THE day before Bernard Hopkins’ second fight with Roy Jones, Naazim Richardson was riding back to the hotel in the front seat of a van following Hopkins’ final gym workout. One of the other passengers mentioned that Hopkins had told him that after he beat Jones he was lined-up to fight heavyweight David Haye.
“Bernard says of lot of things,” said Richardson, a remark that produced a few chuckles and immediately put an end to further discussion of the topic. The highly regarded Philadelphia trainer didn’t have to say Hopkins was full of crap. Everybody knew what he meant.
That’s what I most liked about Richardson. He was unfailingly honest. Even the best of trainers have been known to bend the truth, but not the bear of man known to most as Brother Naazim. When he died on July 24 at the age of 55 it left a gaping hole in the Philly boxing scene.
He was a trainer, mentor and a beacon of hope for kids with nothing much to do except get in trouble.
While he trained such outstanding boxers as Shane Mosley, Steve Cunningham and Hopkins, Richardson was proudest of molding young men from economically deprived areas of the city into what he called “great human beings.” Having served time in prison in his younger days, he knew the temptations the streets offered a well as anybody.
“If you had went back and asked everyone what would happen to me, everyone would pick me to be the one that was dead or in jail,” Richardson said.
A troubled youth was a common bond between Richardson and Hopkins—two ex-cons who fooled the criminal justice system by staying straight and achieving a measure of greatness.
Richardson was pretty much unknown outside of local boxing circles until the night of September 29, 2001. That’s when he forced Felix Trinidad, who was facing Hopkins for the unified middleweight title, to rewrap his hands. The original wrap violated New York State Athletic Commission rules but only Naazim noticed.
At the time he was the assistant to B-Hop’s head trainer, Bouie Fisher, but when the Fisher-Hopkins relationship soured, Brother Naazim took over as lead trainer.
Richardson gained even greater fame in January 2009 when he spotted Antonio Margarito’s gloves had been loaded with a plaster-like substance in the locker room before his match with Mosley. In the ensuing duel of good versus evil, the good guy prevailed, stopping Margarito in the ninth round.
Richardson was almost as broad as he was tall, a powerhouse of a man who fought daily in the street as a kid. He was still the sort of guy only a fool with mess with when he suffered a stroke in 2007, which left him paralysed on the left side of his body. The doctors said he’d never walk again, but they didn’t know the kind of individual they were dealing with. Naazim taught himself to walk while in the hospital. He did it late at night when there was nobody around to tell him what he could and couldn’t do.
After a while he resumed training and seemed fully recovered, but apparently he’d been battling ill health for some time before his death.
Brother Naazim died too soon but left a legacy that went beyond the ring. He was a maker of men, somebody who knew the harsh truths of life in the hood and did his best to save as many as he could.