Forty-five minutes before the eighth professional bout of his near-year-old career, Haskell Lydell “Hackman” Rhodes is searching through his duffel bag. One of his corner men, Lamar Austin, can't help noticing they're both in the dark.
“What's the matter?” Austin says. “They can't buy no lights back here?”
“Here” is a six-by-six opening on the floor of Remington Park's boxing arena. Rhodes will fight here again at 8 p.m. August 25 against undefeated Keandre Gibson.
Rhodes and Austin are separated from other fighters, trainers and well-wishers by dull black curtains that do anything but keep people out.
A man moseyed back into Rhodes' prep area to retrieve the cigarette and ash tray he left behind. On curtains, “Lydell Rhodes” is handwritten in black Sharpie on a ripped half sheet of white paper below the name “Mike Maidonado.”
The fighters have to share the space.
This is where he starts. This is the reality the smiling 24-year-old boxer from Spencer, Okla., must face to see his dream come true.
Standing 5-foot-6 and weighing 135 pounds, Rhodes is working toward becoming the next lightweight champion of the world. He has another opportunity to fight for that dream, and Austin feels fortunate to witness another step taken in his come-up.
Austin has maintained in the fight game for over 20 years and flourished as the right hand of Rhodes' trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., for the last 14. He's an easy, deliberate man; a reassuring sound amid the fury.
“He's in good shape, shouldn't be no problem,” Austin says. “I think Lydell's gonna be a champion. Floyd's taught him what to do with all that speed.”
He's the man who's quick to remind most he sired Floyd Mayweather Jr. — the boxer who might be the greatest of his generation — and quick to remind others he trained Oscar De La Hoya, Chad Dawson and Ricky Hatton who were all world champions.
Mayweather walks into the dark room with Austin and Rhodes while wearing a three-piece suit.
‘WE MIGHT HAVE SOMETHING HERE'
“Where you?” Austin says to Mayweather.
“I was out there watching that other fight,” Mayweather says. “Neither one of them can fight.”
Mayweather begins to undress, taking off his business suit working into sweat pants, sneakers and his trainer's smock while recounting how he came to train Rhodes who'd fought in just four pro fights when he first laid eyes on him.
A family member told him he needed to watch Rhodes spar at Johnny Tocco's gym in Vegas. Mayweather was unimpressed when he first saw him, insulted even.
“What'd you bring here? What are you doing, man?'” he says. “He was throwing punches fast and not correct.”
Maybe out of pity, maybe out of sheer boredom, Mayweather stayed with Austin to watch Rhodes spar awhile longer. He fought a man who was known to give to other fighters problems in the ring but not Rhodes.
Rhodes slipped, countered, feinted and rolled the fighter's punches.
“Wait a minute,” Mayweather says. “Lamar, we might have something here.”
He beat the fighter with boxing that day. He beat another with brawling the next.
“The next day he cracked another good guy,” Mayweather says. “His mouthpiece came out of his mouth.”
That's how the Rhodes-Mayweather partnership began, but it thrives because Rhodes listens. He does whatever is asked of him and works hard to create a disciplined lifestyle. Rhodes has to report each day's work.
“He makes me keep a journal,” Rhodes says. “It's like homework. Whatever I learned or whatever I was messing up on that day, I have to write it down on my journal.”
Right now, he's not worried about recording the evening's events or what combinations and commands he might not immediately grasp. He's worried about finding Stephanie.
‘BRINGING RESPECT TO THE SPORT'
“You know where Stephanie is?” Rhodes says to no one in particular, looking up from his bag. “She's supposed to wrap my hands.”
Stephanie Dobbs claims to be the best hands wrapper in the state. She's certainly seen it done enough. Dobbs holds the record for most professional bouts by a woman.
After finding her standing some 20 feet away behind another set of black curtains containing even more fighters and even more corner men, Rhodes manages to bring her back behind his shared set of curtains to begin wrapping his hands. More time passes until an inspector from the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission is present to oversee the hand wrapping.
Dobbs finishes her first layer and begins her second around Rhodes' hands. The inspector makes a joke about not seeing her wrap the first layer — implying she'd have to do it again.
“You know I've got 60 fights?” Dobb says menacingly.
She takes pride in her work and bemoans men like Antonio Margarito, who was reprimanded by the California State Boxing Commission for illegal hand wraps.
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