|Rayonta Whitfield: “We’re gonna try to grab a title at 115.”
INTERVIEW By Coyote Duran (May 23, 2006)
For a young-yet-little guy like Rayonta Whitfield, life is great.
Whitfield, 13-0 (7), who made his highly anticipated professional hometown debut on ESPN2 last month against the frustrating Evarista Primero, 14-9-1 (7), is in a curious spot in his new career. Celebrated for possessing a list of amateur accolades as long as your arm but all accomplished at such a diminutive weight class (106 pounds) only to campaign today as a junior bantamweight, choosing to thrive in a division where American names are a rarity.
Also rare for an inexperienced professional is stepping up early in his record to challenge tricky competition like Primero but in his thirteenth bout, that’s exactly what ‘Stingray’ did. Primero, who faced the likes of current IBF Bantamweight titlist Rafael Marquez and Hussein Hussein was expected to give Whitfield fits with his constant forward movement and smothering manner and for perhaps the first two rounds, he did just that until Whitfield dialed into his opponent and deciphered him like a secret code. Whitfield would prevail in the eight-rounder by unanimous decision, delighting the hometown crowd at The Augusta-Richmond County Center in Augusta, Georgia, while possibly opening the door to future television opportunities and, hopefully, bigger purses.
Thanks to promoter Brian Young and Rayonta’s trainer since the amateurs, Tom Moraetes, I managed a very cool sit-down with a very cool young standout right before he settled in to a long evening workout. I wanted to make certain I caught Rayonta prior to his workout since he hits The Augusta Boxing Club in the early eve, four weekdays per week, and I didn’t want to interrupt his groove. Whitfield was polite and very open on reflecting on his fight with Evarista Primero, his relationship with his coach and what harrowing event in his life couldn’t stop him from winning a Golden Gloves title.
Read on, Howlers, and enjoy taking a peek into the life of a young pro we should be keeping our eyes on in the coming year.
Coyote Duran: Ray, your most recent fight late last month was very much a milestone in a couple of ways. For one, it was your first pro fight in your hometown. What kind of effect did that have on you going in?
Rayonta Whitfield: Well, going into the fight at home, you know, there was a lot of stress on me. I handled it well but there was a lot of stress. There was a lot of things I was thinking about. I wanted to make sure everybody that was close to be showed up at the fight. So I was worrying about a lot of things that I wouldn’t be worried about out of town somewhere else.
CD: The second milestone was stepping up to a pretty serious test in Evarista Primero. Did you expect Primero to be so tough going into the first round?
RW: Yeah, I expected that he had a lot of experience. He had been around for many years. I know that he was gonna come in with a lot of different things but I didn’t know he was gonna come in so awkward. He was a very awkward fighter. In the first round, I was trying to figure him out. He was doing a lot of different things that I hadn’t seen. He was switching in the clinch. He kept switching styles from southpaw to right handed. It was kind of throwing me off. He was throwing punches from different angles. So I was just trying to feel him out in the first round.
CD: Between working behind a great jab and very effective movement, was Primero's face-first style something you expected or did you find yourself adapting more by the third or fourth round?
RW: Well, I really didn’t know what kind of style he was gonna bring to me so I pretty much started adapting to his style by about the second half of the third round.
CD: Primero regularly fights as a flyweight whereas you've fought as high as 126 in your fifth fight. Although you were very successful as a 106-pounder in the amateurs, are you still searching for your comfort weight as a pro?
RW: Yeah, pretty much. We’re still searching for the comfort weight where I feel strong. Where I can eat and feel healthy. Yeah, we’re pretty much still searching for it but we think 115 is a good weight for me right now. We’re gonna try to grab a title at 115.
CD: As many fans are observant to, the smaller weight classes can be big on quality and action but short on American names. With the exception of Brian Viloria, as a fighter in the 112-115 pound range, do you see yourself possibly setting a standard for more Americans of lighter weights to excel professionally?
RW: Yeah, I would, ‘cause as lighter weights, we don’t have a lot of Americans, like you said. I would like to be one of the lighter weights to come up and stand out.
CD: In your sixth fight, you faced Lee Cargle, a veteran of over 135 fights at the time. With a fighter like Cargle having over 100 losses on his record, one might view him as a tomato can but against a 5-0 kid, at the time, that's still a guy with over 135 fights on his record. In facing someone so experienced so early, did you find yourself returning to an amateur mentality of scoring as much as possible in so few rounds?
RW: Yeah. Early in my career, I was throwing a lot of punches. I was going real fast. I hadn’t adapted to the pro style. I was just throwing a million punches and not sitting down on punches and trying to knock the guy out. But as I keep fighting, I’m starting to adapt more to taking my time, picking my shots. Just landing clean, good shots.
CD: Would you say that you’re a little more relaxed now?
RW: Yeah! Every fight I get more relaxed. I do different things every fight. It’s like, every fight I get, I’m learning more and I’m adapting more and more to the pro style.
CD: Ray, Tom Moraetes has been your coach since your amateur days. What dimension would you say Tom has added to your overall growth as a fighter?
RW: Overall growth? Well, we’re best of friends. He’s there and always in my corner. I know he’s gonna have my back through thick and thin. He just brings everything to the table. I know that going into a fight, I’m never gonna be out of shape with him as a coach. I know I’m gonna be ready for that next test in front of me.
CD: After facing Rau'shee Warren in the bracket finals in the Olympic trials, Tom admitted that you had a little trouble with southpaws in the past. In the two years that have passed since, have you both worked on this a little more exclusively?
RW: In the past and early in my amateur career, we had seen that I had a little problem with left-hand guys. We worked on it then and when I fought through the amateurs, I fought more left-hand guys and I beat them. I hadn’t lost to a left-hander in the amateurs until I lost to Rau’shee Warren in the finals of the trials so we worked on it and we’re still working on it.
CD: What's this story I hear about you saving your family from a house fire only to win Golden Gloves less than a week later?
RW: Maybe about four days before the Golden Gloves, for me to leave and fly out to Colorado, my house caught on fire! I ended up going back into the house and saving my little sister and to make a short story shorter, I went to the doctor that night and they told me, they knew I was a boxer and they told me that I wouldn’t make it if I tried to compete in a tournament. So I had counted myself out of the tournament and wasn’t gonna go but my mom said she had everything under control and I went ahead and went. And the next week, I won the National Golden Gloves.
CD: Being that you’re at the gym now, are you preparing for a fight now or is this just in-between fight prep to keep you in a groove?
RW: Oh, we’re preparing and it’s to stay in a groove in-between. I always train. I’m always training. I took me a week off after the big fight I just had and now I’m back in the gym lifting weights, strength training and doing stuff to stay active. I love the gym. I stay in the gym.
CD: Any idea who might be up next for you, Ray?
RW: I do not.
CD: Who's up next for you and what's the fight plan for the rest of '06, Ray?
RW: I’ve probably got maybe about three to four more fights this year.
CD: From your earliest days to now, what fighter has been your greatest influence?
RW: Up to now, my favorite fighter has always been Roy Jones.
CD: Well, I don’t want to keep you too long from your workout, Ray. The Doghouse wishes you a lot of luck in your career and hopes to hear more from you in the near future!
RW: All right! Thanks for having me!!
Massive Coyote-thanks to Rayonta ‘Stingray’ Whitfield for taking some valuable training time and sharing a few words with us. Thanks also to Coach Tom Moraetes and Brian Young of Prize Fight Promotions for arranging this interview."
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