The first lesson a boxer must learn when working in a gym with Naazim Richardson is to never stop paying attention.
Two of the young fighters working with Richardson at Shane Mosley's Big Bear, Calif., training compound are guilty of violating rule No. 1. Richardson sees them laughing, talking and generally goofing off and ambles in their direction. He's a big, burly bear of a man, but nothing happens in a hurry with Richardson.
As he nears the two unsuspecting fighters, he grabs the end of a towel that is draped over his right shoulder and flicks his wrist, snapping the towel and unexpectedly smacking them in the face.
And that brings us to rule No. 2 when trained by Richardson: Never forget to duck.
For Richardson, who for the second year in a row is training Mosley in what is shaping up to be the biggest boxing event of the year, the key is to keep things simple.
Richardson was born in a hardscrabble area in North Philadelphia and was naturally drawn to the gym. He would listen for hours as great boxing minds such as George Benton, Al Fennell, Bouie Fisher and Milt Bailey would dissect fighters and share their wisdom on the game he loved.
"There was an old trainer in our gym, Al Fennell, and I bugged the hell out of him, trying to pick his brain," said Richardson, who is preparing Mosley to face world No. 1 Manny Pacquiao in a welterweight title bout on May 7 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. "He had a calmness about him. All of those guys did. They took a subtle approach and what they would say was so clear, concise. It wasn't real complicated.
"You talk to trainers now, a lot of them want to complicate things because they want to make it look like they're doing rocket science. Everybody's jockeying for jobs now and so, when you talk to some of these trainers now, they try to sound like a scientist. If you hear a scientist talk about why the ocean water is the way it is, you know you can't just walk up and take his job. And so, a lot of these guys just try to take that approach."
It is, he believes, a bid to sound impressive. What it is not, in Richardson's view, is teaching or properly coaching a fighter.
"It makes me laugh when I hear one of these guys say something like, 'Hey, you have to manipulate the center of the geographic stance,' " he says, failing to suppress a chuckle. "What he might mean is, 'Get closer to the guy and jab,' but he tries to say it in a way that makes him sound like something other than a boxing coach. Man, get out of here with that; you ain't no scientist. You're a boxing coach and judging by what I'm hearing, a pretty sorry one at that."
Though he doesn't have anywhere near the reputation of Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach, who on May 6, the night before Mosley and Pacquiao meet, will accept the Eddie Futch award as Trainer of the Year from the Boxing Writers Association of America for the fifth time overall and the fourth time in the last five years, Richardson is quietly emerging as one of the sport's leading coaches.
He doesn't have a large stable and he's not the most recognizable personality. But Richardson has built a sterling reputation with the men who count the most: other boxers.
"Honestly, I think he's the best there is," said Mosley, who has been trained by a number of the game's sharpest boxing minds. "For sure, he's the best trainer for me. We think about boxing the same way. He's into the sport of boxing and he loves it like I do. We share the same philosophy and he's a great communicator."
Richardson has worked the corner of Bernard Hopkins for years, but it wasn't until Hopkins' rematch with Jermain Taylor in 2005 that Richardson took over as the lead voice in his corner.
But Hopkins, who meets Jean Pascal on May 21 in Montreal in a light heavyweight title rematch, said Richardson has long had a significant influence on him. Hopkins is preparing for his fight with Pascal in Philadelphia, while Richardson is about 3,000 miles away working with Mosley in Big Bear.
Hopkins, though, trusts Richardson so thoroughly that he's comfortable with the arrangement. Richardson loves to break down tape and watch for hours looking for a weakness his fighter can exploit.
And it is Richardson's unique ability to devise a game plan and then make adjustments during a fight that appeals to boxing purists.
"Naazim is a teacher of the sport of boxing, but in my opinion, he's a strategist 1,000 times more than a teacher," Hopkins said. "He can take a tape and dissect a fight and break it down better than anyone. He'll pick up on something and then he'll show it to me and say, 'Hey 'Ex,' you see this? He does this every time when the guy throws this punch, so you have to do this.' He just comes up with these plans and time and time again, he comes up with the right way."
Richardson, like his mentors, is exceedingly calm in the corner and rarely raises his voice. He has only a few seconds to deliver a message or make a correction and he rarely, if ever, wastes it with histrionics.
He gets to the point quickly and delivers his message in a clear, concise manner.
"I trust him, because I know he knows what he's talking about," Hopkins said. "For instance, I stand tall sometimes, because I'm looking at my work. We call it in boxing admiring your work. You throw a good punch, but you get hit with a wild punch because you did what? You stood tall and admired your punch and looked to see if the guy was going to fall. Naazim stays on me to this day about that. The last time, I got hit with a couple of those shots I never should have been hit with. I should have been under those shots. When Naazim tells me that, I react. I don't go, 'What the hell are you trying to tell me? Do you know who I am? I'm Bernard Hopkins.'
"No. I trust him because I know he's giving me the right info. He has a track record and credibility with me. If you don't listen to him, you know what? You're going to pay the price somewhere down the road."
Very few, though, have the discipline that Mosley and Hopkins have. And few can withstand Richardson's demanding ways. He is the boss and there is never any question about it.
He hasn't expanded his empire like many trainers do after they have some success, because his demeanor scares some fighters off.
J. Russell Peltz, a Hall of Famer who has promoted fights in Philadelphia for more than 40 years, never got to know Richardson particularly well.
Several times, Peltz attempted to hire Richardson to train a fighter he promoted, but it never worked out.
"He raised his sons like he was a Marine drill sergeant and he was always very strict with everything he did," Peltz said. "I thought he could help some of my fighters out, but there was always opposition from the camps, because they'd say he was too strict."
Richardson is strict because, he says, you never know when you're going to wind up in the ring against someone like Pacquiao. Richardson trained Mosley last year when Mosley was trounced by Floyd Mayweather Jr. and knows he's facing an equally dangerous opponent on May 7.
Mayweather was hurt badly in the second round, but it was Mosley's only success in the fight. Richardson calls Mayweather "the most talented athlete of this era," but said it is Pacquiao who is it's best fighter.
"Mayweather talks like Pacquiao fights," Richardson said. "Believe me, we understand that Pacquiao is a problem. He's got a crazy amount of energy. You know, I could tell you all these things that Pacquiao has and praise him to the sky, but it's easier if I tell you this: The only attribute in boxing Manny Pacquiao doesn't have is height and range. Everything else, man, he's got it all.
"He's got great ring generalship. He's got movement, speed, power, one-punch power, combination punching. He has everything except height and range."
If it sounds like Richardson is about to concede, however, guess again. He's up into the middle of the night breaking down Pacquiao's tapes and he's convinced that Mosley will be able to exploit his weaknesses and shock the world.
It all sounds great, except that Richardson doesn't like the idea of shocking the world.
"It's no shock when a man with the pedigree, the ability, the dedication and the intelligence of a Shane Mosley beats anyone," Richardson said. "I agree that Pacquiao is a problem. He's a special guy. We respect him tremendously. But you know what? We're going to show up and we believe we can do it."
Rule No. 3 with Richardson: Never give up hope because, if there is a way, he'll find it.
"Shane Mosley is a live dog in this fight," Hopkins said. "Pacquiao is great and he's at the top of his game, but there isn't a guy out there without flaws. And if he has one, Naazim will find it and figure out a way for Shane to take advantage of it. Putting Naazim and Shane together, man, that makes a very dangerous pairing."
- Shane Mosley
- Manny Pacquiao
- Bernard Hopkins