Yeah, Brown certainly isn’t complaining. These are the types of scenarios trainers dream of. You can go years putting in sweat equity in the gym with little or no fanfare or any notoriety. Now, Brown suddenly finds himself with two world champions under his wing. Brown is embracing all of this but he says, “Y’ know what? I’ve always had that mentality that it won’t last forever. So every time we go out, I try to make sure the guys are prepared the best they can be and that we go out and put our best foot forward because you never know; anything can happen on fight night.”
It’s true; while Quillin captured the WBO title by a wide margin, flooring the game Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam six times, Malignaggi struggled mightily in retaining his WBA welterweight crown versus the hard-charging Pablo Cano. Regardless, October 20th capped off a banner stretch for Brown.
“Yeah, I guess the last two years have been pretty good,” he said. “Everybody’s been winning; the young kids have been winning. My two primary fighters, both have been doing really good. And this year has capped it off with two world champions.”
Brown has been a mainstay at the Wild Card Boxing Club for well over a decade. While a lot of a faces have come and gone through this gym, Brown remains to this day. Roach says, “Eric’s done a great job; he’s been working with me for quite a long time now and he’s got Peter Quillin and Paulie Malignaggi and I gave him the full reins and he did a great job and he’s got two world champions.” He adds, “[Eric’s] a loyal guy and the thing is, he works hard. His work ethic is great. He doesn’t kiss the fighters asses; he makes them work. So he gets great results.”
Brown’s story begins long before he walked into the doors of the Wild Card. Brown is from Detroit where his own fight career, in his own words, “didn’t pan out,” he says with a laugh as he recalls his younger days. “I was a knucklehead. God blessed me with some ability to do some things and I couldn’t really make up my mind what I wanted to do. That time in my life I was all over the place. I had talent; I could do a lot of good things but I just couldn’t focus on one particular thing at one time. I was all over the place.”
Then as Brown had two children of his own, “I had to give it up,” he says. By 1985, he was working on an assembly line at General Motors and then at a health club, where he reunited with the man who trained him, Bill “Pops” Miller. At the time, Miller was working with a feisty young middleweight from Ann Arbor by the name of James Toney. It was here where his life’s journey would change.
“I had [Miller] and Rudolf Stringer,” said Brown of his boxing mentors. “I had them both at Kronk and ‘Pops’ taught me a lot. I mean, he taught me a lot of old-school techniques and had me working on stuff, as well as Rudy. They kinda backed each other up on things they worked with me and they made sure it was deeply embedded. So this is what I try to give my guys, the things that were taught to me.” It was at this time, when Brown was in his mid-‘30s and contemplating a return to boxing that Miller advised him his time had passed as a fighter. Instead, “Pops” suggested Brown impart what was taught to him.
“When I got back into boxing in 1989, I started working with James Toney with Bill and so when I got with James and them, we started coming out here [to Los Angeles] in early ‘90, ‘91 for training camps and things like that and so I slowly started coming back and forth out here. And then Freddie and I co-trained James in ‘96 and that’s when we first started working together. From that point on, I was out here a lot more and then I made my move out here in ‘99. I just got fed up with Detroit and just decided to come here.”
The man has paid his dues and like everyone else in boxing, he’s gotten the short end of the stick more than once. Like many other trainers, Brown has been shorted and stiffed by fighters. It’s almost a rite of passage, a test of how much you’re willing to put up with in this game. Almost every trainer, before he’s made any real money, has to work for pennies on the dollar for years, hoping against hope that one day that special fighter comes into his life (and then shows him some loyalty).
“It was the love of the game,” said Brown of what kept him at it, “because it’s something that’s been a part of my life, my whole life. Boxing, cars and music was my whole life and boxing had a major part in that. So yeah, you get disappointed. There’s some guys that don’t have any loyalty and you’re going to go through that but if you do this for the right reasons, then you stick with it because you love it. You do it because you love the sport and you love seeing people excel and learn from you and get better and go out and show what they can do. So yeah, I’ve been screwed around by different fighters but I’ve had some rewarding times now too. So even if it wasn’t monetarily, it was just in seeing them do good.”
In 2010, two New Yorkers migrated out west and almost by fate, hooked up with Brown. Quillin, then a prospect whose career had stagnated and looked for guidance, went to the Wild Card believing he would work with the world-renowned Roach. Instead, he found the respected trainer’s dance card was already filled out. He may have trained at Roach’s gym but he wasn’t actually training with him. So Quillin asked Roach, “Hook me up with your most trusted guy.”
Immediately, he tabbed Brown.
“He gave me exactly what I thought was gonna come with Freddie Roach but in a different kind of package,” said Quillin from New York. “Eric Brown took me to the next level by being a champion. So I give him a lot of credit for that because he believed in me from day one since I’ve been with him. He’s been working with so many other fighters that he stayed under the radar. Everybody gets their time to shine and I think it’s Eric’s time right now.”
For Malignaggi, fate intervened when he had just signed on with Golden Boy Promotions and was out in Los Angeles getting his physical. A mutual friend, Natasha Aiello, suggested to the “Magic Man” that Brown might be a good fit for him. On his initial day at the Wild Card, they worked 10 rounds on the pads. “We just clicked right away,” said Malignaggi, who said to Brown, “Y’ know what? I’ll be back.” But he knew he had just found his new trainer.
Asked what makes Brown such an effective teacher and cornerman, the always talkative Malignaggi explained, “Every trainer has their strengths and flaws but with Eric, I feel like I’m learning from him without taking away what I do well. He’s not so stubborn; a lot of problems fighters have with trainers is that they butt heads over both people’s pride. Like a trainer will have his set style, his set ways, maybe not everything will work that way and sometimes you give your opinion on something and the trainer will be like, ‘Nah, it’s not the way it goes.’ I think Eric’s open-mindedness is his biggest advantage, also obviously aside from his talent that he has.
“But one thing he always told me a long time ago and it stuck out to me and he always repeats it, ‘You know how to fight. I’m not going to teach you how to fight. I’m going to show you what I do. I’m going to show you things. You take what you need and the rest you can throw it away,’” said Malignaggi, who appreciates that Brown tries to complement what he does well, not change it. “I thought that was very humble of him but I thought that was very intelligent of him too. Eric’s added things to my style while he’s not taking away anything I already do well.”
“Kid Chocolate” says of Brown, “He teaches how the offense and the defense work together, short punches, when you wing punches, upping your speed and tempo and everything on your punch count. Things like that. I’ve just been learning so much from him. I’m very blessed to have him.”
It’s funny; you can be the exact same guy working as the second assist or the one in charge of making sure a fighter gets up to run in the morning or supervises his drills at the gym for years. But till you’re on TV leading a boxer to some notable wins, it’s only then when people think you know anything about this game. Yeah, being on television somehow makes you smarter, it seems.
Brown gets a kick out of this. He laughs and says, “A lot of people say, ‘He’s a newcomer to the game.’ No, I’m not; I’ve been in this thing for almost 40 years. It’s not nothing new. It’s just now people are starting to recognize who I am and that’s nice but my main thing is - and it’s always been - that the fighters come first. They’re the ones that gotta get in there and perform; it doesn’t matter how good or bad I am. The fighters come first; they’re the ones who gotta get in there and perform. It doesn’t matter how good or bad I am; if the guy I’m working with isn’t getting it, I ain’t worth a sh*t to him.”
He’s right; it is more about the thoroughbred than the jockey, on most occasions.
“So it’s important to me that these guys, they get it and we take it and we run with it and make the most of it.”
And just now is Brown getting his just desserts.
“I haven’t started making the big money yet,” he points out with a chuckle, “but when guys do good and they start coming up and your paydays start to get a little bit better, yeah, it is a reward for all the years that you put in.”
But Brown is still that guy who will work the corner for a four-round fighter on a club show or organizes the sparring rounds in the gym, taking the reins when Roach is on assignment. Like he did many years ago at GM, he still punches a clock and does his job faithfully. Nothing that has taken place the last year or two will change that.
“It’s what I do,” Brown states. “I work with everybody and treat everybody the same way I do at any other time. When they come here, we come to work.”
Brown is much younger looking than his 58 years of age but he was lucky enough to be at the Kronk Gym in Detroit during its heyday. He reflected on the recent passing of its architect, Emanuel Steward.
“Ah, man, Emanuel was Kronk Boxing. He did so much to create that environment for all the young guys - me included - and he was just a great guy for boxing. Everybody always has different opinions and different things they want to say and everything like that but the bottom line is Emanuel Steward was great for boxing and he’s going to be deeply missed,” said Brown.
During this era, Kronk was boxing Camelot.
“We were all trying to come up at that time. We had a gym full of really good fighters from Tommy Hearns, Jimmy Paul to Hilmer Kenty; you could go up and down the line. We had a wide variety of great fighters in there so there were great people to work with and learn from and that’s what I like about Wild Card because it reminds me a lot of Kronk. It was just a good era; it was the height of the ‘70’s and early ‘80s and those kind of things won’t ever happen again.”
Brown admits there may not have been a full appreciation of just what was taking place at that time.
“Yeah, I mean, at the time, you’re in the moment. So when you’re in the moment, we’re in this hot basement, no ventilation; everybody’s sweating and going crazy trying to learn and you don’t realize just how important this is going to be for the history of boxing till afterwards. Afterwards, you go, ‘Wow, that really was a great era.’”
Working with the gifted - yet oftentimes volatile and undisciplined - Toney will teach you about patience and tolerance, which Brown learned in abundance. But he’s quick to point out, “He was a great fighter. Still, to this day, I have to say he is one of the greatest fighters I have ever seen in the ring at his prime and the most complete fighter I’ve ever seen.”
The November 16th edition of “ShoBox” will have Omar Henry facing James De la Rosa and Angelo Santana facing Juan Garcia...I’m told Jayson Velez and Danny Jacobs will be featured on the December 1st undercard at Madison Square Garden on Showtime before Miguel Cotto takes on Austin Trout...Don’t care what anyone says; ABC’s “Nashville” is a spectacular show...I think the Lakers go 57-25 in the regular season...I’m picking the Miami Heat to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy again...My MVP pick is LeBron James (again) and my “Rookie of the Year” prediction is Anthony Davis...Serious question: Can NYC function without a subway system?...I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.