by Pavel Yakovlev: (September 5, 2012) – Anyone following the heavyweight division knows about Ray “The Rainman” Austin. A professional since 1998, he has fought in several elimination bouts to determine mandatory challengers for the heavyweight champions. In 2007 Austin tangled with Vladimir Klitschko for the IBF world heavyweight title. In addition, the towering fighter – he stands over 6’6” and weighs around 240 lbs. – has squared off against top names such as Odlanier Solis, Sultan Ibragimov, Andrew Golota, Lance Whittaker, Larry Donald, Bermane Stiverne, and DaVarryl Williamson, among others. A perennial contender who is still capable of winning world-class bouts at age 41, Austin will most likely figure in more high profile matches before his career winds down.
Recently, Austin granted ESB an exclusive interview.
ESB: How did you get the nickname “The Rainman?”
AUSTIN: When I was up and coming, my first 14 or 15 fights, I was throwing over 90 punches per round. The commentator made a remark, saying “he’s raining punches down on these guys”
ESB: The word from the gym is that you are a strong puncher.
AUSTIN: That’s my part of my arsenal…the power. I throw a lot and I punch hard. Anyone I’ve been in the ring with before can tell you that. I can definitely punch
ESB: Tell us about your boxing style. Clearly, you use your height and reach effectively, and you jab a lot.
AUSTIN: You are right…I am using my jab to set up my right. When my right hand is working, I think I’m having a good fight. My main thing is, I’m a puncher. I’m trying to land the big punch every time.
ESB: I was ringside for the Solis fight. I thought your style was tricky, especially the way you used your jab.
AUSTIN: As a fighter, you train according to who you fight, trying to exploit his weakness. With Solis, I saw that he was a sucker for a jab, so I would use my jab as a power punch.
ESB: One advantage you have over most heavyweights is experience. How do you use your experience in the opening rounds, when you are sizing up your opponent and diagnosing his flaws?
AUSTIN: In the first found, I test my opponent. I throw punches to see how he’ll react, and then I pick a game plan based on what he does. I definitely throw hard punches early, trying to knock him out. I’m not just testing him to see how he reacts. I’m also trying to get him out of there as soon as possible.
ESB: At 41, you are still competing with the best, and putting on strong performances. How has advancing age affected your ability to train?
AUSTIN: It hasn’t been a factor yet, because I work hard. Actually I do train different now… I got more intense with age. In my early years I didn’t always have someone there pushing me. But now, I work that much harder. As far as what I work on, what I do…I don’t want to expose myself in print for my opponents. Let’s just say that I run and I spar, and then I run and spar some more.
ESB: What are your thoughts about the heavyweight division today?
AUSTIN: The division doesn’t have the appeal that it could have, right now, because the belts are locked up overseas by the Klitschkos. We need to get those belts circulating again to make the division exciting, to get the public’s level of interest back up where it should be.
ESB: In 2007, you challenged Vladimir Klitschko for the IBF title. What can you tell us about Klitschko?
AUSTIN: Going into that fight, I underestimated his athleticism and foot speed. I didn’t think he was that fast on his feet. He would move this way, then that way, and I was surprised he could move like that. The big punch that he caught me with, I didn’t even see it coming. I didn’t even realize how many punches he hit me with – all with that same hand – until I watched the film after the fight.
ESB: Is Klitschko the hardest puncher you have ever faced?
AUSTIN: No, but he’s the best I ever fought. He’s got great athletic ability.
ESB: Do you think that Klitschko will go down in history as an all-time great heavyweight?
AUSTIN: Yes, he’s definitely up there. I’ve got to give him credit. He was knocking out everybody before he fought me, and he’s been knocking out everyone since he fought me. I’d say he’s an all-time great champion.
ESB: Not long ago you fought Bermane Stiverne. Give us your impressions of Stiverne.
AUSTIN: I just think that night when we fought, he caught me behind the head and the ref didn’t call it. That’s what had me out for a minute, being hit behind the head. But that was a foul punch. He can punch hard, but he’s a one trick pony. He doesn’t have anything besides the power. He’s relying on one thing, so he’s going to have trouble when he runs into a guy who can take his punch. He’s also slow…he loads up on every single punch he throws, and that slows him down.
ESB: Stiverne is reputed to be a powerful puncher. Can he hit as hard as Klitschko?
AUSTIN: No, he doesn’t hit that hard. He definitely has power but it’s not the hardest I’ve been hit. I could take his punches.
ESB: You were winning on the scorecards at the time of the KO, and appeared to be handling Stiverne for much of the fight. What weaknesses did you see in him?
AUSTIN: I found I could hit him with the one-two, easily. He was also vulnerable uppercuts. It’s easy to see his punches coming because he loads up on them, and that makes him easy to outbox. With him, everything is his power, that’s his entire fight. He has nothing else to fall back on. He’s going to be in trouble when he meets someone who can take his punches. He definitely needs to expand his arsenal, so he can do more than just punch.
ESB: What can you tell us about Odlanier Solis? You fought him in 2010.
AUSTIN: He has fast hands, and he’s good counterpuncher. He moves forward while he’s on defense, and then he throws six or seven punches at a time. But after throwing those punches, he needs to rest before he throws another salvo of six or seven punches. He gets tired. Late in our fight he was breathing hard.
ESB: Did you sense that he was using pressure to draw your lead punch, so that he could unleash his counterpunches?
AUSTIN: I sensed that, but that’s why I used my left jab against him. Because of the way he comes at you – moving forward while defending – he can be hit by the left jab, straight through the middle of his gloves. That’s why I put a lot of power in my jab, using it like a right hand.
ESB: How do you rate Solis’s punching power?
AUSTIN: When he hit me, it didn’t feel like I was being hit by a heavyweight. He doesn’t have great power.
ESB: In 2009, you stopped DaVarryl Williamson, a guy who was on the fringe of the ratings for years. What did you learn about Williamson?
AUSTIN: We fought in Vegas. He had a good right hand, but he kept leaving his head out there, in the air. He didn’t wrap his guard around his head that night, like he did against Oliver McCall. I guess he wasn’t concentrating, or he wasn’t focused in there, because he left his chin exposed.
ESB: Williamson was known for his dangerous right hand.
AUSTIN: He didn’t hit me flush with that hand, because I deflected a lot of his punches. But he definitely had a good right. I could feel it. He was a football quarterback in college, so I knew he must have done a lot of exercises to develop that hand.
ESB: You fought Sultan Ibragimov to a draw in 2006. What are your recollections?
AUSTIN: He was the hardest puncher I’ve ever faced in my life. The man’s punching power was unreal. But I definitely won the fight. I knocked him down twice, not once. They didn’t give me credit for the other one because I knocked him down with a punch to the shoulder. But it was a legitimate punch, it wasn’t a foul.
ESB: I am surprised to hear that Ibragimov hit you harder than Klitschko did.
AUSTIN: He hit way harder than Klitschko.
ESB: I would like to get your impression of the up-and-coming heavyweights, starting with Seth Mitchell. What do you think of him?
AUSTIN: Excuse me? I don’t know who that is.
ESB: I am not sure if you are kidding me. You have never heard of Seth Mitchell?
ESB: What about Tyson Fury. What do you see in him, pro and con?
AUSTIN: I heard of him, but I haven’t seen him fight.
ESB: How about Deontay Wilder?
AUSTIN: I like that young man. I saw his two fights on TV…I liked him. I like the way he stands, he’s a tall guy, and he knows how to use jab. He’s up and coming and has a lot to work on, but I like what I see.
ESB: Which leading heavyweight would you most like to fight?
AUSTIN: Vitali Klitschko.
ESB: Why do you pick Vitali?
AUSTIN: Vitali wouldn’t fight me, even though I was number one in the WBC for a year. That’s why I took the Solis fight, because we couldn’t get Vitali to fight. He had all kinds of excuses, but I think the truth is that he didn’t want to deal with my style and my height. Of course, they were saying that it was my promoter Don King who got me the number one rating, but I fought everyone. I deserved that number one rating. That Vitali wouldn’t fight me even though I held that number one position for a year tells me something…he was dodging me.