Farhood. “The question: Stylewise, will Scott train Wilder to fight as he did? He was a good boxer without much power. That remains to be seen.”
Scott can speak for minutes on end about tiny things Wilder did in his past fights that he thinks went unappreciated. He describes Wilder parrying Kelvin Price’s jab hand away so that he could land his right hand in frame-by-frame detail, or his footwork in the Luis Ortiz rematch, gradually luring Ortiz into the ideal spot to land his best shot.
But with Wilder, it’s brevity that is key to their communication now. Boxing is in many ways like football, in that new athlete-coach relationships require learning a new language and a new “playbook.” Every boxing corner has their own verbiage, ideally, a set of instructions that aren’t immediately evident to the opponent. Fans likely remember wordsmiths like Naazim Richardson telling Shane Mosley to “step on (his opponent’s) tail” or Bernard Hopkins to “swim without getting wet.” On Saturday, you might overhear Scott telling Wilder to “give him some sexy feints,” which will refer to a specific feint meant to set up a particular punch.
“Linguistically, (training Wilder) has made the connection between me and him even better. That's why drilling is good, it's not just doing the same thing over and over, it's a fighter and a trainer developing a dialogue,” said Scott. “We have a real language in the corner that just wasn't there six, seven months ago. The willingness, the receptiveness was there, but not the language. Where did that come from? From constantly drilling the same things over and over again. Six months ago I might have had to say a whole sentence, now I can just use a hand motion, maybe certain words, certain codes, even just a certain pitch in my voice.”
Scott’s boxing idols are as much Joe Goossen, Al Mitchell and Emanuel Steward as they are Lennox Lewis and Muhammad Ali. He has admired teachers and communicators as much as the ones who have followed those voices. He admits that he didn’t quite achieve what he wanted to as an active fighter, but this is far from a consolation prize. Cornering a fighter to a heavyweight title win, he believes, is what was always meant to happen.
“I stand on my own principles. I'm not about who is right, I'm about what's right. I'm extremely judgement free. If someone likes me, I love them, if they don't like me, f--- them and f--- whoever hangs out with them,” said Scott. “The marinating is over, now we're about to cook him.”
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman