Bouie Fisher: A Great Trainer spreads the message of Love
Interview by Elisa Harrison (September 6, 2004)
The biggest middleweight championship of our time, with four world titles on the line, is set as Oscar De La Hoya takes on Bernard Hopkins in “Quest For History” at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday, September 18.
De La Hoya, an eight-time world champion in six different weight classes, is the holder of the World Boxing Organization (WBO) middleweight title. Hopkins is regarded by many as pound for pound the most feared champion in boxing today. Hopkins is the World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Association (WBA) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) world middleweight champion.
For the first time, all four of those middleweight titles will be on the line in a championship bout.
They say that behind every good man there is a good woman, I say behind a great fighter there is a great trainer, and such is the case with long time Hopkins trainer and mentor, Bouie Fisher.
Mr. Fisher needs no introduction, so let's go to what he and I talked about during a recent meeting in Miami...
ELISA HARRISON: Mr. Fisher, it's a pleasure seeing you again, and it is indeed a pleasure to see you reunited with Bernard...
BOUIE FISHER: A pleasure seeing you too, and as for Bernard, well, it's a family reunion.
EH: How difficult -or how easy- was it for you to get back with Bernard?
FISHER: It wasn't difficult at all, just a child coming back home, that's all that was. A family separation, a dispute between family members which always happens in every family, so it wasn't really difficult.
EH: The upcoming fight with Oscar de la Hoya... Is it fair to say that it's going to be decided on the strategy laid out by the trainers?
FISHER: That should play a big part in it; if it doesn't play a big part in it, one camp is going to be in trouble...
EH: Floyd (Mayweather, Sr.) has told me that he feels Oscar has a big chance here because Oscar is going to be quicker. Oscar has what Floyd refers to as 'younger legs' and he feels that Bernard won't be able to keep up. What is your take?
FISHER: That sounds good! That sounds good, exactly what we are looking for, a challenge. That's a challenge right there, thinking that Bernard can't keep up? Maybe not...
EH: Is this fight Tito and Bernard all over again in many aspects?
FISHER: Well, it's not too much difference... Oscar has been 160 lbs. a long time, he has been carrying this weight for a while...
EH: (Rudely interrupting, sorry...) Yeah, but he has only fought at that weight once, against Felix Sturm, a fight I know you watched, and Oscar looked out of place with a guy Sturm's size...
FISHER: It was a big challenge for him, he had a lot of pressure on him. The pressure of making this fight happen, with Bernard. So, he couldn't come in there and fight a wide open fight, like an amateur. He fought a very technical fight, he just didn't look too good in some rounds of the fight, but in the key rounds, he pulled it out. Oscar de la Hoya once again is a great, great fighter; he's got good skills, plenty of heart, he has a good teacher, he has a good corner. So the only thing beats them is a better corner, and I am hoping that our corner is the best.
EH: Do you really think that Oscar won that fight (against Sturm)?
FISHER: Yes, I think he won it because he won the deciding rounds and some rounds he looked totally out of the fight, you know, to be honest, to tell the truth about the whole thing. But whenever the real pressure came, and it was time to really pull it out, he pulled out the best part of the fight and I thought he won a clear decision.
EH: When you were in the dressing room watching the fight with Bernard, were you worried? Were there moments when you guys became concerned?
FISHER: Oh yes, at some points in the latter rounds it looked like Oscar wasn't responding. He wasn't coming back the way an experienced fighter should. He wasn't putting up the type of fight that we thought he should be putting up in certain parts of the fight. But as we picked the fight apart and looked at it over and over again afterwards, he won the fight. it was a close fight, very close.
EH: How do you see Bernard coming into this fight? What is your plan in as much as you can tell me?
FISHER: Well, I don't have one plan because if one plan doesn't work, you gotta have something else, so we are just mapping the fight out. We fight the fight every day, we are fighting that fight today, we are fighting it right now. We have different strategies, things that we are going to be using in different rounds... and being opposite of a great corner, of a great trainer, a great teacher as Mayweather is, you know, a lot of respect is going to be in the corners with the trainers. So, we are not overlooking anything, we are not planning anything cheap at all.
We know that Oscar de la Hoya is a lion; he can fight, he can hurt you and anyone that can fight and has heart enough to fight is dangerous, so we are not going in there thinking that because he looked bad in that particular fight (against Sturm), he's going to look bad again... No no no, if he does, if he comes in like that, then his corner is not what we think it is, and that's the best way I can sum that up. They would never let him come in to fight Bernard Hopkins looking the way he looked in his last performance.
EH: Bernard Hopkins has said that this is a career defining fight for both he and Oscar. While Oscar may be seeking redemption, it seems as if Bernard continues his quest for respect and recognition... Care to comment?
FISHER: This fight is going to be like a Bernard Hopkins pro debut because of the fact that Bernard Hopkins has met all challenges, really, good and bad; everything isn't always perfect but he has proven himself to be one of the greatest, one of the best. He has proven himself to be a person that can accept the fact that he made mistakes. He is a person that has looked back at his past, everything is not always right for anyone, so he looked back at his past, has seen the mistakes that he made, some personal things he might have done business-wise... he saw some mistakes he might have made there. So he has regrouped himself, he has regrouped his life, and so, there is nothing ahead for him right now but success. The future is bright for him now.
EH: What would be the future for Bernard assuming he beats Oscar de la Hoya?
FISHER: Well, Bernard wants to have 20 title defenses. This one would be 19, so you can't get 20 if you don't get 19...
EH: And you know who is looming large in the background...
FISHER: (Very matter of fact, with an impish smile) Yes, yes, yes...
EH: Who is it?
FISHER: Oh, you know, there are always some young stars out there... (smiling broadly now)...
EH: There is a fellow named Felix Trinidad who is making a comeback...
FISHER: (Cutting in) That's right... Trinidad is coming back, but will he come back to fight Bernard?
EH: Well, what do you think of that possibility?
FISHER: I'd welcome it. If the public wants it, I'm sure they would... That's a fight I think everyone would buy, everyone would love to see that fight. But if that fight does happen look for a repeat, because Bernard has proven already that he can match speed, he has the power to gain respect, he has the knowledge, he has everything favoring him, and if you look at the Tito fight, it was a good fight, a hard fight but... how many rounds Tito won? Some gave him 5 rounds, some gave him 6, I don't know... How many rounds did you give him?
EH: (Oh dear, why did Mr. Fisher have to ask me that? Such painful memories...) Gulp, I think in my book he might have won 3 rounds.
FISHER: So now if Tito comes back to fight Bernard Hopkins again, I am quite sure they wouldn't bring the same plan back that they used the first time... His father is a great teacher, great teacher. I respect his father, I respect all trainers, I don't downgrade anyone because if you can teach someone how to throw a left hook, rock a jab, counter shots, and all that stuff, and you have the courage to stay in that ring, then you have something going for you. It's a tough sport, tough sport.
EH: Do you think that Bernard's victory over Trinidad was more mental than actual boxing? I mean, with all the personal stuff that went on between them...
FISHER: Mental is always 90%, 95%, when you go to war. When you are going to do battle, you feel you are going to win it, if not you wouldn't even take the fight, shouldn't anyway. If Tito and them didn't think they were going to win that fight, they would have never taken it. They thought for sure they were going to win the fight, they thought they were going to knock Bernard Hopkins out, that's the way to think, you are supposed to think like that. But now that it didn't happen, if they should ever fight again, he would have to go from round one to round eleven and a half to find out what went wrong, what he didn't do, and to take a rematch, I'm sure they would take that fight from round one to round eleven and a half and try to pick every move, every idea they might have had, all the instructions they gave him between the rounds, they would have to take all that and study it. I would... So, whatever happens, if there's ever a rematch, you forget about the first fight to fight your rematch. That fight is over! You gotta win this fight...
Whatever happened in the fight between Tito and Bernard Hopkins and whatever the thoughts might be between Tito Sr. and Bouie Fisher I'm quite sure if it was taken on a friendly, sportsman's basis... I've seen the father several times, he extends his hand to me, and me to him, we talked... I don't know if he feels the way I feel, I have great respect for him and great respect for his son. If he feels the same way about me, that's great. His son is a great fighter, respected all over the world. He gave his all in the fight with Bernard, he did his best, he just met a better man the night of the fight.
EH: And he acknowledged that, he never made excuses...
FISHER: Yes he did, and that's why I have great respect for him and his father, no hard feelings about anything at all, and I hope he feels the same way about me. 'Cause one day down the line maybe I can help him, maybe he can help me, this is life, you never know what happens in life.
EH: You and Floyd, Bernard and Oscar... night and day, day and night... I'm curious to know how it's going to play out when as we get closer to fight time, Floyd may start talking, as he has been known to do, and perhaps -although I hope not- even be a bit disrespectful...
FISHER: To me?? I'm 75 years old, I was born and raised in the streets, the tough streets of Philadelphia. I know respect, I know how not to be respectful, I know all of this, I know how to set boundaries. I also know who I am and what I am, a gentleman. I try to be a gentleman always, so talk doesn't bother me. It must be something he knows that he has to try to win this fight with words, (pause), you can't win this fight with words, not with me. I've been taking the short end of the stick in boxing all my life, all my life, so it doesn't bother me.
EH: Well, since you brought it up, I'll ask you this... How does it feel to achieve success at this stage of your life? In your 60 years of involvement with boxing, were there times when you felt like walking away from it?
FISHER: Certainly, a number of times...
EH: What kept you going?
FISHER: The fact that I wanted to do what I'm doing now. I always wanted it, I've always loved this, and I was told by some of the greatest, greatest trainers in the world that I had the qualities, that I could teach, that I could do exactly what the ones before me have done. Only thing I had to do was remember what was taught to me, and keep the faith, keep trying and whatever happened don't never let it take you off your game plan. If you try, you'll be successful at whatever you do, and in boxing, I had the qualities to do it, I believed it then, I most certainly believe it now...
EH: And that's what keeps Bouie Fisher going?
FISHER: That's what keeps me going, and I look at myself, taking the short end of the stick all the time, which I have. I've had great fighters before this, took the short end of the stick. I've had people to ... what you call it? ... pull the wool over my eyes... people who fool you, did this to you, did that to you, I took the short end of the stick. Now those people, they know who they are, those people today, if they have any heart at all they have to say, I was wrong that I did such and such a thing to Bouie Fisher. I know I was wrong when I said this and when I said that about Bouie Fisher. They are the ones that have to pay the price, not me. I'm being rewarded for good deeds.
EH: If there was anything else that you could do in your life, what would it be?
FISHER: The only other thing I would want to be is an educator, bookwise, because without an education you are lost. That's why I am so happy that each of my children, not only did they finish high school, they entered college. Not all of them finished college, but the ones who didn't finish college went into some business type life. Something more than a laborer, which their father was, and their father is not ashamed of the fact that he was a laborer... Name a dirty and a hard job, Bouie Fisher has done it. Off the top of your head name one, I don't care what it is, I'll tell you something about it. Anything hard, nasty and dirty, and the short end of the stick... The stick they handed me was so short it wasn't even a stick, so you know I've been there, I've been through all of it, and I'm just as strong and happy as any person could ever be.
I'm so happy, I have two of my sons working with me... James is the business manager, my son Andre is the assistant. So what else? Now they can go into boxing and do things on their own. So, by me having the courage to continue my struggle, it worked for me in both ways, not only in the field of boxing, but in my personal life, with my family, that's all that's important to me. I have 14 grandchildren, those 14 grandchildren will have their college ready and waiting for them. I don't need anything, my wife, we're the same age, I don't know if she wants me to say that or not, (laughing)... The college tuition is very high, it gets higher every year, but the way our college fund is set up for all these children, they won't have too much trouble going to school if they want to go. Now, if they choose not to go to school and want to take other avenues, I would encourage them not to take whatever those avenues might be, but if not, then so be it. You can raise your children, do the best you can for them and give them everything, but if they want to go astray, there is nothing you can do about it. (Pause) Pray for them, and leave the door open, you never close the door. You never close that door because one day, that son or that daughter will find her way home, that's the way I was taught, I've been living that. When I close my eyes for the last time on Earth, I think I will be going to a better place and I think I've done my job to the best of my ability here.
EH: How would you like to be remembered?
FISHER: I would like to be remembered as a man among men, a person in society that contributed something out of his life, a man who tried to help other people because I received help myself and I never forget things I've received from other people. I've had a hard, hard life early part of my life... My mother died when I was 15 years old, my father was a laborer, such as myself, I quit school when I was 16 years old because I was a fool to believe that there was a better life out in the street... That's what makes me anger, because they had counselors that would come to your school, and if you were the kind of guy that fought, stayed in trouble, got suspended 3 or 4 times a month, a year, whatever... they would come around, they would brainwash you, they'd say... 'Uh, you don't want to go to school, why don't you just quit and get a job?' Sixteen years old, I'm in trouble, what kind of education did I have? So now, I look back at all of this, at my children... Hey, I gotta be happy, because all the things that we are doing and have done, and pray to God it continues through the rest of their lives, helps somebody else, and it's proven every day to me that my struggle wasn't in vain. God put us here as people, God didn't put us here to hate each other, God put us here to love one another and we just happen to be on different sides of the street a lot of times but we are supposed to love each other.
EH: (Jokingly) Coming from a boxing trainer, the message of love... I don't know how to reconcile that Mr. Fisher... (we both laugh)...
FISHER: Well, the ones that were taught the business of boxing are respectful of each other, the ones that weren't are not that way; 'cause if you beat me today doesn't mean I can't beat you tomorrow... You beat me today I am not going to hate you for the rest of your life, you understand? I love you, we're in a competitive type sport, so you know... You have to love your enemies, if you have enemies love them. You have to watch them (laughing) naturally, but love them...
On that note, Mr. Fisher and I shook hands, and wished each other well... As I drove home, I thought to myself how badly the sport of boxing needs more people like Bouie Fisher. A hard working, honest and humble man making a living in what most consider a violent sport, while spreading a message of love to anyone who is willing to listen. It doesn't get much better than that...
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