Sechew Powell approaches Latimore with eyes towards Verno Phillips
By Ryan Songalia
The junior middleweight division is in what can be called "a rebuilding phase." The term describes the other side of the coin for an NCAA Final Four champion, the subsequent transition period where the loss of key players making the jump to the NBA Draft is balanced out through recruiting measures and the maturation of sophomore talent.
The three icons that once made 154 one of the most attractive meeting places for super fights, Oscar de la Hoya, Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas, have either moved south for greener pastures or have hung up their gloves not a moment too soon.
The onus now rests on the the recent crop of Boxing After Dark/Shobox alumni to create their own buzz at junior middleweight. Alongside James Kirkland, Vanes Martirosyan and Alfredo Angulo, Sechew Powell is among that class vying for the top of a division that will look drastically different a year from now.
When 38-year-old road warrior Verno Phillips upset consensus champion Cory Spinks this past March, Sechew Powell earned a significant lead on the aforementioned pack's race to a world title. In his first fight with new promoters Bad Dog Promotions/Warrior's Boxing last December, Powell stopped Terrance Cauthen in a wild four round shootout to earn the IBF's mandatory spot. That effort afforded Powell a guaranteed opportunity inside of a nine month mandatory defense period.
For Powell, signing with Warrior's Boxing after splitting with longtime promoter Dibella Entertainment has coincided with a different kind of turning over of a new leaf. The Cauthen bout, followed by a first round blitzing of then-undefeated Kevin Finlay, showcased a different temperament, one displaying greater exigence than Powell had showed in his two previous television appearances.
Those two fights, on HBO against Kassim Ouma and Ishe Smith, created the image of Sechew Powell as a fighter who was relaxed to a fault, lacking urgency. Powell accrued his first loss in the former, while the Smith fight failed to create demand for marquee fights featuring "Ironhorse."
Overshadowed became Powell's solid resume', which includes a :22 second knockout of Cornelius Bundrage as well as respectable wins over Archak TerMeliksetian and Robert Frazier. Powell recognizes that the "Win today, look good tomorrow" philosophy is not one well-regarded by boxing fans.
"People want to see you shoot to kill," Powell, 23-1 (14 KO), says. "If you look back at my last few fights, you could see that I've been doing nothing but shooting and killing. I've changed my mindset to always have that type of attitude when I enter the ring.
"You're only as good as your last fight. The last few fights I've been doing nothing but knocking people out of the ring. What more do I have to do, bring a knife? Unless I bring a gun or a knife in there, I don't know what else to do. The formula that I have for fighting is the formula that I will use for the rest of my career. In my last two fights, I'll let you decide. Was it entertaining? If that's not entertaining, then I'm not an entertaining fighter."
Powell, who turns 29 this Friday, is currently down at trainer Buddy McGirt's Vero Beach, FL compound. His next fight is scheduled for June 11, not against Phillips but Deandre "The Bull" Latimore, a relatively unknown southpaw from St. Louis, MO who is trained by Kenny Adams.
When this writer arrives at the McGirt gym, Powell is on his back receiving a pre-workout massage from his conditioning coach James "DJ" Montanocordoba. It's before noon, Powell's preferred time of day for training.
Powell hops off the table and disappears to retrieve his boxing gear. He returns a few minutes later with a bag full of headgear, gloves and other sparring equipment. His sparring partner is Joseph Elegele, a 141-pound open class amateur who dropped a close decision in 2008's National Golden Gloves finals.
As both men get the laces of their 16 oz. gloves tightened, a song starts on the audio system that clearly strikes Powell's attention. "Black diamonds and pearls, if I ruled the world," Powell enthusiastically follows along to Nas and Lauren Hill's "If I Ruled the World." Powell loosens up his hands by lightly jabbing the air as he waits for the bell to sound, starting the sparring session.
Instead of engaging in a gym war, Powell works on establishing his southpaw jab to set up straight left hands upstairs on his lanky adversary. It's clear that Powell wants to "work with" the less-experienced pugilist while sharpening his own reflexes. Whenever Elegele would try to make a statement, Powell would react by sitting down on a left cross intended to remind the younger fighter who was the professional.
As the third round ended, Powell walked over the far side of the ring's ropes with an uncomfortable look on his face. Suddenly a stream of vomit poured out from Powell's mouth, a spectacle which fails to elicit a reaction from the room of about ten spectators. I gathered that this was a common occurrence here.
"When it starts getting warmer here," one watcher-on explains," you'll see a lot more people vomiting in the gym." The thermostat registered at a high of 85 on this afternoon and it isn't even July yet.
Without missing a beat, Powell crosses his chest and returned to work when the next bell rang. Powell elects to work off the ropes, using upper body movement to dip briefly as he avoids most of Elegele's southpaw flurries. McGirt motions to his body instructing Powell to throw punches downstairs. Powell responds by mixing in right hooks to the body in combinations.
Powell begins to turn his head down to the canvas attempting to distract his sparring partner. For the most part it's successful as Powell uses feints to set up quick combinations.
Before the end of the fifth round, Powell once more runs across the ring to vomit. Less than ten seconds later, Powell pushes his mouthpiece back in and says "Let's go," reestablishing his jab before the end of the fifth and final stanza.
"I took some ibuprofen before coming to the gym and barfed it up," Powell summarized. "That's regular, it happens."
Powell once again disappears, this time returning with a pink bucket and an industrial push broom. In this gym the rules are clear: If you vomit, you clean it up.
As Powell leaves to retrieve his jump rope, his conditioning coach reveals to writer the extent of his responsibilities in camp. Aside from overseeing roadwork and the occasional rubdown, Montanocordoba also prepares Powell's meals during camp. Powell, a vegetarian, does not eat pork, red meat, chicken or turkey. Montanocordoba's job is to ensure that Powell receives the necessary nutrition to keep him going throughout a lengthy campaign.
"He's one of the few fighters who really knows his body," says Montanocordoba, who lists among his former and present clients Felix Trinidad and Darling Jiminez. "His nutritional habits are unusual because he is a vegetarian. We use fish, fruits and a lot of vegetables. He don't have the habits with McDonalds and the Burger King, which makes it easier."
His conditioning coach assures that the absence of meat in Powell's diet does not compromise his physical strength. "Some people might say, 'Oh vegetarian, he might not be that strong.' We supply him with a lot of extra protein, a lot of beans, also soybeans and other nutrients he gets from other sources."
Powell's opponent Latimore's 18-1 record with 15 knockouts contains a few telling side notes; Latimore has never fought professionally outside of his native Missouri, including his lone defeat, a third round knockout loss to Ian Gardner. Of his 15 knockouts, only one has come against a fighter with a winning record.
Despite the questionable opposition Latimore has faced, Powell refuses to take the assignment lightly.
"If I'm going to sit here and tell you that I'm the best junior middleweight in the world, I'm supposed to be up for anybody no matter who it is. I plan on putting on a show. The only way I'm going to get my opportunities is by shining against guys like Deandre Latimore. I have to make myself a name first."
Powell acknowledges that Latimore is "a tough kid," but can't say for sure if his power is a product of matchmaking or authentic clout. He also says that he "couldn't get a name fighter" for the date but that his team had tried.
The Latimore fight, which will be broadcast on ESPN2's Wednesday Night Fights from the Hard Rock Times Square, marks Powell's first fight back in New York City since 2006. Powell says that performing in front of New York has become routine for him, no big deal.
"There's never any pressure. I'm my own boss, I'm my own fighter. I create my own level of pressure."
At McGirt's facility, Powell isn't the only top 154-pounder using the gym. WBC light middleweight titlist Vernon "The Viper" Forrest also works out there, though he usually works out later in the afternoons. Powell usually shows up around 10:30 AM and says he "never sees him around the gym."
Despite both men sharing the same trainer, Powell said he has no qualms about fighting his gym mate.
"I would love the opportunity to fight Vernon, but he would never give me the opportunity. He's too busy looking for something else instead of giving the worthy and hungry guys in the division a shot. What that is, I don't know. You'd probably have to ask him. The fight probably would never happen. That being said, I don't really think much about that situation."
Forrest aside, a win over Verno Phillips would afford Powell a lofty perch in his weight class. A prime, stylish southpaw from New York City with fluent English makes for a marketable fighter in a division where the most recognizable champion is nearing his forties and neither of the other two titleholders fight primarily in the States.
"I'm hoping he doesn't be a coward and run or look to do a bunch of different moves," says Powell of the three-time light middleweight titlist Phillips. "He's a guy I've been looking to fight very early in my career. I think he's a worthy and respectable fighter. I always wanted to beat him as a personal goal. This is a guy who has been on the European tour, fought all around the world, fought just about everybody."
"Ironhorse" made clear that he hopes to receive his mandatory shot before the deadline is up. Powell says his promoters are in the process of arranging a title fight, but his words are filled with cautious optimism.
"According to what they're telling me, yeah they are doing that. Hopefully they are and they aren't just blowing smoke up my ass."
One of the first steps to a title shot is gaining network television support, mediums like HBO and Showtime that have the budget to make defending a belt more financially reasonable than abandonment.
How telegenic Powell's performance is against Deandre Latimore could be the difference between fighting Verno Phillips and fighting for a vacant belt.
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