Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Tommy Gallagher, who has been part of the crooked-nose crew for as long as most care to remember, is an old school trainer going against the curriculum in a new school world. He has trained fighters for over 30 years – tough guys too – like Doug DeWitt, Vito Antuofermo and Merqui Sosa. Tonight, Gallagher leads heavyweight Michael Grant down the comeback trail, and if Gallagher’s hunch is right, he might one-day help Grant buckle a heavyweight title belt around his waist.

It doesn’t bother the gruff Gallagher, who is a Brooklyn, New York tough guy and a 1959 New York City Golden Gloves winner, that Grant has been away from the game for two years. Gallagher is no-nonsense in his approach to the fight racket and he figures that as long as Grant gets himself right in the head that everything else will take care of itself.

“I don’t care about what he looks like in the gym with sparrin’ or any of that crap! He has the ability,” barks Gallagher, who has the resemblance of Kojak with his shaved head. “Look, I’m from the old school. Mentally, Michael has to be in shape, get in shape and maintain shape. The most important thing is having confidence in his ability and showing up the night of the fight. When the night comes to fight it’s important that he’s there mentally to fight. Then it’s about adjustin’ in the ring to what’s in front of ya’.”

“Big” Michael Grant, at 6’7” tall and 250 pounds was once the prototype of the giant, athletically gifted, next generation of heavyweights. He was looked upon as the future of the heavyweight division and he was anointed the next great American heavyweight by many.

Grant was maneuvered to a record of 31-0 by managers Bill Cayton, adviser Craig Hamilton, and trainer Don Turner. He made several appearances on ESPN and HBO in the mid to late 1990’s and his rise through the ranks eventually culminated in a title shot against Lennox Lewis in April of 2000 at Madison Square Garden. Grant was paid in the neighborhood of $4 million for the Lewis fight, but he was totally destroyed in less than six minutes. After that, and a subsequent reincarnation with Teddy Atlas as his trainer, Grant continued on until he was knocked out in a less than inspiring performance against Dominick Guinn in June 2003 in Atlantic City. Grant returned again with Buddy McGirt at the helm and won three times but suddenly stopped fighting in June 2005.

Gallagher is realistic about the relationship with Grant who many see as a psychologically flawed heavyweight who crumbles when put under pressure. “Look, I’m old school,” emphasizes Gallagher again, “It matters who the individual is. He’s not doin’ it for the money and neither am I. I just took the job because I hate to see somebody who wants to do somethin’ not be able to do it. I’ve seen so many guys who don’t know when to say goodnight. He has a 2 or 3 year window. For Michael, it’s about his mental attitude and whether or not – or if – he comes to fight and let’s the dog out!”

Gallagher is also confident about working with Grant because, like everyone else, when he looks out on the horizon at the heavyweight landscape he sees a bunch of guys that hand the title back and forth to each other and there is no dominant force. “All the heavyweight champs out there now?” asks a disgusted Gallagher, “C’mon! Maskaev (the WBC titlist) is nearly 40.” When asked if Grant, who has 31 knockouts, can punch, Gallagher says he can. “Look, Michael punches as good as Savarese and Maskaev and maybe better.” Gallagher should know as he has worked with both in the past.

So how did an old school trainer from Brooklyn and a flawed heavyweight who has had a host of top trainers pair up? “We had a relationship in the past,” claims Gallagher. “He had an attorney, Jim Thomas, call me and he asked me to evaluate him. Look, Michael has everything in the world goin’ for him. He’s only 34 years old and I can’t see why he can’t be effective as he was. We’re training at Gleason’s in Brooklyn and I’m advising and training him. We’re talkin’ to two major people in New York. These are people that had Tokunbo Olajide, Lou Savarese and Simon Brown. They’re guys who put up whatever we need for money and they leave the boxing to me.”

The comeback is opponent tonight is Billy Zumbrun, a 34 year-old club fighter with a 21-8 record. “Zumbrun is a tough guy,” says a suddenly excited Gallagher. “He gave Riddick Bowe a good fight. If he gets by Zumbrun, he’s gonna’ fight June 29th in the Hamptons. No opponent yet. We haven’t even though about who the opponent might be. Do you know anybody?” he asks with a chuckle.

The fight is part of the ESPN2 Wednesday Night fight telecast and is taking place at an unusual locale, the upscale Cipriani’s Restaurant which is located on Wall Street in New York City. It’s a black-tie only affair that seems out of character for a guy like Gallagher and it’s a place the fight racket usually steers clear from. “I put the black tie event together,” proclaims a proud Gallagher. “I use my name because of ‘The Contender’ and I had a gym for 30 years. It brings a different audience to the table. You get a five-course meal, a goody bag, you get a chance to get dressed up and blow the stink off you.”

Then, talking all business like they do down on Wall Street, the 66 year-old trainer says, “We’re gonna’ do one of these a quarter.” When asked how the tickets were moving along the grizzled trainer turned New York businessman calmly stated, “Everything is goin’ good and we’re satisfied.”

So how is Gallagher going to teach Grant anything new especially since he was formerly trained by Don Turner, Teddy Atlas and Buddy McGirt? What is that Gallagher does that the others couldn’t?

“It’s very simple. It’s about toughness,” states Gallagher. “These kids now, they get a little insecure. Somebody tells them, ‘You should eat grass and drink distilled water’ and they’ll do it!” he squeaks incredulously. “These guys are full of shit! It’s a primitive game. It’s either you can fight or you can’t. It’s got too technical! There’s too much bullshit! The point is, it’s about being able to sustain the punishment you take. You got 4,000 special trainers now. You got a nutritionist, the weightliftin’…this and that! Feed these guys some meat! You give me a guy that says I wanna’ be a fighter - you give me that guy - and I give you the fighter of your life!”

Gallagher has obviously seen it all in a lifetime spent in the hardest game. He’s disappointed with what he sees these days and he wonders if boxing can make it. “The commissioners are ruinin’ this business,” he laments. “The UFC lets ‘em wear condoms on their hands. We have to wear 14-ounce gloves if you weigh over 135! They wanna’ think they’re doin’ somethin’. They’re doin’ nuthin’ but makin’ the fighters lose out. Now in the UFC fighting you can kick, you can bite and use your elbows. There may be a conspiracy to remove boxing and keep that Ultimate Bullshit out there! I’m not takin’ away from the athletes, but they allow them to do whatever they want and the boxers are scrutinized. What does that mean? Don’t get me started!”

Remember, Tommy Gallagher is old school and tonight he and Michael Grant are taking their first steps together.

When he asked where he could read this story I told him it would appear on the Internet. “What’s the Internet?” he asked. “I don’t have that.”

Old school indeed.

June 2007

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