With a résumé that includes U.S. Navy veteran, big-time college football player and heavyweight world title challenger, Gerald Washington has packed a lot of living into his 35 years.
Washington served as a helicopter mechanic in the Navy from 2000-04 and achieved the rank of petty officer third class. He then enrolled at Chaffey Junior College in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and earned a spot on the football team despite having played just one year in high school.
After earning a variety of honors in his two years at Chaffey, the 6-foot-6 Washington then transferred to the University of Southern California, where he played both tight end and defensive end in 2007 and 2008 for teams that went a combined 23-3 and finished in the top three in the country both years.
After stints on the practice squads with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks, Washington then turned to the sweet science.
Although Washington didn’t start fighting until he was 30 years old—Friday will be the fifth anniversary of his pro debut, a first-round TKO of Blue DeLong in Washington’s birthplace of San Jose, California—“El Gallo Negro” (The Black Rooster) wasted little time climbing the ranks in the heavyweight division.
After going unbeaten through 19 fights, Washington got the biggest opportunity of his career in February, when he challenged Deontay Wilder for a world title in the champion’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.
Washington outboxed “The Brown Bomber” early in the bout and was even on two of the three official scorecards after four rounds, but Wilder then dropped him once before gaining a fifth-round TKO.
Undeterred by his first loss, Gerald Washington (18-1-1, 12 KOs) looks to bounce back Saturday night against Jarrell Miller (18-0-1, 16 KOs) in a 10-round bout on the Adrien Broner vs Mikey Garcia undercard at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
As he prepares to face an unbeaten fighter on his home turf for the second straight bout, Washington took a break from training recently to discuss his loss to Wilder, his time sparring with Wladimir Klitschko and how those experiences will help him defeat Miller.
You battled Deontay Wilder even over four rounds before being stopped in the fifth. What was your strategy for that fight, and were you a bit surprised by your early success?
I knew that I was going up against all odds against him and his fans in Birmingham, and that I had to be the aggressor and step into the jab throughout that fight. So I was just using the jab, keeping him on his heels and pushing him back. That way, I figured that he would have trouble generating his offense.
From there, I worked my game plan and built confidence behind my defense. I guess I was expecting something like a Mike Tyson coming hard and not expecting to be leading the show.
I figured I might be on the back foot a little bit more. That was my first time really stepping to somebody of that caliber, and I knew I had to do that in that fight to keep him from being totally offensive.
I attacked, defended and dictated pretty well from the middle of the ring. There’s always going to be situations where you end up on the ropes or whatever, but I don’t think he really hit me that solidly until that fifth round.
What changed when you were stopped in Round 5?
I guess that I was a little anxious a times, not expecting to control the fight the way that I had been. I was circling to my right and he threw a good combination, which was a hook and a right hand. I caught the hook and threw a jab.
But right after that, he jumped right in with another one-two, which was another hook and right hand. I had my guard down slightly and the right hand caught me over the top.
I got up, but he got in and finished the job from there.
I give him credit for landing that off-rhythm shot. I need to be more proactive as far as handling those bad situations and making adjustments before it gets ugly. I was disappointed, but I’m very blessed for having been in that fight.
How beneficial was it for you to have been a sparring partner for Wladimir Klitschko before his loss to Anthony Joshua in their heavyweight world title fight in April?
Going into the Klitschko camp was really helpful because he fights from bell to bell, an experience that’s a major factor for me in my overall improvement. He really puts the pressure on by not necessarily being right there in your face but by applying long-range pressure.
I absorbed so much knowledge from him. I knew what I was up against in taking a fight [against Wilder] for the heavyweight championship of the world, and I’m proud of what I did in that fight. But then after being in Klitschko’s camp, I’ll be so much more active.
I will be working behind my jab like I always do, but even better. I’m looking forward to stepping back in there and showing against Jarrell Miller how much better I am as a fighter.
I’ll be more prepared for situations and I think it’s going to work out much better as I look to work the body more intelligently and to fight with more overall effectiveness and intensity.
“ Sparring with Klitschko was like 10 fights to me. ... Some fights you have questions about, but for this one against Jarrell Miller, I know I’m more than ready. ” Gerald Washington, on fighting Jarrell Miller after sparring with former world champion Wladimir Klitschko
How will your experience in the ring with Klitschko help you against Jarrell Miller?
Klitschko was the best sparring I could have gotten for this fight. I was there for three weeks, learning to be proactive mentally and to maintain the intensity and focus throughout the entire fight. I was able to push Klitschko a little bit.
Sparring with Klitschko was like 10 fights to me. I feel I’m a better athlete than Jarrell Miller and I’ve faced the better fighters. I’ve been in the game a little longer. I’m looking forward to coming forward and applying pressure against a big, strong fighter.
Are you concerned at all about facing Miller in his hometown of Brooklyn?
I’m all about competition, and just like when I fought Deontay Wilder in Birmingham, I like the fact that I’m fighting this guy in his hometown of Brooklyn. I went to USC and played for the Trojans, so competing against the best is what it’s all about.
For everybody to respect you, you’ve got to go and fight the bully in his hometown. Everybody knows what happens to the bully when you stand up to him. I’m fighting in his house, but I like fighting confident fighters. If he’s gonna win, he’ll have to bring it.
How do you see your fight with Miller playing out?
Jarrell Miller’s been in a lot of fights where he’s been able to bully and knock guys around, but he hasn’t fought anybody with real skill. Now he’s going to fight somebody who is going to get in there and fight him back, because I’m ready to go.
I’m not the most experienced guy in the world, but I’m learning real fast. I’ve proven I’m a very smart fighter. If you go back and watch the Amir Mansour fight (a 10-round split draw in October 2015), you’ll see that he really didn’t land any solid punches on me. My face was clean after that fight. I felt like I outboxed him and deserved to win.
I know Jarrell’s going to come well prepared, but he’s going to have to work harder in this fight than he’s ever worked before. This is big-time boxing, so he’s going to have to come hard.
The world is going to see a Gerald Washington who is much more developed and has grown immensely from my most recent experiences. Some fights you have questions about, but for this one against Jarrell Miller, I know I’m more than ready.
I know how to maintain my poise and handle adversity, my punches are flowing and my defense is developing at the right time. I’m ready to mix it up and perform. I can’t wait to fight him and really show what I can do.
This is going to be his first test to see if Jarrell can stand up and rise to the challenge or whether he’s just all talk. I think it’s going to be a big surprise to everybody. Once I handle my business, there’s nothing Jarrell Miller or anybody can say.
How do you rank the top fighters in the heavyweight division?
Anthony Joshua has to be No. 1. His well-deserved victory over Klitschko was a tremendous feat. He beat a monster. Tyson Fury was the first one to beat Klitschko. Fury’s still young with more to offer (although he seemingly announced his retirement Wednesday on Instagram).
Klitschko was a tremendous, longtime champion and I look forward to seeing him back in the ring. We all know that when Deontay Wilder lets his hands go, his power can change the game with one punch.
Luis Ortiz is another great, well-schooled Cuban fighter who is tough, can box, go to the body and has good rhythm. Those guys are the top five guys, but then you have another champion when you add Joseph Parker. As for me, we’ll see.
What fighter in history would you most like to have fought, and what would be the result?
Fighters I’ve looked up to are Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Klitschko and Tommy Hearns. You also have Andre Ward and Bernard Hopkins.
Those are all fighters I look up to. But to be honest, as far as fighting any of those guys, I wouldn’t be able to call that.
What is your favorite punch to throw?
The jab is my favorite punch, all day. I can put power on it, make it fast, make it annoying and I can move it around. I love my lead hand and I love the work I can do off it.
Larry Holmes was known for his jab, and he’s spoken to me and said that if he was as big as I am, he would never have lost. He said to get really good at my jab, and I’ve worked on throwing it 100 times per round.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, what actor would do the best job portraying you?
I think I’d do the best job being myself and would love to do it. I’ve got some experience in Hollywood. I’ve been in a few commercials and documentaries. I was in a Samsung commercial back in 2009 and was a security guard in a movie called Restored Me.
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …
… a pilot due to my fascination with aircrafts. I was in the military as a [Navy mechanic] working with helicopters, but I’ve always been fascinated with flying.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would change the hate, man. I’d get rid of all the hate. I’m a man of peace, so I don’t like all this hate and racism. It gets under my skin.
I just want to fill this world with love as much as I can. That’s what I do on a daily basis is encourage and spread the love.
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: former two-time 200-pound world champion Steve Cunningham.