Undefeated junior middleweight sensation Pawel “Raging Bull” Wolak, 21-0 (14 KOS), a native of Poland who fights out of New York, will face the biggest challenge of his career on August 1 when he takes on the crafty veteran Ishe Smith, 19-3 (9 KOS), of Las Vegas on Showtime’s ShoBox: The New Generation.
The show is being promoted by Cedric Kushner’s Gotham Boxing, in association with Sal Musemeci’s Final Forum.
From outward appearances, the 26-year-old Wolak is an offensive whirlwind. Always in superb condition, he tirelessly throws punches for every minute of every round.
As effective as that has been to date, he will have to step up his game against Smith. He credits his trainer, Patrick Ford, for enabling to beat all types of fighters and is the first to admit that “one style doesn’t beat all.”
The 52-year-old Ford, a former top contender who between 1976 and 1987 compiled a 17-4 (11 KOS) record and twice challenged for world featherweight titles, says Wolak is much more of a fighter than a boxer. When Wolak first approached him about training him, he told him that straight up.
“I asked Pawel what he liked better, boxing or fighting,” said Ford. “He said he wanted to box.”
Because of the 5’8” Wolak’s squat frame and seemingly superhuman strength and stamina, Ford told him that he’d be a lot better trying to excel at fighting rather than boxing.
“The language of his body was made for fighting, not boxing,” said the extremely cerebral Ford. “Tell me how many Polish fighters were good boxers. I’ll tell you how many: none. But many were good fighters. Pawel is a very good fighter.”
Ford is a firm believer in metaphysics. You don’t have to be around him for very long to realize what a philosophical man he is. He is very impressed with the fact that Wolak is a college graduate, and says that his thirst for knowledge is insatiable. It is obvious that Ford thoroughly enjoys being a teacher to a very apt student.
“One of the most intelligent things a boxer can do is never taking his eyes off of an opponent,” said Ford. “The other is to know that power doesn’t come from muscle, it comes from intelligence and intent.”
Ford, a native of Georgetown, Guyana, learned that from Cus D’Amato, while living at the master’s house with Mike Tyson and others I Catskill, New York, in 1980-81. Ford said he often spoke at length with D’Amato on all of the ways that boxing corresponded to real life.
While D’Amato often told Ford that he was a quick learner, Ford did not believe that D’Amato’s peek-a-boo style was right for him.
“It did not allow me to use my reach,” said the 5’10” Ford, who often towered over his opponents. “I didn’t want to change what brought me so much success.”
Besides D’Amato, Ford learned a lot from working in the camps of Sugar Ray Leonard, when Leonard was training for Kevin Howard, and the great Alexis Arguello. An eager student, he left all those camps with much more knowledge than he came with.
Although Ford lost the two biggest fights of career, back to back world featherweight title fights to Salvador Sanchez and Esubeio Pedroza, no one can ever say he was not a master in the ring.
In only his 16th pro fight, in September 1980, he challenged Sanchez, who was 36-1-1, in San Antonio, Texas. That fight came a mere six weeks after Ford stopped Eddie Ndukwu, who was 14-1, in the eighth round for the British Empire Commonwealth title.
Although Sanchez lost a majority decision to the heavily favored Sanchez, at one point during the competitive fight the acerbic broadcaster Howard Cosell excitedly proclaimed that “Salvador Sanchez has a fight on his hands.”
Five months later, Ford traveled to Panama to take on local hero Pedroza, who besides being a superb fighter was a world class fouler. Ford was stopped in the 13th round. He still seems peeved when talking about that bout.
“That is a fight my manager never should have taken,” said Ford. “That was my third (scheduled) 15 round fight in six months. I had to lose 13 pounds in four days. I was tired by the third round.”
Ford wound up conversing with Cosell, who he says called him “a miraculous person” and praised him for being “so eloquent.”
The thoughtful Ford had good reason to be so introspective. Besides being a student of many religions, including Islam, Christianity and Hinduism, he had to endure the pain associated with a death in the ring.
After stopping Cecil Fernandez in the 10th round of a December 1979 fight in Guyana, Fernandez died from his injuries. Afterwards Ford sought out the family of Fernandez in Miami. He said Fernandez’s parents were very nice to him, and were happy with his gesture of support.
He learned that Fernandez was afflicted with meningitis, a disease that also killed Ford’s youngest sister at the age of nine.
“Knowing that brought some solace to my heart,” said Ford. “But it was still painful to be involved in such a fight.”
In the here and now, Ford, the father of five children, several of whom have graduated from college and two of whom are in the Air Force, is only focused on making the extremely talented and hardworking Wolak a world champion.
“We will look at Ishe Smith and find a way to beat him,” said Ford. “It will be a good fight for as long as it lasts.”
Asked about the pressure of fighting on ShoBox before a hometown crowd, Ford said there was none. “Pawel has already fought at Madison Square Garden,” he explained. “He trains for pressure fights. He loves pressure fights. We will figure out a way to beat Smith, just like we figured out a way to beat the other 21 opponents Pawel has faced.”