Part and parcel of a trainer’s job, as some of them see it, is to act as a publicist for an event, and for their fighter.
Makes sense, as trainers get a cut from their fighters’ earnings. The pie gets bigger, they get a bigger slice for themselves to munch.
So a fightwriter will often take it with a few grains of salt when a trainer proclaims his man to be in the best shape of his life, as ready and able as ever to destruct and destroy.
Also, some trainers attempt to bolster their fighter’s psyche by loudly and proudly boasting of their fighters’ superb level of fitness and focus, even if both are at a subpar level.
This “fake it til you make it” approach, a trainer may feel, just might inject their man with an extra portion of confidence that might tip them toward victory.
So it is with those truisms in mind when I ask a trainer how their man looks. Total honesty cannot be asked for, or expected.
Alton Merkerson has trained Roy Jones for the vast bulk of his pro career, save for the period after the 1988 Olympics when Roy’s dad oversaw his training.
Merk shared his take on how Jones’ training went leading in to Saturday showdown with Felix Trinidad.
“It’s going great,” said the former Army man, who served from 1959-1990. “Roy has been training very hard. He’s been very enthusiastic during the training camp. We are just ready to go. Roy was very motivated during the training, he’s put a lot of money in the bank, did all the right things. I haven’t seen this in him in the last two or three years, maybe four years. Eat, sleep, thinking boxing. He is back on track, just like he was back when he was very hot in the boxing game.”
He’s been training for 3 months?
“Yeah, you know, we started off camp back in Pensacola. We had a beginning stage, a progression stage, and a training stage. We are at the point now where we are ready to fight. We split the camp up into two parts. Did a lot of pre-training in Pensacola—just conditioning—then starting to box and move around in the ring. And once he started boxing, we went up to the mountains in California, Pennsylvania, to finish up the last four weeks and concluded our training at that point.”
How was it getting the weight down, Merk was asked. To me, if Jones has been having real trouble shaving off those last few pounds, that’s the prime wildcard that could tilt the fight in Tito’s favor.
“No problem, no problem,” Merkerson stated. “I say no problem… if there was a problem, I wouldn’t tell you though (laughter). It’s all in the job. You do what you have to do. It’s a little harder for him to lose weight than it was some years ago. But you know when you get a warrior who’s been in combat, he does whatever it takes and doesn’t complain about it.”
Merk went on to explain how the weight run-up for Jones’ 2003 heavyweight bout, and subsequent dropdown back to 175 sapped RJJ.
“From a training standpoint, those people who haven’t been exposed to it and deal with athletes you know, your body goes through certain transitions in life, especially when it comes with age. But with Roy, that hasn’t been a factor with him. What people fail to realize is that Roy came from a middleweight all the way up to heavyweight and won every title. And once he became a heavyweight—you have to do a lot to put on muscle to hold a solid 200 pounds to fight heavyweight—when he fought John Ruiz. So your body goes through some transitions. Now, you find a heavyweight at that weight, and within three months he came all the way back down to light-heavy, which is a much smaller weight, and you are not just losing fat, you are losing muscle because that’s what you put on. So your body is going to go through some stages that you really can’t explain to people how it is. They have to experience it. You know how people go on diets, and how hard it is to loose weight? And that’s fat, so when you have muscle, it’s that much harder. Now, his body has settled down, and he’s at a lower weight now, so it’s no problem and he’s back to where he used to be. I saw some things in this camp that I haven’t seen in 3 or 4 years. I see the old Roy, some of things that I saw back when I had him in the Olympics in 1988. I saw some of the things out of Roy in this training camp that I saw when he beat Bernard Hopkins with one hand. I saw some of the things in Roy at this camp how he dominated against John Ruiz as a heavyweight. So those things that I saw in him during this training camp are the same things that I saw in him as a young Olympian in ‘88. Actions speak louder than words. I can’t say anymore. You’ll see it in the fight as it comes up.”
Merk then went into publicist mode a liiiiiitle bit, talking about how Tito still has it. But he did make some sense on how much harder it is to take off than put on, didn’t he?
“You talk about Sugar Ray Robinson, and you talk about all those guys in the old days, not trying to be historic, who came from a lower weight and came up to a heavier weight, to be successful. First of all, you’ve got to understand this: Tito is coming up in weight. You’ve got to look at Roy. You tell me one heavyweight who has won a heavyweight title in history, and came back down not only to light heavyweight but came to the weight of 170. So realistically, Tito is coming up. We are giving him an advantage. We are going down to 170 pounds. Do you know how hard that is to do? I’d like my client to concentrate on fighting in the ring, instead of making weight. When it comes to a case like this, Roy doesn’t have his cake and ice cream, too, like Tito does. So that balances things out. Roy has to work hard, and he has to be in shape and work very hard to be able to come down to 170 so he’s not fighting a smaller person. I think they are on even skill. And you’ve got to understand that both of these guys are legends, both of them are still energetic, both of them can still fight, both of them has had lulls in action. But every great fighter you’ve had out there in history, have had some downfalls and that doesn’t mean they didn’t come back. So I totally disagree with people who make those statements.”
We shall see Saturday if Merk is right about Roy improving since 2004…
“He has improved a tremendous amount since 2004,” Merk said. “Like I was explaining to everyone else and what people have to understand is that Roy made a big transition when he went up to heavyweight, and it took a lot of work on his part. He gained the weight to go up and fight Ruiz. Shortly after that he had to lose the weight to come back down because of the heavyweight fights that didn’t materialize. Mentally and physically, his body went into shock when he had to come down and fight light-heavy again. Not going back and trying to use it as an excuse but the first fight with Tarver when he came back down to light-heavy, his body was totally drained. He actually won that fight. It was a very ugly fight, and his body just didn’t look right and he didn’t have the stamina. But when he fought that fight, he was going through the transition of coming back down. Shortly after that, he had two fights back to back. After the last fight that he had with Johnson, his body had just started coming back around and now his body is used to holding the lower weight and he is doing very well. As I stated before, I’m very impressed with him. Mentally and physically he is very energetic and he is doing things in the gym that he hasn’t done in years and he feels comfortable doing them and now it works for him. So, I’m very pleased with his performance and progression over the past, especially, 8 weeks.”
I have to say, the Jones team has stayed on message re: blaming the weight see-saw issue as strictly as any Karl Rove squad…
What do you think he could have done differently, despite the weight loss, in the ring with Johnson, Merk was asked.
Merk said that he was mystified by Jones’ seeming disinterest circa 2004, when he was stopped by Glen Johnson.
“I actually made a statement one time that Roy and I were going to have to sit down and talk and see if he really wanted to do this anymore. Because, the reason I say that, Roy, when he comes to the gym is a very motivated individual, and he’s not a guy who needs the motivation from his trainer to train. When he comes into the gym he is there because he wants to be there and he wants to have fun. But during that time frame, I noticed that he seemed as though he really didn’t want to be in the gym. I think it was from the administrative portion of boxing. I think it was from his body going through fatigue from the weight gain and back down to the weight loss. And he was expecting to fight another heavyweight and couldn’t fight a heavyweight so he had to fight at light heavyweight. I think it was all these things in conjunction that put him into a rut. You know for a fact that if you are studying for a test and you don’t study as you go along throughout the course and all of a sudden, at the end, you try to brainstorm to put all this stuff together at the last minute, you know what, you will draw a blank and it’s just not there. Now, he’s not doing that. He is not cramming. He is doing stuff constantly. He is absorbing it. He is training consistently. Things are not distracting him and he’s back to where he’s supposed to be.”
Tito fans are hoping that Jones’ jaw is compromised, and that Trinidad will find a sweet spot on the chin and deposit Roy on the floor. What about it, Merk?
“The thing about that – looking at the whole picture – everyone has a glass jaw. If you fight long enough in this game eventually you are going to go down. Look at Muhammad Ali and look at all the other great fighters that have ever fought. If you stay in the business long enough—just like a welder, if you weld long enough, you are going to get burned with the torch. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have a glass jaw. I don’t care how big they are, how athletic they are, and they let me hit them and I hit them right, they are going to sleep. I don’t consider him to have a glass jaw but anybody in boxing couldn’t say that he has one since he’s been down only two times in his boxing career. So in reference to him avoiding getting hit, I can’t do anything to avoid that. He is on the top of his game.”
In Vegas, 2004, when Tarver knocked him out, how did that happen?
“I was there when it happened and I remember it like it was yesterday. Roy squared up on the rope. Tarver told him to be more aggressive. They were playing cat and mouse and then Tarver became more aggressive and when Roy squared up and he moved into Tarver’s power hand and he got caught.”
All in all, a sharp performance by Merk. He stayed on message, hyped his fighter and the fight. I followed up with one final question at the final press conference on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
I’m curious to see if Jones comes out guns a blazing, and looks to press Tito, and take him out by the fourth, as promised. I know, I know, fighters say that all the time, to hype the fight. But foolish me, I’m an idealist, I take what people say at face value a lot of the time.
So, I asked Merk, have you guys been training to look for an early stoppage?
“No,” he told me, “we train for the distance.”
So, without explicitly saying it, Merk basically admitted that it is quite likely we will see a distance fight, and not Jones in mad-dog form, looking to end the show early. Jones, he said, had limited his desire for a quick KO to promotional appearances, and hasn't huddled with the trainer and shared the desire for a fast finish.
That’s what most of us see happening. The naïve part of me still hopes Jones tries to fulfill his promise, takes risks, and looks to flurry furiously, and take out Trinidad.