Ross Williams made it out, and then he wrote a book about it.
Growing up in New Orleans’ 7th Ward can be rife with challenges. The horror stories far exceed the successful ones. Ross’s journey is an exception, and an exceptional one.
Surrounded by a solid family with community values, Williams attended Tulane University where he studied sociology. He has gone on to become the author of two best-sellers within an eight-month span.
“Made It Out” is testimony not only to his journey, but also to the similarities of surviving the streets and corporate America. His follow-up book, “Crabs In A Barrel: War On Racism,” gives a different perspective on the phrase that focuses more on the barrel than on the crab.
Author is just one of Williams’ many hats. He is also CEO of Williams Commerce Writing Services, which aims to empower job seekers, authors and entrepreneurs.
Zenger News invited Williams for a Q&A session to learn more about his break-out book and journey of discovery.
Percy Crawford interviewed Ross Williams for Zenger News.
Zenger: How did you break the cycle, so to speak, and make it out of the 7th Ward in New Orleans?
Williams: Really learned as much as possible. So, really learning what cursed prior generations and trying to avoid those same things. A lot of that came from learning from my parents who were born in the 1940s, so a lot of my family members are older. So, I have a lot of old-school values. I had the chance to learn about life before my era… I was able to accumulate all of that and just learn from every lesson or loss that I had in life and just never settled.
Zenger: What was it like growing up there and seeing some of the things you experienced?
Williams: I had a sense of pride about my community. My mother’s side of the family has been part of the St. Bernard, 7th Ward community since it was established back in the 1930s and 40s. A lot of people talk about the downfall of the neighborhood. Of course, I discuss that in my first book, “Made It Out,” some of the things I experienced. But one of the big things my neighborhood helped with was just building a confidence about myself and my abilities. At first it was basketball and then it became a swag with everything I do. I believe that I can be the best at whatever I put my mind to.
Zenger: What made you decide to even write a book?
Williams: Really to help other people to make it out of situations that they encountered. At first when I was writing my book, it was kind of like making it out of the inner city. I felt my lessons were applicable to any environment that you can grow up in. Like I said, learning from mistakes, gravitating towards positive energy, and learning from your losses. I really just wanted to give people the blueprint because halfway through the book it became about making it out of corporate America and becoming an entrepreneur. As of right now, even just picking up from there, I’m trying to show the world that I’ve made it out since then. Since the book, I’m still making it out.
Zenger: You actually make parallels in the book about the similarities of making it out of the street life and making it through corporate America. As crazy as it sounds, there’s not very much separation, is there?
Williams: I think in society with social engineering, a lot of us feel that if we are a different race or different religion, society has taught us that the next person is very different from us. And we can’t see eye-to-eye just because we come from different worlds or experiences. Gangstas and crooked people growing up in inner cities are no different than white collar gangstas. White collar gangstas are actually more cutthroat because at least in the neighborhood you know who to look out for. In corporate America, a lot of people have ulterior motives, but they project friendly energy. It’s not really necessary. It’s not these people need me to get by like in the neighborhood. It’s just out of malice. That’s why I feel like it’s grimier in corporate America because of how it’s presented to you.
Zenger: It can be difficult to navigate that.
Williams: Right. And something that my neighborhood taught me, once I started communicating with people in higher level CEO positions or people that made in the upper six figures or north of that, just the intellect and growing the confidence once I interacted with these people, it’s like, “Oh, I can sit in these positions too.” A lot of times we are made to look at certain people as if they are superior to us, especially when we’re coming from inner cities. But we have the same abilities as those people. A lot of those people had easier routes to get there. That’s one thing of just gaining confidence along each step of your journey.
Zenger: Did you anticipate becoming a best-selling author and your books having the kind of impact that they have had?
Williams: Humbly speaking, my mom always told me, “Don’t step at all if you are going to half step.” So, I know the tears, the blood and sweat that I put into each project, or even a client’s book. I put that same energy towards everything. I’m very strategic and I move with a sense of urgency. I visualized the successes that I have had in my career so many times over and over, that all of the excitement is poured into the process each day. So, when it happens, I’m kind of militant about it, so I’m really not surprised. I really put my all into each thing and utilize my natural skillset. I haven’t been surprised so far.
Some of the Americans watching Kamala Harris’s performance at Wednesday’s vice presidential debate with the greatest intensity are organizers, alumni and alumnae of the Divine Nine, a collection of African American fraternities and sororities that have played an enormous role in the political life of the United States since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Harris, a U.S. senator from California, was in Salt Lake City, Utah to debate Vice President Mike Pence in a quadrennial junior-varsity matchup that has taken on unusually broad significance with President Donald Trump battling Covid-19 and former Vice President Joe Biden nearly 78 years old, placing him in a group at high risk of infection.
When she accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination, Harris introduced her family—among them her beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and others from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Harris attended Howard University, one of those HBCUs. Her shout-out echoed worldwide.
As the first HBCU graduate and the first member of an historically black Greek letter organization named to a major party ticket, her nomination created a groundswell of enthusiasm among the more than 2 million global members of such institutions..
Carla Mannings is chief of strategic initiatives at Partners for the Common Good. She sat with a group of her sorority sisters to watch Harris’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. “There is a level of excitement that I’ve never seen,” she said.
Since Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Harris as his running mate, social media has brimmed with support.
“Kappa Alpha Psi is definitely behind her, she has our vote,” said Randall C. Pippen Jr., a member of that fraternity who attended Howard with Harris and served with her on student government there. “I’ve talked to Omegas and Deltas who support her, and Deltas have shared the social-media post of ‘Deltas for Kamala,’” he said, referring to the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and Delta Sigma Theta sorority. “The support is across the board.”
Some of America’s most household-name black political figures and civil rights leaders joined Divine Nine organizations. King, Jr. was an Alpha Phi Alpha and Rev. Jesse Jackson is a member of Omega Psi Phi. Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, was a Delta Sigma Theta.
“As a proud member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., which is the fraternity of John Lewis, James Weldon Johnson, Rev. Al Sharpton and many others, we are grateful for all the members of the Divine Nine Black Fraternities and Sororities who are overjoyed by the nomination of Kamala Harris for the office of Vice President of United States of America,” said Ben Chavis, CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
“It’s clearly an historic moment,” said Everett B. Ward, president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., on behalf of the nine National Pan-Hellenic Council presidents. He said Harris represents a high standards of public service and leadership.
“All of our organizations, prior to Sen. Harris’s nomination, historically have been involved in voter registration, voter education and advancing public policy that involves African Americans,” Ward said. “The nomination underscores the importance for our organizations to continue promoting voter engagement and voter education.”
The Divine Nine experience doesn’t end after college, with members engaging in volunteerism, community service, advocacy work, social gatherings and mentoring programs.
“Once you become a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, you’re always a member,” Mannings said. “We are about serving the community.”
Harris’s nomination “is a nod to the excellence that comes out of HBCUs,” said Inez Brown, who attended Howard and joined Alpha Kappa Alpha with Harris. “Often, people think HBCUs are not up to the same standards as predominantly white institutions and it’s absolutely not true.”
Pippen said Harris was a member of the college debate team and student government during their years together. She volunteered for community service events with Kappa Alpha Psi and was active in the anti-apartheid social justice movement on campus.
For sorority sister Jill Louis, a Dallas attorney, Harris’s nomination has given the nine Greek organizations a higher purpose.
“For us, it’s a bigger cause,” says Louis. “We are looking to galvanize the entirety of the Divine Nine and all members of HBCUs across the country.”
This story was updated after publication to reflect Sen. Harris’s participation in the 2020 vice presidential debate against current Vice President Mike Pence.
(Kalyn Womack contributed to this report. Edited by Fern Siegel and Matt Rasnic.)
Rob Parker, a Fox Sports Radio broadcaster and contributor to the sports news website Deadspin, isn’t convinced that the Los Angeles Dodgers are favorites in the National League.
The Dodgers finished the regular season with Major League Baseball‘s best record. But Parker, now half of the popular “The Odd Couple” with former National Basketball Association insider Chris Broussard, pointed to their recent playoff failures.
The start of college football season is a “money grab,” says Parker, by conferences like the Pac-12, that are worried more about financing their athletic programs than the well-being of unpaid student athletes.
A Hall of Fame baseball voter who was also an NBA beat reporter, Parker had no problem with the Los Angeles Clippers firing former coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers after the team blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets. Many experts had projected the Clippers would win the western conference and face the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals.
Parker talked baseball playoffs, the NBA and the start of the Pac-12 college football season with Mark Gray.
(Edited by Allison Elyse Gualtieri and David Martosko)
The music world lost two legends with the passing of Marcus Hutson and Nicholas Caldwell, two members of the quintet the world knew as The Whispers. But twins Wallace “Scotty” and Walter Scott and Leaveil Degree keep their memory alive by continuing to perform all over the world—and releasing new music well into their seventies.
The trio’s new single “How Long” is a response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It paints a picture of unity and love while calling out Americans for mistreating blacks and other minorities.
The Whispers had several hits on the R&B and Billboard Charts, and was the #1 “Hot Dance Club Play” with “And The Beat Goes On,” “Can You Do The Boogie” and “Out The Box.” The popular “Rock Steady” was #1 on the R&B charts and reached #7 on the “Hot 100” list in 1987. Walter, Wallace and Leaveil have had a career full of successes, big and small, but they’re not done yet.
They have seven gold albums, two platinum albums and 40 charted hits Since 1970. Our culture still needs them. They’re still here for us. And their powerful message about the importance of voting applies if you’re 18 or 80.
All of us fans thank them for their amazing tracks, and we hope there’s much more to come.
Percy Crawford interviewed The Whispers for Zenger News.
Zenger: It’s an honor to speak to you brothers. I am humbled. How is it going?
The Whispers: It’s going great, man. We’re like everybody else, just trying to exist in this pandemic. That’s about it.
Zenger: I would ask if it has been difficult to create, not being able to go on the road, but you guys gave us an amazing and powerful song with this “How Long” track.
The Whispers: It’s easy to create. We basically took the liberty of doing this new record that we’re going to talk about, in the midst of the virus, back in March and April. But like most people, we’re kind of staying put. We recorded this record with masks on, basically. That’s how we did that. We are about to do an in-person streaming show—a Pay Per View. It will be shown on the 31st of October.
Zenger: When I think about the premise of “How Long,” nearly 50 years ago, Marvin Gaye released, “What’s Going On.” Unfortunately, the same rhetorical question that was asked in 1971 holds true with your record in 2020.
Scotty Scott: I’m so glad you said Marvin Gaye’s “What Going On,” because when I first heard this record, that’s the first thing that popped in my mind. Once we saw the knee in George Floyd’s neck, we knew we had to come with it. We were in the midst of doing another Whispers record. And like everybody else, we were at home looking at television, and we saw what happened with George Floyd. Well, that changed everything. That made everything much more important. And like you said, man, we’re old enough to—this is not the first time we’ve seen black people being mistreated this way. We go back to 1965, we had another record called, “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong Before They Notice Me,” dealing with the same subject matter. Us being mistreated, police going crazy on black people, and you know how it goes. So this record was very important. “How Long” was basically asking the question, “How long have we gotta go through this crap?”
We have been through it for years. We have been singing for 54 years and we’re still dealing with this. We’ve done run out of names, and black people do die, who have given their lives for this. How long is this going to go on?
So, when we heard the lyrics to this song, which was originally written back in 1983 by our bass player, the guy in our band, and when he sent it to me and I heard the words, I got with Leaveil [Degree] and my brother and said, “We gotta record this right away.” I can’t think of a word more important than “important” for how important a song like this is right now. It’s time for this crap to end.
Leaveil Degree: All of us have been victims of it. I have been a victim of police brutality, my brother has, so this isn’t nothing new, but like Scotty said, it was so important for us to do this. And it was just a good thing like, Scotty said that everybody was home at the time that this happened. Everybody was quarantined. Normally, if something like this happens, not many people see it, so eventually it kind of goes right on by you. But this time, everybody had to sit right there and watch this man’s life get snuffed out. And it was only because of the grace of God and having cellphone cameras.
When I was getting jacked up, my brother was getting jacked up and friends of mine were getting jacked up by the police department, there was no witness to it. there were no cameras to say, this is what they did to me, so the police department always got the benefit of the doubt. This was—no doubt that this man was murdered.
So, when we saw that and Scotty sent that song to me, I was like, “We have to do this.” We can go back to our typical ladies’ ballads, but in this climate we need to help pull the wool off of this, and also in the same sense give some people some hope. Because right now, people are just tired. They are exhausted. We hope that this record gives them some form of peace while lending the message of “How long are we going to have to go through this crap of getting strangled, getting shot and kneed on?”
What are they going to do, pee on us next? I don’t know what can be worse than someone taking your life but how long are we going to have to deal with this?
Walter Scott: Let me continue on, you talked about Marvin Gaye. I happened to be the only Whisper that happened to go to the Vietnam War back in 1965, and most people don’t remember when Marvin Gaye asked—he made the same statement about, “What’s Going On?” We always talk about the story of when he brought the song to Berry Gordy. Berry Gordy didn’t want to release it on his label because he thought it was too controversial. He didn’t want to talk about the subject matter.
But what I relate that to, man, is—that’s the beauty of R&B music. From R&B music came a “What’s Going On,” which told people what was happening all over the world about killing. We had the same thing with a tune called “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong Before They Notice Me,” in the midst of the Watts riots, which is where we came from. So violence has been going on with black people and all minorities for many, many, many years. And what we are stunned by is that 40 years later we have to be talking about the same thing.
So, you asked: What is the answer? The answer is love. And that sounds corny to a lot of people, but man, if you treat people the way you want to be treated, we can solve this problem tomorrow. We don’t need black people being shot, policemen approaching them with guns drawn and putting them on the ground. That’s happened to every man on this phone [call]. I don’t know if it’s happened to you, but it has happened to all of us. And I’m sure you know exactly what we are talking about.
So this song couldn’t have come at a more important time. We just hope it catches on. It’s doing quite well. On October 31 we’re going to get more distribution with this PPV that we’re doing. It’s coming out of Chicago but it’s going to be seen all over the country and all over the world. So hopefully this message can catch on, because like we’re all saying on this phone [call], how long do we have to do this? It’s long overdue.
Zenger: The message is loud and clear, and I want to thank you guys for coming out of your comfort zone and doing a track that doesn’t align with what your fans have grown accustomed to hearing from you.
Scotty Scott: And we like to thank you, brother for giving us this platform. We do not take this for granted. You obviously realize the importance of this song. And we want you to know that we appreciate you giving us this platform to say to people what time it really is.
Zenger: This is a beautiful yet powerful message and not only does the song need to be heard, but the story behind it does as well. So I’m honored to offer this platform to you guys.
Scotty Scott: Thank you, my brother. You know, you sound like you’re a young brother. We’re probably old enough to be your grandfather.
Zenger: I’m 40.
Scotty Scott: Yes, you are much younger than us, but let me tell you what a joy it is to hear a young guy, 40 understand—see, you can tell the people below you, who are in their twenties, instead of going out in the street and fighting each other, you can explain to them that there is a bigger principle at stake. We don’t need to be fighting each other. We need to stick together and that’s what this song is about.
Zenger: I think it’s a testament to the foundation that you guys created—to have a powerful voice in 2020! Let me ask you, what are the keys to your longevity?
Walter Scott: I always attribute it to upbringing. You are from Louisiana, that means you are a Southern guy. My brother and I are from Texas, so we are from the South, and when you’re from the South, there is a certain way that we were all raised. We highly respected our parents and our grandparents. We understand that we are only as strong as our weakest link. When The Whispers starting singing, people would approach us and say, “Man, why don’t y’all call it ‘The Whispers featuring Walt and Scotty’? How come it ain’t ‘Scotty & The Whispers?’” We never bought into that, man. It was just The Whispers. That’s what it’s been for 54 years because we understood by sticking together—just like black people should stick together as a race. If you stick together you can accomplish anything. And that’s why I attribute our upbringing as our key to longevity in this game.
Leaveil Degree: You know, I’m from your home state. I’m from New Orleans. I was raised in New Orleans, so if you did something you would get beat by your mother and if you did something in another neighborhood you would get beat by them too. You learned a lot from going through that kind of thing. And our mothers were all about 4’11″ and barely 100 pounds, and we were scared to death of them. But our mothers always said, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”
With that, I always felt like, no matter what my position is or what position the twins are, they are the lead singers. Me, Nicholas and Marcus were the background singers, but there were no difference in any of us. Women came to see them, they came to see me, they came to see Marcus and they came to see Nicholas. Everyone had a contributing part to this group’s longevity. So, we never lost sight of the fact that each one of those pieces of that puzzle was important to show the whole picture. And without a piece you don’t have that picture. So we knew the importance of making sure that we kept the puzzle together.
And now that we have lost two guys, we’re still trying to keep the picture, but we will never change the pieces of that puzzle because it will never be the same picture. We’re just going to be the three until we leave this planet and I don’t think we could get along with anybody else.
Scotty Scott: Let me close that out, brother, by saying that, first of all, I’ve gotta be honest enough to tell you that if anybody had told me I would be doing this for 54 years, I just wouldn’t have believed it. We come from Watts, California in the projects. I remember in the summertime we would be out singing, and the broom was the microphone and the front yard was all over the world as far as we were concerned. If anybody had told me that we would end up going all over the world and being here this long, I just wouldn’t have believed it.
My answer to your question is … They just gave you two or three of the reasons, which is our upbringing. But the other would be our fan base, man. I think we have the most loyal—there’s no way that we can be here this long had people not stuck by us all these years. So, to me that’s why The Whispers are still here. The people have backed us. They may not be as big, but they have been just as strong as some of the bigger acts. And I credit that more than anything to The Whispers being here after 54 years.
Zenger: Before I let you guys go, you have traveled the world and music has been the tool that opened up that option. Can you guys just speak on the power of music and how it can be used to bring the world together is put out properly because, “How Long,” is actually a song of love, unity and togetherness.
Walter Scott: Ah man, it’s a joy. I say this a lot, I wish our audience could understand what it feels like to walk on a stage and hear the beginning of applause. And I’m talking about Japan, Africa, Europe. The genre that we speak of called R&B is so powerful because—we come from Watts, but the good Lord has made it possible for us to go all over the world. It is incredible to sit down with a person who doesn’t speak your language and attempt to have a conversation with them, yet when the music comes on, you and that person become one. That music is so powerful that it brings you together.
Man, we are so blessed to be able to sing this music. Like Scotty said, we had no idea of this dream when we were out in the front yard in Watts with the broom as the microphone. We dreamed about going all over the world and I’m telling you, man, the dream actually came true. We’ve been everywhere. Talking about straight ahead rhythm and blues music, man. I can’t say enough about it. My dad was a tremendous jazz fan. Me and Scotty were brought up listening to Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald. He didn’t really think that much of R&B music until he saw how interested we were. Man, the power of R&B music is incredible. I know you know it, and I can’t say it enough.
Scotty Scott: I want to get this in before we end because, I know we are talking about this record, but this is also an opportunity for The Whispers to say to our fans and anybody who would listen to us, and black music, please go out and vote. We have a man in The White House, I call him ‘Satan In a suit.’ If you know anything about the Bible, check out who Satan is. There ain’t nothing he won’t do to destroy you.
Black people, we usually lay back. This is not the time to do it. We had a segment of people last time around that decided to pass that election up and thought it wouldn’t really affect them, that’s not true. Like Michelle Obama said, “Vote like your life depended on it because it absolutely does.” Along with this record, everything that we’re doing all comes into one thing, It all boils down to what’s getting ready to happen November 3. We need you to go to the polls, take somebody with you, take an Uber or whatever you need to do, but go vote, please.
Leaveil Degree: Scotty got on top of exactly what I was going to say. My biggest problem with our people is, our people always have this attitude that, “I don’t like either one, so I’m just not going to vote.” Well, when you don’t vote, it’s a vote for Trump. People died to give you the right to vote, so don’t ever take that attitude. I get so angry and disgusted when people tell me that. You don’t care about the world, you don’t care about yourself, you don’t care about what’s going to happen to your children in the future.
We talk to our fans on these kinds of platforms and we tell them all: “If you love any ounce of The Whispers, for us, please go out and vote. Like Scotty said, take somebody with you. Grab your grandparents to go to the polls. Or go to their house and help them vote by absentee ballot. Do whatever you can, because we are the majority here. We can actually change the tide of a lot of things.”
Zenger: I appreciate the time, again, it has been an extreme honor. And just to show you guys your significance in the music world, there is an extremely big-time rapper from Watts named Glasses Malone. Just in a general conversation the other day, I asked him: If he could have an R&B collaboration, who would it be with? And he said, “The Whispers.”
The Whispers: Wow! Thank you and him so much, and once again, brother, we can’t thank you enough for giving us this platform, man. God bless you.
(Edited by David Martosko and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)
Following his 8th-round knockout of Jeison Rosario, Jermell Charlo became trainer Derrick James’ second unified world champion.
If Derrick James wasn’t already the best trainer in boxing today, he has firmly placed himself in the top ranks this year. Based in Dallas, James trains two unified world champions: welterweight Errol Spence Jr. (26-0 with 21 knockouts) and junior middleweight Jermell Charlo (34-1 with 18 knockouts). A former fighter himself, James’s knowledge of the sport is on full display every time one of his pupils steps in the ring. And on Saturday night Charlo joined his stablemate Spence as a unified world champion.
James is the only active trainer to have two reigning unified champions, making a strong case for him to nab the coveted Trainer of the Year award a second time. (Ring Magazine and Yahoo Sports awarded it to him in 2017.) Consistency is key in the Derrick James stable; Spence and Charlo’s combined record of 60-1 with 39 KOs is straight-up evidence.
James opened up about the most recent win, and much more, during our recent conversation.
Percy Crawford interviewed Derrick James for Zenger News.
Zenger: Congratulations on Jermell Charlo’s victory on Saturday. He didn’t just become the second unified champion under your tutelage, joining Errol Spence Jr., but he looked spectacular.
Derrick James: Another champ is beautiful, but I gotta let it go. I’m happy about it, but I gotta let it go. It happened. It’s over. I feel accomplished. I did it, but I can’t live in it forever. I think when it’s all said and done you have to accomplish it, appreciate it, be happy and then keep moving forward.
I gotta get ready for Errol’s camp, so I had a day to really celebrate it and I gotta get ready for my other guy. But you can never get away from that feeling. It’s there, how good it felt to be successful. To help somebody obtain their personal goals is beautiful. You’re in it. Even though you’re moving forward, you’re in it.
Zenger: Your two world champions are in arguably the toughest divisions in boxing, welterweight and junior middleweight, so I’m sure you’re keeping the celebrations at a minimum because the next tough challenge is already looking at your guys.
James: Right! What’s funny about this fight is that we actually fought the man that beat the man that beat the man. You fought the guy who really truly deserved that spot. He beat that guy that beat that guy, so it’s beautiful.
Zenger: What did you see in Jeison Rosario as an opponent heading into the fight?
James: One of the things I saw was that—I’m watching him, and he keeps his hands up high so it’s hard to get in there. That’s why you see Jermell throwing wider shots, to throw the punches around the guard. But then at the same time—you keep throwing punches around the guard, keep throwing punches around the guard—so then he gets smart enough to say, “This dude is going to keep doing the same thing over again.”
So then in the 6th round Jermell threw a short left hook, not a long wide one, but a shorter one, and that’s how he caught him the second time and put him down. He was a tough guy. When you watch him you really don’t see anything because it’s hard to get around those hands. He has good defense with his hands up and it’s hard to get around that. But that was the thing: We had to get around it so we had to punch around it or get him to open up in the middle. He wasn’t doing that. But he adjusted just enough to those wide shots to allow Jermell to catch him with a short left hook.
Zenger: You were a fighter before, so you know what it’s like to be in there. Many are saying that the body shot didn’t look hard enough to have Rosario convulsing on the canvas. To me, it appeared he was doing whatever it took to try and catch a breath after the shot to his midsection.
James: To be honest, I’ve been in boxing for, like, 42 years and I’ve never seen anything like that. He caught him by surprise. He threw the jab up top and then this strong power jab to the body. I have never seen anything like that. Like you said, it looks like he was convulsing or having a seizure. I heard someone say he tried to catch his fall. Yeah, because he wasn’t knocked out. He was coherent. He was awake. He kind of passed out when he was on the ropes. A lot of things were going on with him. I’m just happy he’s okay, man.
Zenger: I think people underestimate what the body would do to attempt to catch a breath. It’s almost like drowning or being asleep and someone puts a pillow over your face. He had that type of reaction just trying to breathe.
James: You know what, now that you say that you might be right about that. He got his right in the middle of the stomach, man. The thing about it: Body shots hurt, head shots don’t hurt. I didn’t think about it like a person drowning, but that’s right.
Zenger: Where does that put Jermell in the division, in your opinion?
James: Well, that was the two top dogs in there fighting on Saturday night, and he won. It’s almost like there was a tournament going on and nobody knew about it. He was able to get his title back and get his shot. It was a beautiful night.
Zenger: Did you see a change in Jermell after the loss to Tony Harrison?
James: I think I saw the change in Jermell when we were getting ready to fight the rematch with Harrison, but not the one he pulled out of. When he had the sit down—we had this deal where we went to Fox Studios, and you watch the fight and tell them what you’re doing and what you think is going on. I think him watching the fight and watching himself and having to explain it, I think that was the change.
Then after he beat Tony Harrison, he went back and looked at that fight. I already had things I wanted to work on from the Harrison fight when he came back to camp, but then he had the same ideas that he wanted to work on. So it was beautiful, because he was already in shape when I got there, and we just built from that.
Zenger: One thing is for sure, with the pandemic, quarantine and limited travel and access to gyms, we are seeing which fighters have been showing discipline during these times, and the ones who aren’t. Jermell was in phenomenal shape for this fight. As a coach, you had to be both happy and proud that he stayed on track during these wild times.
James: It was beautiful because he was able to be focused and work towards his personal goals. Something like this presented to him on this level, to say you can be the unified champ, it’s amazing. He really appreciates the opportunity, and you saw—he made the best of it.
Zenger: Jermell made an interesting comment and I wanted to get your opinion on it. He talked about fighters of the past not embracing fighters of today. And not only not embracing fighters of today, but he says they are overly critical, and overanalyze them. Why do you feel that is if true?
James: Because I think that fighters cannot take themselves out of the equation, so they are always comparing fighters to themselves. That’s why most champions and ex-fighters can’t be trainers, because they always say what they used to do. They can never take themselves out of the equation. When the ego is there, man—it’s hard to genuinely embrace them.
Think about Lennox Lewis, right? He retired on his own accord. He left when he wanted to. He can embrace a fighter because, you know why? He was done with it. Think about all the guys who they typically ask about these fights. It’s usually fighters who can’t let it go. They didn’t go out on their own terms. They were pushed out. So you really can’t get them to embrace any of these guys unless it’s their guy. If it’s not their guy, it’s hard for them. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the nature of the fighter.
It’s just like being a trainer. For me to be a trainer, I had to realize, first of all, I can never reference myself. But I can show them a particular way of how I did something without referencing myself. Then you look at it like, you gotta take a backseat. To say these guys are great, you gotta take a backseat.
That’s not saying they are better than you were, but we have to admit that these guys are good, and they are great as well. Kanye West had a verse, which I don’t really like to quote him, but he said, “Old folks talking ‘bout back in my day, but homie, this is my day.” That’s the reality of it.
Zenger: I watched a video of you taking all the safety precautions in your gym and having things sanitized. Did that change things for this last camp, or did you let the sanitation team handle the cleaning and you were able to just do your thing in there?
James: We let them do their job. I’m not a guy that likes a lot of people in the gym anyway, you know that. But this is something that really and truly—you really can’t come in now! Corona is my friend in that respect. You can’t come in! And I like it like that anyway. You want to make sure everything is taken care of. I like Corona for that, but just for that. Unless you’re taking a test twice a week, then you can’t come into the gym. It’s all good.
Daniel Cormier was so successful in mixed martial arts, he made you forget that he wrestled for the U.S. in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Even though Cormier didn’t start his mixed martial arts training until he was 30 years old, he went on to become one of the greatest fighters in UFC history, competing and capturing titles in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions.
He became only the second fighter to hold two UFC titles simultaneously, earning the coveted title of ‘Champ-Champ.’
Finishing his career with a 22-3 record, Cormier may have retired from the Octagon, but still serves as a play-by-play commentator and ambassador for the sport. “DC” is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer and widely considered one of the greatest fighters to ever set foot inside the Octagon. Not bad for a kid from Lafayette, Louisiana.
Percy Crawford interviewed Daniel Cormier for Zenger News.
Zenger: I was the first person to interview you when you entered MMA 11 years ago. And although this isn’t my last interview with you, it is in terms of you being an active fighter. Are you comfortable with your decision to retire?
Daniel Cormier: I’m comfortable, P. I feel good, man. Obviously, you would’ve wanted the last fight to go my way. It is what it is. You can’t change it now. I fought for the heavyweight championship of the world in my retirement fight. Not many people get to say that. We fought a competitive five rounds. One switch here, one switch there, and you’re staring at a different decision, so it was a tough pill to swallow for me, but the reality is, you can tell when it’s about time. I think honestly, P, there was a time inside the Octagon where looking back, you realize where, “Okay, I’m making the right choice.” It was an action inside the fight that really does kind of hammer home that it’s time.
Zenger: So, you didn’t have a moment during training camp where you thought it was time but an actual moment during the fight?
Cormier: See, not in that spot. Not in that moment, but when I look back on it. So, camp was hard. It was difficult. P, when I’m at my house, right, and I don’t even know how I did this before, but at 41 years old, you’re very aware of your body and what needs to happen in order for you to even get to the fight. So, when you’re 41 years old, and you’re getting ready for a fight, and obviously you’re under the circumstances with Covid and everything is so different. The camp was not at AKA [American Kickboxing Academy]. A lot of the camp is at my house, it’s in my garage. P, when you’re at home, and you got a sauna in your backyard to ensure that you can stretch and recover. When you have a hyperbaric chamber in your garage to make sure that you recover. When you get massages twice a week, you’re really aware of the body. The reality is, I should have been doing these things earlier in my career. So, by doing them, I didn’t get that feeling in camp because I was doing so much to prevent injuries and everything.
But it was in the fight looking back where I was like, ‘You know what, that wouldn’t have happened a few years ago’ I always say … you and I talk constantly off the record, P; there are decisions you make in a fight, right, and actions that make you great or they make you average. They’re just little things, man that can make you a great fighter or an average fighter. One of those things is mistakes. I didn’t really make that many mistakes and when I did, they cost me. The head kick with [Jon] Jones. Not adjusting to the body shots against [Stipe] Miocic cost me. In this fight, there was one action that completely changed the fight. In the first round, I hit him with the big right hand, and that gave me the round. Second round, I’m cruising in that round. I felt like it was one of my best rounds. They have 15 seconds left, I get caught alongside the Octagon, instead of circling off to my right and his left.
Zenger: You circled off to the left and right into his power.
Cormier: Into his power, right. And maybe, Percy, in years past if I would do that – I would kind of dip and the punch would go over my head. And that’s why when that punch landed … and it was so telegraphed. He kind of cocked his right hand back and just punched me. Normally, I would make them whiff. I’ve done it time and time again. I did it with Roy Nelson where he just kind of looked foolish trying to hit me like that. I done it against ‘Rumble.’ [Anthony Johnson] I’ve done it with a lot of guys where they are trying to hit me and I’m circling to their power and I just get out of the way. Well … I didn’t get out of the way. That last 15 seconds cost me that round, and then the fact that I was hurt so badly I had to give him the next round to try and recover and it just completely changed the fight. So, I went from being 15 seconds from being up two rounds to zero to now down 2-1. Because I had to give him round three.
Zenger: I’ll be honest with you, after the eye poke, and you sat on the stool, for a split second I thought you were about to quit. You were saying you couldn’t see, you were rubbing at your eye, and then in an instant, you told your corner to put the ice on your neck. I always knew you were cut from a different cloth, but that showed me that there is no quit in you. How difficult was it to bounce back from that poke because you fought your way back into the fight?
Cormier: You know, P, it was tough because it was getting hard to pick up on the right hand. I had been getting hit with some right hands prior. But sometimes I felt like, ‘How is this landing’’ when I was in there. And it wasn’t even like I couldn’t see him out of that side, but it was more just a reaction. It seemed like the punches were just a little bit further away than they were, and it would land. So, it was difficult, right. Because it was hard to see them. But on the judge’s scorecard, I actually won the fourth round. I fought my way back into that fight like you said, but it was tough. It made … it did something to my body. In that third round, when he poked me and I went to run away from him, it’s like my body got … it’s almost like I got hurt. My legs were all wobbly and shit. I was like, ‘What is going on’’ He hit me with a right hand, but I didn’t feel like the right hand was that bad, but then when he poked me, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It’s almost like it messed up my equilibrium a little bit.
It was tough, but it’s a fight. I don’t think for a second he poked me on purpose. If he did, he would have reacted more aggressively. He would’ve jumped on me. If you noticed when I started running away like, ‘Yo, he poked me in the eye,’ he kind of stayed back. And I think that’s because he felt his hand go into my eye. If he was trying to poke me, he would have acted more aggressively towards me under those circumstances. But he didn’t; he kind of stayed back. And there was like five seconds left, and I’m falling all along the side of the Octagon. So, I think he felt it. He reacted in a way that a sportsman would. He didn’t react like he had hurt me and he was going to try to put me down and finish me.
Zenger: You covered a lot of ground in 11years, you have won multiple world titles. You held both the UFC lightweight and heavyweight titles simultaneously. You won an ESPY. You had George Foreman wrapping your hands. You attended WrestleMania. You have fulfilled childhood dreams that we talk about all the time. What has that been like for you?
Cormier: It’s been crazy. Look bruh, we from Louisiana. We talk about wrestling and boxing. That’s what we grew up on. You had an uncle as did I watching Wide World of Sports on Saturdays when it was free boxing on there. We didn’t watch WWF back then; we watched WCW [World Championship Wrestling]. That was wrasslin’. They wrassled back in the South. To be able to experience all of these things has been a dream come true for me. As you said, when we did that first interview 11 years ago, I had no idea what this thing was going to be. I had no idea what this was going to be. And it turned into something so much bigger than I ever could have dreamt of. There was no thoughts of an ESPY. I won an ESPY. I actually made reference to that yesterday at home with my wife. Me and her are sitting at home, and I’m walking around the living room and I go, ‘We have an ESPY in our house. We have a full ESPY in our house.’ That’s crazy. Who does that? We didn’t even see those things as imaginable before. Now, it’s great to be able to have lived this dream and still be involved with the sport that I love and be able to try to bring something back to it. It’s been fantastic, man. I never could have imagined.
It’s been an amazing ride for me, but also [for] the people involved. I got to show people a lot of shit that they would have never seen. I got to take my parents all around the world. They went all around the country. My dad had never flown in an airplane before I started fighting mixed martial arts. With the wrestling competitions, the Olympics, my mom would travel overseas. My dad was definitely afraid of flying. I guilted him into flying one time to come and watch me fight Josh Barnett. That was the first time. I guilted my father into coming to watch me fight Josh Barnett in San Jose. I’m like, “Dad, this is my first world championship fight. Please come. You have to come.”
And so, he tried it. And he had the worst experience. His ears popped worse than anything he had ever felt. He was so mad. He could not believe that that’s what flying was. But once he experienced it, he did it every time. He never missed another fight until he passed away. So, my dad got to see so many things.
My mom—I was talking about this the other day. My mom got to go to Vegas. You know them women down south, man, they love those little slot machines. They never think of going to Vegas and sitting on those machines for hours. But she did and she had so much fun. And they did so many things. They got to watch their son headline Madison Square Garden. They got to watch their son headline the MGM Grand, T-Mobile Arena. They got to watch their son headline and be on events in Texas, New York City, Las Vegas, Nevada, California. They just got to do a lot of things, man. And none of that is possible without MMA.
Zenger: I’m glad you mentioned the cities you headline. You were scheduled to finally headline in New Orleans, and then the fight with Ryan Bader is canceled because Jon Jones got in a situation, and you had the opportunity to fight for a world title. Unfortunately, you headlining in Louisiana never happened, and I know that was a big deal to you.
Cormier: It was a big deal to me, and it was a big deal to our state, too. I remember when the tickets went on sale. They went nuts at the Smoothie King Center, right. They went nuts. And I remember getting pulled off of that card about six to seven weeks before. Generally, you get a rush of tickets right at the end. The Smoothie King Center seats 15,000 or something like that. When they first went on sale, they sold like 9,000 tickets.
And then I got moved off, and it just kind of stopped. And it stayed there. That’s essentially where the tickets stayed at. So, yeah—it kind of sucks that I didn’t get to headline in our home state. Because the reality is, there are great fighters from Louisiana. I’m so proud of all those guys and what they do, but especially at the time, I was the guy from Louisiana. And if the guy from there goes and competes there, you will see it in the crowd.
I feel like if me and [Ryan] Bader would have fought, we would have had like 10- or 11,000 people in there. I think it fell a little bit short. I know for a fact because none of my family went, and my entire family would have been there. It was unfortunate, but it’s OK. I’m glad that it happened and I’m excited about when it’s going to go back.
Zenger: Do you have a favorite UFC moment in terms of your career?
Cormier: You know, back to the last question about New Orleans, my biggest regret is that I never got to defend a championship there. Could you imagine me defending a championship in New Orleans? It would have been the most amazing feeling of love that I never felt before. It would have been an amazing feeling to fight and defend a championship there. I think I fought 10 or 11 straight title shots at the end of my career—in a row, Percy.
I fought 10 world-title fights in a row down the stretch, and then I had the Anderson Silva fight, but that was supposed to be Jon Jones, and that would have been 11. That would have been 11 straight title fights. I wish I would’ve had a chance to defend a championship in front of our people. I don’t know if we’re going to get that. Somebody would have to come through and really knock the world off its axis who has that title. So, that may be my greatest regret.
Greatest moment, it’s been a lot of them, but winning my first championship in the UFC was fantastic. ‘Rumble’ Johnson putting the belt on me was just amazing and a great show of respect afterwards. Even though I was kind of like, ‘Man’ because you always kind of have that vision of Dana White doing it. And I was like, ‘Man, I wish he would have done it.’ But when I look back, ‘Rumble’ showed so much respect, that meant a lot, and it made it different, right? It wasn’t just like anybody else getting the championship. It made it different, and I love that. Obviously, winning both belts was fantastic.
I got a video from one of my friends from the night where we went to the afterparty, and I showed my kids and I said, ‘You guys had no idea what mom and dad been doing after those fights’ And they said, ‘No’.’ My daughter goes, ‘I thought you guys were having fancy tea parties with your fingers up.’ And I told them that we have fun after these fights. Winning both belts … that image of me on top of the Octagon with one belt around my waist and one over my shoulder, that goes nowhere ever, so that kind of stands out above the rest.
Zenger: It has been weird in a sense seeing all of this support you have been getting from your rival, Jon Jones. Now that a fight between you guys will never happen again, and your career as a fighter is over, not to say you guys will ever be friends, but you’re starting to see the mutual respect appear. I like to see that.
Cormier: I just think that—like you said, there is a respect earned whenever you fight somebody, especially when that person brings out the best in you. I’ve had some fantastic performances in my life, and unfortunately two of the greatest training camps I’ve had [have resulted] in losses.
I’ve always respected Jon as a competitor. I think that’s where people get confused. I’ve never disliked him as a competitor. I’ve always respected him and thought that he was a fierce competitor. Dude wants to win above anything else. That’s to be applauded whenever you think the same way. Personally, we just never mixed, and we won’t, but that’s OK. People don’t have to be friends. We’re fighters. Fans think because we’re fighters we’re friends. It doesn’t work like that. But he’s a fierce competitor; he’s a great competitor, and I owe a lot of the success that I’ve had outside of mixed martial arts and outside of the Octagon to my rivalry with him. Because when you are now on ESPN, and they are voting for the “Fighter of the Year.”
And the general public sees Daniel Cormier, Israel Adesanya, at the time was just becoming the champ, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo. The general public, because this is not just an MMA award, this is a general award. They vote on every category. When they looked at those names, you know who was the most recognizable name? Daniel Cormier. And when you don’t know, sometimes you go with what’s familiar. And part of the reason why my name was familiar is because of my rivalry with Jones. For that, I appreciate that part of my career and I’m thankful for it.
Zenger: I look forward to what the future holds in and out of the sport of mixed martial arts, and I have appreciated every fight, every interview and just the person you are. Is there anything else you would like to add before I let you go?
Cormier: Thank you, Percy. You have been here since day one. People always talk about day ones, day ones. You interviewed me when there really wasn’t a reason to. I didn’t do anything in mixed martial arts, I didn’t do anything in combat sports, but your interviews made me feel real. Because you gave me the same platform that I saw, Terence Crawford on, that I saw, Floyd Mayweather on, and Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto and Canelo [Alvarez]. It made me feel real.
I think that sometimes people take for granted what these levels of media and these platforms provide. And I was very aware of it and appreciate it. To all my fans, I love the fact that you guys have loved me, you’ve hated me, but one thing you weren’t was uninterested. And even though you booed, you cared. And that’s all that matters to me. My family, who made the ultimate sacrifices, my team, my coaches and management, those guys have been truly, truly amazing.
It’s been a great journey, P. It really, really has, and it could not have gone any better. And I’m just grateful for it.
(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)