Ronnie Shields is arguably the finest U.S boxing trainer right now. Modest as can be, the former fighter from Texas has worked with a big number of greats, including: Pernell Whitaker, Vernon Forrest, Mike Tyson, Guillermo Rigondeaux, David Tua and others.
Here, Shields kindly pays tribute to “Sweet Pea,” who tragically passed away last month:
Q: It’s been a month since the sad and shocking passing of the great Pernell Whitaker as you know. And you worked with Sweet Pea all those years.
Ronnie Shields: “Yes, I was with Pernell for ten years. I was co-trainer at first, with George Benton. I hadn’t seen Pernell for quite some time, but we always spoke on the phone. I last saw him at the Pacquiao-Keith Thurman fight in Las Vegas. It was great to see him. He was there signing autographs. I was also there working, with my heavyweight [Efe Ajagba].”
Q: Whitaker had so many great fights, nights and performances. When do you feel we saw Sweet Pea at his absolute best?
R.S: “The Chavez fight. That was the biggest fight and the most special performance from Pernell. He so badly wanted to prove he was the best in the world at that time and he did it. The boos Julio Cesar Chavez had to hear, he heard those a long, long time afterwards. Pernell got robbed and had to settle for a draw but he proved with that performance he was the best, no doubt about it.”
Q: What made Whitaker so special? Some say he was just naturally gifted – born with it?
R.S: “That’s what he was: a born fighter. Really, nobody could teach him anything. Of course we would work on the pads and do certain things in the gym, come up with a game-plan ahead of a fight. But he already knew what to do. No-one could tell him what to do. You know, he realy was the king of the ring. Any ring, against any opponent, whatever style. Pernell was special. He owned the ring, he really did.”
Q: It wasn’t until the end of his incredible career that anyone really caught up with him, this being Felix Trinidad in 1999 (in his last but one fight, this one up at 154 pounds).
R.S: “Yeah. I was actually training Vernon Forrest at that time and I didn’t train Pernell for that fight. But I was in his corner, he asked me to be there for moral support. But that fight, he was at the end and Trinidad was at his A-game. That and he was a much bigger guy than Pernell. But even there, Pernell gave it his all.”
Q: Many people remember the Oscar De La Hoya fight – another debatable decision loss for Pernell.
R.S: “I was head trainer by then, and yeah, they deprived Pernell of another win. Oscar, he was a massive pay-per-view star and he had so much attention. But Pernell, he even knocked him down and he definitely won that fight.”
Q: Talk about your heavyweight contender, Efe Ajagba (currently 11-0(9)?
R.S: “He has everything it takes to become world champion. His last fight, he went ten-rounds for the first time (against Ali Demerizen). But he had an injury to his right elbow and this affected him throwing the right hand. If it wasn’t for that he would definitely have won by KO. The heavyweight division today is great and in a year or so, all these young guys will be competing. They will be fighting for the world title. It has to happen. And Efe, he has everything that it takes. I’m so excited to be working with him. He will be back in October.”