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Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Accidental Trainer

NEW YORK --- You don’t hear much about it otherwise, but the Kingsway Gym periodically gets its moment of fame whenever there’s a big fight in New York -- and sometimes even when the big fight is in, say, Dallas. Its location, at Fifth Avenue and 28th Street, makes it easy to reach for Manhattan-based media types, many of whom are prone to developing allergies at the very mention of words like “Bronx” and “Brooklyn,” and, as boxing gyms go, you’d have to say that it borders on the hygienic, in that the toilets flush and nobody spits on the floor. The interior is sufficiently bright that photographers and TV crews know they won’t have to hump in a bunch of lighting equipment up a flight of stairs from street level, so they like it too.

Of course, the very factors that make it an ideal location for these Media Day extravaganzas are counterintuitive to boxing tradition. A boxing gym is supposed to be dark and dank and, if not foul-smelling, exude that blend of 40 year-old cigar ash, human body odor, rodent excretia, and backed-up plumbing that provides a gym with its own distinctive aroma.

In that respect the Kingsway can only function as an impostor. It doesn’t smell like a gym, feel like a gym, or even look much like a gym in any traditional sense.

On the other hand, on this day at least, Lenny DeJesus looks every inch a trainer: As he waits for Joshua Clottey to go to work he is wearing clean dungarees a zippered jacket over a t-shirt, a jaunty black Kangol cap on his head, and a white towel draped over his left shoulder.

DeJesus is a 64 year-old boxing lifer, one of those guys most boxing fans have seen climb up and down the steps for years without ever knowing his name. On the other hand, you’ve probably read his name a lot in the last two weeks. That was when the March issue of ESPN: The Magazine hit the stands, with a story (“The Substitute”) on Clottey that described DeJesus as a “part-time locksmith and long-time boxing satellite” and conveyed the distinct impression that as he heads into he biggest fight of his life against Manny Pacquiao, the supervisory role in Clottey’s corner had been entrusted to the Village Idiot.

Now it looks like one of the PR minions had instructed Lenny to drop by the wardrobe department and pick up a trainer’s uniform.

1:15: Josh is in the ring

DeJesus stands off to one side and watches Clottey go through the motions while a large Ghanaian named Bruce wields the mitts. The other one-third of the corner DeJesus will be running, an even larger Ghanaian named Kwaku Gyamfi, keeps time. Lenny just watches. He seems to be paying attention, but he issues no instructions.

“Look,” says one member of the fight mob as he watches Clottey’s workout, “Clottey is 32 years old. He’s had almost 40 fights. There’s nothing you can tell him now that’s going to turn him into a different fighter. You just wind him up and let him go.

“And what’s the corner going to tell him during the fight -- other than “Get up, Josh!”

Maybe “Josh! Stay down!”?

1:35: Josh hits the double-end bag

Irish middleweight John Duddy has had a place on the Pacquiao-Clottey undercard since its inception, but he was just added to the Media Day lineup this morning. Half the photographers and most of the print guys seem more interested in Duddy, and they keep watching the door behind Clottey.

In December of 2007 De Jesus was in Duddy’s corner at the King’s Hall in Belfast when the Irishman beat former Commonwealth champion Howard Eastman. Irish Ropes had just begun to shake up the Duddy corner; Don Turner had replaced Harry Keitt, and Lenny was the cut man, taking George Mitchell’s place. Both Keitt and Mitchell are back and De Jesus long since moved along. That is the live of a vagabond cornerman. Hell, earlier in the Filipino champion’s career he even worked as Pacquiao’s cut man.

“There are five things you can do in a corner and I’ve done all of ‘em,” says Lenny. “Not even Freddie Roach can say that. I’ve been the bucket guy, the stool guy, the advisor, the cut-man, and I’ve been the head guy before, too. But mostly I’ve been a cut man.”

It has been nearly 22 years, in fact, since the last time De Jesus was the chief second in a world title fight. He was in charge of Miguel Santana’s corner, and led the celebration when IBF lightweight champ Greg Haugen, his face bloodied from a deep cut to his right eyebrow, failed to answer the bell for the 12th round.

“We had the title for about 15 minutes,” he recalled. “The fight was in Seattle [Tacoma, actually], and after they’d raised Santana’s hand they decided that the cut had come from a butt, so they went back to the scorecards.”

Referee Jim Cassidy said that he was aware of the rule, but assumed that Santana was ahead on all three cards anyway. As it turned out he was ahead on only one of them, and, long after most of the crowd had gone home, a “stunned” Haugen was awarded the decision. The headline in the local paper read “Santana ‘robbed’ as Haugen gets bizarre win,” and the story noted that “Santana’s trainer, Lenny DeJesus, of New York City, thought his fighter had been robbed. ‘My fighter’s hand was raised in victory, and my fighter was awarded this fight!” said the distressed DeJesus.

“They never looked a replay or nothing. Even the referee told is he knew it was a punch and not a butt,” adds Lenny. “The reason they did it was everybody knew Haugen had already signed to fight Jim Watt in London -- for a lot of money.”

Lenny has been doing pretty well until he says that. And here we thought cut men didn’t have to worry about taking too many blows to the head.

Watt had retired after his 1981 loss to Alexis Argello -- seven years before Haugen-Santana.

1:40: Josh hits the heavy bag

When the gloves are pulled off Clottey, the towel comes off Lenny’s shoulder for the first time all day. He vigorously sets about drying the fighters forearms and hands, sending a spray of sweat that glistens beneath the lights. Joshua is wearing a dark red t-shirt with a baseball on the front. On the back it says “Baseball.”

Does Clottey play baseball? DeJesus is asked.

“I don’t think so,” says Lenny.

After a January press tour that opened at Cowboys Stadium and moved on to New York, Clottey returned to Accra, where he hoped to secure a visa that would have allowed his trainer, Godwin Nil Dzanie Kotey, to work his corner against Pacquiao. Kotey’s previous visa expired in December of 2009, and the security regulations involved in the process had changed dramatically between then and the time he applied for a new one; over Christmastime a Nigerian passenger had attempted to turn himself into a Roman candle on approach to Detroit.

So when Clottey flew back in February to open camp in Fort Lauderdale barely a month before the Pacquiao fight, De Jesus had more or less by default become his trainer.

“I guess I’m it,” he told ESPN’s Chris Jones at the time. Jones did not, it should be noted, seem exactly bowled over when Lenny explained that his “first job will be getting this kid up those stairs and into the ring.”

Lenny assumes that Clottey must have worked while he was back in Ghana. DeJesus, in any case, was there to meet him in Florida, and claims that over the last several weeks the challenger has sparred close to 90 rounds.

“I got the sparring partners,” he says. “They was all lefthanders, too.”

1:45: Josh hits the speed bag

John Duddy shows up, in street clothes, and announces that he is not going to work out.

“Nobody told me about this until it was too late,” he explains. “I already did all my work this morning.”

He does pose for a few pictures with Clottey, and chats amiably with boxing writers. Around the gym, grumbling photographers begin to pack away their equipment.

Over on the other side of the gym, Media Works’ Ed Keenan describes the Clottey camp in Florida.

“I finally went to Lenny and said ‘Look, you have to give me your phone number. I keep setting up these interviews with Clottey, but then he won’t answer his phone.”

“Lenny tells me ‘Aw, mine won’t work either. A few days ago I fell in the swimming pool with my clothes on and my phone was in my pocket.’

“That was last week. He still hasn’t gotten a phone.”

This might mark Lenny as old school, or maybe just stubborn. Just imagine for a moment, for instance, having to make a split second decision which to carry out of a burning building, his training mitts or his cell phone. It wouldn’t even be close.

But Lenny, we felt like asking him, doesn’t a locksmith need a phone, too?

1:50: Josh talks

Albeit briefly.

For the past month the question has been whether DeJesus or anyone else actually had enough time to get Clottey ready for this fight. The groundwork in Florida was by all accounts preliminary jousting, and from a preparation standpoint, the dog-and-pony show at the Kingsway has largely been a wasted day.

Now Joshua Clottey says “I have done all the work I need. I wish I did not even go to Texas for the next eight days. I want the fight to be now.”

Is the tail wagging the dog here, or what?

1:53: Josh done talking

Josh says he’s ready. Lenny says he’s not.

“But that’s not exactly what I’ll say to him,” says Lenny. “Dealing with fighters is dealing like little kids sometimes. If you don’t want them eating candy, you can try to show them how it’s harmful, but if you give them an order -- Don’t eat candy! -- the first thing they’re gonna do is go eat even more when you’re not looking.

“Sure, he needs more work between now and March 13th. He’s fightingManny Pacquiao! I just gotta figure out a way to make him think it’s hisidea.”

Author: George Kimball

Source: thesweetscience.com

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