by B.A. Cass
Only three boxers have fought on HBO in back-to-back months. The first two are Roy Jones Jr. and Mike Tyson. The third is Cletus Seldin, who on Wednesday found himself walking down an aisle of a Walmart in Laval, Canada. “I gotta buy food and my recovery stuff for after the weigh-in,” he told me over the phone as he shopped. In the background, I could hear the voice of a French speaker through the store intercom. Cletus was also looking for a bowl. “I have no bowl,” he said. “I’ve been eating my oatmeal out of a cup for the past day. So I’m trying to move on up in life.”
Photo Credit: Star Boxing/Dan McCabe
Cletus is in Canada because on Saturday he will fight Yves Ulysee Jr. at Place Bell, the multi-purpose sports arena that looks a bit like a gigantic white phone jack. Celtus and Ulysse Jr. will meet on the undercard of the much-anticipated Saunders vs. Lemieux fight.
Seldin’s promotor, Joe DiGuardia of Star Boxing, compares Cletus to Arturo Gatti and Jake LaMotta. Still, he thinks considers Ulysse Jr. a skilled fighter who may prove difficult for Seldin because of his quick footwork and the fact a good counter puncher.
But Seldin isn’t so sure of that. “They were prospecting him as the next Sugar Ray Leonard. Good on his feet, good amateur. He’s a solid Olympic alternate. Those are the kind of guys I like to fight, the ones I prefer to fight. You know, these long-known Olympians, guys with 100, 200 amateur fights who everyone thinks is gonna be the next best thing. And then there’s guys like me, 30 amateur fights and it works. I work hard every day, and I am determined to knock every one of them out. That is my job, and that’s one thing that I take personal.”
In November, just a week after Seldin defeated Roberto Ortiz by third-round TKO, Peter Nelson of HBO asked DiGuardia if Seldin would be ready to fight in December. “Absolutely,” DiGuardia said. He knew he didn’t have to okay it with Seldin because Seldin is adamant about fighting as often as he can.
So Seldin went right back to West Palm Beach, Florida for to start his training camp again. When he came home to Long Island four weeks later, he unpacked his bags and then repacked them the same night so that he could head to Canada.”
He traveled first class. “I told Star Boxing unless they give me first class seats, I’m going to tell everyone at the press conference,” Seldin joked, but he had practical reasons for wanting to fly in such luxury. “In first class, like two bags fly free. I knew it was going to be cold here. I packed a lot of sweaters. I had to bring my suit for the press conference, my work out equipment. People think fight week is easy on the athlete. It’s not. We still gotta make weight. We all gotta do our social media stuff.”
It was snowing when Seldin and his team arrived in Quebec. Their driver showed up half an hour late, and then they got stuck in traffic, which had slowed to 25 MPH due to the weather.
After checking into the hotel, he spent time alone in his room fighting what has become one of his toughest battles outside of the ring—trying to beat Zelda on Nintendo Switch.
“I tried to beat this one boss. It took me like the whole fight from West Palm to New York. And then I beat him yesterday, and it was like, Perfect, yes, got that done,” said Cletus, who considers himself half-geek, half-gladiator.
Later, Cletus decided he wanted to take a hot yoga class to help him shed pounds for the weigh-in. He got on his computer but found that when he searched the internet, everything came up in French. He tried to figure it out, thought he found one studio, and then called an Uber to pick him up. It was the first Uber he had ever taken in his life. When he arrived, he discovered the place was closed.
Lost in a foreign country that had apparently gone shut down because of the snow, Cletus turned to his driver. “Can you take me home?” he asked.
Back at his hotel, Cletus used Google Translate on his phone (his computer kept turning everything to French) to help him find a yoga studio that was open. He found a place, paid for the class beforehand, and took another Uber.
“It was the best experience of my life,” Cletus said. “To be in another country the next day, lying on the floor doing a mediation/hot yoga class, hearing nothing but French music and French language . . . it was so friggin’ awesome. I was just smiling the whole class. I was like Yeah, baby.”
Cletus uses yoga classes to prepare himself for fights. “I have to prepare my mind especially,” he told me, “because I know what I’m about to do to my body. I’m about to take my body and send it right into a car crash. I don’t fight the typical point scoring fight. I’m coming in to hurt you, to damage you up.”
Cletus’s trainer, Pete Brodsky, has trained six world champions. He did with Cletus what he has done with every fighter who comes to his gym. When he first met him, he assessed what his physical and mental traits were and what he thought Cletus would be best at doing.
“I took a combination of the cross-over defense of Archie Moore, Joe Frazier, George Foreman,” Brodsky says of Cletus. “Then I decided with his leg strength and his ability to stay down in a certain stance, he would be best taught to be a really good body puncher. I taught him to work the body and then move his way up.’
There aren’t many fighters like Cletus left. According to Brodsky, that’s because trainers today weren’t around and didn’t have access to boxing before the 80’s but get their direction from Olympic and amateur boxing. And in Olympic and amateur boxing, judges don’t give fighters credit for being good body punchers or good defensive fighters.
“They give you points for how many times you touch the other guy, no matter how effective or ineffective,” says Brodsky. “I know that because I was the president of amateur boxing in New York City for ten years. So I saw the whole thing turn around, from guys being aggressive, good body punchers and having a certain kind of defense to what they would teach at the Olympic level. And what they taught there filtered down to the boxing gyms.”
The style that Cletus has embraced isn’t easy. “I’m in pain during those fights,” he told me. “My hands, I hurt my hands in most of the fights. I punch hard. They say I need surgery on my hand, my shoulders, my back.”
And yet it’s hard to think of Cletus, a man who embraces humor more readily than he does the forced machismo of most boxers, as a man who goes into the ring wanting to inflict pain on his opponents. I asked him about that, about the change that must take place to allow him to want to hurt another human being.
“I don’t know,” he said and paused for a moment. “As soon as I start to get my hand wraps on and I’m able to put my ring attire on, I become—I’m big into Marvel and DC and superheroes. And someplace inside me, I become a superhero. I’m not a person anymore. If you look at my face in the ring, I’m a wild, wreaking machine. I have no care for my body.”
I didn’t respond, and he didn’t say anything. Again, I heard the same French speaker come over the store intercom
“It’s the only time in life that, when the bell rings, nobody cares what happens to either one of them,” Cletus said after giving it some thought. “Somebody could die, somebody could get injured really bad, and it’s legal. You just have to be a different type of human being to fight my kind of style.”
By this point, Cletus had found the aisle with the Funko Pops, the bobblehead toys based on TV and film characters.
“I have one of the largest Funko Pop collections in the country. I have over 1,500 pops, an estimated value of over 60,000 dollars,” Cletus boasted before we said goodbye.
He also told me that there were some Pokémon cards that he was considering buying.
After Walmart, Cletus planned to attend another hot yoga session, go to the press conference the next day, do a little work out in the morning and afternoon, and then probably go to the mall—to do some more Funko Pop shopping.
Follow B.A. Cass on Twitter @WiththePunch