Boxing an integral part of Cape Girardeau native Kenny Adams' life

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kenny Adams never fails to let people know where he grew up.

"I tell people all the time, although the big meathead is [Rush] Limbaugh, I'm the big hero from Cape Girardeau," Adams said with a laugh.

Adams, a world-renowned boxing trainer for more than five decades, has slowed down some but still is active in the fight game.

The Las Vegas resident, who will turn 72 in September, recently discussed his career and his early days in Cape Girardeau during a telephone interview.

"It was a big part of my life," Adams said. "I get calls from people from there. They seem to be real proud of all my accomplishments."

Adams' accomplishments include training 18 world champions and 65 world-class fighters, along with coaching the 1988 U.S. Olympic boxing team that featured several notable world champions led by Roy Jones Jr., Riddick Bowe and Ray Mercer.

It all started in Cape Girardeau, where Adams was raised since he was 6 months old after being born in Springfield, Mo.

Although Adams left Cape at age 17 for a career in the Army, he spoke fondly of his hometown.

"My great aunt and uncle raised me at 415 North Middle in the rear," Adams said. "I still remember a lot about the town."

Adams recalls playing "a lot of Little League baseball. Those were some of the most enjoyable times I had -- playing baseball, running track, just life in general. Times were very different then."

Adams' love for boxing began when he was a youngster.

"I remember going to Sikeston to box," he said. "I was a pretty good boxer when I lived in Cape."

But Adams figured it was time to leave after he graduated from Central High School in 1958.

"You overcome so many different things in life," he said. "I guess that's one of the reasons when I finished high school in 1958, I didn't have any particular skill levels, I took a shot. I went into the Army. I ended up spending 30 years and seven months in the military."

It was during Adams' early days in the Army that his boxing career began to take shape. He said he had roughly 200 amateur bouts while in the military, and it wasn't long before he began to make his mark as a coach and trainer.

"I was one of the first people in pro and amateur boxing to use strength programs, back in 1973," said Adams, a one-time Army master sergeant. "I learned it from the East Germans when I was in Europe."

Adams was an assistant coach for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team and the coach for the 1988 squad that won three gold -- which would have been four had Roy Jones Jr. not been robbed in one of the most infamously bad decisions ever -- three silver and two bronze medals.

"We should have won six gold medals," Adams said.

That 1988 Olympic coaching gig was not without controversy, a trait that has marked Adams' career. It's something he doesn't make apologies for.

Adams suggested the judges in Seoul, South Korea, were bribed, and he nearly was ousted as the American boxing coach after an altercation with an Amateur Boxing Federation employee who allegedly had verbally abused Adams.

Adams also has drawn his share of critics during his long career training professional boxers. He is known to drop quickly a fighter who he doesn't believe is going along with his program 100 percent.

"I'm a hard-core guy. I don't play games. I'm no 'yes' man," Adams said. "It's my way or the highway. I don't take anything from anybody."

Adams appears to have gained as many admirers as critics over the years.

"He's right up there as one of the best trainers we have," former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, who became a top trainer, said during a 2009 interview with Yahoo Sports. "He's a disciplinarian and he forces the guys to work hard and work correctly. He won't accept second-best. He instills discipline and pride in his fighters, and some guys don't like having someone who is so disciplined and so demanding. He demands excellence each and every time he's in the gym."

Said Adams: "I just don't mess with anybody. I only deal with fighters I think have potential, who can become world champions."

Adams has had 18 of those. It remains to be seen if he has any more in his future because he's not as involved in the sport as he used to be, although he hasn't exactly retired.

"I've got a few fighters I'm still training, a couple of undefeated fighters," said Adams, who has worked in the pro ranks with fighters like Bowe, Jones, Mercer, Evander Holyfield and Cory Spinks. "I've slowed down some -- age makes you do that -- but I'm in good shape. I take care of myself."

Adams has given plenty to the sport, but he's also appreciative of what it has given him.

Asked how big a part of his life boxing has been, Adams didn't hesitate.

"One thousand percent. I really like it. There's nothing like the boxing game. It's really great," he said. "I have a wonderful wife I've been married to for 45 years, and she's allowed me to do my own thing."

Among all his personal highlights, Adams still points to the Olympic accomplishments of his fighters more than 20 years ago.

"Without a doubt, I guess the greatest glory always has to be in the Olympics. There is no greater thing than representing your country, seeing the flag go up," Adams said. "Also one of my greatest thrills is to have gone in the St. Louis Boxing Hall of Fame" in 2010.

Adams said boxing isn't what it once was.

"I think the skill level of boxing is not as great as it used to be," he said. "A lot of that, we don't have the trainers and coaches we had years ago. They don't have the teachers they had years ago. That creates real problems."

Adams said he had a chance to work with Manny Pacquiao -- Adams, like many others, believes Pacquiao clearly beat Timothy Bradley in the recent fight that saw Bradley awarded a controversial decision -- but turned it down.

"I had an opportunity to train him in about 2005, but I couldn't because my wife had gotten sick at that particular time," Adams said. "He wanted to train in Los Angeles, and I couldn't leave [Las Vegas]."

Adams left Cape Girardeau a long time ago and rarely makes it back -- he said a cousin is his only relative here -- but that doesn't detract from the role the community played in his life.

"That town meant a lot to me," he said.

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