Boxers by their very nature are impatient folks. Whether it’s landing the big punch, securing the big fight or winning all the world titles, they want it all and they want it now. Rau’shee Warren is a bit of an exception.
Since following his brother to a boxing gym at the age of 7, Warren has been methodical in his steady ascent from raw young fighter to decorated amateur to the only three-time U.S. Olympic boxer to professional prospect to title contender to, finally, world champion.
The 29-year-old southpaw reached that pinnacle last summer when he avenged his only pro defeat by winning a majority decision in a rematch against 118-pound champion Juan Carlos Payano in Chicago. After that career-defining victory, though, Warren had to revert to patience mode while awaiting word on his first title defense.
That word finally came down last month: Rau’shee Warren (14-1, 4 KOs) will risk his world championship for the first time Friday when he takes on once-beaten slugger Zhanat Zhakiyanov (26-1, 18 KOs) of Kazakhstan (Bounce TV, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Even better, the fight is at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio, just a three-hour drive from Warren’s lifelong hometown of Cincinnati. It’s also the co-main event to the 135-pound title clash between champion Robert Easter Jr.—a Toledo native and Warren’s longtime friend—and Luis Cruz.
Warren recently took a break from training camp to share his thoughts on fighting close to home, why it’s more difficult to remain a champion than become a champion, why he’s always dressed to impress and the one pork product he simply can’t live without.
How much are you looking forward to making your first title defense in your home state and sharing a card with your friend and fellow champ, Robert Easter Jr.?
It’s something we’ve always dreamed of doing. From our very first professional fight, we’ve talked about it like, “What if we become champions and end up fighting on the same card? Is that going to ever happen?” Well, on February 10, it’s going to happen.
I know we’re going to bring out all of Ohio. I have a lot of fans who are going to be at the fight and so does he, and we’re gonna put on a show. It’s just going to be an incredible night of boxing.
Rob and I were always roommates as amateurs and have similar personalities. We’re both outgoing and like to have fun. We have a bond.
Talk about your boxing style. You’re a natural right-hander but fight as a southpaw. Have you experimented with switch-hitting?
I’m supposed to be fighting orthodox, but a lot of people were running away from my left hand, which was my power shot.
I’ve switched at times to give fighters a different look, and I’m comfortable doing it, but I’m still learning and getting stronger on the right side.
Who’s the one fighter out there right now whom you really want to fight?
Guillermo Rigondeaux. A lot of people are afraid of Rigondeaux because of his skills and movement and how smart he is in the ring. He’s a great all-around fighter and a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
I fought Rigondeaux once in the amateurs. I was fighting at 112 [pounds] and he was fighting at 119. Gary Russell Jr. was supposed to fight at 119 but wasn’t there at the time because he had some hand injuries, so I moved up in weight.
We ended up fighting in the World Cup over in Azerbaijan. I think he beat me by three or four points. It was a great experience for me, and I feel like it was a good performance because he was outclassing a lot of other fighters. Now I’m seeing him do his thing professionally, but I see there are a lot of people dodging him.
So I feel like after I do my thing and take over at 118, I can move up to 122 and fight Rigondeaux again. That would be a good fight for me in the future.
“ I would [have liked to] fight Manny Pacquiao. We are both southpaws with fast hands. ... Do I beat him? Yeah, I’m not going to say I’m gonna lose. ” Rau'shee Warren, 118-pound world champion
How old were you the first time you put on a pair of boxing gloves and stepped into the ring?
I was 7 years old. I got in there with a guy named Shawn Stone back in Cincinnati. I remember him hitting me with an uppercut, and I was looking at the ceiling. I wasn’t mad or nothing. I just got back up, came back the next day and I was ready to do it all over again.
At the time, my brother, Steve, was boxing, and I wanted to do everything he was doing. When they finally let me continue to come to the gym, it was like a new playground to me. I was like, “Look at all these kids.”
My brother, who is now my personal trainer, was already teaching me how to fight when we were at home, so it didn’t really take long for me to get on board and learn the basics.
I had my first fight when I was 8 years old, and I won my first 45 fights in a row. I just kept on doing it and fell in love with it.
If you could pick the brain of any fighter in history, living or dead, who would it be and what would you like to learn?
Pernell Whitaker is my favorite fighter, and he’s a southpaw like I am. With his abilities, whether you were a brawler, slugger or a boxer, he could make good fighters look like they shouldn’t be in the ring with him.
If I could sit down and talk to him, I would want to know how he got ready for fights. When I came into the [second] Payano fight, I was thinking about Pernell Whitaker. I watched a couple of his fights where he used angles and foot movement, and I tried to do the same thing by making Payano miss and pay.
If you had the ability to change your body type, what’s the one weight class you would want to could compete in, and who would you fight?
I would say 147 pounds. If I just had a little height on me, I would’ve put on some extra weight and moved up a long time ago. That weight class has a lot of talent.
I would’ve called out Floyd Mayweather. I also would [have liked to] fight Manny Pacquiao. We are both southpaws with fast hands. It would be a war going in, because we’re both little. I would just have to keep Pacquiao on the outside and not bang and trade with him.
Do I beat him? Yeah, I’m not going to say I’m gonna lose.
Not including yourself, who is the best fighter in your division right now?
Well, Tomoki Kameda was a [118-pound] champion until he lost twice to Jamie McDonnell, but I felt like he beat McDonnell [both times]. He got a tough break.
I’ve never really watched Shinsuke Yamanaka, the other Japanese [118-pound world] champion. I would like to fight any of them. But they won’t ever come around to fighting me. … For a good price, I’ll come to the United Kingdom and fight McDonnell. I want all of the titles.
Describe what it feels like to land the perfect punch.
In the 12th round of my first fight with Payano, I landed a double-hook, and I dropped him. Coach Barry Hunter told me I needed a knockdown, and I felt it in my hands when I hit him.
I had been looking for it all day, so when I landed that right hook, I was looking for the knockout or a knockdown, and I got it. I know I won [the fight], but the decision didn’t go my way.
I was able to fight him again, though, and I made the win happen.
What is your favorite punch to throw?
The left hook coming from a southpaw [stance]. When you see a left hook coming from the outside and coming straight in, it’s kind of hard to dodge a person like me with my speed. That’s what I’ve been working on for this fight [against Zhakiyanov].
I’ve thrown it a couple of times, like in the Payano fight and a couple of other fights. But now I’m perfecting it. As a [natural] right-hander, my left has finally caught up to my right hand. People thought I didn’t have power, but lately, I’ve been showing more power in that hook.
What fighter has hit you the hardest?
Payano hit me with a good body shot, but it never really hurt. But this Russian I fought in the World Cup when I was like 23 or 24, he hit me so hard that I grabbed him and I thought I was in a park playing with my kids. It was like, “Boom!”
Me and this Russian fought three times, and the first time when he rocked me was in Russia. He got that decision, but I beat him the two other times we fought.
What’s the one thing about the life of a pro boxer that most fight fans don’t understand?
That as a champion, keeping your title is harder than it is to get the belt. Whether you’re running harder, hitting the bag harder, doing more rounds, everything is 10 times harder than what you did to get it.
My sparring partners are undefeated fighters who are trying to knock me out if I’m not on my [game]. I feel as if I’m in a real fight every time I spar in the gym. They want to prove themselves. There is no easy work.
What’s the one food item that’s the toughest to give up when training for a fight?
Bacon. I just ate a Subway sandwich with bacon on it. It’s hard not to want to eat bacon. I wake up and eat bacon for breakfast, and always try to find a way to put bacon on something.
I love bacon. If I stopped eating pork today, I would not be able to let go of bacon.
What’s one hobby you have that might surprise your fans?
I’m into fashion. Dressing [stylish] is a thing I like doing even if I’m just going to chill with my friends or go to my girlfriend’s house, or even if I’m not going anywhere. I just like looking good.
People always tell me I should look into doing my own thing as far as designing and selling clothes. I’ve had my friends design some stuff for me and I wear it because it looks good on me.
So if I’m not boxing or hanging out with my kids, I’m probably at the mall trying to put something together.
Who was your first celebrity crush?
Gabrielle Union when she was the cheerleader in Bring It On. I didn’t know who she was, but I was in love with that Hershey’s Kisses brown skin.
If you could have dinner with four people in the history of the world, who would be on your guest list?
Barack Obama, Allen Iverson, Muhammad Ali and I gotta say LeBron James. LeBron’s my guy.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Racism. People right now should all join together, no matter what. We’re all human on this earth, period. I don’t care what color a person is, I want to be friends with everybody.
As an Olympian, I’ve been all around the world. I’ve met all different kinds of people and experienced different cultures, from Russian to Chinese to European to Swedish to Brazilian. I ain’t got no problems with anybody.
I’m tired of all of this [racial] stuff going back and forth. Can’t we all just get along?
“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: 154-pound title contender Tony Harrison.