The Boxing Re-Education of Demond Nicholson

Demond Nicholson is making a long-awaited return to the ring but finds himself with the task of battling an undefeated opponent in the middle of a historic knockout run. Nicholson has battled kidney problems and a pandemic in between fights and is coming in as an underdog despite being the more experienced opponent.

You’d never know it by talking to him. I had the chance to chat with Demond about his upcoming fight and a few other aspects of his life and boxing career. Nicholson was light-hearted and ready to laugh. Despite that you could tell the passion and care he takes with his work and life in and out of the ring. These factors made him a valuable member of recent fight camps for Gervonta Davis and Caleb Plant.

Nicholson (23-3-1 20KOs) will be fighting Edgar Berlanga (16-0-0 16KOs) on April 24th at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida as the co-feature, live and free on ESPN. Headlining the night will be the WBO World Featherweight title fight between Emmanuel Navarrete and Christopher Diaz.

This fight is pure fireworks, worth every bit of the wait.

MM: You’ve got a big fight coming up and you’ve had a few obstacles get in your way since your last outing. How has it been being back in the gym? Is everything feeling closer to normal?

DN: It is yeah. The crazy thing is that it has never not felt normal. After my last fight, I stayed in the gym, even with quarantine and stuff like that. I have my own gym so I was never away from it.

MM: During that time you had to pivot and do a lot of different things including personal training?

DN: Yup! Personal training started selling sea moss, started cutting hair, barbering everything man. All just to keep my head above water you know?

MM: With the personal training, a lot of people say coaching or teaching helps them understand their sport on a deeper level, did you experience that?

DN: That is very very true. Little things that I work on in the gym with my coaches I end up passing on to my guys. I have young fighters that I work with and it’s made my level of thinking and the way I move in the gym and operate took it to another level. That is absolutely true man and it’s crazy because I started paying attention to it the first couple of weeks. I thought man, I’m really working on everything I’m supposed to be practicing in the gym and me showing it to the kids is helping me. It helped me a lot.

MM: You said you’re working with younger fighters. Are they pros, amateurs or a mix?

DN: Yes I’ve been working with the amateurs coming up. Also in the gym, I help out with the pros sometimes. Hit the mitts with them, little stuff. I just love boxing so I try to surround myself with nothing but boxing just to better myself and keep it on my mind.

MM: How did you come to have that love for boxing? Did that come from family?

DN: Oh man my entire family pretty much loves boxing, loves to watch boxing, ever since I can remember from a baby on up. When I was six years old, you couldn’t play football with pads so my dad said: “Look Demond you’re gonna have to play flag football”. Man I wanna put the pads on I’m not trying to play no flag football, so he told me the only thing I could do was box. So I said let’s try that.

He said “You wanna try boxing?” and I said I don’t care. I was a kid I didn’t know any better I just wanted to be active and have some fun. So he took me into the gym in the summer of 99, I’ll never forget, and I’ve been in the gym ever since. When I was 7 years old my parents took me to see the Ali movie with Will Smith, and after that movie, it was a wrap. It was like I fell in love, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I got older.

MM: With everything happening in Baltimore and more generally the Maryland scene, is it becoming THE boxing hotbed of the country?

DN: Oh it’s crazy, the Maryland/DC/Virginia area has been known for boxing for years but there are so many distractions here where we live that it’s hard for fighters. There are so many fighters here too it is hard for one to pick up and be great. You’ve got Pernell Whitaker and Sugar Ray Leonard. There were fighters before them too. Andrew Maynard who won a gold medal in 88 (Summer Olympics at light heavyweight), Keith Holmes, Andrew Council, Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson is a Hall of Famer.

There are so many great fighters from this area but there are so many distractions. Whether it’s the streets, whether it’s home, sometimes it’ll be in the gym. A lot of fighters don’t actually get the chance to make it. And now a lot of fighters and trainers are starting to realize that and we’re locking in a lot more and coming together. I think that’s a big part of the change that is going on in this area. But this area is known for having great fighters and the amateurs man, the best amateurs come from the Maryland/Washington area.

MM: I’m up here in the Philadelphia area and it seems like between these two cities and areas there are a lot of guys with a ton of talent coming around now.

DN: There is. A lot of the guys at least here, I know because I grew up with them. We are all coming up together and shining and it is a great great thing.

MM: Do you think at this stage in your career you’re the veteran leader of this stable of Maryland area fighters?

DN: Yeah you could say that. I’ve been pro for 8 years now, I consider myself a veteran now. A lot of the guys coming up I watched grow up. I’m older than them, and I’m showing them things. Whether it’s in the ring or outside of the ring.

MM: In terms of getting yourself prepared for your fight, how do you prepare for a guy who has stopped everyone in the 1st round? Do you look for something he’s doing or do you look at his opponents and try to avoid doing what they were doing?

DN: Well it’s kinda hard to study him with all 1st round knockouts, but one thing I picked up on is that everyone that he’s fought has been scared. He’s done exactly what he’s supposed to do, he’s picked up on it, smelled blood in the water, and attacked them like a shark is supposed to do. That’s going to be the big difference with me. I’m experienced. I’ve been on this level before, I’ve been the knockout artist. It’s not about fear, it’s time to have fun.

When I use that reverse psychology, you’re in for a fight, it’s time for you to think, time to have fun. Are you gonna try to kill me or are you going to have fun? If you try to kill me that’s when you’re going to get hurt. That’s what this is about for me. There’s not too much to study on him. I can study a little bit but from what I’ve seen he’s not learning a lot, but he’s got power so he knows how to finish somebody. The main thing with this fight is mental. Go in there mentally prepared and mentally strong, know I’m the vet in the ring, that I’ve been on these levels before, know I’ve been hurt before, that I can weather the storm. I have to teach him that. Can you weather the storm? Can you get hit hard in the first round and get through the round? That’s what this fight is about.

MM: With a fighter like him, he’ll beat guys before they get in the ring. In Philadelphia he had Fat Joe come out and do his walkout music live, his opponent was practically ready to lay down by the time he got to the ring.

DN: Exactly! That’s what people get messed up at, fear. Anytime you step in the ring, that man bleeds just like you bleed, he could fall just like you could fall. The only thing is he might hit harder but that doesn’t mean anything in boxing. Boxing is a skill, not about how hard you can hit.

That’s mainly what it is man. These guys are scared and they’ve never really been in the ring with a real puncher.

MM: So talking about real punchers and power, is there a way to train for taking that real power shot, or is it gritting your teeth and hearting through it?

DN: I mean, the old school fighters might spar a heavyweight or a bigger guy. That’s the perfect thing. You spar somebody big who hits hard and is a heavyweight. Oh, he’s a super middleweight who hits like a heavyweight, alright let’s go spar some heavyweights then. That’s how you prepare yourself for this type of fight mentally. You have to go in there and realize that you’ve already taken punches from heavyweights, from knockout artists. So if he hits me, boom, it feels just like that heavyweight punch let me eat it and keep going.

That’s what they don’t realize with me either. I hit hard. I’ve got 20 knockouts. They aren’t all in the first round but 20 people went down. It is about mentally preparing for him too. He’s with Andre Rozier so I’m sure he’s not looking over me he’s going to be well prepared too.

MM: You’ve fought more and fought a much higher level of competition. Is there a fight, could be one you’ve won, one you’ve lost, that you think you’ve learned the most from?

DN: The fight I learned the most from was my fight with Jesse Hart. I learned a lot mentally and physically in that fight. Then right after that, I fought a guy named Isaac Rodrigues, he was 25-2 with 20 knockouts so I had two tough back-to-back fights that I learned so much from. When I fought Jesse Hart I learned how mentally strong I was because I was going through a lot emotionally, physically, and mentally that I didn’t share with the outside world and I still don’t share but I was going through a lot that fight and it showed up in that fight. Not only did that show up but I didn’t have the right training also.

Right after that, I took a month or two off, and then I went to go train in Baltimore. When I went to go train in Baltimore the training was across the board 100% different. I worked on not only getting in top shape but training the mind, training my mind up. Throwing 2 or 3 punches, 3, 4, 5, 6 punches, 3, 4, or 5 jabs. Beating my body up and beating my mind at the same time. When I went and fought I looked great. I surprised myself against a knockout puncher, ended up knocking him out. Those two fights right there, a loss and a win, I learned the most from. Not only did I learn that I can fight, I learned that I am a true fighter, a warrior.

MM: So from what we’ve been talking about and what I’ve learned about you, I’d say that the biggest difference between you in 2018 and that Jesse Hart fight, up to now has been a re-education in boxing.

DN: Yes, yes yes, man, you could call it just that a re-education.

MM: Now on fight night a lot of fighters have to have their gear and everything set up. Do you have any go too’s or must haves?

DN: I don’t really have any specific stuff, just something I like. I might’ve seen somebody else have it or wear it and I liked it but I’m not a picky guy. I do like Adidas but I’m not picky. As long as I look good I’m going to fight good.

MM: Post training or cheat day meal what do you like best?

DN: Has to be rotisserie chicken, broccoli and brown rice.

MM: What should we be keeping our eye on for this fight for you? What are we poised to see out of Demond Nicholson?

DN: You’re going to see the Demond Nicholson that people are not used to seeing. A lot of people used to call me one-dimensional, a lot of people who would say oh he can box. But you’re going to see that person all in one. That person who can mix it up and really bite down and go to dark places, take the fight into dark places where he might not survive. Mentally I’m prepared to go to war. Whatever it takes to get this win that just is what it is. If I have to box the hell out of him for 8 rounds that’s what I’m going to do. If during those 8 rounds I see him breathing a little hard getting tired, if I rock him a little bit I’m going to try and kill him. That’s just what it is.

MM: What message if any would you share with a young fighter, debuting fighter, a guy just starting his career?

DN: For a young fighter in these times, remain disciplined in the sport. Whoever you have around you pay close attention, if they don’t have your best interests get them away. That’s the best advice I could give stay disciplined and keep your circle close and tight. That’s the #1 thing in this sport a lot of people fall off by not staying disciplined and #2 having the wrong people around them.

MM: Is that something you learned as you become a promotional free agent?

DN: I found that out BEFORE I become a free agent. It isn’t that I had the wrong people around me, they love the sport, they just didn’t have my best interests at heart. Their best interests were for them so that they could make a dollar. I make a dollar but they are going to make that dollar too. For me, if I was ever to become a manager or promoter I would make sure the fighter is as comfortable as possible. Make sure their family is taken care of. If one person eats, and they are eating well then we all eat. If one person is successful you’re all successful.

MM: With that attitude and what you’ve said about working with the younger fighters it seems like being a trainer or manager might be in your future.

DN: It is for sure it definitely will be. Without a doubt.

MM: Plus you can make sure they look good going into the ring, give them that final cut!

DN: Exactly you’re right, 100% right!

MM: For everyone that wants to find out more about you and follow along pre-fight where can they find you?

DN: I’m on Facebook under Demond Nicholson, you can find me on Instagram @Demond_Nicholson and on Twitter @DemondNicholson

Note: Demond is also an ambassador for the National Kidney Foundation. The NKF is a lifeline for those suffering from kidney disease in all ways. Be sure to check out their Twitter account or head directly to their website to see how you can support and those who have been impacted like Demond.

I’ll never not marvel at how good boxers are with the jump rope.

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