Jesse Reid's Lessons, And The Man Who Beat Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Fightland Blog

By William D'Urso

Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The crooked and misshapen nose tells a story of a guy who has survived decades in a business known for double crosses. It is a tough guy's nose, one that speaks to a willingness to throw down over slights real or imagined.

There's more to Jesse Reid than that nose, but it's a good place to start. He's fiercely loyal, sticking with fighters who have nothing and no one left. He has trained 23 world champions, and there's little left for him to prove in the sport. But Reid still wants one more. Just one more championship to make it 24, one more fighter to bring from the bottom to the top. There aren't many chances left for a guy who just turned 74. But Reid is still a teacher, and he doesn't believe he's taught his last lesson, or his last champion.

Of the many lessons that Reid has taught, and the many fighters who've learned from them, one tends to come up more often than others. That's the one he delivered to the youngest member in the first family of boxing, a budding superstar and box office bonanza named Floyd Mayweather Jr.

For all the thousands of fights broadcast on television over the years, hundreds of thousands more have taken place in boxing gyms behind closed doors, in front of spectators who know to hold their tongues. Here, the shouting matches and choreographed feuds are replaced by real grudges and an earnest will to deliver hurt. Most of these fights slip from memory, if they ever even make it there. But some linger forever.

This was one of those ones that lingered, and a moment when Mayweather would learn his first real lesson in the ring. He'd been goading Reid and his fighter Paul Spadafora, a boxer who would never dazzle with speed or power, but possessed elite technique. Spadafora stepped into the ring that day in 1999 an undefeated lightweight champion, with a title he'd earned through durability and meanness.

Just ahead of a big payday, Reid thought the sparring session was a bad idea for Spadafora. A cut could erase their next paycheck, and make fools of them both. But neither was in the habit of letting a grudge go, and both wanted to shut the mouth of the young fighter who would one day name himself "The Best Ever."

Neither Reid nor Mayweather have ever forgotten it. "It's the reason he's never out of shape," Reid said. "And [why] he never lets people tape his sparring."

"That body don't move," Reid shouts. "Hit that body!"

Standing on the ring apron of Fight Capital in Las Vegas last May, the trainer's voice carries just as it does during the pro fights he corners; not hearing him would be the greater challenge. The response from his fighter is immediate, as the 210 pound square of muscle named Henry Namauu drops a right hand to the body pad strapped to his opponent, a slightly-built trainer wilting under the pressure. His quarry cornered, Namauu swings his bulk to the side, turning on the toes of his lead foot, his left, presenting himself with more angles on his opponent, more points to further batter and befuddle.

If Namauu were 28 years old, with 10 wins and 4 losses as Reid has said, then the two could be at the start of something; an overlooked prospect and a famous trainer on track to redemption. But the details in boxing are never quite as clean as that, and the budding prospect is really a battle-worn veteran of 31 years, with a career pro record of 10-8; he works three jobs and has been on the wrong end of several hard knockouts. Yet both men suspend their relationship with reality for one more chance at the one win that could catapult a fighter to fame, and bigger, richer fights. Most often, that big win never happens. But the possibility of it is what keeps fighters like Namauu and trainers like Reid in the game.

The final chapter of Jesse Reid's career seems likely to unfold in Vegas, where he's out to prove he's still the sharp tactician of decades past. It's hard to know who will notice—the sport has shrunk in the United States, and is shrinking still. The infrastructure of the sport is shrinking; the club scene was the first to go, eliminating the lowest levels of the sport as a reasonable way to make a living, and in turn lowering the quality of rising fighters, and squeezing both the fighters and the trainers that depended upon them for regular pay. Reid's career has followed that same track, and is now mired in slow times.

When boxing was at its peak, so was Reid, cornering such elite names as Orlando Canizales, the notorious Hector "Macho" Camacho, and Floyd Jr.'s uncle, Roger Mayweather. Reid's peers—crusty legends like Angelo Dundee and Cus D'Amato—all play as different shades of Mick, the character from the Rocky franchise. Timely and cordial in certain contexts, Reid is equally foul-tempered and confrontational in others. He's a boxing trainer. It's a complicated thing.

"Jesse's a hot head," said Whit Haydon, a California-based matchmaker. "If Jesse's working a corner and someone in the second row starts mouthing off, Jesse will be in the second row paying the guy a visit."

Reid grew up in the east Los Angeles of the 1940's, when gas was barely two dimes, and a burger and movie ticket ran about 55 cents. It was a time when so much of what Reid earned came from physical toughness, and pure physical will. The oldest of three children, Reid and his family followed his dad, a Michelin machine shop foreman, to Pico Rivera, where Jesse buried himself in basketball, baseball and football. His goal was to impress his father, a man who was gradually overtaken by his alcoholism.

"My dad died in his 40s after the bowling league," he said. "Crashed into a light pole and crushed his liver." Reid still doesn't drink more than the occasional cold one over a business conversation, chalking it up to good manners.

He never thought of drinking as something that would help when his sport of choice was football. He was a safety and second string quarterback at Los Angeles City College and Cal State Fullerton. When the Vietnam War came, Reid enlisted in the Navy, which is where he found boxing. He was a natural athlete, but at 23, he had come to the sport far too late to become a successful pro. Still, he mashed opponents at 165 pounds in the amateurs, which earned him a spot on a special detail protected from deployment. Once he left the service, Reid didn't make it far as a pro, fighting in LA under the legendary trainer Jackie McCoy. He went 5-1, straining to make the 160-pound pro limit, usually eating more punches than he landed. McCoy pulled him aside. As he remembers it, the trainer told him "'Jesse, the way you're getting hit, I don't want to see you get punchy.'"

So he quit.

Or, more accurately, he found another way to fight. McCoy entrusted him with fighters, and Reid helped Rudolfo Gonzales win a lightweight championship over Chango Carmona. Reid had taken his first pupil to a world title, cementing his status as a trainer to watch.

And then his fighters kept winning, winning, and winning, building Reid a resume few in the sport could equal. Along with the victories grew a reputation for volatile behavior. Reid once knocked out a drunk fan at the StubHub center in California when the guy had the temerity to deride Reid's fighter. More than once, he's run afoul of power brokers in the sport, like Top Rank Promotions CEO Bob Arum. When Reid cornered Roger Mayweather, he says he trained him, "with my hand around his throat, because he used to beat women."

Reid has enjoyed remarkable longevity for a trainer who has turned down jobs on principle, and accosted fighters with words and fists. Once interviewed to train Mike Tyson after his rape conviction, Reid says he turned him down after the heavyweight fighter told him he wouldn't let training interrupt his lust for girls or partying. Those principles have followed him to this day, and they haven't made things much easier for him, career-wise. Reid dumped Gabriel Rosado, he says, for lesser offenses—in this case, because his entourage often disagreed with Reid's instructions.

But Reid's ability to watch a bout and regularly formulate an effective counterattack for his fighter remains a skill that maybe one or two other trainers alive can rival, and that brilliance has kept him in the game. During Ola Afolabi's 200-pound world title fight against Rakhim Chakhkiev in Russia, Reid stood in at the last minute to offer advice, shouting it from the side, in a voice that's hard to ignore even on a YouTube video recording.

It was a short notice fight that Afolabi was expected to lose, and Reid told him he'd need a knockout to win in such unfriendly territory. "Double jab him, Ola. He's going to knock himself out."

Reid was right on both counts, and Afolabi erased Chakhkiev in five. But when it came time for Afolabi to fight the rough and dangerous Marco Huck a fifth time, he didn't call Reid to corner him. Afolabi was knocked out in the tenth.

In recent years, calls from the best fighters in the world have been fewer and farther between. Maybe it's evidence of a sort of incompatibility between a capable old trainer and a new generation that isn't able or willing to understand his rigidity. Maybe it's just a cruel business doing what it does. But Namauu seems to hear Reid's message, either because it's the path need has chosen or because he's finally found a trainer who understands him.

Reid has always bet on his own talent, gambles that he often wins. But this latest bet might have the longest odds. Although he insists that Namauu, a fighter with many miles on the odometer, perhaps too many, is ready for the big time, Namauu's record says otherwise.

"I don't think that at this juncture in his career that [Namauu] should be in 10-round fights," says Haydon, who's matched him in six bouts. "He's just a tough guy with a big heart. But you have to keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn't get scrambled."

Reid is watching closely, and believes in his fighter, himself, and the approach that's gotten him this far. "The only way to win is to fight," Reid told him. "You ain't going to win by looking pretty. You listen to me, and you're going to hurt people. You ain't never had coaching before, but now you do."

Paul Spadafora was in his prime in the late 1990s, and just before his sparring session with Mayweather, he had finished a six-week training camp. He was ready for the best, and Reid knew it. He casually set up a video camera to record the action, and the Mayweathers didn't take much notice.

In the ring, the two fighters moved around each other; Mayweather used his signature defense, the near-impregnable tactical approach behind his career-making talent for avoiding punches. Even Reid admiringly says Mayweather possesses the "reflexes of a mountain lion." But there was a seam, and Reid saw it: when Mayweather's right hand floated between the front of his face and the yellow cushion of the headgear padding his right cheekbone, his left hand lay across his stomach at a right angle.

Spadafora's chief ability was his work rate, and that began with his right, his lead hand, floating in front. It was the first line of defense to discourage incoming fire and conceal his own intent, and his objective to keep his front foot outside that of his supremely skilled opponent.

The familiar quickness and guile that made Mayweather a star kept him safe in the first two rounds. At that point his head snapped away from the punches, and when he found himself against the ropes, he spun away, using that familiar shoulder roll that has confused so many opponents.

But Mayweather's lack of preparation became clear in the third. Not known for his power, Spadafora forced his way right into Mayweather's chest, the right hook landing regularly over Mayweather's arm, which was still fixed uselessly at his waist. Then Mayweather's reflexes, deprived of the conditioning they need to dazzle, slowed. Now Mayweather wasn't moving when he was forced to the ropes. He was getting beaten up.

"Paul handled him like he owned him," Reid told Fighthype.com. "[Mayweather's] nose is bleeding and that eye looks like it's swelling up, and he keeps crackin 'em. Finally in the fourth round Mayweather comes to me and asks me if he can get out of the ring because he says he's tired. I says, you ain't getting out of the ring, you're getting your ass kicked today to teach you for all the big mouth of you and your father."

In boxing, the way a fighter absorbs a beating can sometimes attract the same respect as when he dispenses one. And though Mayweather slumped to the canvas after the sixth and final round, he took his beating and learned his lesson. Two, really: one was never be out of shape, and the other was to think twice before letting cameras into his grudge matches.

A current of excitement ran through Fight Capital: the super star Mexican middleweight champion Saul "Canelo" Alvarez would be stopping by for a sparring session, just a few days ahead of his May 7 knockout victory over Amir Kahn.

"It's not everyday you get to watch Canelo spar," Reid said.

Some were ushered out for the closed session; no cameras were allowed. Some were ushered in to watch, including an old acquaintance of Reid's. Sitting on a tire made for giant machinery, slump-shouldered as if fatigued, was Roger Mayweather. Young boxers paid their respects, but his medication and the damage he suffered from years of big fights, kept him quiet, his face impassive. Reid made his own approach, and as he shook his hand a faint smile emerged the face of his old student. "I think Roger knows that for all the talk, I always meant to do right by him," Reid says. "And he appreciates what we did together."

It might be too much to say that Reid has a good relationship with Mayweathers. After all, the embarrassment he inflicted on them is still immortalized on video. But they remember the lesson, one cheaply learned in an unsanctioned fight that didn't hurt their wallets and didn't smudge Floyd's otherwise unblemished in-ring record.

Reid is still learning, and still teaching. There is nothing else he'd rather do, and maybe nothing else he could do. The classroom is something like home; the sport is something like his life.

"Years ago the referee Mills Lane told me he got his nose done, and he could breath a lot better. Asked me why I hadn't done it," Reid said, running his fingers down the sides of his thick nose. "Well, people know when they see my face that I was a fighter. I earned this goddamn nose."