“This Fight Has Come At The Perfect Time For Me”
Perhaps best known for fighting James Toney – way back in 2004 – ultra-experienced heavyweight Rydell Booker gets a big chance against Kubrat Pulev on November 9th. Having spent 12 years in prison but now 4-1 in his comeback, the skilled 38 year old former Emanuel Steward-guided fighter believes he can still reach the top all these years after his fine amateur career.
Here, Booker, who is 26-2(13), talks exclusively with ESB:
Q: Is The Pulev fight a definite done deal, and how much notice did you get for it?
Rydell Booker: “Yeah, it’s pretty much a done deal. I was asked about the fight last Friday/Saturday. I said when they come back with a little more money, okay. Then on Sunday, I never even knew, but the fight was set. So I guess they got all the numbers right and everything. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Q: What do you think of Pulev?
R.B: “I’ve seen his recent fights. I think he’s pretty much a basic boxer; he’s strong. I can’t really tell you too much about him. I think he does try and make his fights a little dirty, hitting behind the head, rabbit punches, and things like that. It’s good that we’re the same age, in that I don’t have to worry about fighting some 26 year old kid who throws like a hundred punches a round. I think the age, it’s to my advantage.”
Q: How do you beat him – by outworking him and winning more rounds?
R.B: “Yes. I’m a pure boxer. I can definitely outwork him and win more rounds. I don’t go for the KO unless it presents itself. I’m a technical boxer. My ring IQ is very high. I’ve just left camp with [Oleksandr] Usyk, and now I’m in camp with Deontay Wilder. Both of these fine fighters will tell you how I’m no slouch, that I can handle myself, that I do have a high ring IQ.”
Q: You have an interesting story. You came back after 12 years out, time spent in prison, and you are 4-1 in the comeback. Back in April you dropped a decision to Jermain Franklin in a good fight on Showtime. Was the decision fair?
R.B: “It was a lot closer than they had it. I understand the political side of the sport: they’re building him up and trying to push him. It was a lot closer than the scores read. He has a lot to learn as a fighter. He and I talked after the fight, and myself with his trainer, and they asked if I could help him. I was asked to spar him but I’m too busy myself. He does have a lot to learn.”
Q: You came up at The Kronk with Emanuel Steward and you sparred so many greats, such as Tommy Hearns. Tell us about that – how much did you learn from Emanuel?
R.B: “I learnt quite a lot from Emanuel. He was the sponsor of our amateur team. He was my mentor and it was very much a whole family type thing at Kronk, and all of that brushed off on me, on all of us. That whole style of fighting, it’s invested in me, and my first trainer, Anthony Nolan, and my current trainer, Jimmy Paul, who was IBF (lightweight) champion under Emanuel.
“I sparred everyone, from Tommy Hearns to Michael Moorer, to Henry Akinwande when I was 14 or 15 years old. It definitely was all they say it was in that basement! If you could make it there, come out having survived, you could make it anywhere. I told people, I’ve had harder sparring than actual fights.”
Q: Tommy never took it easy on you then?
R.B: “Hell no! Okay, when I was younger, he might have a little, but he still threw that amazing right hand and that incredible up-jab. When I was old enough, he’d drop bombs on me. He told me that I was nobody in the ring, that he was nobody in the right either. I respected him so much.”
Q: At age 38 you still feel you can make it to the very top? You are of course a very fresh 38 year old.
R.B: “Yeah, and heavyweights peak at an older age. I’m 38 but I don’t have the wear and tear, having those 12 years out [of the ring]. And as I say, my ring IQ is very high. If you can hold your own with the pound-for-pound best cruiserweight, Usyk, and then the single hardest puncher in boxing, Wilder, that says a lot. I also sparred Anthony Joshua, last year.”
Q: Were you as shocked as the rest of us when Andy Ruiz knocked him out?
R.B: “I was definitely shocked. I don’t know – or I do know and I don’t know – whether Joshua overlooked him. If I had been in Joshua’s shoes, when Jarrell Miller, his original opponent, fell out, I would have asked for a postponement so I could take the time to fully focus on my new opponent.”
Q: Who wins the rematch in December?
R.B: “It’s heavyweight boxing. Anything can happen. But there will be big questions in Joshua’s mind. Me, I’ve never been knocked out, but he will be asking himself, ‘what if I get hit like that again, will the same thing happen?’ But on the other side, how will Ruiz handle all the success, fame and money he has now? Is he as hungry as he was before? I think it’s an even playing field going into the rematch.”
Q: If you score the upset and knock off Pulev, you will be entitled to scream for a world title chance yourself. Pulev is of course coming off that suspension for kissing the female reporter, and maybe the timing of this fight is not ideal for him. But do you think the fight might have come at the perfect time for you?
R.B: “Yeah, and a win would change my life, no doubt. I’m not taking it for granted, I’m going to give it my all. I never lay down in any fight. This fight has come at the perfect time for me, yeah. I’m really, really looking forward to it.”