Kermit Cintron: He Knocks People Out

By George Kimball


Kermit Cintron: He Knocks People Out

SCOTRUN, Penn. --- When Kermit Cintron ditched his longtime manager-trainer Marshall Kaufmann to don the gold trunks of the Kronk Gym a year and a half ago, Kaufmann told the boxer’s hometown paper, the Reading Eagle, “I think Emanuel Steward is a great trainer, but bottom line, the only one who is going to give Kermit what he wants is the Wizard of Oz.”

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

In three fights under Steward, Cintron (a) won an eliminator against David Estrada to secure a world title shot, (b) stopped Mark Suarez to win the IBF welterweight championship, and (c) scored a knockout of Walter Matthysse in Atlantic City last month so spectacular that Steward’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing since.

“I think I showed – and proved to myself – that I belong here. I really am a world champion,” said Cintron moments after he had cold-cocked the Argentine challenger, who had previously lost only to Paul Williams, in less than three and a half minutes. (Williams had required ten rounds to put Matthysse away.)

If the Matthysse fight made the rest of the boxing world sit up and take notice, it also appeared to validate Cintron’s own self-image. When he won his championship in Florida last October, some had been dismissive of the accomplishment, since it was for a vacant title Floyd Mayweather had won in the ring but never defended.

“There’s been a definite difference” in the way he is perceived,” said Cintron. “Now people see that I’m for real, that I am a real world champion. When I beat Mark Suarez they didn’t really give me any credit.  Now that a lot of people saw me live on HBO, and saw what I did to Matthysse – things that Paul Williams didn’t do to him --people are talking about it.”

Now when he calls himself a world champion, Cintron himself believes it.

“My self image was always there,” said the boxer. “It was just that other people felt I still needed to prove myself. That fight with Walter Matthysse, who was supposed to give me a real hard time in the ring, I made it easy.”

Cintron isn’t sitting on his laurels. Last week he reported to Steward’s training camp in the Poconos, where he is sharing quarters with middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, Irish middleweight Andy Lee, and a host of sparring partners big and small.

On Sept. 8, less than two months after his signature win against Matthysse, Cintron will be right back in the ring, this time defending his IBF title on a Don King Showtime card against Jesse Feliciano in the principal undercard bout on the Fernando Vargas-Ricardo Mayorga show at the Staples Center.

The Los Angeles-born Feliciano figures to have the support of a hometown crowd, but then Cintron is used to that. Feliciano is 15-5, but his last three fights were a win over former world champ Vince Phillips, a draw against Alfonso Gomez (who ended Arturo Gatti’s career the same night Kermit knocked out Matthysse), and a TKO of highly regarded Delvin Rodriguez in a USBA title fight on Rodriguez’ home turf at Foxwoods.

“From what I hear he’s a tough opponent,” said Cintron of Rodriguez. “He comes to fight and he comes to win. That’s fine with me, because I’ll be ready for a fight.”

The Feliciano fight will be his fourth under Steward, and for the fourth time he finds himself in a big-camp atmosphere. He has in the past sparred with Wladimir Klitschko and Taylor. In the Poconos last week he worked against Lee, cruiserweight Jonathan Banks, and a pair of young Olympic hopefuls – 17 year-old Detroit amateur Domonique Dolton and Arkansas 165-pounder Jonathan Nelson, the nephew of Taylor’s longtime coach Ozell Nelson.

Training camps like this tend to forge a bond between boxers. At the resort a couple of days ago, Cintron filled time between his morning run and his afternoon workout by engaging in a spirited game of horseshoes with Dolton, Steward’s nephew Sugar Hill, and Nuk Owens, a dreadlocked fellow who serves as Taylor’s Sancho Panza.

“Outside the gym, we fool around and have fun together,” said CIntron. “You kind of make your own fun around here. But when it’s time for business, we go to work. You can see that everybody’s serious about training around here. This is what I needed, to work in a real professional atmosphere.”

When he was first approached about training Cintron, Steward now admits, he was skeptical. In his limited exposure to the Puerto Rican-born Pennsylvanian he’d come to regard him as a classic underachiever, and had doubts about his motivation.

“I was doing a telecast in Atlantic City, when (attorney) Josh Dubin approached me and asked if I could come down and have breakfast with him and Kermit the next morning,” recalled Steward. “They asked if I could try to help him.

“I’d done the broadcast of one of his fights, against that guy from Washington (Teddy Reid), and I wasn’t that impressed. I also knew he’d been knocked out by (Antonio) Margarito, and to tell you the truth I wasn’t that interested. He seemed to be a quiet, passive kid, and you just didn’t get that aura you get from champions.

“But finally I said Okay, send him to Detroit. We started training him there, but when the Estrada fight came along I had to leave for Europe to train Wladimir Klitschko (for his 2006 rematch with Chris Byrd), so we took him along to Majorca and trained him there.”
It was on the Spanish island that Steward first began to detect a change.

“The last week of sparring with Andy Lee I saw something come alive in him,” said Steward. “It’s like that with athletes. Whether they’re playing pool or anything else, you put them in with good players and either they raise their games or they fall by the wayside.”

When Cintron returned to the US five days before the Estrada fight, said Steward, “he had to take four flights.

“Now this was a kid who’d never traveled anywhere, other than to fly back and forth between Puerto Rico and Pennsylvania, but he got there and stopped Estrada in the fourth round.”

After the fight for the vacant title was ordered for October of last year, said Steward, “I started talking to Kermit about Jose Napoles, who was one of the greatest welterweights I’d ever seen, the way he could shoot uppercuts, a real busy fighter. Kermit got curious and asked to see some film of Napoles.

“He stopped Mark Suarez in the fifth round. Unfortunately, nobody saw it, but in its way it was as impressive as the Matthysse fight. He just broke the guy down systematically. I could see his confidence swelling. He began to take on whole new personality. Wladimir and I have discussed this – the fact that there’s a whole personality of champions – not arrogance, but a little swagger other guys don’t have.”

“When we were getting ready for the Matthyse fight,” recalled Steward, “I reminded Kermit that Gatti might be the one people were coming to see that night, but that he had a chance to steal the show – and he did just that.”

He may have accomplished something even more important in both his own eyes and those of the boxing public, by exorcising the memory of his only career loss.

“This was the real Kermit Cintron,” he said that night. “The Margarito fight meant nothing. I think I showed – and proved to myself – that I belong here.

Although Cintron may be the biggest puncher in the division, said Steward, the fundamental precept of his re-education has been teaching him not to rely on one big punch, but to set up his opponent with the jab.

“What impressed people was the Matthysse knockout, but it wasn’t just the knockout, it was the other many things he did in that fight,” said Steward. “But make no mistake about it, Kermit is now the welterweight everybody wants to see. He does something the other guys – whether you’re talking about Mayweather or Mosely or Judah or Paul Williams – don’t do. He knocks people out.”

Steward, by the way, is no longer just Cintron’s trainer. Shortly after the Atlantic City fight, they reworked their agreement to make Steward his manager as well.

If there is indeed a “new” Kermit Cintron, says the boxer, “it’s because I have Emanuel. He’s teaching me the boxing. We’re working hard, and when you work hard it pays off. That’s what happened that night against Matthysse, and it’s going to keep happening.”


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