Trainer Sherman Henson: Have classroom, will travel
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Ocala, FL (Sports Network) -
His voice doesn't rattle the rafters. And his scowl is hardly that of a demon.
But when trainer Sherman Henson needs to get a fighter's attention during that crucial 60-second stretch between rounds... he's got his ways.
"To be honest, a lot of the actual words are on the spur of the moment," the sleepy-eyed 53-year-old said this week, in a rare break from work with a full roster of amateurs and pros. "And I guess the phrase I use most often is, 'Don't let him come in the door. Don't let him get back in.'
"But the key thing for me is paying attention to what's going on during the rounds themselves. That's when my mind is starting to work. A trainer can't go in rattled. It's Psychology 101 in there. You have to know how to push buttons, and some fighters need more motivation than others."
A California native who's made his home base in Florida for the last 10 years, Henson is taking to the road in an even bigger way this week -- hopping a plane to Denmark with longtime client Chevelle Hallback for her Saturday night challenge of unbeaten WBA/WBC/WBC women's welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus on the Evander Holyfield-Brian Nielsen undercard in Copenhagen.
It's the second fight outside U.S. airspace for the Hallback/Henson tandem, which was successful in defending the WIBA 130-pound against Fujin Raika in Tokyo in January 2005 and once again 10 months later against Belinda Laracuente in Edmonton.
"I do not see Sherman as only a trainer, but like a big brother," Hallback said. "He cares for me as if I was his blood. He keeps it 100 percent real with me, meaning he tells me like it is and does not sugar coat anything. I trust his judgment and he plays a huge part in my career."
Now 39 years old, Hallback has gone just 3-2-1 in a half-dozen fights since those business trips, including a pair of losses to WIBA 140-pound champion Holly Holm -- most recently in March 2010.
As a result, a win against Braekhus -- 17-0 with four knockouts -- is vital to maintaining the viability of Hallback's still-stated goal of becoming the first woman to appear in a feature bout on HBO.
Braekhus has reigned since March 2009 and has fought in Denmark four times.
"There's no doubt it's an all-or-nothing bout for us," Henson said. "She is very much motivated for this one. A win could open up some very big doors and send a message to major promoters to go ahead and take a chance on one of the very best pound-for-pound boxers in the world. She'll fight whoever is willing. There's no picking and choosing here. If they want to fight, we fight.
"It's a fickle sport. And too many promoters have been preoccupied with putting together shows with pretty girls. But the thing is, pretty girls don't win fights, fighters do. Chevelle is a fighter. And if she comes home with those belts, it could really catapult her right away toward where we want to be."
Hallback, who's also held the WIBF featherweight, IBA super featherweight and IFBA lightweight titles in a pro career that began in 1997, joins a list of Henson-guided champions that already includes ex-WBC featherweight claimant Juan La Porte and former WBC super bantamweight kingpin Paul Banke.
LaPorte last fought in 1999 and retired with a 40-17 record in a career that saw him reign at 126 pounds from 1982-84 and lose five subsequent title challenges at 130 and 140.
Banke, meanwhile, ended his career at 21-9 in 1993.
He won, defended and lost his 122-pound title in 1990 and lost one more title fight in 1991.
Henson himself never competed professionally in the ring, but has found success with a style that mixes properly-timed corner insight with a dedication to preparation and teaching outside the ring.
"Being in a ring and experiencing a fight and what that's like is a great asset to a trainer, but to me the most important aspect is being a good teacher," he said. "If you're not a great teacher, you can't be a great coach. You've got to do the fine-tuning work and stay up for the long hours to be able to prepare your fighter for every possible situation in there.
"When I'm preparing a fighter, I'm doing preparation work myself. I put myself in the ring with them because I have to be completely locked in to what they're doing."
Unlike some high-profile trainers, though, he eschews empty rhetoric for rhetoric's sake.
"Good teachers know how to be motivators without simply being cheerleaders," he said.
"I'm not a cheerleader. Trainers who aren't able to motivate in other ways resort to things like 'Do it for your family' or 'Do it for the world.' To me, that does no good. If you did your work beforehand and came up with a good game plan, you'll be able to handle anything you run into."
This week's title-fight schedule:
IBF middleweight title -- Neubrandenburg, Germany
Sebastian Sylvester (champion) vs. Daniel Geale (No. 1 contender)
Sylvester (34-3-1, 16 KO): Fourth title defense; Unbeaten since 2008 (5-0-1, 2 KO)
Geale (24-1, 15 KO): Fourth title fight (2-1, 0 KO); Held IBO title from 2007-09 (one defense)
Fitzbitz says: "Traveling Aussie prepped for breakout in hostile territory." Geale by decision
WBO welterweight title -- Las Vegas, NV
Manny Pacquiao (champion) vs. Shane Mosley (No. 3 contender)
Pacquiao (52-3-2, 38 KO): Second title defense; Also held titles at 112, 122, 130, 135, 140 and 154
Mosley (46-6-1, 39 KO): Twenty-first title fight (15-5, 11 KO); Held titles at 135, 147 and 154
Fitzbitz says: "Old man gives a top-shelf effort before succumbing to P4P kingpin." Pacquiao by decision
WBO junior featherweight title -- Las Vegas, NV
Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (champion) vs. Jorge Arce (No. 1 contender)
Vazquez Jr. (20-0-1, 17 KO): Third title defense; Won last five fights by stoppage
Arce (56-6-2, 43 KO): Sixteenth title fight (11-4, 7 KO); Held titles at 108 and 115
Fitzbitz says: "Coming out party against name foe for second-generation star." Vazquez Jr. in 10
Last week's picks: 3-1
Overall picks record: 296-102 (74.3 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.