Everybody loves a winner. Derrick "Smoke" Gainer knows it
all too well. After dominating Kevin Kelley July 18 in posting
a one-sided decision win over the former WBC featherweight
champion, Gainer found himself at the top of a red-hot 126-lb
division packed with big possibilities and the kind of money
usually reserved for guys with twice the size and half the savvy.
And it's just as likely that he never forgot life on the flip
side, having lost to Kelley two years earlier in a bout which he
punished Kelley and had him teetering on the brink, only to be
knocked out by a desperate Kelley bomb in the eighth round.
Gainer called Kelley afterward, struck up a friendship, and in
the ensuing months, convinced Kelley to give him a rematch.
"Smoke" made good, flooring Kelley twice, showing slick
movement with precision punching. Managed by Roy Jones, Jr.,
Gainer's record stands at 25-4, with 16 wins via knockout. In
beating Kelley, he has put himself on the short list of worthy
contenders amidst a three-division logjam of tough champions
and capable challengers at 122, 126, and 130 pounds. On November
2 Gainer talked with Boxing Wise's Jason Probst about
his friendship with Roy Jones, why IBF champ Naseem Hamed is
ducking him, and some lesser-known points of pugilism.
JP: You've got Louie Leija scheduled on November 14th. Have you seen him that much, made any assessment of his style, or are you pretty much going in blind? Derrick Gainer: I saw him twice. Against Chavez and I also saw him when he fought against Floyd Mayweather. JP: How much difference is there in preparing for a Kevin Kelley a guy you've fought, versus maybe a guy you've seen a couple of times? Derrick Gainer: It's very difficult, actually. You get up for fights like Kevin Kelley because some people think you can't win those fights. And then you fight guys like Louie Leija, everybody always expects you to beat those guys. So basically I have nothing to gain by beating a Louie Leija. It's a fight to keep me active. JP: Basically he's coming in like Buster Douglas against Tyson. Derrick Gainer: Exactly. He has everything to win and nothing to lose. I knock him out and he just got knocked by Derrick "Smoke" Gainer. If he beat me, then he BEAT me; he beat one of the top featherweights in the world. So basically I have nothing to gain by fighting him. JP: What's been the difference in Derrick Gainer as a fighter goes, between the 1st and 2nd Kevin Kelley fights? We saw you in the 1st fight, go in, you jumped ahead, you kind of came out of nowhere and really surprised Kelley, and then got stopped. In the 2nd fight you seemed much more disciplined and stuck to a boxing plan. Was that by design? Derrick Gainer: Yes it was. The first fight with Kevin Kelley, I didn't pay my dues. Basically I went into the first fight just looking to knock Kevin Kelley out. I didn't have a plan at all. Sometimes you want to go in there, and you want to K.O a person. But you've always got to have that backup plan, and I didn't have that. I just thought about nothing but a K.O. That's why I was throwing such big shots. On the other hand, in the second fight, I went in there and said, you know, I'm gonna box him. He's 5'7 and I'm 5'9. He has to take all the chances. I don't have to take a chance at all. I can just stick to my boxing plan. And if he stays outside, just beat him up outside. If he comes inside, beat him outside. So basically I said, I'm gonna just stay out there and box him, and let him take all the chances by throwing the big shots and if he throws a big shot I'll counter him with a couple shots to his one. I knew at that point I was still ahead in the fight. JP: The HBO broadcast crew was somewhat critical of the fight's action level. Do you watch that kind of thing after a fight, and did you feel that the first fight was an impossible standard to match up to? You got redemption over Kelley but the broadcast crew wasn't as excited about it compared to the result of the first fight. How does that strike you as a fighter afterward? Derrick Gainer: Well you know it bothered me a little bit, but like George Foreman said, you gotta understand boxing to like a fight like that. Basically you know, you box fighters, and you fight boxers. And Kevin is a puncher, so I had to box him. The guys doing the commentating, they never fought before, you know, but George Foreman has, so he knows what's going on inside. So basically, they say a lot of stuff and a lot of times it makes me upset, but I feel like Hamed moved more than I did in his last fight. And they felt like he was a superstar. I see guys run, run, run. I hit Kevin. I didn't run, I boxed. You know, so I get criticized, and it's fine. And I just take it and I keep going and I'm not gonna let them stop me from doing what I gotta do. And I don't have to sit down, and after my career's over, I'm all punchy and I can't talk. I don't want to be like that. So I'm gonna win and if they boo me, that's fine. If they criticize me, that's fine. As long as I get the "W" that's all that matters to me. JP: How hard is it to listen to your trainer, Alton Merkerson, between rounds? Derrick Gainer: Sometimes you're in the heat of the battle stuff happens and a guy hits you with a shot and then you think about, I wanna do this to get him back, before I listen to my coach. Sometimes you'll just be out there fighting. For example, when I fought Manuel Medina everytime I went back to my corner, he (Alton) wanted me to just box Medina. But at the time I felt it would have been a harder fight if I had boxed Medina. I hit him with shots and hurt him with every shot I touched him with, so why would I box him? That's what I was thinking to myself. But on the other hand, I KO'd Medina by boxing him. Sometimes you're in the heat of battle and you don't listen to your coach, but if you discipline yourself and sit back and listen to him, sometimes the fights will be over quicker. (Alton) wanted me to box Kevin Kelley. That was our plan and we stuck to the plan, and it was a shutout. True boxing fans, you know, they loved me for that fight. It showed that I'm disciplined, that I stick to the game plan, and it showed that I am the best boxer in my division. Because I was able to outbox him. And it was just a coincidence because in the 1st fight he hit me with shots and he knocked me down; the 2nd fight, he never hurt me. He hit me clean.....the shots felt like I was fighting against my little son. It really did. So, you know, it's just all about listening to what your coach is saying and trusting him enough to know he knows what he's talking about. JP: In the 122, 126, and 130 lb. division, there are a lot of big punchers and not many guys that are pure boxers like your style. Is this something we will see more from you and be what helps you distinguish yourself from the crowd? Derrick Gainer: Well, basically, it depends. I know I can box, but I don't feel there's no one in the division who can stand up to my punch. It's because I live right. I'm getting my rest, and I'm working hard. I am a little older now than when I came out. So basically I'm gonna box. I'm a boxer. I'm 5'9 and most guys I fight are going to be shorter. But I showed that, against Orlando Soto, if he hit me with a shot, and forced me to sit down and fight with him, I showed that I could sit down and K.O you instead of worrying about people kayoing me. So basically my power has improved so much that I can do either. I'm a boxer, slash, puncher. I can always fall back on my power now. It's good knowing you can hit a guy and get him out of there if he gets in there and forces you to fight. Some guys forced to sit down and fight inside can't do anything. For example, the fight that happened this weekend now had (Wayne) McCullough had been a serious puncher, you had best believe that Hamed would've fought that fight differently. JP: We saw Hamed go the 12-round distance against McCullough, and show his boxing side. Did you see some stylistic holes you feel you could take advantage of? Derrick Gainer: I was at the fight, and I will be at all his fights until me and him fight. I saw a lot of mistakes he gets hit too much. And after punches, he don't move his head. And you know, he fought a bantamweight who can't punch at all, but was hitting him with shots and making his head pop up everywhere! He throws a lot of wild shots. And I also saw that the later the fight goes, the tireder he gets. His punches were losing a lot of steam. And that works great for me because I am an end fighter, meaning that after a couple rounds I'm just getting started. And he's a beginning fighter he just wants to knock you out in the first couple of rounds. He has good speed, but I was watching from ringside and he didn't look that fast. That's why you go to fights like that, to watch and to see the opponent. And he makes too many mistakes to beat me. And that's why I don't think he'll ever get in the ring with me. JP: You would pose unique problems for him. Derrick Gainer: A lot of problems. Because basically, I would bang his body no one hits his body. I think he is very, very afraid of me, because after the fight, at the press conference, I was talking to him, trying to get him to answer my questions. He wouldn't answer my questions but Manfredy was standing right behind me, and he would go around my question to answer Manfredy's question. So basically it made me feel like, I really was there to see the fight and I really felt like he will never fight me. Because I feel like he's chicken, afraid of me. And I don't blame him. Because of my style, and I can punch. But I really feel that the boxing world, the fans, will demand he fight somebody that's a top fighter because they're gonna stop supporting that. And he really got booed, big-time. Big-time! JP: You and Roy placed an ad in a British Boxing magazine this month issuing a formal challenge to Hamed, a la Frazier-Ali. Have you gotten any response from that and did it do what you intended? Derrick Gainer: Oh, yes it did. Because when I saw Hamed, I went up to the ring and I banged on the ring. And he looked at me, and he was like shocked to see me right there. My fans was telling him to come on, and he said I like that. People was talking about that ad it did what I wanted it to do, but it didn't make him want to fight. If a guy sent an ad to me like that, I'd want to fight him. But I feel he's scared. He told me up there at the fight, You're next. And I said, You promise? And he said Yeah, you're next. And I said Good. JP: And then he said he would fight Marco Antonio Barrera next. Derrick Gainer: He said that to the HBO crew, but he said to me, man to man, that I was going to be his next opponent. But I knew he was just bluffing. I don't feel he would fight me, and it doesn't matter what I do, or what I say to him. He's not gonna fight. JP: Then what's the strategy in that situation? Derrick Gainer: I was very frustrated at the press conference because he wouldn't answer what I was saying. He just overlooked it. So what I said I'm gonna do is go out there, beat a champion, and just keep winning. And hopefully HBO will call, and make him fight me before his contract runs out. And we can we get a fight on. But like I told the guy, I said basically, you know, if you don't fight me, let's see you fight a true featherweight. It's just like De La Hoya. People are tired of seeing him fight old guys. JP: It's like how Ike Quartey had to force De La Hoya to fight him by knocking off the other contenders. Derrick Gainer: Yeah, I want to do that, but I'm having problems doing that because the other guys won't fight me. JP: Roy Jones is your manager. What role does Roy play and what made you choose him as your manager? Derrick Gainer: We've been together since 1984. We'e best friends. We've really grown together and went through a lot together. And what he brings to the table is his power of being the best fighter in the world, pound- for-pound, and it's always a package deal when he fights. He says If I can't get Smoke Gainer on as the co-main event, then I'm not fighting. And most of the time, the problem as to when I'm the co-main event, it's because nobody will fight me. He has the bargaining power to pay these guys the money they want for their belts, and they still turn it down. All the champions right now from 126 to 130. They even tried to get Ivan Robinson for me on this fight coming up on the 14th, and he wouldn't fight me. JP: Even though he's 135 pounds? Derrick Gainer: And I was gonna go up to his weight class and fight him. At 135 pounds. JP: We see fighters like yourself on HBO. You put in a couple of good performances, and we know you're on the undercard, but not on the broadcast. And then there's fighters like Arturo Gatti that lose two in a row on HBO but they are perceived as having an exciting style so they keep getting TV fights. What are the politics of that? Derrick Gainer: It's big politics, but you've gotta understand boxing. And have patience. Gatti, he's just a fighter that shows you right there people would rather see you banged up and hurt for the rest of your life than to understand that you're a boxer and that you've got to have a future after boxing. They'd rather sit there and see him go toe-to-toe, where he gets swelled up, he may swell his opponent up, instead of seeing me just outbox a guy, hit him with a lot of speed, and use style. They don't appreciate that too much. JP: Who were some of the guys you liked to watch when you were coming up? Derrick Gainer: I got a lot of pointers from Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard. I liked Tommy Hearns, Muhammad Ali. Salvador Sanchez, I loved Salvador. Salvador Sanchez was such a smart fighter; he wasn't as stylish as, say, Sugar Ray Leonard or those guys, but... JP: Look what he did to Danny Lopez. Derrick Gainer: Yes. I mean, his style was so great because you never knew what he was going to do to you! And he never showed a facial expression. He stayed the same. If you hit him with a shot and hurt him, you didn't know you hurt him because he looked the same. I liked that. And he always was feinting at a guy he always feinted. He was just a great fighter. JP: Give us your assessment us some guys from 122-130 lbs., and how you match up with them. Let's start with Erik Morales. Derrick Gainer: Erik Morales? That would be a very, very tough fight. I would just box Erik Morales. I think right now he's the best fighter at 122. I would just box him and I would keep him on the outside. He's not busy enough to actually impose a threat to me. The guys that give me a hard time are the guys that try and throw a lot of punches at me, and to make me make a mistake, but he don't pose that threat to me at all. Plus, he's a junior featherweight. JP: Angel Manfredy. Derrick Gainer: He's a good fighter. He's a threat to me early. He's a front-end fighter also. Even when he fought against Gatti. When he stopped Gatti, when they stopped that fight, he was in trouble. Gatti was just coming on. JP: Manfredy was strong early. Derrick Gainer: That's right. So I would do is, I'd force him to fight me. I would take a chance to force him to fight me early, because I know I'm not going anywhere. I'll be there until the end. And I would stop him in the later rounds. JP: Floyd Mayweather. Derrick Gainer: I'd box him. And that would be a great fight. That would be one of the biggest fights and me and Floyd Mayweather would have a lot of fights if we ever fight. We'd have two or three fights. JP: Like a series? Derrick Gainer: That's right, because it'd be very exciting. JP: It would be the kind of thing that could go on a split decision either way. Derrick Gainer: That's right. He's a great boxer and I feel right now that they moved him up too quickly and I feel they should've let him get a couple more wins, fighting little guys. But now, he's fighting against Manfredy. So every fight from now on is going to be tough for the kid. And I like him, I like his family, and I'd love to fight him. You know, it's business. I'd love to fight him and I will beat him. JP: Do you feel that because Floyd's been moved so fast he won't have the benefit of the experience you gained against Kelley? Derrick Gainer: Yeah. In a sense, when you move a guy so quickly, sometimes he's in there and he can lose his spirit, so you've got to take your time. He's young. I couldn't believe how fast they was movin' him up I felt he didn't have to fight for the title after seventeen or whatever amount of fights he had. He picked the right opponent. JP: Style-wise, Genaro Hernandez was right for him. Derrick Gainer: He did. Style makes fights and he picked the right opponent. But basically they have should have their time, but hopefully if he takes a loss he has enough inside of him to come back and want to be better. You know, me, if I take a loss, I'll come back and learn from my mistakes. If I lose I come back and don't lose again for two or three years, or ten fights. Go down my record and you'll see that. Because I learn from my mistakes. JP: So often we see fighters on the way up and often they will leave one promoter or organization for one that is not as reputable or credible. It happens time and time again. Why? Derrick Gainer: It's because boxing is such a bad sport sometimes, business-wise. If you take a loss, they'll freeze you out. They'll put you on the back burner. They don't care anything about you all they care about is the winner. The good thing about what's going on with me, I've been with the same people no matter what because Roy Jones jr. loves me as friend first, then a fighter. He wants the best for me. I realize that, so when I take a loss we talk about it, he tells me you need to do this better and that better, and I work on that and it makes me better. So, no matter what, I don't have that pressure on me that if I lose, I'm through. A lot of fighters have that pressure on them. I know the trainer may not care about me, or the promoter, if I lose this fight, he won't be by my side and stick with me through thick and skin. JP: Like when Roy lost to Montell Griffin. You were there for him. Derrick Gainer: Of course. No doubt. I cried like it was something that happened to me. We talked about it. A lot of people can't say they had a friend for 13, 14 years. And we've been there for each other, and I know some things about him that no one knows, and he's the same for me. So when he loses, I feel that I've lost, too. And when I lost to Greg Torres in Atlantic City in 1994, he came and got me out of the ring, and he was just holding me, like I was his wife. And we're the best of friends. He made me feel like, okay man, don't worry about it. We're coming back. That's all he said we're coming back. He didn't say well, you gotta come back. He said We're coming back, like, We're in this together, no matter what. And I am the reason Roy Jones, jr. is still fighting today. If it wasn't for me, he would be gone. Retired. JP: Was there a point where Roy was pretty disgusted with it? Derrick Gainer: Oh, a lot of times. He's always disgusted with boxing because of what goes on. And no matter what he does, sometimes the fans and the people don't give him the credit. And it's not his fault that he came along at a time where he's just dominant. Just think about it if he'd have come along during the Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns era. Roberto Duran. JP: And Tony Ayala. Derrick Gainer: Yeah, those guys like that. It'd be something different. JP: Roy took a lot of time off and wasn't as active, but lately we've seen him in against Virgil Hill and Lou Del Valle. What's been the change in Roy? Derrick Gainer: The change is we have a new promoter right now. Murad Muhammad with Square Ring Promotions, they're doing a great job. They're making him want to fight. And then the competition is there for him. And at the same time, I'm constantly calling him, making him want to fight, 'cause you've gotta get all you've gonna get. If you feel good and healthy, keep going. The fights came available, he's getting what he wants to get paid, and the money's there instead of him having to move up to heavyweight to the money that De La Hoya's making. De La Hoya gets paid for fighting Chavez? Come on! JP: He gets paid for fighting a French guy, Patrick Charpentier, that nobody ever heard of. Derrick Gainer: No one ever heard of him. JP: You could've beat that guy. Derrick Gainer: That's right. And I'm a featherweight. So does my friend have to take a chance and go fight a heavyweight to make 12 million dollars or whatever he deserves? So basically he wanted to get out of it because of that reason. It's not fair, but you know, you look at it, and life's not fair. He's gonna make his money, and he's really loving it. And now, once again, we're havin' fun. JP: Trade places. You're the manager and Roy Jones is the boxer. Who do you put Roy Jones in against? Derrick Gainer: Steve Collins. The kid from Germany, Rocchichigiani. There's another one over there too (Dariusz) Michalczewski. I'd love to see him fight Frankie Liles. Even though Frankie Liles won't fight him, I would love to him fight Frankie Liles, because they had such a big rivalry in the amateurs. And I know Roy would knock him out. JP: Ike Quartey is training in Penasacola in your gym. A lot of fans, particularly the hard-core fans, that are very big Ike Quartey supporters. Many feel he could be very difficult for Oscar when they meet. What have you been able to observe of him? Derrick Gainer: He was going to war with Andrew Council. And Council is a much heavier guy. (Quartey's) handspeed is very, very good. He has good handspeed, and a good jab and puts his punches together a lot. And he's moving his head a whole lot more. Aand what made me say he has a great chance at beating De La Hoya and I feel he will beat De La Hoya is because he fights inside and he fights outside. I don't think that De La Hoya is going to hit him with one shot and just blow him out. But I feel that if he hits De La Hoya, it's a great chance that he could knock De La Hoya out with one punch. JP: You've got a large frame for a featherweight. What's your walking around weight, how do you get down to 126, and how long are going to be there? Derrick Gainer: I walk around at 152, close to 155. How do I make weight so easily, and so strong? You've got to look at it like this. I don't drink. and I don't hang out and party. When I go into training I go for 6-8 weeks. I'm eating right. My coach cooks for me every day. Once I'm in training for a fight I don't drink any sodas, I don't eat no fried foods, no sweets. I'm doing what's right. I don't get banged on, and I run twice a day. See, before I didn't run twice a day. I ran once, if I did run that one time. But now I'm that disciplined to where I run twice a day. JP: What's your day like, training-wise? Derrick Gainer: I run at 7:00 in the morning, from two-three miles in the morning. Then I run again from one and a half to two miles at night. In the middle I go to the gym from 12-3, then I play softball at night. Then I run again after my softball game. So I have no choice but to be in shape! And I'll be able to fight featherweight for a couple more years, and if not I'll go to junior lightweight. I'm in a good situation because of my height. I can go all the way up to, I feel, welterweight. Ike (Quartey) is not taller than me. So basically I have the height to go and move around. JP: Like how Tommy Hearns was effective at middleweight. Derrick Gainer: That's right. JP: When you're not training and thinking about fighting, what kinds of things do you like to do? Derrick Gainer: I like to hang out at the mall, look at movies. Play softball. I go and watch Roy play basketball a lot. I just really get my rest. And I do a lot of motivational speaking at schools, churches, banquets. So that's basically all I do. Doing that, you know, you stay out of trouble. Your body is clean. You rest. You're not running the streets and roamin' around. So much is happening nowadays, man, in the streets, so I just spend most of my time at home. I'm here, and I have a beautiful home. I've got a pool table in my house, video games, and I've got everything I need at my house. I don't have to go nowhere. Interview by Jason Probst (To read more of Jason's work please visit The Judges section.