Billy Graham's Preacher's Corner: Endless trash talk and the truths it betrays

Teofimo Lopez and Josh Taylor both like to talk. Lopez is a confident, cocky fighter who’s surrounded by chaos and Josh turns into a horrible, nasty bastard during the build-up to a fight. I wasn’t surprised or shocked by anything they said but it got me thinking. 

I was watching some old Cassius Clay footage recently. I remembered back to when I was a kid and what he was saying made me laugh even back then. Everybody else thought he was serious but I knew what he was doing. Intimidation is part and parcel of boxing but it’s become the norm and it’s starting to bore me a bit to be honest.

If two fighters genuinely don’t like each other then of course it adds a bit of drama to a fight but it seems like every single show has a grudge match on it these days.

All this pushing and shoving and threatening each other at press conferences. Look, if you’re gonna hit somebody, you’re gonna hit them. How many times does it actually happen? Ninety-nine per cent of the time it’s bluster. 

I think they’re wasting their energy a lot of the time but I get why they do it. The top guys aren’t scared that easily but if a fighter sees a weakness in somebody and thinks they can be intimidated then why not do it? If your opponent is scared of you then the battle is half-won.

I can see why television and promoters like it, too. Business is business after all. I love modern boxing and understand that it’s not only fight fans that go to watch anymore. It’s people who want to go to events and they enjoy all that. Even in my day, I hated public workouts but I always did them because I thought it was part of the job to help the promotion.

One thing I do hate, though, is these long face-offs they do these days. Face-offs are part of the sport’s history. The guys make weight and we get a nice photo; a chance to compare their physiques and heights. How long does all that take – 20 seconds? They have them stood there for fucking ages these days.

It’s not the fighters getting involved in it that annoys me. It’s the managers, and particularly the trainers, arguing at press conferences and giving interviews to everybody they can that drives me fucking mad.

I’ve noticed it happening more and more often. Everybody’s addicted to having their face on the television and I think that’s as big a cause for it as the money they’re getting. I’m no wallflower. I used to defend my fighters right to the end and I wasn’t shy of confrontation with anybody – you can ask the promoters – but I can’t remember another trainer ever saying anything that made me react and I certainly never slagged off a fighter.

It’s absolutely fucking cringeworthy. Some of these fellas have never had a fight but they’re carrying on like they’re gonna be getting in the ring themselves. I think they should stop thinking that just because they’re around tough guys, they’re tough themselves.

Billy Graham's Preacher's Corner: Endless trash talk and the truths it betrays
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

When you’re training somebody to go in with the top, dangerous fighters you have enough to worry about. They’re a little bit harder to catch clean and they hit a bit harder. They’re also usually tougher; they’re usually braver; and if you think you’re gonna frighten those type of fellas by being a noisy fucker and slagging them off you’re sadly mistaken.

I went about things differently. I suppose you could call it a type of intimidation if you want but I’d describe every single thing an opponent was good at. I’d talk about all their strengths and I’d flatter them. I was letting them know that I knew absolutely everything about them and that it was very unlikely they were gonna surprise me and that they hadn’t been underestimated.

It’s not just a good thing to let the opponent know that you respect them. It’s good for you to tell your own fighter. If you start off by lying to them by telling them that all their opponents are shit and can’t do this and can’t do that to give them false confidence then they’re gonna get a nasty shock when they get to world-level and it’s blatantly clear that the opponent is good. What are you gonna say then? 

I like fighters who watch tapes of their opponent. If I could have got tapes when I was boxing it would have been great. It’s always better not to have any surprises. You might see them looking spectacular on a highlight reel but it’s better to get accustomed to that. Some fighters just don’t want to do it though. I’ve thought long and hard about this and I think it’s purely because they think they might be scared by what they see. In reality, if you watch something often enough you become numb to it and start working out what you’re gonna do to prevent it and take advantage.

Rather than screaming and shouting as a fight gets closer, a trainer needs to be watching closely for any kind of change in either fighters’ character. If you have a guy who is usually bombastic and a big talker, they have to be able to keep that up. It can be just as alarming if a normally polite, subdued fella suddenly starts talking. I’m looking for the smallest sign of change. It can betray exactly which fighter believes in themselves and who might be having doubts.

Gennady Golovkin is one of the greatest and most intimidating fighters I’ve ever seen. As soon as I first saw him the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. He didn’t look threatening and was extremely polite but it was the way he went about things that made him such a scary fighter. Everything he did was perfect and he went about it so calmly. His confidence was so real it was terrifying. 

Fighters go through stages. Early on they’re not only improving physically, they’re improving mentally, and their belief in themselves is getting more and more real. By the time they reach their late 20s they’re battle-hardened. They know not to waste energy and how important rest, sleep and food is. They have no need to get involved in much bullshit because they’re comfortable in their own skin.

As they get older that all goes. They have responsibilities and get tired of having to be the hero all the time. All fighters know the dangers of boxing but as they get older they think about it more. They go from being battle-hardened to battle-worn. They might be able to be intimidated more because they know they can’t do what they used to do and that can cause them to act differently themselves. Notice how he acted around the final fight with “Canelo”. He didn’t exactly turn into  Ricardo Mayorga, but if you have studied Golovkin for years, he was definitely acting differently. He knew he was slipping.