Fighting words: How the advice of former champion Riddick Bowe helped Dominic Breazeale become a better boxer

A few years back in a Thai city renowned for hosting one of the world’s largest transgender beauty pageants, a former heavyweight champ’s career self-immolated in a blaze of questionable decision-making. And yet, those flames helped ignite the prospects of a younger fighter vying to become a champion like his seen-better-days hero.

Dominic Breazeale and Fred Kassi

Heavyweight contender Dominic Breazeale learned plenty from the man who handed Evander Holyfield his first loss. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

The year was 2013, and the once-great Riddick Bowe, one of the most supremely talented heavyweights in an era defined by them, was training for his Muay Thai debut in Pattaya, Thailand. It was a suspicious move for a 45-year-old, 300-pound man who’d never attempted to kick another man in the face before—professionally speaking, at least.

As Bowe trained for the fight, he invited to his camp then up-and-coming heavyweight prospect Dominic Breazeale (16-0, 14 KOs) to help hammer him into shape.

It was a big moment for a big fan.

“When I started boxing, people asked me who I idolized or who I watched on film, and it was him,” Breazeale recalls of Bowe. “I was watching him versus [Andrew] Golota, versus [Evander] Holyfield, fights like that, and to get that call and to understand that he wanted to learn something from myself as a veteran guy just coming back out of retirement, that meant a lot.”

Breazeale declined the offer to hit the gym with Bowe, mainly because he didn’t believe it was good for Bowe’s health to continue fighting at that point in his life, when he had the physique of a retired offenseive lineman.

That Bowe got stopped in the second round of the fight in question proved Breazeale and his team correct.

Still, Breazeale took away a lot more from the experience than just the thrill of one of his childhood inspirations acknowledging his potential. Though they didn’t work together, Bowe took the time to talk with Breazeale and offer some advice, and Bowe’s words impacted Breazeale’s career as forcefully as his jab testing an opponent’s chin.

“He was saying, ‘Look, when you go into camp, don’t just go into it like it's the same one every single time. Your fourth camp, your fifth camp, your 10th fight, your 15th fight, have a goal set in mind,” Breazeale says. “Maybe one camp you focus on the jab, and in the fight, it’s a goal of yours to knock the guy down with the jab. I took the advice and I ran with it.

“Following that conversation, I believe it was my fifth or sixth fight, and I was focused on dropping my guy with a body shot. I went in there and sure enough, I hit him with a solar plexus shot, dropped him, ended the fight. The next fight, ‘All right, I’m going to end it with a hook.’ I was so focused in that camp on perfecting the hook. And it paid dividends.”

Breazeale’s most obvious strengths are discernible at a glance: He’s Frigidaire-big and powerful, a former college football quarterback and U.S. Olympian who was already stood 6-foot by the time he was in the sixth grade.

But what you can’t see is what Breazeale believes truly distinguishes himself as a fighter. He’s a thoughtful, calm presence, the kind of guy who trains with reggae music in the background and who cites mental poise and sharpness as his two of his greatest attributes, both of which he had to learn to develop.

“In football and basketball in high school, I did very, very well just being the bigger, stronger guy,” he says, noting how his mindset evolved as a quarterback in college. “I learned that, mentally, I had the edge over the defensive players on the field. I knew what they were going to do before they did it, and I took that and brought it into boxing."

Once there, he's only learned to perfect it.

“The majority of the time, I already know what my opponent’s going to do before I throw a punch or before he throws a punch,” he says. “Sometimes it makes up for my lack of speed if I’m fighting a smaller guy who’s faster than me; sometimes it makes up for strength and power if I’m fighting a guy who’s bigger and stronger than me. I believe the mental aspect is probably the No. 1 key to the fight game.”

Breazeale’s ring savvy will be tested on Saturday when he takes on fellow undefeated heavyweight prospect Charles Martin (22-0-1, 20 KOs).

Breazeale got crucial career advice from a former undisputed heavyweight champion. Now he’s trying to take a big step toward getting a shot at being one.

“There are a lot of people in the past who’ve said, ‘Hey, I didn’t think you were going to make it,’” he says, acknowledging that, for a time early in his career, he also had questions about his future in the sport. “Before, I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know if I can do this boxing thing, I might have to revert back to football, just get what I can.’

"But I learn a ton each camp. Life has definitely changed.”

For full coverage of Breazeale vs Martin, visit our fight page.

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