Day 2: A Canadian prospect in Las Vegas!
By Ace Freeman (09-Jun-2010)
Ace Freeman’s trip with top ranked Canadian lightweight Steve Claggett and his head trainer Eric de Guzman continued as the trio hit Las Vegas. Read on to hear about Claggett’s sparring and work with the top trainer Yoel Judah in Sin City!
“Move!” Eddie Mustafa Muhammad exclaimed at his young fighter. Before he finished that sentiment, uppercut number two landed with just as much authority as the first. “Move!!”
A third consecutive uppercut lifted Smith’s headgear half way up his face and finally (in a fraction of a second) a fourth and final uppercut blew the headgear straight off his head and sent it flying into the corner behind him. Claggett landed four consecutive uppercuts in just a couple of seconds. The final series of punches and the subsequent launching of the headgear drew a small ovation from the crowd.
A Canadian Prospect in Las Vegas:
Video shot and edited by Ace Freeman
Music by Joe Bruiser
We were just past Barstow into the desert when I decided to make an unscheduled stop in Death Valley. A car full of Canadians on our way to Las Vegas on a tight time table trying to get some sparring in for young unbeaten boxer Steve Claggett. After many miles in the blinding desert sun I pulled our jet black Charger off the highway and we stepped out into the sweltering heat to shoot some photos.
It was a debilitating heat, one we’re not used to up in the great white north. Steve Claggett took off for a quick run as the rest of us expressed our concern of snakes and possibly mutants. Despite the feeling of impending death, the landscape was serene. The glistening sun washed out most of the colour and the desert landscape blended in to the bright horizon.
After taking the time to shoot some test footage we were quickly back in our air conditioned car and on the highway towards sin city. It was just the second day of our trip to California / Nevada and the plan was to pull in to the MGM Grand and get a good nights sleep before meeting with the Judah family the next AM.
I had received the green light to sit in on a session of Zab Judah’s training camp at the newly opened Hit Factory gym in Vegas, and Claggett and trainer Eric de Guzman were anxious to take in the festivities.
It was just nine days before young Claggett was set to turn 21 years old but the kind of action he was looking for in Vegas didn’t require identification. As we rolled into the outskirts of town in the early evening the young fighter’s eyes were fixated on the monolith hotels / casinos that made up the Las Vegas strip.
We discussed several big fights that took place at each of the casinos as we made our way to the MGM Grand. The sheer size of the lots and buildings is always a stunning sight for newcomers and the young Canadian had his head on a swivel as we checked in and dropped off our bags.
Making our way through the MGM’s casino we stopped off to show Claggett the Grand Garden Arena. On a Tuesday night there weren’t many people around and that included MGM staff and security. As we walked toward the arena I explained where the crowds lined up to gain entry and where the weigh-ins often took place.
We caught the escalator down to the lower entrance and I quickly came upon an unlocked door. We slipped into the lower concourse near the VIP area and dressing rooms. Sure enough a second interior door to the bowl of the arena was also open.
We walked out from behind the bleachers into the empty and dark Grand Garden Arena. Having been ringside for many fights I found it an odd site to see the floor completely vacant and the arena mostly dark. We made our way to the centre and took it all in.
“This is where it all goes down,” I said to Claggett. His eyes were wide as he wandered around the arena floor. We took a few minutes listing all of the recent big fights that had taken place right on that very spot… the ring’s canvass at around chest height.
The young fighter had the look of a kid in a candy store and took in the surroundings with a degree of reverence. The dark and silent arena was a stark contrast to the bright lights and electric atmosphere of many past mega events held in that very spot.
After a good meal we all went back to our rooms and turned in early, another contrast to my regular visits to Sin City.
Early the next morning we were off to the newly opened “Hit Factory” boxing gym close to the famous Stratosphere Hotel and Casino. It was my first visit to the gym and early in the day there was no shortage of action.
Upon walking in the door I was first struck by the sight of three world renowned trainers. Jeff Mayweather stood in the centre of the new looking ring working with a young fighter. Off to the side Yoel Judah (father of Zab) was wrapping the hands of a fighter getting ready to spar. Last but not least was Eddie Mustafa Muhammad relaxing behind the ring next to a large whirling fan.
Claggett paid the drop-in fee and filled out some paperwork hoping to spar. We chatted with Yoel Judah and he graciously offered to work the pads with Steve later in the afternoon. We were also quick to find there would be suitable sparring available with one of Mustafa Muhammad’s young pro’s.
While Claggett changed into his gear and started to warm up we caught a glimpse of former contender star Ishe Smith hard at work getting in some sparring. I didn’t recognize the young fighter he was in with, but he was giving Smith all he could handle.
As the two came together along the ropes the younger fighter extended both his arms and tried to push Smith’s head right out of the ring.
“Hey man! Come on!” Smith yelled in protest. He was quick to step up his game and used his fast hands to punish the younger fighter. Not deterred, the young man continued with his rough housing.
Just then Zab Judah entered the gym and stood on the ring apron next to his father and Eric de Guzman watching the heated exchange.
The young sparring partner’s tactics got dirtier and dirtier and finally both fighters stopped boxing and started grappling, trying to push each other to the ropes.
“Fuck it, they fighting anyways!” an amused Zab Judah said with a full grill bearing grin as a small melee broke out.
“All right that’s enough,” Eddie Mustafa bellowed out.
“Man FUCK you!” Smith said as he walked back to his corner to de-glove.
“I’m an animal!!!” the young fighter roared as they took his gloves off.
The air was thick and warm that day in Vegas but the action inside the HIT Factory made things a few degrees hotter.
After the tension boiled over things quieted down a bit. Claggett was getting set to spar one of Mustafa Muhammad’s young fighters in Lonnie Smith (lightweight, 10-2-2, 7 KOs).
I had been watching Smith warming up and he looked to carry some heavy hands. He was well put together and seemed to posses that trademark rhythm as he shadowboxed with excellent upper body movement.
Again not having seen much more of Claggett than his last two fights in Canada I worried a bit about how he would fair against a strong Las Vegas pro.
The two combatants climbed into the ring and paced around waiting for the bell. Eddie Mustafa Muhammad was in Smith’s corner coaching his fighter on what he wanted to see him work on.
de Guzman applied some grease to Claggett’s face and whispered some instructions to his fighter as Yoel Judah looked on anxious to get a look at the new comer.
The bell rang and the fighters met in the centre of the ring. They traded some good punches early before Smith walked Claggett back to the ropes and unloaded some hellacious shots to the Canadian’s midsection. As he threw a shoe-shining left-right to Claggett’s body he grunted loudly. The shots landed with a thudding sound.
Claggett absorbed the shots well, quickly darted out and turned Smith. Each fighter I’d seen Steve spar with on the trip so far had been caught off guard by his quick foot movement and Smith appeared to lumber a bit as he attempted to square himself up to Claggett’s new location.
The fighters exchanged a few more punches but it was Claggett’s sharp power punches that were more pronounced as they stood with some distance between them. The Canadian did well using angles and moving quickly to his side after getting his punches off.
Again Smith walked Claggett to the ropes and unloaded some big body punches with the roar of a lion.
“Barbecue those ribs!” Mustafa Muhammad yelled out with delight. “Put some hot sauce on em!”
All throughout the afternoon Mustafa’s high volume commentary had been worthy of an admission charge, but during the sparring he picked it up as he yelled instructions to his fighter.
After the first round was over the action seemed relegated to Smith’s pressure attack and body punching vs. Claggett’s superior movement and quick accurate punching, whenever the fighters shared the middle of the ring.
The action was intense and furious as Smith ate a few sharp punches before intermittently pinning Claggett on the ropes to unload his body attack.
I thought back to the car ride out to Vegas when Claggett mentioned he felt he takes punches to the mid section very well. He pointed out that he has a way of catching a lot of shots with his arms and elbows and I noticed him doing this under fire from Smith’s concentrated attack.
Claggett continuously darted off the ropes and seemed to surprise Smith each time. In every instance when the two shared open space in the centre of the ring Claggett was quick to go to work with stingingly fast punches.
Again his bread and butter was a well crafted right uppercut that Smith could not avoid. It continued to be Claggett’s best weapon on the trip.
After thee torrid rounds I heard Claggett tell de Guzman he was ready to pick up the pace in the fourth. The two fighters met in the centre of the ring and traded punches. Smith sensed Claggett upping his activity level and he threw a multi punch combination himself.
Mustaffa Muhammad continued yelling from the corner that wanted to see Smith get out of the way of more of the punches coming towards him.
At this point both Zab Judah and Ishe Smith were watching with interest from behind the ropes.
Claggett continued to up the tempo and Smith was evidently starting to tire.
“WORK!” Mustaffa yelled with increasing intensity from the corner.
“I’m tired!” Smith finally bellowed back to his verbal trainer.
“Well the gas station’s closed!” Mustafa replied in an unsympathetic tone. This drew some laughter from the onlookers.
In the final minute Claggett was really letting his hands go. He rocked Smith in the centre of the ring with a picturesque uppercut.
“Move!” Mustaffa exclaimed. Before he finished that sentiment, uppercut number two landed with just as much authority as the first.
A third consecutive uppercut lifted Smith’s headgear half way up his face and finally (in a fraction of a second) a fourth and final uppercut blew the headgear straight off his head and sent it flying into the corner behind him.
Claggett landed four consecutive uppercuts in just a couple of seconds. The final series of punches and the subsequent launching of the headgear drew a small ovation from the crowd.
“Man, how the hell do you get hit with four damn uppercuts?” Mustafa lectured with some jesting in his tone. “Cause I’ll tell you one thing I remember from my fighting days… A guy hits me with one uppercut like that, and I sure as hell wasn’t gettin hit with a second one, never mind four!”
Smith picked up his head gear which now sported a broken strap as the bell sounded. He and Claggett touched gloves. Then each fighter spent a few minutes with his trainer listening to things that they needed to take away from the four previous rounds of sparring.
After a few minutes of cooling down Claggett was right back to work doing the pads with top trainer Yoel Judah.
While his son and multiple-time world champion Zab Judah shadow boxed in the ring behind them, Claggett and Coach Judah engaged in some quick and explosive work on the mitts.
Yoel is a slick and seasoned trainer with a commanding tone to his voice when he yells instructions. Like we saw a lot of at the Wild Card, the ace trainer continuously asked the young Canadian to start by doubling up on the jab. Why throw one when you can throw two?
Judah instructed Claggett to move his head and feet after landing his punches and fired punches in return to keep the fighter on his toes. As the work continued Judah escalated the intensity by demanding more explosive punches.
de Guzman stood just behind them soaking it all in. He had worked with the Judahs years prior to this when he was a young aspiring fighter living in New York and he had even had the opportunity to spar with Zab when he was younger. The chance to watch the elder Judah with his young fighter was a sight to behold for the young Canadian trainer on this trip.
Finally after four rounds on the pads Yoel ended things on a high note with Claggett as he asked for six punch combinations to wrap things up. Claggett studied the timing and fired the combos out without pause.
“Good, good!” Judah yelled. “1-2-3-4-5-6!… come on now, do it again!”
Claggett fired off the combo a few more times with more power behind the punches. The bell sounded to end things off.
Yoel came over to de Guzman who had been studying them closely the entire time.
“He’s good!” Judah said. “And I don’t usually say that so you know he’s got some potential. You keep working him,” he added.
Judah turned his attention back to Claggett as he was removing his wraps.
“You keep working hard, you hear me?” Judah sounded stern and uncompromising.
“Yes sir.” Claggett replied.
“And don’t take no punches! You got that? Fuck that shit, you don’t take no punches!”
That was good advice for the young Canadian as we were set to pack up and head back to Los Angeles to meet with a group of Mexicans to spar at the infamously rough and tumble Maywood gym on our final day. There would be more than enough punches to try and avoid coming his way the next morning.
Steve Claggett in Las Vegas:
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Photos by Ace Freeman and Preston Drummond