Boxing came easier than breathing at one point in Terry Washington’s life.
The trainer spent part of 2000 learning how to breathe again after a surgeon removed a blood clot that allowed him only 20 percent of the oxygen his lungs really needed.
“I didn’t realize it was slowly doing it,” said Washington, who was diagnosed with the blood clot in 1983, which cost him a college basketball scholarship. “Even though I was sick at the time and didn’t know it, I was working out in conditions where it’s real uncomfortable, like 105-degree heat.
“[The doctor] said if I wasn’t in the condition I was in, I might not have lived through the operation.”
The man, who only during the last decade learned how to get the most out of his lungs, is teaching women how to get the most out of their bodies in the ring — including NABF featherweight champion Jeri Sitzes and upcoming super middleweight Laura Ramsey.
Washington’s proven a well-kept body can go the distance. He’s crusading to spread the word to women, who he says don’t largely understand the finer details of boxing.
“If you watch women’s boxing, they don’t have defense,” Washington said. “If they do, it’s that they have good feet.”
Women being the more tenacious gender in the ring, Washington said, serves as both an asset and detriment.
“Men actually know what a punch will do to you if it’s delivered in the right place,” he said. “I asked [Ramsey], ‘How do you block a punch?’ She said, ‘I turn my head to the right and use this bone in my face.’”
Ramsey isn’t the only boxer with such primal and grotesquely ill-advised tactics. At the rate Ramsey was going, Washington gave the 37-year-old two more years before retirement.
Ironically, he can only help a woman running short on time if she gives him plenty of time. A minor disagreement between Washington and Ramsey when an opportunity to fight Laila Ali at Madison Square Garden this weekend presented itself little more than a month ago.
Washington wanted at least four to six weeks to bring Ramsey, who had recently knocked Erin Toughill out of the ring a la Rocky Marciano-Joe Walcott, to face the daughter of the greatest.
“If Laila offered that fight in two weeks, I won't be there,” said Washington, who noted most big fight opportunities come on short notice. “I guarantee Laura Ramsey wouldn't take that fight on two weeks’ notice.”
Washington’s seen what big-name fights take. He’s seen how men have trained. He held the tin can collecting the dime admission to Roberto Duran’s training sessions at Los Angeles’ Broadway Gym a few block away from his Watts neighborhood as a child. He’s been in camp with Marvin Hagler.
But time is something Ramsey, who works a fulltime job in addition to starting her own business, can’t afford. Logistics of the situation are tough enough with Ramsey living in Florida and Washington basing his training camp in Los Angeles.
“He agreed if we had the time, he agreed that we would have been OK,” Ramsey said. “He feels I could have beaten her, but he knows in order to beat her I have to be conditioned 100 percent. But when is that how and when is that going to happen? It hasn’t in my career.
“Now we have to play this waiting game.”
Women’s boxing suffers from a plague of fight now, regret it later. Matchmakers in this racket are borderline criminal, if not completely worthy of a hefty prison term. Somebody actually got away with pitting Ali, who was 21-0 at the time, against Asa Sandell, who was 3-0-1. Those who were shocked by Ali’s fifth-round TKO of Sandell deserve shock therapy or are the delusional sots qualified to set the next match.
Matchmaking can’t be helped by someone like Washington, but the general health of female boxers can. He can take someone like Ramsey, who is a grandmother, and make her look and feel like a 27-year-old in her prime.
“They don’t destroy their bodies the way guys destroy their bodies,” Washington said. “In order to have fun in this game, you must do the right things and have respect for the game. Look at Bernard Hopkins. This guy would go to sleep at 10 p.m. every night. He took care of his body.”
Outside of party boys such as Arturo Gatti, the men typically inflict personal damage on the scales before they ever hear the first bell. Weight gains and losses, Washington said, limit their careers.
“Look at Diego Corrales, they know he can’t make 35,” he said. “After all the wars Diego has been in, his body is already messed up.”
The preferred path for aging fighters is to ascend the weight classes, saving the body dehydration and malnutrition.
Women’s boxing generally doesn’t suffer from a weight loss issue, but Washington says the female battle is one of weighing too much.
“I see too many of them, they walk around at almost the same weight they fight at,” he said. “It’s a bad thing if you are 147 pounds and you’re 5-2 or 5-feet tall.”
Women such as IBA flyweight champ Melinda Cooper, who moved up from 110 pounds to 124, are following that path. But Washington said the majority of those in the fight game blindly move forward. He blames poor management.
“A lot of these girls, they manage themselves,” he said. “So who’s to give them some knowledge? Here are guys making poor decisions every day in boxing — and they’ve been taught and told.
“I guess that’s who,” Washington said, answering his own question.
Women’s boxing may ask itself: How long it will be before trainers like Terry Washington are commonplace?
The time table is murky, but the day it happens will be the first time the entire sport inhales its first deep breath.