Nate Jones, one of the fastest rising trainers in the sport who works with top pros and amateurs like Floyd Mayweather, Fres Oquendo, Shawn Simpson, and Samajay Thomas, took an hour from his busy schedule to sit down for an interview to discuss his career, his life, his relationship with Mayweather, the Mayweather-Pacquaio fight, and the state of the game as far as corruption and PEDs are concerned.
SG: Nate Jones, thank you for taking the time to sit down for an interview. It really is an honor. You really are growing into one of the best trainers in the sport and you were an amateur standout who won the Bronze Medal at heavyweight but outside of the 24/7 series and diehard boxing fans you aren’t that well known today. Let everyone know who you are working with and what you are doing?
NJ: At the present time everyone knows I’m working with Mr. Mayweather. I also train Fres Oquendo who is still a top-ten heavyweight contender. I also train a young amateur named Samajay Thomas who is ranked number one in the nation and number four in the world and was a sure shot for the Olympic team but things happened. I also train Shawn Simpson who is awesome and an alternate travelling with the USA team and Yusef Saleh who is one of the best junior fighters under sixteen and is on his way to the golden gloves. I am also working with a girl named Alicia Gutierrez who is going to be one of the best at 122lbs and a girl out of Ohio named Latisha Sherman who is 6’ 2” and one of the most skilled boxers I’ve seen. And of course Elijah McCall who is the son of heavyweight champion Oliver McCall. This kid has a great future and we are getting him ready for a title shot in the next year or two.
SG: What’s your passion? Is it amateur or pro?
My passion is the game. I just love the game. Pros is what pays the bills but amateurs is what gets you to the pros to pay the bills.
SJ: Outside of Floyd, which of those fighters should everyone be following? Who is going to be special?
I have three. I think Samajay Thomas will be a special fighter if he focuses, Shawn Simpson is doing everything right and is on his way to big things, and Elijah McCall as of right now are my prospects that are gonna make a big noise. But my amateurs in the next ten years with Diego Chavez and Yusef are gonna be top ten too. And I still got a top heavyweight in Fres who is really the only American right now who can be the heavyweight champion. And don’t sleep on my two girls: Alicia Gutierrez and Latisha Sherman.
SG: Why do you think your pro career didn’t meet expectations? Everyone thought you might be a longtime contender or even a champion.
NJ: I broke one of the rules boxers should never break: boxing and drinking don’t mix. I was undefeated but I was an alcoholic. It eventually caught up with me even though I always trained hard. Drinking kills your brain cells and so does boxing and it caught up with me in a rapid way. It shortened my career by about ten years.
SG: Getting back to your career now. How would you describe yourself as a trainer?
NJ: Well, I think I am one of the best as of right now and so do some of the top fighters and trainers like Emmanuel Steward, Roger Mayweather, Floyd Sr., Buddy McGirt and these are all the guys I totally respect.
SG: What is it that makes you a good trainer?
NJ: It’s my passion. I want to be the best. I want it just as bad as they do. When they win championships, it feels like I won it too. I get flashbacks (laughs).
SG: In addition to your knowledge of the sport in the ring, you have a unique understanding of the sport outside of the ring. Let’s talk a little about that understanding. Let’s start with the dark side of boxing: After the Brewster fight, you suffered some neurological damage. How can that be avoided for young fighters and how has that affected your life?
NJ: It can be avoided by doing the sport clean cut. You can’t drink; you can’t cut corners; and I cut corners. I made the Olympic team but I still cut corners and at the end of the day it caught up to me. That’s the dark part of my career. I trained hard but at night I played hard.
SG: Has the neurological damage affected you now?
NJ: I feel my mobility when I run ain’t the same and my reflexes ain’t what they used to be, but I learned to deal with it and take the good with the bad.
SG: On the other end of the spectrum, as someone who works with the top fighter and highest paid athlete in the world in Floyd Mayweather, how has that experience changed your view of the sport? Can you elaborate on your relationship with Floyd? How is that special?
NJ: As we got older, we really grew to appreciate and value our friendship because for twenty years we’ve been having each other’s backs. And in the last ten years of my life Floyd has been a very big part of my training career because he’s the one who told me after my career was done, “Nate, don’t let your head down. You’re gonna be a good trainer. You know the game.” He gave me the idea to go into the gym because I wouldn’t even walk into the gym after my career was done and slowly I started going back and watching Roger and working with fighters until I finally bought my own pads and really started working. That was how my inspiration came.
SG: Not to just dwell on Floyd, but what is something that most people don’t know about Floyd that we should know? In other words, something that if the rest of the world knew, he wouldn’t be so disliked?
NJ: What people don’t know about Floyd is that he has a good heart. At times he can be difficult, but Floyd has a good heart. I mean he feeds a lot of families. He do a lot. He gives back. Let me tell you a story about Floyd. In 2010 after the Mosley fight, my mother, Christine Johnson died of colon cancer. When I was in my car, Floyd called. I just told him that she was gone and we both cried together. We talked for more than an hour as I drove and he comforted me in one of my toughest times. My mom and his mom knew each other from the Olympic days. He was there. He has a good heart and that’s one thing people don’t realize about him.
SG: Here’s another tough question. I’ve got to ask something that blew my mind about you that not everyone might know. Is it true that you buried your Bronze Medal with your twin sister who died from Lupus? Why?
NJ: Before I made the Olympic team, it was probably one of the roughest times of my life. It was her and my mama that was truly there for me when I was in prison. She showed me how much she cared about me. She had my back and she was my number one fan. She just wanted me to do good in my life and not mess it up. She truly had my back and it was because of them I made it to the Olympics and won that medal.
SG: Do you think she’d be proud of you now?
NJ: Of course. She’d be proud of me now and she’d be taking my money (laughs) and making me give her stuff.
SG: You also lost you brother. How old were you and how close were you?
NJ: Oh, very close. I was twenty-eight. He died of an overdose of heroin. We was very close. He had a good job; he took care of old people. He was very honest and never stole, but he struggled and it caught up with him.
SG: How did those losses change who you are? Especially being there for your brother. How did they make you stronger as a trainer and as a person?
NJ: It made me just realize that sometimes you gotta help people that can help themselves. Sometimes it can be your family members or it can be your friends because if I wasn’t there to help him then he would have been worse and maybe done bad things.
SG: What about your life with your family now? What kind relationship do you have with them?
NJ: Well, I’m married. July 12th will be one year. And you know I’m just trying to provide and take care of them and make sure they have a good life. I have one daughter who is a sophomore at DePaul and she is an “A” student and was top of her class and I have one younger daughter that keeps me busy.
SG: What do you like doing most with your family?
NJ: I just like hanging at home. I’m a home-guy. The only time I’m really outta town is for boxing. I’m just a home-dude. I like watching the game and spending time with the family. And of course, eating (laughs).
SG: What do you want for your your kids in their lives?
NJ: I just want them to be happy and have some stability. Ya know, have a bank account, have trusting relationships, and meet somebody that cares about them.
SG: Were those things you didn’t have growing up?
NJ: Those are the things I wanted growing up, and now that I got them, I want them for my children.
SG: You’ve done a lot in boxing. Outside of boxing, what are you most proud of?
NJ: Outside of boxing, I’m mostly proud of my family—being married, taking care of my family, and watching my daughters grow and succeed. I’m proud of becoming a man. I want to have something for them and my grandkids when I’m gone. I’ve also just started a 501c3 not-for-profit called the Nate Jones Foundation that tries to keep kids off the streets and motivate them to succeed through boxing and mentorship. We are new and are working on grant writing and a website.
SG: Before we go, I do have to ask you a couple of things and it’s what you always hear: do you think the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight will ever happen? If so, what happens?
NJ: Of course. It’s too big for the game. I think it’s too big of a hit. I believe it’s gonna happen within the next year because it’s getting to close to the end of both of their careers and it’s time to make it happen.
SG: When it happens, do you think they will still be the fighters we wanted to see for the last couple of years?
NJ: If it don’t happen in the next year, no, because Floyd should retire in the next year and a half and the same with Pacquiao.
SG: You’re going to pick Floyd, but what happens in that fight?
NJ: Floyd knocks him out before six rounds. Fundamentally, Manny makes too many mistakes. He really is not a good and technical fighter, and he makes a lot of mistakes. With that fight, the way Floyd will train and be ready he will be on top of his game.
SG: Unfortunately, I have to get your take on this too: Berto, Peterson, James Toney, Fernando Vargas, Shane Mosley, and most recently Antonio Tarver and maybe Chavez again: As an insider, how big are steroids in boxing?
NJ: It’s very huge.
SG: Is it huge like it was in baseball? Is it bigger?
NJ: I think it’s becoming bigger if nothing is done to clip it now. I think the whole game should resort to what Floyd is doing and introducing to the game with Olympic-style drug testing. Everyone in boxing should want that. I would want that if I were fighting today. The greats don’t have to cheat.
SG: What about the judging? Recently, we had the Abril-Rios fight and then the Pacquiao-Bradley fight. Can anything fix it?
NJ: I just think the politics is ruining the game. We can start by doing the things Floyd is asking for: drug testing and making sure the fighters are the ones making the money and not just the promoters. And it also starts off by getting one board.
SG: As great as Floyd is, do you think helping clean up the sport could end up being his legacy?
NJ: It should be part of it. He’s doing a lot of good for the sport, and he doesn’t always get credit for it.
SG: Nate, thank you for your time. Is there anything else you want to add?
NJ: I am looking forward to having a good 2012 and 2013 and I think the Floyd-Pacquiao fight will happen and we will win by knockout and I think it will be a big year for my fighters, me, and the Nate Jones Foundation.
Sam Geraci is a writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at SGeraci@TheSportsBlitz.com