Despite being undefeated through 24 fights, Lydell Rhodes doesn’t yet know what it feels like to be called a champion. But he certainly knows what it feels like to work in close proximity to one.
Actually, make that two, as in two of the most decorated champions in boxing history: Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
After winning his first four pro fights, Rhodes relocated to Las Vegas from his hometown of Spencer, Oklahoma, and for his next 14 bouts, he was trained by Floyd Mayweather Sr. out of Mayweather Jr.'s gym.
After parting ways with Mayweather Sr., Rhodes hooked up with Yoel Judah (father of former champion Zab Judah). As Rhodes was prepping for his second bout with his new trainer, Pacquiao called and recruited Rhodes to serve as a chief sparring partner in advance of the eight-division champ’s April 2014 rematch victory over Tim Bradley Jr.
Rhodes signed on, packed his bags and headed to the Philippines, where he spent a month working with Pacquiao. “I was his only sparring partner in the Philippines. We sparred Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” Rhodes says. “The gym was packed with people shoulder-to-shoulder when we sparred.”
When the camp shifted to Los Angeles, Rhodes tagged along and spent another month working with Pacman. Throughout the ring sessions, Rhodes was more than just a hired punching bag. In fact, he says he found the mark on occasion with overhand rights around Pacquiao’s guard.
“Whenever I caught him with a shot, he would step it up and try to show me who is boss,” Rhodes recalls. “He’s explosive, so you’ve got to be focused and on your toes for every second of every round that you’re in there with him.”
Pacquiao’s trainer, the renowned Freddie Roach, was quite impressed with the way Rhodes worked out his fighter.
“[Rhodes] is a little awkward,” Roach told Rappler.com, a Philippines-based social news network. “I told [Pacquiao] this particular sparring partner does better coming forward than backward. … [Rhodes’] awkwardness is giving us good work.”
Coming forward is exactly what Lydell Rhodes (23-0-1, 11 KOs) intends to do Friday night when he battles Sergey Lipinets (7-0, 6 KOs) in a 138-pound catchweight bout at The Venue at UCF in Orlando, Florida (Bounce TV, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
For this contest, Rhodes will be working under Chris Ben-Tchavtchavadze, a strength-and-conditioning guru for Mayweather Jr.’s promotional company. While prepping for Lipinets, Rhodes has split up his training base in Las Vegas.
“I’ve been working out at UNLV and sparring at Mayweather’s gym, so it feels like being back at home,” said the 28-year-old Rhodes, who went 14-0 with seven KOs under Mayweather Sr. from October 2011 to October 2013.
“It’s a good atmosphere being around other hungry people where if you feel like you’re better than someone, they’ll push you and test you because everyone in there can fight. I’m in that dog mode, in a bad mood and snapping at people. When you’re around real dogs and real fighters, that’s how you’ll be on fight night.”
Ben-Tchavtchavadze represents the fifth different trainer for Rhodes, who went 3-0-1 with two knockouts under former cornerman Monyette Flowers, including a split draw with Jared Robinson in his last fight in June.
“Last camp, me and my trainer were coming out of a new gym that was more of a fitness facility. I was all smiles, joking. It [led to] a lack of focus on my part,” Rhodes says.
“I was with guys so happy to be around someone who was 23-0. So when it came to buckling down and getting after it in the fight, my head wasn’t there and I couldn’t shift into that extra gear like I usually do. I underestimated the guy I was fighting.”
He doesn’t plan on underestimating Lipinets, who has been impressive in his young career, notching six consecutive KOs since winning his pro debut by unanimous decision.
A 26-year-old Kazakhstan native who fights out of Russia, the 5-foot-7 Lipinets will have a significant height advantage against Rhodes, who stands 5-4. That’s not likely to bother Rhodes, who has been the shorter man in the majority of his fights, including against the 5-9 Robinson.
“I’ll be able to control the fight with my movement and activity, moving and throwing him off,” Rhodes says. “But he’ll also have to deal with the fact that I can come out with an explosive combination at any time during a round.
“I’m perfecting my craft to where I can mess with people’s heads, and when they get frustrated—boom!—they’ll start getting hit.”
For complete coverage of Rhodes vs Lipinets, check out our fight page.