Gerald Washington: In the raw
A heavyweight title shot fell into the lap of Gerald Washington about a month ago after Polish fringe contender Andrzej Wawrzyk failed a VADA drug test administered by the WBC. Deontay Wilder, the WBC heavyweight titleholder since January 2015, needed an opponent and the 34-year-old’s phone rang. This Saturday night on FOX (8:00 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT), Washington, 18-0-1 (12), will have to answer to Wilder and his hometown fans at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama. Better known as “El Gallo Negro” – an ode to his mixed heritage of Mexican and African-American – Washington held a media workout on Feb. 9 at Pullman’s Gym in Burbank, California and UCNLive.com was there.
Michael Baca II: When you first heard the news that Wilder needed a new opponent, what was your initial reaction?
Gerald Washington: My people called me up and asked if I’m willing to accept the challenge and I said, “Yeah.” I said, “Bring it on.” We waited for this opportunity our whole lives and it’s here. I’m glad that we stayed in the gym, stayed focused and stayed training, that way, when the opportunity came, we were able to accept.
MB2: Knowing you were ranked only by the WBC at No. 8 and the fact that you and Deontay share the same manager, has facing Wilder been an inevitability in your mind, the past couple of years?
GW: Definitely. You see the guys at the top. You know the guys that you want to compete against. I personally want to compete against the best. I know Deontay Wilder was a big, scary monster, 37-0, 36 knockouts – I love that. Nobody expects me to do anything and that’s fine. I’ve got weapons myself and I can’t wait to unleash them.
MB2: Is it easier for a man of your size to fight a man of your size?
GW: Definitely. It can go either way but a small guy – a Mike Tyson-type guy that can get up underneath and make you pay – it definitely helps you. I don’t have to worry about me not being able to reach him. I don’t have to worry about getting to him. When he punches me, he’s gonna be in range for me to punch him.
MB2: Reason why I ask that is the Washington bout against Amir Mansour fight (a fight that ended in a majority draw in October 2015). If I had to pick one fight in which maybe you had the toughest time, I would pick that fight. Would you agree with that?
GW: Definitely but it was never a matter of me getting hit or hurt in that fight. It was just an understanding, the fighting concept that I have. In that fight – in every fight – it was like, Gerald, if you keep your space, (Mansour) can’t hit you, can’t hurt you and can’t win. That’s my mentality. So he was stepping in my space and I was just stepping out of the space. Before I knew that I could just draw the line in the dirt and say you can’t come to me no more – I’m gonna come to you. I didn’t understand that, at that point in my career. That was a big lesson for me in that fight. It’s something I learned and I definitely feel I won the fight but it was just a lesson to me that I need to be more aggressive and step up at the right times, so that stuff doesn’t happen to me.”
MB2: Wilder is a tall, long, knockout puncher but he is top-heavy, compared to your proportioned size. Do you think making this fight with Wilder a physical affair works to your advantage?
GW: Definitely. I outweigh the guy about 20 pounds and I don’t have any excess weight on me. (Wilder) is top heavy. Those little legs won’t hold up too long with me pressing on him. He can lean on me if he wants to but them little legs are not gonna do it. I’m definitely a lot stronger than him but I’m sure he’s gonna want to keep his length and fight ’cause that’s where his power is at. He has some amazing one-twos; he can whip his shots ’cause he’s long wiry and strong. He can hurt you with anything, any one punch. I gotta keep my focus the whole time and stay locked on him because he is a dangerous fighter. All respect to him, he’s a champion. That’s cool. All I’m saying is I’m not scared of him. I expect him to do all of those things and I want him to know that I’m going to be firing back.”
MB2: I think you assessed Wilder accurately right now but would you agree he’s a little wild as well? And does that make this fight harder?
GW: I like when he’s a clean fighter, like, before he hurts you, he’s a beautiful boxer. When he hurts you, he smells blood. That’s his instinct. He just goes out there to go get you, which is cool too. That’s what makes him exciting, unpredictable and that what brings him all those knockouts.
MB2: I heard you mention earlier that you’re mentally strong and you said that’s one of your best assets. Is there mental practice and what kind of exercise would this entail?
GW: It’s being comfortable while being uncomfortable. When you’re in the ring, when you’re training or sparring and you don’t want to go no more or punch no more, you push yourself in those moments. There’s only a handful of those moments and you have to take advantage of those opportunities. When you’re in there boxing somebody and they’re throwing punches at you – and you’re tired – you gotta suck it up or you’re gonna get knocked out. You gotta push forward and impose yourself. You gotta have your game face on – you can’t show weakness. It’s so important. It’s a mindset and, once you get the mindset down, then you’re gonna be victorious.
MB2: In the heat of that moment in a fight, is there something in your mind that you revert to for inspiration of any sort?
GW: I just think about all the work we put in. I don’t get so caught up in the moment of getting nervous or anything like that. I look at it as being blessed. I’m blessed to be here and I’m grateful to be here. When you look at it like that, it takes all the nerves away. You’re just happy to be there. I get to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, man. That’s amazing to me.
MB2: Do you think you’re fighting Wilder at the perfect time, considering he’s coming off a couple surgeries?
GW: He’s coming off a couple injuries and he had a layoff. I’ve been here training. It’s a good time. It’s a good time for both of us but it’s the “Year of the Rooster.” I feel like God has a plan for me. I really feel like that He put me here. Look at all the stuff that had to happen for me to be here.
MB2: USC vs. Alabama in college football – Do you know the overall record between the two? They’ve played eight times…
GW: I don’t know. What is it?
MB2: USC is 2-6 but those two wins were in Alabama. I got lost on the Internet trying to find any correlations…
GW: But I got the one that’s gonna trump them all, man. I’m about to bring the heavyweight title back. I’m gonna lay my WBC belt right there with the Heisman Trophy winners. I’m gonna put it right there – it’s gonna be Heisman Trophy winners and Gerald Washington – heavyweight champion of the world.
MB2: Wilder has been able to sell tickets and grow a fan base in Birmingham, Alabama. Do you think you will have nerves, having never fought in an atmosphere like that? Or do you even know?
GW: I can’t be worried about all that. I can’t be worried at people yelling and stuff. I have this dangerous dude in front of me. I gotta be on the spot; I gotta be right on the money, ’cause one slip up – it’s light’s out. You gotta keep that focus all the way through. You gotta do things, practice stuff, go read a book, do something where you have to pay attention. I’ve been playing my little Rubic’s Cube. We play chess here. We do stuff where we have to keep the focus. People walk in and start to talking to you, man, and I’m trying to block them out. I want to be focused on my game.
MB2: My last question for you: Did you get to know Joe McKnight while playing at SC?
GW: Yeah, I did. Rest in peace, man. That was a sad situation. I played college at USC with him but, before that, my friend just passed away in a tragic accident. My friend Tony “Anthony” Benitez, from Chaffey College. He passed away. I was coming back from his funeral, then I got the word that Joe McKnight got killed. It’s trippy, one from my junior college and one from the University of Southern California. You gotta really live your life day to day and be grateful for everything you got. He lived a heck of a life and I’m sorry to see what both of those guys went through. They both died from gunshots and it’s a sad situation cause they were both such great people.
MB2: Everybody has that date with destiny.
GW: Yeah, man.
MB2: And so do you with this Wilder fight.
GW: That’s right, man, and it’s time for me to shock the world. Nobody is expecting me to do much but it doesn’t matter what everybody else thinks. It’s all a matter of what you believe, what you have inside your heart and the work that you put in. If you do that and you trust and you believe in yourself, you can do it all.
John Pullman, owner and operator of Pullman’s Gym, is Washington’s trainer. He also took time out to speak with UCNLive.
MB2: How long have you been working with Gerald?
John Pullman: I met Gerald in 2009, so that’s seven or eight years.
MB2: And you got him raw?
JP: Me and Mike Rodriguez have been doing it together. He brought him to me and I was kind of assisting in the beginning when (Washington) was an amateur and then, when he turned pro, we all sat down and thought it was the best decision for me to take the reins. Mike is still involved and he’s always gonna be involved. He’s the assistant trainer and cutman. (Washington) was maybe 2-0 or 3-0 when I became the head trainer.
MB2: When you first brought Gerald in, what was the indicator that you had something special?
JP: Right away, you look at him from across the street. If you watch him run or shadow-box or hit the bag, you would think he’s a lot smaller than he is, until you get next to him. ‘Cause then you’re, like, whoa, this guy’s big. Because he’s very coordinated; he’s very athletic and very conscientious of his body. It’s amazing that he’s able to control all that; he’s like a little guy, in that regard. That was the first thing. The next big thing was how strong he is mentally. I’ll take him to spar with guys who are very experienced and, you know, put the heat on him and give him a hard time in sparring. He may not do great. He don’t give up but he won’t do great. What’s he want to do? Asks when we could go back there. Right away. So that was the next (step) and, once I saw that, I thought we got something here.
MB2: Considering the circumstance of this fight, being late notice, is Washington as polished as you would like him to be, going into his first world title fight?
JP: Actually it couldn’t be better. It’s perfect and I’ll tell you why: A lot of times, you have too much notice. You’ve got time for too many things to play out in your mind. We’ve been training. Now if you’re sitting on the couch for a month and then get a notice, that’s no good. We thought (Washington) was gonna fight in December and then January, then he was gonna fight on this card anyway. Since his last fight, he was training. So the conditioning is there. We’ve been sparring and we’re actively always growing. I told Gerald before we found out this fight. It was funny and it was in regard to another fighter that I train; I said, “You give us a month’s notice for anybody; we’ll be ready. Guess what? The next day, we got a call.
MB2: Wilder has had a lot of things going on, leading up to February 25th. He’s coming off an injury. Luckily, for you guys, he’s had another opponent fail a drug test and was even in court the other day, for his case against Alexander Povetkin. A lot of things are going on for him. Is this the best time to face him?
JP: We’re preparing for the best Deontay Wilder you’ve ever seen. The one against (Johann) Duhaupas (in September of 2015) who I thought was probably his best fight. A lot of people wont agree with me, but just the way he handled the adversity in that fight, I was impressed with him. The one against Stiverne where he went twelve rounds for the first time. We’re preparing for the best Deontay Wilder, so if he doesn’t bring his best, it’s gonna be worst for him.
MB2: Would you agree that Wilder is a little wild himself?
JP: The name fits. Sometimes the wildness is a little tricky as well ’cause it’s hard to gauge and predict. But we’ve been studying and we’re going to be prepared for what he has.
MB2: Do you think it’s easier for Gerald to fight against men of his size?
JP: That’s a good question. Everybody is different. I don’t care what fighter it is; everyone has a style they prefer to fight, what’s easier for them, for whatever reason. Some guys like when guys come right to him. Some guys like to go after others. I think Wilder, the match-up stylistically, is one of Gerald’s favorite type of match-ups, so to answer your question – Yes. We love it stylistically.