Q&A: Jeff Fenech! Mike Tyson's new trainer speaks out


Published: May 10, 2005

May 10, 2005

By Lisa Scott

Source: Fightnews

his 12 year professional fighting career, Jeff ‘The Marrickville Mauler’
Fenech (28-3-1; 21 KO’s) has always meant business inside the ring.
A gutsy, hard nosed, tough as nails boxer from Sydney, Australia, Fenech
is arguably the greatest fighter his homeland has ever produced. He
represented his country in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles (succumbing
in the quarter finals) and went on to become a three-division champion
(IBF Bantam weight-1985; WBC Super Bantam weight-1987; WBC Feather weight-1988)
before retiring in 1996. Inducted into the International Boxing Hall
of Fame in 2002, Fenech now faces what may be one of his toughest challenges
to date… training ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson.

Last month, Fenech began working with Tyson in Phoenix Arizona in preparation
for his fight against Kevin McBride (32-4-1; 27 KO’s) on June 11th in
Washington, DC. This will be Tyson’s first bout in 11 months, since
his shocking 4th round knockout defeat to journeyman Danny Williams.
After that fight, it was discovered that Tyson (50-5; 44 KO’s) injured
his knee in the first round and sustained four tears to the meniscus
in his left knee which ultimately required surgery.

Interestingly, McBride is by far the tallest fighter that Tyson (at
5’11”) has ever faced (Lennox Lewis and Mitch Green both stood
at 6’5″). Standing at 6’6″, the 31 year old McBride (of Brockton,
MA by way of Clones Ireland) will also have an 11 inch reach advantage
over the soon to be 39 year old Tyson, who measures at 71 inches. Coincidently,
the obscure McBride was originally pegged to face Tyson before Williams
was officially selected.

Fightnews spoke to Fenech:

Many consider Kevin McBride to be a slow and plodding fighter
and don’t expect him to last one round against Mike. Is McBride a wise
choice for an opponent?

It’s my job to get Mike ready… for whoever they dole out as an opponent.
So, whether it’s Kevin McBride or a world champion, it’s important to
me that when Mike gets in the ring, he knows he can fight for 10 rounds
if he has to. Obviously, I’ve watched McBride’s fight tapes (with Mike)
and I’m confident that we can get the job done. Whether it goes one
round, or six or eight, Mike will be physically ready to do what he
has to do.

Besides the physical aspect, Cus D’Amato and Kevin Rooney worked
on the ‘mental’ side of Tyson – ultimately giving him tremendous confidence
against his opponents. Is that also a focal point of yours?

Absolutely. I’m working very hard on getting Mike to believe in himself
and what he’s been doing in training. At the start of our preparation
for this fight, Mike wasn’t confident. But he’s beginning to believe
in himself more and more and we’re starting to reap the benefits from

More quotes available in the extended section of this post (click ‘Read More‘ below).

Tyson has stated publicly that he went into a deep depression
while recuperating from knee surgery. After such and injury, many athletes
become gun shy and overly cautious about giving 100% – for fear of re-injuring
themselves. Is this a concern for you?

Yeah. It is. Even though his knee has healed completely, I’m trying
to get Mike fit enough and confident enough to know that he can do whatever
he has to do in the ring. His confidence is a key.

The D’Amato style of bobbing and weaving fit perfectly for Tyson.
Has he been sharpening those skills or do you have him working on something

Obviously, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Mike was at his best,
when he was doing what Cus taught him. So, when Mike has his fitness
level and confidence back, all of those skills will come naturally to
him. Other than that, we’ve been working on slowing down Mike’s pace.
I want him to calm down and realize ‘we’re not 19 years old anymore…
we’re 39 and we have to conserve energy.’ I want Mike to believe that
he doesn’t have to go out there and look for a quick knockout… that
he doesn’t have to rush anymore and that he can wait for the opening
rather than try to create the opening. If Mike just takes his time,
a knockout will happen.

What is Tyson’s training regimen like?

Of course, he does his road work and we do a lot of walking. In the
morning, Mike has a conditioning coach who also does rehabilitation
on his knee. He has a weight lifting routine that he does for a couple
of hours, then in the afternoon he comes to the gym and we do all of
our boxing work… which is pretty intense. I’m a real believer in ‘quality’
not ‘quantity.’ I’d rather Mike give me one good hour of hard gym work
than two average hours. Like I said, Mike isn’t 19 anymore and the things
we’re working on are for a reason.

Who is Tyson sparring with and how is he looking in those sessions?

Mike is sparring with Corey Sanders (‘T-Rex’ from Washington DC) and
a couple of local guys that he’s used in the past. Corey is 6’6″
and his style is similar to McBride’s. But, Mike is looking great and
he’s right where I’d like him to be. For instance, Mike has not sparred
for six rounds… in years! They say they couldn’t get him past three
or four rounds. And at the moment, we’re sparring six rounds everyday.
Come next week, we’ll spar eight and ten rounds with no problem. Also,
next week… I’d like to get rid of those cell phones of his so I can
get Mike to relax and concentrate more as the fight approaches.

Mike has long had a penchant for… the ‘nightlife’. Has there been
any trouble keeping him on the straight and narrow during training?

No. No trouble at all. In fact, we’ve gone out together and maybe gotten
home before midnight – but there’s been no drinking. Mike’s been use
to sleeping in the daytime, so he finds it hard to sleep at night. Because
of that, I’m trying to incorporate everything and make Mike happy. It’s
no use telling him ‘you can’t do this… you can’t do that,’ because
obviously… he would rebel. But if you play the game and let him do
little things to enjoy himself, he’ll be fine. It seems to be working
out because his training has been great and he shows up at the gym everyday.
There hasn’t been one day where Mike hasn’t shown up to the gym. Not

You were in the Tyson camp for his bout against Clifford Etienne in
2003. Yet, a couple of weeks before that fight, you left abruptly and
flew back to Australia. What happened?

Mike had gotten a tattoo on his face, and as far as I’m concerned that’s
not part of the preparation before a big fight. Also, Mike was being
driven mad by the people around him. There was a lot of pressure on
him and I could see that he didn’t want to fight. So, I went home.

Prior to yourself, many of Tyson’s trainers have publicly stated:
‘Mike is serious this time and he’s in tremendous shape… Mike looks
great in sparring… Mike looks like he did in the 80’s…!’ But afterwards,
reports always seem to surface that Tyson hasn’t show up to the gym
for days, the trainer hasn’t heard from him and has no idea where Mike
is. What’s different this time around?

I think Mike has finally grown up. He’s a different person now. I think
he’s learned form the mistakes he’s made in the past and he knows it’s
time to do things the right way. He’s surrounded by good people now
and his relationship with his ex-wife (Monica) is brilliant. They’re
great friends and they help each other tremendously. Also, If I didn’t
believe Mike was fit enough to fight, I’d go home because I’m not here
for the financial rewards. I wouldn’t waste my time and I wouldn’t put
Mike in the ring knowing he’s not ready. Mike is my friend and I don’t
want to see him get hurt.

When did
you first meet Mike and how did you become such close friends?

I first met him in Las Vegas at an awards ceremony many years ago. After
that, with me training in Vegas, I would see him all the time and we
just clicked. I’m one of the guys whose proud enough to say that Mike
included my face on a mural he had painted on a wall at his house in
Vegas. It was a huge painting of boxing legends. For me, that was very,
very special. I’m not ashamed to say it, but I adore Mike Tyson. I’ve
been one of the lucky people to see the good side of him. He is the
most generous person I’ve ever met and I’ve witnessed him change peoples
lives just by spending time with them. I’ve seen Mike embrace children
in wheelchairs and it’s very, very touching. He’s done so many good
things for people, but he doesn’t want it known. He’s humble that way.
Mike has done some crazy things in his time, but his goodness far out
weighs the bad.

Recently, there had been rumors regarding you, Tyson, Thailand
and Muay Thai. What was all that about?

It was never about Muay Thai. It was just a suggestion of mine to have
Mike train in Thailand. I wanted him to get away from the daily pressures
here and to train properly. We had an offer that would have paid for

all of our expenses. I just thought Mike could relax in Thailand, train
in a beautiful training camp, enjoy the great food and the wonderful
atmosphere. It was just a suggestion as a place to train in seclusion.
I know that as this fight approaches, the phones will be ringing off
the hook and more and more people will be asking Mike for this and that.
So, it’ll be my job to keep the pressures away from him. If we were
in Thailand, we wouldn’t have that problem. But so far, the training
here in Phoenix has been great and Mike has been doing a wonderful job.

A match up between Mike and James Toney would be very interesting.
What do you think?

I would LOVE that fight. James Toney was a great fighter in the lower
weight divisions. But I don’t give him a chance in hell against Mike!
There would be absolutely no contest at all. No disrespect to John Ruiz,
be he was the weakest heavyweight champion in the history of the sport.
James Toney had the skill and the finesse to beat Ruiz… but Mike Tyson
is not Ruiz. Mike has speed and power and he’ll break James’ body down
like it’s never been broken before. It’ll be a great payday for James
Toney, but it would be the last fight of his career.

How about Vitali Klitschko?

He’s a very European fighter… stands up tall. He’d be perfect for
Mike! I respect Vitali. He’s done a great job… but against mediocre
opponents. Overall, I don’t believe there’s much there.

There are critics who say that Mike Tyson is ‘finished.’ Yet
there are many others who believe he can become champ again. Your thoughts?

Mike can definitely regain his title if he wants it badly enough. And
right now, Mike wants to pull them socks up… roll up his sleeves and
go back out there and do it again. Even if we have 50 or 60% of the
old Mike Tyson, it’s still good enough for him to become heavyweight
champion again. Mike has more speed and power than anyone else in the
division right now. Besides, boxing needs Mike Tyson. Look at James
Toney and John Ruiz… between them they didn’t get paid HALF of what
Mike is getting to fight Kevin McBride. So it just goes to show you
who Mike Tyson is and what he represents to the sport. Everyday, we
walk down the street and he gets mobbed by fans. They have so much love
for him. He talks to people, signs autographs and never says ‘no’ to
anyone. I’ve never seen anything like it! It’s the same kind of reaction
that The Beatles and Elvis Presley got. It’s amazing and it’s non stop.
Mike Tyson finished? Nah! Not by a long shot.