By Chris Strait
Winning a gold medal is prestigious enough, especially these days where Olympic boxers from the United States have better odds of winning figure skating gold than boxing gold. However, getting to win it in front of your home country AND hometown? It can’t get any sweeter than that. Thus is the story of Henry Tillman. Tillman is a former heavyweight gold medalist, who attained this goal in the Los Angeles games of 1984. Tillman also beat Mike Tyson twice in the amateurs.
What followed was a professional career with many ups and downs, including title shots and big name opponents. Yet, for Tillman, who has been training fighters for over 20 years now, it has all come full circle. One of his fighters, undefeated heavyweight KO artist, Charles Martin, is fighting on the Hollywood Fight Night show at Florentine Gardens in Hollywood, November 14th. Tillman talked with Chris Strait for this show’s trainer spotlight.
CS: You came to boxing late, correct?
HT: Yes, they had a program up in Chino, when I was a teenager.
CS: I know you were trained by Mercer Smith at Broadway Gym. What were some of your other amateur accomplishments, besides the gold?
HT: I also trained out of Hoover Gym, but I think I had like 73 fights, and only lost 9. I won the Nationals in Colorado Springs. I won silver in the Pan Am games. I was set to win gold in the nationals in Kansas City, but I broke my hand, and Tyson won in a walk over.
CS: You got your revenge, though, beating him twice in the trials. What was the biggest difference fighting him in the pros versus the amateurs.
HT: Well, we were both bigger and stronger, but the difference was he caught me early.
CS: How long have you been training fighters now?
HT: I started in about 1992, training amateurs. When I got together with Jamal Abdullah, we started training pros.
CS: Do you like getting fighters who have a background in boxing already, or taking them from the beginning?
HT: With most fighters, I start them from the beginning. Like Charles (Martin).
CS: How do you start a fighter’s learning process? With offense, defense, movement?
HT: It’s all footwork. Building a fighter is like planting a tree… it’s from the roots up. If they can’t stand, they can’t fight.
CS: Charles Martin just had a big win over another unbeaten prospect, Vince Thompson… near Thompson’s hometown of Seattle. How is Martin coming along?
HT: Getting better every fight. We’ve been working on his lateral movement, getting him to stop pulling straight back, and putting him in with tougher guys.
CS: You have your own gym now, in Carson, correct?
HT: Yes, Henry Tillman’s Championship Boxing Club. The website is www.henrytillmanchampionshipboxingclub.com for more info. We have a few heavyweights from the All-American Heavyweight team and a few smaller guys, too.
CS: Is there any other fighter in particular we should look out for?
HT: I think Joe Hanks… he’s coming off a loss against Andy Ruiz, but he’s improving in the gym, and I think he’ll be a force to be reckoned with.