News March 2013

Rico Hoye talks career from streaking light-heavy, being frozen out and heavyweight comeback


By Michael J Jones

Rico Hoye

About to embark on an unlikely comeback aged 38, former light-heavyweight contender Rico Hoye spoke to me recently about his colourful career. The Detroit puncher was looking like a champion in-the-making after impressive victories over Richard Hall and Montell Griffin in 2004. However, a shot at the vacant IBF title ended in a crushing fifth-round defeat to Clinton Woods in the UK and Hoye struggled to regroup.

Tall at 6’3”, Hoye was taught to box by his father Bobby, himself a decent middleweight who once fought Sambu Kalambay.

“My father was a very good fighter but he told me he never actually liked boxing” remembers Rico. “He always wanted to be a singer but he did boxing because it was something he was good at.”

The gifted Detroit fighter won many amateur titles including the junior Olympics but into his teenage years started to drift away from the sport.

“I was training under my grandfather and he was like a drill-instructor. I started to dislike boxing and wanted to step away. I had a disagreement with my grandfather, and then he got hurt so took time out (as a trainer)…which made it easier to keep away from the gym.”

Rico began hanging out with the wrong crowd, and trouble was soon around the corner. At just 17-years-old, Rico was involved in a shooting which lead to him being incarcerated for nine long years.

“It is a sore spot, the fact I lost a lot of my best years” reflects the 38-year-old. “The incident itself was a him-or-me type of thing but I didn’t help my self to have gotten in that position in the first place. I know if I had done things differently I’d have never been involved.”

Despite being in jail for nearly a decade of his life, Hoye takes some positivity out of the experience.

“It helped me in a way in terms of having the ability of searching deep-down inside of me, making me mature and realising I never wanted to return there.”

On his release, Hoye started training immediately in preparation of his pro bow. Within months of his release the 26-year-old turned pro with a three-round stoppage of Omar Pucci in Michigan.

The opposition was stern from the off as the light-heavyweight prospect beat seasoned veterans such as Segundo Mercado and Greg Wright.

Did he ask to be matched tough after turning pro late?

“No I was just a confident boxer” he chuckles.

By 2003, the streaking fighter was starting to claim minor titles and, after knocking out contender Donnell Wiggins in the first, got offered his biggest test to date.

“I remember the day I got offered the fight with Richard Hall” says Rico. “I was training in Las Vegas when my coach Rick Griffith came in as I was taking a nap. He said ‘do you want to fight Richard Hall for the IBF no.1 spot?’ I said ‘sure get me a contract’. I just went straight back to sleep.”

It was a dangerous fight for the 16-bout novice to take at that stage. Hall was a dangerous puncher, far more experienced and had just given Dariuz Michelczewski two hard fights for the WBO title.

Hoye wasn’t concerned with Hall’s reputation though.

“I was super-confident for that fight” states Rico, who crushed Hall in four rounds with a devastating right-hand. “I just used my speed, boxed really good and got the knock-out.”

With the boxing world sitting up and starting to take notice of the promising contender, Hoye’s next fight wasn’t quite as convincing. Veteran former champion Montell Griffin proved a tricky puzzle to solve and, at the end of twelve nip-and-tuck rounds, many thought the decision could have gone either way.

“I had no doubt I’d won that fight” reasons Rico who won by scores of 116-112 twice while the third judge made Griffin the winner by 115-113. “He was far shorter (by eight inches) but I think he had longer arms than me. We’d planned to box him but as the fight went on I thought ‘bullsh*t’. I wanted to fight with him as I thought I could knock him out but every time I went back to my corner they said to keep to the game-plan and box. I kept to it but it was a very tricky fight Montell was a very hard opponent and his experience played a big role.”

After winning two IBF eliminators in a row, Hoye was expected to meet champion Glen Johnson but when Johnson vacated, he was matched with Sheffield’s Clinton Woods for the belt.

A hint of bitterness creeps into Rico’s voice as he clearly doesn’t have fond memories of any aspect of the contest which took place in Rotherham, Yorkshire.

“I read a recent interview with Clinton Woods (featured in Livefight recently), and he said, for that fight, he had the best camp he ever had” begins Rico. “Well, I can tell you that was by far the worst camp I ever had in my life!”

After purse bids for the IBF bout went to Woods’ promoters’ (Fight Academy), the fight ended up in England.

Rico reveals a shocking truth about the build-up to the contest.

“The fight went to purse bids for $100,000, when my manager Nate Neals heard, he offered to pay my promoter (who we shall not name) the amount in full to secure home advantage. My promoter refused the offer…now why he would do that I’ll never know. His job is to look after me and make sure the odds are for me; not against me.”

Hoye also suggests his camp was a farce before his first world title shot.

“In a nine-week training camp, I had one day of sparring with a decent partner. That means I had six-to-eight weeks without any sparring before my biggest fight; Woods had David Haye as his sparring partner! I had no heavy bag, no speed bag…the only training I did for the Woods fight was run. I even struggled to make weight”

Top level; Hoye was highly ranked as a light-heavy

The frustrated fighter muddled through a difficult camp but was still adamant he would have the better of Woods. The English man was more experienced at 36-3-1 but had suffered defeats at the hands of American stars Roy Jones Jr and Glen Johnson and was considered a big out-sider to beat the Michigan visitor. However, unknown to Hoye, Woods had recently altered his diet and training methods and came into the fight the best he had ever been.

“I watched Clinton Woods on film before our fight and the guy I fought was NOT that guy. Everybody said before the fight he was tough but limited and (with it being in the UK) I had to go and knock him out, which was the only way I was going to win. I’m a boxer; my thing isn’t to be the aggressor so that also played into (Woods’) hands a little”

Woods dominated the bout to sweep the first four rounds against his sluggish opponent. Hoye bravely kept trying but at the end of the fifth, Woods was dragging him into deep water. The bout was halted at the 2:59 mark with Rico taking punishment on the ropes.
While the former contender is full of respect for the first man to beat him, he is still angry at the way the cards were stacked against him for the fight.

“Clinton Woods fought a perfect, beautiful fight and deserved to win” praises Rico some eight years later. “But like Larry Merchant once said ‘a boxing match should be equal but it rarely is’. I wasn’t just fighting Woods; I was fighting the referee Ian John Lewis (who took three points away from Hoye for border-line low blows). The one time I thought I hurt Woods to the body, the ref jumped in and took a point away.”

“No way was I ever going to win that fight, everything fell into (Woods’) favour.”

After losing his undefeated record, the beaten fighter was forced to endure further career problems as he fought sparingly for the next few years. After two low-key comeback wins, he was thrown in with undefeated puncher Adrian Diaconu in Canada. The bout doubled as a WBC eliminator with Hoye being disappointingly stopped in three one-sided rounds.

“That was a similar thing (with the Woods fight), I’m a natural boxer and in both those defeats I fought in a way I shouldn’t have and got beat as a result.”

After suffering his second reverse, Rico wasn’t seen in a ring again for 20 months. He eventually turned up in the fourth season of TV show ‘The Contender’ filmed in Singapore. After having just four fights in the four previous years, Hoye ended up having the same amount of contests in the first half of 2009!

After beating Michael Alexander and Joell Godfrey in his opening five-rounders, Rico was edged by eventual finalist Ehinomen Ehikhamenor to be eliminated from the cruiserweight tournament (Troy Ross was the eventual winner).

He would earn a third-place position by decisioning Akinyemi Laleye shortly after over eight rounds in Mashantucket.

Last win; Hoye beats Laleye

He hasn’t fought since. I ask what he has been up to in his four years away from the ring?

“I went back to school and earned my Associated Degree in massage and started working on that, I own my own boxing gym and also, I’ve just been spending time with my family and enjoying life. People don’t realise that boxing is beyond a blood-sport, it’s all consuming and about as tough as it gets. I’d been in that wheel for a long time but now I’ve had that break I’m ready to come back.”

The former light-heavyweight currently weighs 234lbs “solid” but intends to reduce his weight with every fight to possibly return as a light-heavyweight or cruiserweight.

“My old promoters should have moved me (up to cruiserweight) after the Woods fight but I kind of got black-balled and frozen out. They really looked after (promotional stable-mate) Chad Dawson and look what he has gone on to achieve; that’s the difference it makes when you’re looked after.”

“My new promoters (Lion Heart productions) I know have my back now it’s just down to me to get into great shape with my trainer Shadeed Suluki. I’ll start out as a heavyweight but we’ll see how it goes from there. Bernard Hopkins has just shown what an older, smarter, fighter can do against an unskilled fighter (Tavoris Cloud) and I really don’t see any skilled fighters at all at 175 or cruiserweight. All the great teachers like Manny Steward are leaving the sport and its starting to show.”

What does he feel he has left to offer at 38-years-old?

“I never had many hard fights, outside of the Woods loss, there were pretty much no fights where I took a lot of punishment. I still feel very fresh and I’m working hard in my gym (in Phoenix, Arizona). I still feel I can make an impact but we’ll just see how it goes.”

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