At 32, Bailey goes back to basics of sweet science
"So what does your typical day look like?" I asked.
"I wake up. I eat a bowl of Oreo cookie cereal. I call a friend to come over for PlayStation Fight Night and Madden," he said. "Then I go to the gym, but I just hang out. I eat a little dinner and watch TV."
Visions of college classes being blown off are probably dancing in your head. But this isn't a case of that ultimate slacker disease "senioritis." This was Randall Bailey, the former two-time junior welterweight world titlist, describing his time away from training.
Most mainstream sports fans couldn't tell you what a junior welterweight actually weighs. Yet I guarantee you that they know the men who have held the 140-pound championship belts in recent history. Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Julio Cesar Chavez, Zab Judah, Arturo Gatti are all stars. Randall Bailey can't relate.
"I feel like those big games sat me out, they sat me out. They didn't want to fight me, they waited until I lost and then they did what they had to do and never looked back at me. I should have fought those guys a long time ago."
But a funny thing happened to Randall Bailey. Instead of permanently retiring to a world of endless Oreos and video games, he went back to school. He learned the fight game all over again. He learned the sweet science the way he always knew he needed to learn it.
At 32, Randall Bailey is getting up early and running now. He is committed to silencing the critics and satisfying himself while there is just enough time left in his career to do it.
"They said I don't have heart, that I'm not a fighter. They told my trainer that he's wasting his time with me, that I'm done, that I'm washed up."
Bailey (34-5, 31 KOs) gets his chance to prove them wrong on Friday Night Fights this week against veteran Michael Warrick (ESPN2, 8 ET). The fight is in the middle of Mallory Square in Key West, Fla. What a perfect spot for an old salty dog like Bailey.
Key West is where Ernest Hemingway penned "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Key West is where Tennessee Williams wrote "A Streetcar Named Desire." Now it's where Randall Bailey has to answer the tolling bell and muster the desire for his name to mean much more in the boxing biz.
He could always punch. Reason enough to watch. Bailey did so with tremendously impressive results for 21 straight fights to start his career.
He took the WBO's junior welterweight title by a first-round knockout in 1999. Two more title defenses later and he was being talked about as the pound-for-pound hardest puncher in the game. Still, something was off. Something was wrong.
Bailey's first loss was a July 2000 fight-of-the-year-type war against Ener Julio but that only masked the real issues.
"Basically, fundamentals were lacking," Randall admitted. "Not to take anything away from my other trainers but there was only so much they could show me. The fact that I became a world champion twice, that's just a testament to my power punching."
"I never boasted myself as more than what I was. I was happy to win world titles with what I was, but I knew it was only going to get me so far."
Where it got him was on the losing side of four fights from May 2002 to December 2004. They were losses to established fighters such as former titlist DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley and current star titlist Miguel Cotto. But still they were losses. Bailey's status in the sport took a hit. His self-admitted flaws were exposed.
Then came Norman Wilson. Wilson was the guy who had heard all the doubters and didn't care. He was the guy who saw what Bailey was lacking and felt he could fill in the missing parts. He was the trainer who took Bailey backward, so he could go forward.
Wilson didn't even allow him to fight from May 2005 until March 2006. It was all about getting back to basics. He told Randall that he wasn't going to allow him back in the ring until he taught him everything he needed to know. It was like the Gene Hackman character in "Hoosiers" making the hot-shot players practice without a ball. Wilson was out to turn a one-punch knockout artist into a well-rounded boxer.
"I trust him fully," Bailey said. "There's a difference when a person is just screaming stuff outside the ring. When Norman actually says, 'Do it,' it's going to work."
And it has worked. Bailey quietly has assembled six straight wins. I watched him in an untelevised bout last summer and I couldn't have been more impressed. Not with the result, a win seemed obvious, but with how fresh, sharp and complete he appeared.
"Things are easy now, but I'm working hard for it now. It's still easy like earlier in my career but I'm putting in the work to make it easy."
There will still be doubters. Many think of Bailey as a faded champ who hasn't faced reality quite yet. That story has played out so many times in this fight game. Bailey thinks the opposite.
"If I had what I have right now, I would've been unstoppable. I'm in my second phase. I feel good. I haven't taken a whole bunch of punches. I still have a lot left. If I'm given the opportunity to fight for another title, I'm going to win it."
Right now the only way that opportunity will exist is if he first impresses on Friday Night Fights. Randall knows it's a must. He went so far as to say this fight is more important than his earlier title fights. A loss at this point carries more weight.
Key West is known for its sunset. Randall Bailey is hoping it isn't the place where the sun sets on his career.
Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."
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