By Thomas Gerbasi

Naazim Richardson saw something. As he followed his son Bear up the steps into the ring before a Junior Olympic bout he eyed the young man shadowboxing in the opposite corner. He and his son had a rock-solid gameplan, one he made sure was going to be followed to the letter.

“We’re gonna box this entire tournament, we’re not gonna fight,” Richardson told his son. Dogs can fight, roosters can fight – only man can box.”

Bear Richardson was on board with this strategy, but in the time it took to walk up four steps, everything changed.

“I saw the other kid in the corner do something,” said the elder Richardson. “So I said ‘Bear, you remember what we talked about? I need you to step right to him, double the jab, step over, right hand – we’re gonna get him out of there.’”

He laughs at the memory.

“He (Bear) looked at me like ‘man, you just beat me to death for two days about this, and now you tell me to go out and fight.’ But I’ve always informed him that sometimes in a boxing match, a fight breaks out. So at any moment, it can get funky.”

The son did as the father instructed, and as usual, the father was right.

“He stepped to the guy, hit him with the right hand, and what I thought I saw turned out to be accurate. He hit him with the right hand and sat him down. The kid got up and he pretty much never recovered from that first shot.”

A lot of people can toss a towel over their shoulder and call themselves trainers. Few can really perform the duties necessary to not only work a corner, but to plot strategy, figure out the intricacies of a complex game, and also be a mix of psychologist, father, best friend, and drill sergeant in the space of the 60 seconds between each round. And that’s not counting the details – the small things that can be the difference between raising your fighter’s hand in victory and waking him up from a ten second nap.

Brother Naazim Richardson has all his bases covered when it comes to the above requirements – and he has for a while now. But it’s only in the last year or so that the international fight community has picked up on what east coasters have known for years – that the Philadelphia product is one of the game’s best trainers, as well as one of its most knowledgeable and compelling figures. Talk to him for any length of time and it’s almost like he’s too good for boxing, that there must be some loftier purpose for him beyond the ring. But then upon further reflection, you realize that making an impact on the lives of those inside the sport is admirable in and of itself.

And again, it all comes down to the details, something made crystal clear when he discovered Antonio Margarito’s tainted handwraps before the January 2009 fight between the Mexican standout and Richardson’s fighter, Shane Mosley. It was this incident that put Richardson at the forefront in the boxing world, helping him join Freddie Roach as the sweet science’s Trainer du Jour. But what was forgotten by many is that Richardson had also been the one to detect irregularities in the wrapping of Felix Trinidad’s handwraps before his 2001 fight with Bernard Hopkins. But there would be no reams of copy extolling the virtues of Richardson after that one; he would have to wait for his time to shine, which was just fine with him.

“I never fell into an area where I thought I was being underappreciated or not being recognized,” he said. “I just did the job. My family was really upset when the situation came out with Trinidad’s handwraps. They were watching other people do interviews who weren’t even in the room. My family was like ‘why aren’t you saying something? Why are you letting them give the credit to Bouie?’ (Hopkins’ former trainer) Bouie Fisher was one of my mentors, and I said, ‘well the credit is due to Bouie.’ Why is that? ‘Well, because Bouie had enough sense to hire me. The credit is his. If I ask you to redecorate my home, I know you’re not gonna do the work yourself; but I know you’re gonna hire good people, so I’ll still give you the credit.”

He pauses briefly, maybe to reflect on life on the road less traveled in the fight game, where he has basically raised his sons (Rock and Tiger), along with an array of family members.

“We take the steps we have to take, and I tell everybody, ‘do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do.’

Now he’s doing precisely that, and the world is watching him do it.

“It’s great to be acknowledged and good to recognized for your work, but I think I always have been – maybe not by the public – but by my athletes, and being acknowledged and respected by them is good enough for me.”

So it’s safe to say that he isn’t basking in the spotlight or changing what he’s been doing all these years in Philadelphia gyms. Its business as usual as he readies Mosley for his May 1st SuperFight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., and that means an intense attention to detail, something he admits to struggling with. It’s a startling admission considering what he’s done thus far in the fight game, but when his focus wavers, he refers back to the simplest of instincts.

“To be totally honest with you, I critique myself more so on the fact of needing to pay more attention to detail,” he said. “But I raised a lot of my family in boxing. I have several cousins and nephews, and my sons, and I think when you watch, from a parental point of view, we have a tendency to watch for detail. I once told my sons, ‘if you want to know something about you, ask me. Because I watch you more than you watch you.’ (Laughs) And it’s true – what parent doesn’t pay attention? So there are t’s we have to cross and I’s we have to dot, and I just try to do my best at it.”

Not that it’s easy when you’re dealing with the modern athlete. Guys like Bernard Hopkins and Shane Mosley are few and far between when it comes to old-school dedication and professionalism. Today, many young fighters are more concerned with their next paycheck than with doing the work to get that check. Richardson calls it “the microwave era,” and as usual, he’s right on target with that description.


“Some guys today are spoiled through their own talent,” he said. “They have talent and they get so spoiled on it because they think they can call on it whenever they want to. But they’re not diligent. And those guys with talent don’t realize that they’re supposed to be all-time greats. The determination has to be there. We can push them, but a lot of young people, some of them don’t actually pick up the understanding of what it takes to be great in what they do. I can articulate it to them the best that I can, but all I can do after that is put a prayer to the side and hope for the best.”

Being in an age where training camp isn’t a place to get away from the outside world anymore is a problem as well.

“There’s too many distractions,” said Richardson. “I can’t blame one particular vice, but between the cell phones, and the MySpace, and Facebook, they’re too distracted. Think about when guys went to camp back in the day. You lay in that bed and thought about the fight. Today, a guy can’t even think about his job – the phone rings and he’s right back home. They’ve got the laptops where they can actually look through the camera and see each other. These guys just aren’t the same anymore.”

So have cell phones been banned at Camp Mosley in Big Bear, California?

“They’ll find me buried somewhere here in Big Bear if I tried to take the cell phones away from these kids,” he chuckles. “Sometimes it becomes a problem with some of these young guys. They don’t want to hear it – they just chalk it up to ‘you’re old and we’re young.’ This is all they know, and some of these kids can’t imagine not being on a cell phone. There’s good to it and bad to it, but I see the distraction in it.”

Richardson won’t let it deter him from the task at hand. Blessed with a new lease on life after recovering from a stroke in March of 2007, he looks at life through a different lens now, but some things remain unchanged. One is that you won’t see him getting into any off-color antics in the lead-up to Mosley vs Mayweather; it’s just his style, he’s not about to alter it for anyone, and it’s in the blood.

“I have parents too,” he said. “And there are still people around who knew my parents and knew how they raised me. So for me to get out of character, some of those old people that still know my family, they’ll check me. My mother cussed me out one time because she said I cussed Bernard out in the corner. (Laughs) She said ‘Bernard was doing the best he could and you didn’t have to cuss him out like that. Where did you get all that language from?’ You know good and well where I got that language from.”

That’s not to say that Richardson isn’t amused by the antics of Team Mayweather on HBO’s 24/7 series and in the media over the last few weeks. He is, but it’s the amusement of an old pro who has seen it all more than once. 

“The dog and pony show that is the Mayweather television show has kinda had its run,” he said. “Like any great show, everybody huddled around the television when ‘The Jeffersons’ first came out. But after a while, some reruns start coming on, and you weren’t that interested anymore, and the show gets cancelled. It’s the same thing with the Floyd Mayweather show – when it came out, it was interesting, everybody loved the way him and (trainer and uncle) Roger (Mayweather) worked the pads, but now it becomes – okay, we’ve seen it. Yes, we heard you were the greatest; yes, we heard you have more money than God. It’s all been done.”

“Buffoonery is always gonna sell,” Richardson continues. “You put the ‘Three Stooges’ on right now and you’re gonna get some people who are gonna stop and watch. But it’s starting to run its course now. And then he’s coming up on solid professionals who have prepared for that kind of nonsense. Floyd says he’s the greatest of all-time; I say ‘well, I agree.’ Am I doing this for my own personal gain? Wouldn’t any coach like to have trained the greatest fighter of all-time? Well, Floyd says he’s the greatest fighter of all-time and my fighter knocks him off, hey, hey, hey. (Laughs) I can do this and still stay humble.”

It’s almost as if Richardson is enjoying this whole process, like he knows something that we don’t, that on fight night, his fighter is going to upset Mayweather’s apple cart and pin the first loss on his perfect record. Well, it’s safe to say that Richardson knows more than 99.5% of us when it comes to boxing. As for the rest, that will have to wait for May 1st. But until then, Richardson is confident about what’s going to happen in Las Vegas that night.

“Mayweather’s an exceptional athlete,” said he said. “People call me and say ‘I’ve got a kid who boxes like Mayweather.’ No, you don’t. If you did, the kid would be somewhere defending his title. So all we can do is get Shane in the best shape possible, and from there, we’ll orchestrate the plan – it’s gonna be about a lot of changes and a lot of adversity, and we’ll look for the success in it, which I think we’re capable of doing with this guy.”

No trash talk, no insults, no questioning of Mayweather’s style, opposition, or heritage. It’s the polar opposite from the tact taken by Pretty Boy Floyd’s squad, and it’s refreshing. Then again, Naazim Richardson has made it a point to shatter stereotypes in the fight game for years. It’s only now that the rest of the world is starting to catch on. 

“I’m not gonna reduce myself to what they’re doing – I have to answer to something higher and greater than that,” he said. “I was raised right. I did some wrong things, but I was raised right. And at the highest point of attention is the time you have to show you were raised right. I stand in front of that camera now and I represent all those young boys in the street that I mentor to and I talk to. I represent my children, who I told to do the right thing and to carry themselves the right way. I represent my gym, James Shuler’s Gym, I represent the Concrete Jungle, and I represent a lot more than just the trainer on 24/7. It ain’t just about me. I’d like to fire back, and the thing is, the Mayweathers give you so much to fire back at. It’s like they alley-oop the ball and you can’t help but slam dunk it. But you’ve got to restrain yourself. If he alley-oops the ball and I slam dunk it, it’s like I’m on his team."