Steve Feder returned to his Los Angeles home from the gym one day during the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike to find his wife, Tracy, preparing dinner.
Feder, a screenwriter and producer, casually mentioned to Tracy that he planned to get into the boxing business. He'd met and developed a relationship with Lateef Kayode, a young, powerfully built Nigerian man who was in desperate need of competent representation in his boxing career.
Feder wasn't sure how his wife would react. He'd played it over and over in his mind, how he'd approach her about becoming this unproven prospect's manager.
When he casually dropped the idea shortly after saying hello, he was met with silence – and the look. If you've been married for any length of time, you know the look: cold, hard and intense.
So, tentatively, Feder repeated himself.
"Did you hear me? I'm going into the boxing business," he said, trying to sound as cheerful and positive as he could.
Tracy didn't change her expression as she replied, "I heard you," and continued her business.
And thus began the professional relationship between the most unlikely of partners on a journey that, in the eyes of no less an expert than trainer Freddie Roach, could lead them to a world cruiserweight championship.
Kayode, who stands 14-0 with 13 knockouts, will meet veteran Ed Perry on Friday at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif., in a bout televised nationally on Showtime.
Kayode, 27, is now regarded as one of the sport's elite prospects, which is quite a change from just a few years ago when he was stranded in New York. Accompanied by two friends, he came to the United States from his home in Lagos, Nigeria, to fight in a pre-Olympic tournament in Chicago.
Because of a miscommunication, when the three Nigerian men arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, there was no one there to meet them. They spoke no English and had no idea how to communicate to anyone whom they were, what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go.
Kayode met several unscrupulous people along the way, all of whom identified themselves as players in boxing who would help him advance his career. Each only served to make the matter worse; he bounced around the country from city to city, essentially chasing false dreams.
"For me to tell you that story, it would take days to go through everything," Kayode said in his deep baritone. "It was a very difficult time in my life."
He was working at a gym in Los Angeles, expecting to meet another potential manager, when he became acquainted with Feder. Feder's only connection to boxing had been as a fan, though his father had briefly managed fighters years ago.
They struck up a friendship and Feder eventually agreed to become Kayode's manager. Feder saw Kayode as a talent with frighteningly good power, but he was also very raw. Kayode only began to box when he was in his late teens in Nigeria, and only then because he kept getting mugged by gangs in a rough section of Lagos.
Feder believed Kayode had the talent to succeed at the highest level, but he also needed to be taught the game. And so he directed him to Roach, the four-time trainer of the year and perhaps today's leading trainer.
"Lateef has been blessed with a natural gift of power," Roach said.
Kayode is well known to the frequenters of Roach's now-famous Wild Card Boxing Club on Vine Street in Hollywood. He's as diligent a worker as there is at the gym, which is saying something since one of the fighters who works there regularly is Roach's prized pupil, Manny Pacquiao.
Kayode promoter Gary Shaw, who is convinced that Roach will be able to lead Kayode to a championship, said that the two will get plenty of private time soon. That, Shaw added, will lead to a huge improvement in Kayode. Roach had been devoting most of his time to training Pacquiao and Amir Khan, the World Boxing Association super lightweight champion who will defend his title against Marcos Maidana on Dec. 11 in Las Vegas.
After the Khan-Maidana fight, Roach won't have to split his focus and will be able to direct all of his wisdom toward Kayode.
"Manny is in the Philippines and Freddie will be done with Amir soon, and then you'll see a marked improvement in Lateef," Shaw said. "Lateef is still very raw and needs a lot of time refinement, which he'll get by working with Freddie."
Shaw compared Kayode's tools and raw power to one-time top heavyweight prospect Ike Ibeabuchi, who was perhaps the most gifted heavyweight in the world but couldn't stay out of trouble. Ibeabuchi is now serving a long sentence in a Nevada prison, his boxing career over.
Ibeabuchi was 20-0 with 15 knockouts. Among his victims: Chris Byrd and David Tua. Many considered him the fighter who would be able to knock off Lennox Lewis.
Shaw said that Kayode has the kind of raw power and athleticism that made Ibeabuchi so big in the 1990s.
"Lateef's punching power is very much like Ike and is what I would call spectacular," Shaw said. "After he's with Freddie for a while, he's going to be scary good."
And if that comes true, Feder will be rewarded for his faith in a guy who had almost run out of options. The two have forged a close bond and each says they're looking forward to making a run at the championship together.
For Feder, a championship run will have another pleasant side effect.
"I can talk to my wife then and she won't think I'm crazy," he said.
It might have been crazy that day at Kennedy Airport to view Kayode as an undefeated world champion, but no more. Now, Kayode is an elite prospect who is good enough that he may be less than a year away from a title shot.
Feder is bolstering his boxing operation, adding talented fighters such as unbeaten super welterweight contender Vanes Martirosyan.
"Lateef is an amazing guy, and to be able to share this journey with him is my pleasure," Feder said. "He's in love with boxing. He's in love with the gym. It's hard to find a guy who cares about what he does and about improving so much. It's his dream to win the title, and I'm just fortunate to be a small part of the process."
- Freddie Roach