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Old 10-24-2008, 09:08 AM   #1
Robbi
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Default Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

You know a fighter is special when everyone in a Southern California boxing gym stops to watch him train, especially if that gym is the Wild Card Boxing Club where at any given hour there might be two or three world titlists and eight or nine top-10 contenders working out under the same roof.

Gym rats around these parts are so used to seeing World War III every time two young fighters hop into the ring to spar that they seldom bother to stop and watch a boxer shadow box or just hit mitts, but that’s exactly what happens at Freddie Roach’s gym every time Bernard Hopkins walks out into the crowded floor to go through his preparations for this Saturday’s showdown with Winky Wright.

I dropped by the Wild Card around noon this past Monday to observe the 42-year-old ring general’s final day in the crowded Hollywood gym and found that I wasn’t the only curious onlooker. Fellow boxing writers Steve Springer of the L.A. Times, David Avila of the Riverside Press-Enterprise (and thesweetscience.com), and Paul Hernandez who puts out the ‘Punch’ boxing newspaper were there, as were three of the best people I’ve met through boxing, super fans Dave Schwartz and JP Husky and trainer Don Familton.

After warming up for half an hour in the private room, Hopkins entered the public part of the gym to do some light rope skipping just as an all-Filipino sparring round robin that included former 115-pound titlist Gerry Penalosa, 115-pound contender Z Gorres, 122-pound contender Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista, Philippines bantie champ Mike “Bruce Lee” Domingo and Czar Amonsot, the giant bleach blonde-haired lightweight who will battle Michael Katsidis on the Hopkins-Wright undercard, was coming to an end.

Once Hopkins climbed into the ring, all eyes were on him.

“It was beyond observing,” admitted Schwartz, a fight fan since the ‘50s. “We were mesmerized. No one blinked once Bernard started shadowboxing. It was bordering on ‘man-love’; it was almost embarrassing.”

No need to be embarrassed. Hopkins’s rags-to-riches story, ring accomplishments and old-school skills make him ‘man-crush’ worthy for many diehard fans around the world.

The former undisputed middleweight champ and current recognized light heavyweight champ looked to be around super middleweight size, a weight that appears to suit his body well. His reflexes are sharp, his legs still have plenty of spring in them and his muscles look fuller and healthier than they did for his final bouts at 160 pounds, when his 6-foot frame looked too lean, almost dried out.

As I watched Hopkins jab and feint while gliding to one side of the ring and then back, I thought about gym stories from ‘long-timers’ like Schwartz and Familton, two guys who have been following the Sweet Science since before my dad was born.

Whenever they brought up watching some of the all-time greats train at long-gone boxing clubs like the old Main Street Gym at 318 S. Main St. they never talked about heated sparring sessions. They marveled at Alexis Arguello’s surgical precision in working the speed bag, or the ferocity of Roberto Duran skipping rope, or the seamless fluidity of Ismael Laguna shadow boxing.

I think it was Familton, now 77 years young, who told me about watching Laguna at the Main Street Gym.

“That was about as good as it gets,” he said.

I wish I could have been there (or someone could have filmed Laguna for prosperity), but I consider myself lucky to able to watch Hopkins work his craft, even at his advanced age.

I know I’m watching something special when Schwartz and Familton seem to be in awe.

Familton’s father, who saw Benny Leonard fight, was an avid boxing fan and took his son to the fights as soon as he was old enough to know what he was looking at. Familton, who saw Sugar Ray Robinson fight, used to hang out at the Foxhole Gym in Cleveland, Ohio where former light heavyweight/heavyweight contender Jimmy Bivins and former middleweight contender Chuck Hunter used to train.

Familton moved to Los Angeles in 1948, and over the next three decades – as a fan and a professional trainer – got to witness some of the best boxers of our time train at various Southern California gyms like the Teamsters Gym (ran by Louie Jauregui; where Armando Muniz trained) at Seventh and Town, the Southwest Gym on Vermont, Ralph Gambino’s in Southgate, Kenny LaSalle’s Gym on Main Street and Ocean Park, and of course THE Main Street Gym.

Schwartz and Familton watched awesome lightweights like Laguna, Enrique Bolanos and the great Ike Williams train at the Main Street.

“Davey Moore, Harold Johnson, and Joe Fraizer trained there when they were in town,” Familton said. “I saw Hurricane Carter train there. Joe Louis and I once watched Buster Mathis Sr. and his coach Joey Fariello, a really top trainer, train there. That was a thrill.”

I got the feeling that Familton and Schwartz got the same thrill watching Hopkins this past Monday afternoon.

“It’s all basic fundamentals with Bernard,” he said. “Chin tucked, hands up, elbows in, knees slightly bent, weight distributed properly, stepping on every punch, his head stays inline in-between the legs – there’s no leaning forward or back when he punches or moves about – it’s just the basics.”

And Hopkins does it so well.

“What a pleasure it is to see a fighter with fundamentals this sound,” said Familton. “There’s no secrets in what he’s doing. You’d think you’d see more of this, but you don’t.

“I come into gyms all the time and see a thousand guys working out who don’t do this.

“It’s simple, but it isn’t.”

The basics seem easy to learn, but they aren’t so easy to teach and instill in a fighter. Even boxers who are able to pick everything up in the gym and apply it in the ring (where it counts) often lose bits and pieces of their technique as time goes on.

During the final portions of their amateur careers and the early parts of the pro careers Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas were nearly complete fighters in the ring, exhibiting textbook technique and classic boxing form. However, as their careers progressed, all three Southern Cali. kings of the ring seemed to lose the form that made them special prior to their championship runs.

Hopkins, a late bloomer in the ring, was a work in progress for much of the ‘90s. His original trainer Bouie Fisher was an old-school teacher and Hopkins was a good student. While under Fisher’s guidance the ex-con evolved from being “the Executioner”, a tight stalker with a big right hand, to a relaxed tactical boxer who simply executes near-perfect technique.

Hopkins had the intelligence to pick up most of Fisher’s teachings and the discipline to hold on to it late in his career. Hopkins may have lost some of the speed and power he possessed in his late 20s and early 30s, but he hasn’t forgotten any of the basic principles he learned during 16 years and 50 pro bouts under Fisher’s watchful eye.

“Watch this now, watch!” ‘Coach Familton’ ordered as I drifted off in thought while scribbling in my notebook. “He’s stepping on every punch. I don’t look at his upper body, I look at the feet. He steps with every punch, steps in, and then right back out. In and out; in and out. I love it!

“Then he hooks off the jab. Another thing you don’t see done properly anymore. Look how tight his hook is. Everything is close to his body as he delivers it. His arms aren’t way out to his side. Are you watching this, Doug? Look at that, a triple jab! And he steps with each jab. Beautiful!

“Oh my God! A feint and hook! Watch this stuff, man, stop writing! Just watch and learn. Watch and learn.”
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Old 10-24-2008, 09:09 AM   #2
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

Because Coach Familton said so, I put down my notebook and focused 100 percent of my attention on the master in the ring, who was now working mitts with Roach.

“There’s nice rhythm on his punches,” Familton said. “Did you notice that? Don’t just watch, listen. Bap, bap, bap. Bap, bap, bap. I always listen to the cadence the punches make on the bag or mitts.”

Co-trainer John David Jackson, a former world titlist (who Hopkins beat 10 years ago), took over the mitts in order to practice certain moves to execute vs. a southpaw.

“Look how quickly he can move in or side to side on a southpaw,” Familton pointed out. Seconds later, Hopkins accidentally nailed Jackson with a left hook.

Hopkins is indeed deceptively quick in maneuvering and positioning himself about the ring. I had to keep reminding myself that he’s in his forties.

“His legs look good in training,” said Familton. “The only thing you don’t know, at his age, is how his legs are going to look or hold out over 12 rounds if Wright tries to press him.”

That’s the only way I can envision a Wright victory. I think the 35-year-old veteran must take the fight to the 42-year-old veteran and simply outwork the older man for three minutes of each round. Wright is usually content to lay back on the outside and work everything off his jab, but the southpaw technician has been known to step up the heat when he needed it as he did in last year’s brisk middleweight clash with young champ Jermain Taylor.

Of course, Hopkins, who lost two controversial decisions to Taylor in ’05, points out that the aggressive version of Wright was tagged and tagged often during his disputed draw with the middleweight champ.

Hopkins, who is undefeated vs. lefties (a solid list that includes Jackson, Antonio Tarver, Keith Holmes, Carl Daniels, Syd Vanderpool and Joe Lipsey), believes that he will be able to solve the puzzle of Wright’s high-guard defense and piston-like jab.

As good as Wright is (and I think he’s one of the top five boxers in the world, pound for pound), it’s hard not to favor Hopkins in Saturday’s fight after watching him exhibit “the basics” at the Wild Card.

“I don’t learn anything watching Bernard Hopkins,” Familton said as we left the gym with Schwartz and Husky to grab some lunch. “He just affirms what I’ve learned from the greats 50 and 60 years ago.”

I definitely learned something watching Hopkins and listening to Familton this past Monday.

Who knows? Maybe 30 or 40 years from now (if I’m lucky enough to still be around and clear headed enough to talk about the past) I might tell some young whippersnapper that watching Hopkins was about as it gets.
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Old 10-24-2008, 09:11 AM   #3
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

Four days have passed since Bernard Hopkins put on a masterful boxing clinic in all but shutting out Kelly Pavlik over 12 rounds and I’m still trying to put the wily old veteran’s victory into some kind of perspective.

My friend Don Familton, who celebrated his 79th birthday earlier this month, can. He’s observed the best of the best for more than 60 years and he’s taught the Sweet Science for longer than I’ve been alive.

When I asked his opinion about what Hopkins was able to do against Pavlik, Familton told me “If there was a college course on the science of boxing and I was the professor, this fight would be at the top of my list of films that I’d show my students at the start of the semester.”

I was glad Familton made a teaching analogy to describe the near perfection of Hopkins’ “schooling” of Pavlik.

“Just about every fighter of note had someone who really knew the fundamentals of boxing standing behind him,” Familton told me as I looked at pictures of him with Pernell Whitaker and James Toney when I dropped by his house in Culver City before we found a spot to have lunch and talk about the fight. “Whitaker had George Benton. Toney had Bill Miller. Joe Louis had Jack Blackburn. These are not accidents. Not to take anything away from the fighters’ individual talents and accomplishments but who they are or were in the ring had a lot to do with who taught them.

“I’ve met Benton. I know Miller. I don’t know Bouie Fisher, but he must be in their league because when you train a fighter from the beginning as he did with Hopkins and that fighter turns out to be as special as Bernard you have to know what you’re doing.”

In Hopkins, Fisher had a most dutiful student. A hard-nosed hard-working ex-con who was willing to do things the old man’s way, which meant they would take their time. After losing his pro debut (at light heavyweight) in 1988, Hopkins found Fisher and the old trainer kept him in the gym and out of the ring the entire year of ’89, teaching his raw but willing student the fundamentals of boxing.

It took the entire decade for Fisher to forge the versatile fighter we know today.

From 1990, when he re-entered the sport as a middleweight, to ’93, when he challenged ’88 Olympic silver medalist Roy Jones Jr. for the vacant IBF title, Hopkins was a tough-as-nails fighter known more for his hard right hand and his pro-wrestling inspired Executioner ring walk-in (complete with muscle-bound fake axe-wielding henchmen at his side) than he was for any level of skill or technique. However, from ’94 to ’99, ‘the Executioner’ evolved from a fighter into a compete boxer.

“Fisher must have built a solid foundation and went from there,” Familton said. “Year one in the gym should just be learning; balance, timing and delivery (or ‘marksmanship’ as Ray Robinson used to say).

“Learning how to step with every punch, learning how to pivot, learning how to go in and out; it sounds simple but it’s not easy, which is why it was such a pleasure to watch Hopkins train last year at the Wild Card gym.

“Hopkins is closer to being flawless, technically, than any fighter I’ve seen in the post-World War II era.”

“Along with his conditioning, his mental attitude, approach and confidence,” Familton continued about Hopkins. “It all combines to make him one of the most unique fighters to come along in a long time. People just don’t go out and do what he did last Saturday.”

One of Familton’s sons, Dean, is one of the most astute observers of boxing that I know. He almost always predicts the correct outcomes of up-coming fights. I’m sure he loved Hopkins going into Saturday’s fight.

“Dean wasn’t shocked at all by what happened,” Familton confirmed. “He compared Hopkins and Pavlik to the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals. I didn’t argue the point with him, because if you wanted to pick out the perfect style for Hopkins to show off his strengths and ability, well, it would be Pavlik’s.

“But wait a minute! We have to remember that Hopkins is 43! Just as he did with Trinidad, who was killing the opposition before they fought, Hopkins neutralized a guy who brutalized almost all of his opponents. He totally dominated, rounds one through 12, a fighter 17 years younger than him. Let’s give him his credit.”

“Hopkins did something he hasn’t always done in this fight, at least not in recent years,” Familton said. “He’s a counter puncher, but he took the lead early against Pavlik and he was successful with it.

“He realized in the first round that he was the bigger, stronger, faster man and he ran with it. Usually, he steps back, makes the other guy miss and counters. Pavlik, on the other hand, is only a counter puncher when he’s in a shootout and in close.

“Hopkins never gave him that opportunity.”

“Consistency is part of the criteria of being a great fighter,” Familton said. “Hopkins has it. Toney didn’t have it, which is why I wouldn’t consider him to be a great fighter. He had everything else – talent, toughness, boxing acumen – but as Teddy Atlas often says on TV, you can never take the mental part out of boxing. It’s as important, and maybe more so, than the physical side.

“With Hopkins’ dedication to the sport and his psychological and emotional stability I think he would have been competitive in any era.”
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Old 10-24-2008, 09:35 AM   #4
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

Fantastic read. Thanks.
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Old 10-24-2008, 10:01 AM   #5
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

Yeah, great read. Thanks.
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Old 10-24-2008, 01:10 PM   #6
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

[Only registered and activated users can see links. ]

Don Familton
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Old 10-24-2008, 01:20 PM   #7
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robbi
“With Hopkins’ dedication to the sport and his psychological and emotional stability I think he would have been competitive in any era.”
No kiddin'.
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Old 10-24-2008, 02:14 PM   #8
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

excellent article...

“Hopkins is closer to being flawless, technically, than any fighter I’ve seen in the post-World War II era.”

i would hazard a guess that joe louis would have been the nearest to flawless before the war..
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Old 10-24-2008, 02:46 PM   #9
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

Required reading to tap into ol' school savvy -- what separates the BoxRec obsessed from the gym rats.
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Old 10-24-2008, 02:58 PM   #10
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

Great read.
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Old 10-24-2008, 04:07 PM   #11
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

Truly a living legend.

We're fortunate to have a warrior like B-Hop in the game today.
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Old 10-24-2008, 04:33 PM   #12
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

I have watched some of Don Familton's training videos on youtube. The guy is an incredible boxing mind. I am surprised that he never became a big time trainer like along the lines of a Manny Steward or Angelo Dundee. The guy really knows his shit and explains things so well. I wish I had a trainer like him when I was younger. I learned more watching those tapes than I ever did in some of the gyms I trained in.
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Old 10-24-2008, 06:02 PM   #13
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

Quote:
Originally Posted by tommy the hat
I have watched some of Don Familton's training videos on youtube. The guy is an incredible boxing mind. I am surprised that he never became a big time trainer like along the lines of a Manny Steward or Angelo Dundee. The guy really knows his shit and explains things so well. I wish I had a trainer like him when I was younger. I learned more watching those tapes than I ever did in some of the gyms I trained in.
I'll need to check them out.
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Old 10-24-2008, 06:09 PM   #14
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Default Re: Bernard Hopkins appreciated by 79 year old Don Familton (A MUST READ)

These videos aren't working. I'll post them later.



Here are the Don Familton training videos. More are on youtube.

Last edited by Robbi; 10-24-2008 at 06:40 PM.
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Old 10-24-2008, 08:13 PM   #15
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Great read, thanks.
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