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Adams follows his own path

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS – Ken Adams attacks a question with the ferocity a great white shark would a wounded sea creature.

He's nearly 69, but there has been no discernible softening of the man who nearly lost his chance to coach the 1988 U.S. Olympic boxing team because of an altercation with the U.S. Amateur Boxing Federation.

Adams is blunt, direct, demanding and, oh yeah, probably boxing's finest trainer. He's not a household name, even though he has trained 18 world champions and led the 1988 U.S. Olympic team to three gold (which would have been four had Roy Jones Jr. not been cheated), three silver and two bronze medals.

"He's right up there as one of the best trainers we have," said former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, now one of the top trainers himself. "He's a disciplinarian and he forces the guys to work hard and work correctly. He won't accept second-best. He instills discipline and pride in his fighters and some guys don't like having someone who is so disciplined and so demanding. He demands excellence each and every time he's in the gym."

Adams has never been Trainer of the Year. Nobody has mentioned him as a candidate for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. And you won't see him on television doing ringside analysis.

He's as likely to decline the opportunity to train a boxer as he is to guide one to the world championship. And he'll quickly walk away from one he does train if he believes the fighter isn't listening to him.

"Absolutely," says Adams, the one-time U.S. Army master sergeant. "Not only would I do it, I have done it and just did it recently."

The latest to get the "Adams Axe" is unbeaten World Boxing Council lightweight champion Edwin Valero, a guy with otherworldly power and great charisma who is exactly the type who could become a star.

Becoming a star means making money, and that would make him attractive to just about every trainer in the business.

Valero, though, was not without plenty of faults. His boxing skills were primitive at best and he fights as if he's never heard of a jab or of defense.

Adams, in a very short stint, made great progress in correcting many of those flaws and Valero was a much better technical fighter by the time they had decided to part ways. Had Adams continued to work with Valero, he certainly could have developed into one of the finest fighters in the world.

Valero, though, is an independent sort who has his own thoughts on how things should be done. Those thoughts didn't mesh with the hard-nosed Adams, who walked away when he determined Valero wasn't going to do things his way.

"I will not sell my soul for the sake of training a fighter," Adams said. "With Valero, I would come to the gym and tell him, 'We need to work on this.' I've been around a long time and I knew what he needed. It was obvious. But he would say to me, 'No, I want to work on this.' He wanted to do things his way. I wanted him to do things my way, the right way."

And so he left, thereby saying goodbye to the potentially lucrative paydays he could have earned while working with Valero.

Despite the split, there's no hard feelings on Valero's end. Valero still calls Adams to speak with him about boxing and he praised his skills. "Edwin is very grateful to Kenny for what he's done for him and it was an amicable split," Jose Castillo, Valero's manager, said. "Also, Edwin wanted to move and work in California (and Adams is based in Las Vegas). His family is used to California and they feel comfortable there. "The other thing is that Edwin felt he needed a trainer who could keep up with his pace. Kenny is a little older and Edwin felt he wasn't doing 100 percent of the way he liked to train, because Kenny couldn't keep up that pace. But Edwin has great respect for him and feels he did a lot to help him." Adams laughs softly as he's asked how much he estimates he has lost over the years as a result of cutting ties with recalcitrant fighters or refusing to take them on in the first place.

"It's got to be in the millions," he says. "Millions. My wife tells me all the time that I don't need to be so hard on them. What you see in boxing today is that too many guys want to hire a yes man. I'm no yes man.

"Maybe I've been a little harder than I've needed to be, but you can't mess around in this sport. This is serious business. I'm not going to deal with all the [expletive] that these fighters want you to deal with. Maybe it's my drill sergeant days coming out."

He proudly says he hasn't compromised and he never will. He spent 30 years in the Army and has a good pension and medical benefits. He won't go hungry if he never trains another fighter.

And so they'll do it his way or he'll walk.

The result is that those who work with him become beautiful technicians, capable of mastery in the ring. Those who don't usually wind up far less than they could have been. He suspects he'll never be Trainer of the Year – "Too outspoken," I guess – and he accepts the fact there isn't a strong possibility that he'll find his way into the Hall of Fame.

He'll be inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame later this year, an honor that he says "is really what I wanted most anyway."

He was born in Springfield, but was raised in Cape Girardeau, the same town that produced conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

He's a Missourian to the core, demanding that fighters "show me" they want to do it. He trains Jorge Linares, the classy World Boxing Association super featherweight champion, and up-and-coming lightweight Sharif Bogere. He also works with a few young Japanese fighters, whom he adores because of their willingness to heed each of his very direct and precisely chosen words.

He's never been a man who has suffered fools and he's not going to start as he's closing in on 70.

"I've had 18 world champions and I had five champions at one time," Adams said. "I've had my success. I'm satisfied with what I've done. And I walk with my head held high, because I have done things my way, the right way, and I haven't compromised my values for a paycheck.

"I love to train and work with fighters, but they have to want to do it and want to learn. They have to be committed to getting into the best possible shape they can. If they do those things, I'll give everything of myself to these kids. If they don't, you know what, I don't need the aggravation, no matter how good someone thinks they may be."

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