June 1, 2014

KO Digest Interview: Randall Bailey - "I'd like to fight Keith Thurman"

The Knock-Out King wins the welterweight title by KO
There are many sports popular across the globe, but few mirror the universal appeal of boxing, and none can match the special circumstances that make the sweet science so unique. A homerun can't be worth more than four runs and a touchdown is worth only six points, but a knockout in boxing has value far beyond those: it’s an all or nothing event that can turn the tables in a remarkable plot twist, or one brutal blow that puts to rest a one-sided mismatch. Either way, the drama produced and the memories engraved by a knockout are what separates boxing from other sports, and in many cases, good fights from great fights. To boxing fans familiar with his fights, the name Randall Bailey is nearly synonymous with knockouts. Touting a record of 44-8 with 37 knockouts, Bailey has put to sleep many a competitor en route to many title shots.

Even in his late 30s, the pinnacle of Bailey’s career came against Mike Jones in June of 2012. Trailing handily on all three scorecards, the “Knock-Out King” surged back in the tenth round with a knockdown and keept the pressure on in the eleventh, knocking Jones out at 2:52. In doing so, Bailey shocked everyone but himself and earned the IBF welterweight title. However, immediately off the highest and most exciting peak of his career, Bailey dropped into the valley one fight later, losing the title in a snoozer to Devon Alexander and falling further back in the division’s rankings.

Bailey rebounded last November in a strange affair against Humberto Toledo and fights Fredrick Lawson on June 7 in Minnesota, but there’s more at stake than mere wins and losses. At 39, Bailey knows the time is now to get back into the discussion and rise from being just a fading memory in the back of boxing fans’ minds. With the right amount of right hands, he aims straight ahead to keep from being forgotten and earn one last shot at a world title strap.

KO Digest's Joel Sebastianelli: Opa-Locka, Florida isn’t a place that typically breeds many boxers, and it isn’t a place in Florida that many people are aware exists. It’s a different place—the largest collection of Moorish revival architecture in this hemisphere, quite different from typical South Florida lifestyle. Now you’re living in Miami—how has residing in South Florida helped your career? Have you been well-received in the region as a boxer?

Randall Bailey: It’s where I started at and where I choose to be. I get a lot of love here. I represent 305 to the fullest.

KOD: For most boxing fans, the first word that comes to mind when the name Randall Bailey is mentioned is “knockout.” You’re nicknamed “The Knock-Out king” for a reason—44 victories with 37 knockouts, many of them brutal. Are punchers like you born, or are they made in the gym?

Thank God for that power!
RB: I think they’re born. You’ve either got it or you don’t. I knew I hit hard with my right hand before I even knew how to develop it. It was a God-given talent.

KOD: How has your power and style evolved over the years? Even if you knew you had that God-given talent, how did you make it better and better?

RB: When I was 16 or 17 years old, me and Freddie Pendleton use to be together a lot. He was getting ready to face Tracy Spann the second time, and he brought Tommy Brooks in to help out with his training. Tommy used to be in the gym and I used to be in the gym to, so when I would shadow box, he would say “Randall, just do this one little thing. Just turn into the right hand when you throw it and it’s going increase your power more than it already is.” I used to practice that at least three rounds going around the ring before I did anything else.

KOD: Knockouts are an exciting part of boxing, but boxing is different from many other sports. A football fan can throw a football around in the yard like a quarterback, but a boxing fan doesn’t get to knock somebody out in their backyard. What exactly does it feel like to knock somebody out? 

"You can’t remake it or reenact it!"
RB: It depends on the fight because in certain fights, you do your research—me, I look to see if a guy has been knocked out before and if he’s been knocked out before, I already feel like I can knock him out. A guy that hasn’t been knocked down or never came close to being knocked out, to go and get a knockout over a guy like that is a big deal. I think when the punch lands, you can pretty much feel it’s over. I’ve had knockouts where I’ve hit him, and I turn away and know it’s over. That feeling right there, it can’t be rehearsed. Once you feel it, it’s there, and it’s gone.

KOD: Do you think that, on occasion, sometimes you are too rely too much on trying to land that one big KO blow? 

RB: Yeah, but I just feel like it all starts in the gym.
If the trainer is relying on it, then you get a fighter who has a reason to rely on it too.

KOD: Do you try to branch out in training and have other game plans in place in case you can’t knock a guy out?

RB: That would be the actual way to go about it. I would rather not use my right hand in the gym. I've been using my right hand since I was 14 and started in the gym, so that’s second-nature for me to throw it. Anytime I throw it, there’s nothing that needs to be worked. But, there are other areas in my boxing that need to be touched on a little more.

KOD: What’s a typical training camp like for you? 

Bailey getting back to basics in the gym
RB: Basically, what we’ve been working on for this fight is getting back to using my jab, moving around the ring a lot more, not just sitting back and relying on the right hand. We’re just trying to go back to the basics.

KOD: Would you define yourself as a knockout artist?

I really don’t put a label on myself. If I get a knockout, I get it, if I don’t I don’t, but all in all I’m trying to win the fight.

KOD: But even if you won’t put that label on yourself, other people will. Do you think that the term “knockout artist” robs you of the recognition for other things you do well?

RB: That’s a good question because I feel I have been slighted in a lot of decision victories just because I didn’t knock the guy out. It’s like a catch-22. You want to get the knockout, but you don’t want that to be the only resort. Certain judges put that on you and it makes you feel like you have no other options but to get a knockout just to win the fight.

KOD: Who else in the sport would you define as a knockout artist similar to you? 

RB: I like Keith Thurman and Gennady Golovkin.
Those are the first two right off the bat where I see raw power that could really hurt you at any point in a fight.

KOD: Thurman is another fighter in Florida that’s making waves right now. He’s undefeated and has shown a propensity for power shots as well. What’s your take on him and his career thus far? Do you want to fight him?

Bailey eyes Thurman for a Florida welterweight clash
RB: They are moving Thurman very well right now. I can’t really say too much about him. They’re doing a really good job moving him. I would most definitely like to fight Keith Thurman before I call it a career, but I’ve got to get myself back in contention because they won’t just give me a fight with Keith Thurman. So, I’ll do my best to earn a fight with Keith Thurman.

KOD: How do you get back into contention for a fight with Keith Thurman? You’re 39 and not getting any younger. What fights would you like to make, and is there a sense of urgency to make them given your age?

RB: It all stars June 7th. My next fight with Fredrick Lawson in Minnesota, it all starts right there. I have to take this fight very seriously and go in there and handle business. I know I need to go out and I need to be effective using my jab at the beginning of the fight. Once I get that going and set up everything off my jab, it could be a short night.

KOD: Before we dig into your past, let’s explore the present. Your next fight is coming up on June 7th in Minneapolis against undefeated Fredrick Lawson. He’s 22-0 with 20 KOs, but has never been tested by a notable opponent. 
How did that fight come about, and what do you think of your opponent?

RB: The people he’s beating were people he was supposed to beat. They put them in front of him, and he did his job. I need to go in with my mindset focused and know that this guy is undefeated for a reason. I watched a little tape on him, but I never expect the guy to fight me the same way he fought everybody else.
I don’t focus on the good that he does because every game plan can change.

Rivas, Jackson, and Bailey
KOD: It seems as though there has been a change in your camp. From the sounds of it, John David Jackson is out and Chico Rivas is in. What brought about the change?

RB: Chico Rivas has always been there. I would leave and go train with Chico for a while if things were getting too ordinary on the other side, and I think the switch up in trainer comes at a good time. John trains a lot of fighters now, and I think it’s hard to give each guy the right attention that they need when you’ve got so much on your hands at one time. There were no hard feelings—he actually went to another gym and picked up a lot more work.

KOD: You’re also continuing your career without a promoter. How has that affected everything to everyday operations in the business of boxing to finding and accepting fights?

RB: It’s kind of hard because getting fights is not easy. Every promoter that wants to give you a fight either wants to  sign you, or you have to come into hostile territory. It’s kind of like the situation with this fight. I’m fighting on his card, so I need to go in and I can’t make it close. I’m never anyone’s choice to put in a fight because of the punching power. There’s always a chance that if I catch a fighter, I might knock them out, so I’m never the chosen one on anybody’s ticket.

KOD: Understandably, your power has made it very difficult to make certain fights happen. 
Are there any bouts in particular that you wish were made that didn’t come to fruition because of that?

Bailey is no fan of Tim Bradley or his hat
RB: I’m going to go back because I have a really bad taste in my mouth for Tim Bradley. We had a signed contract to fight on Showtime, and he pulled out of the fight the week of the fight. That has been sitting bad with me ever since that happened. I haven’t been a fan of his ever since for that reason. I know he wasn’t injured, I know he signed with new managers, and my guess is that they felt like it wasn’t safe for him to fight me.

KOD: We hear the phrase “the business of boxing" all the time and although boxing has always been a business, that business used to do a better job of delivering satisfaction to its customers, and a lot of that can be blamed on the relationships between promoters. Do you think the current promotional landscape is actually harmful for boxing? Would you advise more fighters to represent themselves as you do?

RB: It’s hard to say but a lot of these guys like being protected. Being protected is something you need in boxing, and a lot of these guys, they like it. They’re comfortable with the money they’re making, so I don’t see a lot of them leaving their promoters to do it on their own. I think Bernard Hopkins was the only one who really, really, really, really did it for a long time, and Roy Jones, but even he had to sign with Don King just to get in the middleweight tournament before he could break out. The money is the problem. Everybody is out to get the dollar. If you’ve got control, you’re making the money, and it’s all about the money. At the end of the day, everybody wants to be paid. It’s a real touchy situation in boxing.

KOD: Your last fight had quite an odd ending.  Against Humberto Toledo, you frustrated him and controlled most of the fight. In the eighth round, he took a knee then pushed the referee and was disqualified. Take us through hat fight—was it the fight you expected, and how bizarre was that finish from your vantage point in the ring?

Holy Toledo, this one did not go according to plan!
RB: I had planned on knocking him out, but I hurt both of my hands in that fight and I was hitting him really hard. I could see it on his face, he was trying to find a way out. I guess he felt he had to go after the referee, because he took the knee and the referee pushed me to the side and I went to a neutral corner when he started counting, and then he jumped up and started trying to attack the referee. I had no idea what was going on!

KOD: We harked on the positive aspects of your career, but there are down moments in any fighter’s career too. The loss to Devon Alexander was a tough one. Fans did not appreciate the lack of action, and neither did you. Did you expect Alexander to fight the style of fight that he did? 
Is there anything you would do differently?

Nobody liked this fight, especially Bailey
RB: I hate that fight. I don’t mind losing a fight, but at least let’s fight! I thought he was coming up in weight, I felt like he was a lot stronger and was going to punch, and he said he was going to do all this stuff, but the hardest thing I got hit with was the head butt. My whole camp wasn’t really focused on winning, we’ll just put it that way. When people have different agendas than yours, things seem not to go right. Maybe I should have separated from my trainer before that point and found another one, who knows. I think I’m better now. We aren’t trying to pull any magic tricks, just back to the basics. I’ve been fighting for 17 years now and there isn’t much I haven’t seen in boxing, and Chico Rivas has been around for a long time and we’ve been together.

KOD: Nearly a decade ago, you fought Miguel Cotto in December 2004 and lost by 6th round TKO. 
How does the Miguel Cotto of today compare to the one you faced back then?

Bailey predicts a Cotto win by decision
RB: I think he’s gotten better since he moved up from 147. He's probably a lot stronger there than when he was at 140. He’s better all-around, and the experience factor. He’s become a well-rounded pro now, and even the fight against Sergio Martinez, I don’t see that being a walk in the park for Martinez.

KOD: Who wins Martinez-Cotto on June 7th?

RB: I’m going with Cotto by decision. Martinez has had a lot of injuries and I think Cotto is going to be rugged with him. He’s coming up in weight so he’s going to be stronger and he’s going to make it real, real tough.
You can’t underestimate his speed either.

KOD: Is Martinez a bit disrespected as the middleweight champion?

RB: If you want respect, you fight the toughest guy in your division. You don't pull somebody up from a lighter weight class. Gennady Golovkin is the next man up at 160, why is Sergio not fighting him?

KOD: As a heavy puncher, I’m sure you have a great gauge for power.  
Who is the hardest puncher you’ve ever faced?

RB: I ain’t never been hit by somebody that made me say “ouch!” I don’t really look at knockdowns because anybody could get knocked down. There’s a spot in that chin where you will go down. If you get hit right, you will go down, from a hard or soft puncher. I’ve never been hit to where I’d say “damn, that hurt!”

KOD: Do you have a favorite career defining moment that you’re most proud of?

RB: It would have to be the Mike Jones fight. That fight was very dramatic. To comeback, and how it ended—I told everybody I was going to knock him out. The way the fight was going and how it ended made it a great moment.

KO UPDATE: (6/4/14) - According to Randall, his scheduled bout against Fredrick Lawson on June 7 in Minnesota is cancelled. No reason was given for this and it remains unclear at this time what the cause of the cancellation was. 

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio. Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli