A refrigerator weighs 300 pounds. A full keg of beer comes in at roughly half that. A Neapolitan mastiff tips the scales at an average of 170 pounds (at least 30 of which is jowls). Stuff the latter two into the former and plant that bad boy on Gerald Washington’s shoulders. Dude can handle it.
“I feel like I’m the strongest boxer that’s out there right now because of football,” says Washington, one of the heavyweight division’s most chiseled contenders who looks like one of the guys on the cover of those fitness mags that shame you as you’re standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, waiting to pay for that 12-pack of Heineken.
“I was squatting 630 pounds, benching 400-and-some pounds. I’m not able to carry all that now and be as strong as I was then, but I feel like I have that base of strength in the ring.”
As a former pass rusher for the University of Southern California, as well as a member of NFL practice squads with both the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills, Washington grew accustomed to bulldozing Volvo-sized offensive lineman, whose daily caloric intake outnumbers the headcount in Wyoming.
“I’m used to going up against guys who are 330, 360 pounds—big bodies,” Washington says. “So when I’m in the ring with a guy who’s 230, 240 pounds, it’s easy for me to move him around and put him where I need to put him to deliver that devastating knockout blow, baby.”
Thing is, devastating KOs aren’t really something that Washington presses for in the ring, even though the California native has earned 11 of them in his 16 pro fights.
He’s a cerebral guy in and out of the ring, one who lets the fight come to him and favors meticulously picking apart his opponent as opposed to attempting to overwhelm him.
This, too, is related to Washington’s gridiron background.
There are plenty of fighters who watch little-to-no tape of the fighter they’re facing next, leaving that for their trainer, who in turn comes up with a game plan.
But Washington got used to daily film study sessions beginning at USC. What’s more, he actually seems to enjoy learning how to read his opponent like an open book whose ending he then attempts to supply.
“I sit here and watch boxing all day long. I got that from football,” says Washington, who next takes on Amir Mansour (22-1, 16 KOs) on October 13. “We would spend all this time breaking down practice film, breaking down game film, just understanding and learning tendencies and knowing what to look for at certain times. It gives you signs that, in the ring, you can take advantage of. It’s definitely beneficial to you. I want to be the smartest fighter.”
In recent years, there’s been a number of former football players who’ve turned to boxing to varying degrees of success, guys such as Seth Mitchell, Tom Zbikowski, Mike Kelly and Dominic Breazeale.
The football-boxing connection doesn’t end there: Trainer/TV analyst Teddy Atlas was an assistant coach for the New York Jets from 2006-08, and former New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs has tried his hand as a boxing manager.
Although Washington didn’t even play organized football until his senior year of high school, where he was a tight end, he was gifted enough athletically to walk on to the squad at Chaffey Junior College in Rancho Cucamonga, California, which followed a four-year stint in the Navy.
After excelling in the juco ranks, he earned a football scholarship to USC in 2006, again as a tight end, before switching to the other side of the ball his junior year and becoming a key reserve.
“I wasn’t a starter at USC. I was just a hard-working, hustling guy who had big dreams, big visions and the competitive spirit to say, ‘Hey, I can play with the best,’” Washington says. “I wasn’t going to go to another school just to be a starter. I loved that we had a 100 guys at ’SC trying to be the biggest, strongest guys, the smartest, most technical players. It makes for a certain kind of athlete. I feel like that guy that I learned to be there is helping me a tremendous amount in boxing.”
OK, so now for the most important question: Having taken and delivered hits both on the football field and in the boxing ring, what’s worse: getting blasted over the middle by a linebacker or getting blasted in the teeth by a heavyweight the size of a linebacker?
“Football is definitely the most dangerous sport, but there’s nothing like being punched in the face,” Washington says. “In football, you have a helmet, facemask, shoulder pads, all that protection. You feel that you’re built to be a battering ram. You don’t have any fear, because you’re not taking it right on the face where it can cut your eye, bust your lip, break your nose.
“That’s what scares guys: getting in the ring and getting punched in the mouth. It takes a whole other level of dedication to step in there and be able to take something like that.”
For full coverage of Washington vs Mansour, visit our fight page.