In The Corner With Jermain Taylor’s Cutman, Ray Rodgers
By Sean Newman (November 16, 2005)
In the sport of boxing, probably the most underappreciated yet vital member of a boxer’s team is the cutman. Just as in other sports, aside from the actual competitors, most would surely state that the head coach, manager, or trainer is the most important member of the camp. A good analogy may be that a cutman is the offensive lineman (another underappreciated profession in the world of sports) of boxing, because without a good one, chances are you will run into some trouble sooner or later. While trainers are certainly play an important role in developing strategy and getting their fighter in shape, it is the cutman who is called upon in the corner when a cut or swelling occurs. It helps to have a good one when things become precarious.
Ray Rodgers & Jermain Taylor
Ray Rodgers, who happens to be a very good cutman, currently handles the corner duties for Undisputed World Middleweight Champion Jermain Taylor, who is currently preparing for his December 3 rematch against Bernard Hopkins. In the past, Rodgers has also worked with heavyweight contender Phil Jackson, Iran Barkley, Wayne McCullough, Hector Camacho, and, most notably, Tommy Morrison. Rodgers, a commercial dry wall contractor by trade, has been involved with boxing for almost 60 years now, and remains one of the very best in the business. Doghouse Boxing recently caught up with Rodgers to discuss his experience in the game as well as to collect his thoughts on the upcoming Taylor-Hopkins fight.
SN: How is everything going in the Jermain Taylor camp?
RR: Everything’s going great.
SN: Let’s go back to the beginning of your involvement in boxing. This is a two part question. How did you get started in the sport, and what makes one decide to become a cutman in boxing?
RR: My goodness. I started boxing in 1947 when I was ten years old, just a baby in the fifth grade. I had a couple hundred amateur fights over a fourteen year period, but I never turned professional. I boxed until I graduated from college. I got married and started seeking fame and fortune and never achieved either one. (Laughs) Anyway, I’ve been at it for 58 years.
I was working with kids back in the 60’s and 70’s, and earlier, when you didn’t have to wear a headgear and you could actually work a cut in the corner with amateurs just like you can with pros. I got pretty good at it, and one thing led to another and they started asking me to do it because I was good at it. There really isn’t any better way to explain it than that, but I didn’t just one day wake up and say “I’m going to be a cut man.” I just learned the trade by being a coach when we could do it in the amateurs.
SN: You were Tommy Morrison’s cutman throughout his career. What are some of the most memorable moments you can recall during that time?
RR: Gosh, we had a lot of fun. Tommy and I laughed a lot together. He used to tell me jokes and I’d tell him jokes, and we kept each other loose. When I learned the kid had a big heart was when we fought Joe Hipp, I think in 1993.
SN: I was certainly going to ask you about that fight, where Tommy had multiple injuries. As a cutman, what are your recollections from that fight and how do you deal with such a seemingly dire situation?
RR: He just got almost dismembered. He broke his jaw, broke his thumb, had a cut under his left eye, had a cut over his right eye, and still knocked Hipp out in the ninth round. That was a tough fight to work because I was trying to stabilize his head while I stabilized the cut. When I say stabilize his head, I mean you couldn’t jerk him around because his jaw hurt so bad, while I was trying to get the cut under control. I got the cut under control and I think it took 22 stitches. It was a big one. That was one of the most memorable and exciting moments with Tommy. Of course, one year later when he outboxed George Foreman in Las Vegas for the world title that was a highlight. I worked a lot of fights with him, 30 or 35 over almost a 10 year period, and I always enjoyed it.
SN: Besides that fight, what other fights come to mind that were tough for you to work?
RR: One of the toughest fights I ever had was with Iran Barkley in Germany, roughly 10 or 11 years ago, when he was fighting Henry Maske, who was the light heavyweight champion and a very precise puncher. At the end of the bout, it took 63 stitches and two and a half hours to sew Iran up. But I’ve never, ever had a fighter lose on cuts. Ever. I’ve worked 5 or 6 or 7 of Wayne McCullough’s fights, Hector Camacho against Oscar De La Hoya, so I’ve been around a little bit.
SN: You are now the cutman for World Middleweight Champion Jermain Taylor. Has Jermain, who has been cut, ever had any cuts that required intensive response in the corner?
RR: Oh yeah. He had a cut against Grady Brewer over his right eye that took 8 stitches. He had a cut against Raul Marquez over his left eye that took 13 stitches, and the cut against Bernard Hopkins on the top of his head from a headbutt took 16 stitches.
SN: There was much controversy surrounding the decision in the first Hopkins-Taylor fight. From a biased standpoint, obviously you felt Taylor won. How much did you think he won by?
RR: I thought he won the first seven or eight rounds. Really, Hopkins essentially conceded those rounds to him. Hopkins simply did not prosecute the fight, and Jermain did. Hopkins was outpunched two to one in those rounds and he conceded the rounds. It was too little too late. By then he had already given away too many rounds. If he was watching the same fight I was, I don’t know what he was crying and moaning and hollering about.
SN: In the aftermath of that fight, many members of the media read the supposed body language of the Taylor and Hopkins corners and felt that the reaction from each suggested the winner of the fight, with the Hopkins corner being very confident and the Taylor corner being very reserved. How did you read the respective moods of each camp?
RR: How many times have you seen a guy, at the end of every fight, winner or loser, exultingly thrust his hands into the air and walk around like a possum eating saw briars? That tells me nothing. There’s a lot of fatigue at the end of a bout. I had a lot of my own fights that I thought I won, and I didn’t get the call. I’ve been on the other side too, so I wouldn’t read too much into body language.
SN: We’ve got the rematch coming up in December. How do you think the next fight will be different, if at all?
RR: I don’t have any insight into Bernard Hopkins’ camp, but I think that he’s a man who will come back with a vengeance, and by that I mean I don’t think he’ll take the fight lightly. I think that we will prevail, but we’ve got our work cut out for us. I don’t think it will be easy, because Bernard is a super competitor. Even though he’s forty years old and will be forty one in January, he’s a young 40. Since he dedicated so much of his time to the State of Pennsylvania, he got kind of a late start in boxing as I recall. So he’s not used up. I expect him to come out and really bang, and I think he’ll start much earlier.
SN: You don’t think he’ll “get old overnight” as they say?
RR: Well you’ve seen them get old even in between rounds, sometimes in the middle of a round. Who knows? If I could predict that, I wouldn’t be a cutman, I’d be a prognosticator.
SN: In what other capacities are you involved with boxing on the local level?
RR: I’m the chairman of the board of the National Golden Gloves, and I’m president of the National Silver Gloves. I run the mid-South regional golden gloves, the Arkansas state golden gloves. I’m up to my hips in boxing and have been for a lot of years. I much more involved with amateur boxing than with professional boxing.
SN: Have you ever given thought to becoming a trainer?
RR: Noooo. I still coach at the local level. Let me tell you what: Having one professional boxer is like having six stepkids. Can you imagine that? They would worry you to death.
RR: Being a cutman is just something I do. I’ll fly out there a couple of days ahead of a fight, that gives me a chance to rest. On the day of the bout, I go into war mode. I start thinking about a fight just like a fighter does. I’m focused, as the kids say. After the bout’s over, I have post-partum depression. (Laughs) And I go right back to work on Monday, just like a walk in the park.
SN: Any closing thoughts?
RR: Yes. I want to die at ringside, but no time soon. I’ll be 70 next October, and I hope I can do this every day of my life, working with kids and being involved in boxing.
Writer’s Note: I’d like to personally thank Mr. Rodgers once again for his time in answering my questions. Thanks, Mr. Rodgers, you’re a class act.
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