Status: Former 1976 Olympic gold medalist. Head Boxing Trainer American Top Team.
Childhood Heroes: “My first idol was my father (Howard Sr.) Muhammad Ali was definitely an idol. (Ever meet him?) Many times. I was 11 or 12 when he came to Glen Cove. My father knew his chaffeur. The second time I didn’t know who he was. I was playing in a band at the Apollo Theater Amateur Hour. And he was backstage. I remember Muhammad Ali walking over to me and touching me on the chin, like, How you doing? He had a big afro wig, getting ready to go onstage for a play called ‘Buck White.’ It was during his exile.”
Nicknames: “John-John – a family nickname.”
Hobbies/Interests: “Well, I speak Arabic, play four musical instruments – drum, bass drum, guitar and keyboards. I have a studio in my home where I record music. Study theology, African and world history. Travel. My greatest love now is training stand-up to mixed martial arts fighters at the American Top Team gym.”
Favorite Movies: “Wow, I would have to say Raging Bull. Midnight Run with Robert DeNiro. And aka Cassius Clay – that’s what made me start boxing. It came out in the theater when I was 15. That’s when I started. I was so intrigued and motivated by that movie that the very next day I got up at 4:30 in the morning to run before school. I did that until the Olympics.”
Favorite TV Show: “The Odd Couple.”
Musical Tastes: “Jazz, smooth jazz. I like some rap but I prefer jazz.”
Pre-Fight Feeling: “Can’t wait to showcase myself. I wanted people to see me. I thought of myself as a genius when I boxed. I used more of my brains than my physical attributes when I boxed. My brain was my forte. Defense and speed. I was the fastest fighter in the world. Randy Gordon, the former editor of The Ring, timed me throwing more than 30 punches in three or four seconds.”
Greatest Sports Moment: “When I won the Olympics for my mother (Catharine). She passed away during the Games (1976 in Montreal) – three days before I had my first fight. I dedicated the gold medal to her.”
Most Painful Moment: “I’d have to say the passing of my mother.”
Favorite Meal: “Chicken parmigian and angel hair pasta.”
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Vanilla.”
Funny Boxing Memory: “I did have one satirical moment. My last year in Golden Gloves, second fight. I fought this guy and knocked him down, gave him an eight-count. Knocked him down again, gave him another eight-count. When we started again, he clinched and he screamed in my ear, Take it easy or I kill you after the fight! I had to knock him out the very next round. He came to me after the fight, Aw, I didn’t mean it. I was beating up on him pretty good.
Embarrassing Moment: “I don’t know what fight it was, I started walking back to the wrong corner.”
Toughest Opponent(s): “I would have to say when I had my second ten-rounder – Norman Goins. In Indianapolis, Indiana in 1977. He knocked me down in the 2nd and 5th rounds. I knocked him down in the 9th. The referee gave him a very slow, long count.”
Hardest Punchers: “Norman Goins was a devastating puncher. Tony Baltazar was a devastating puncher. Edwin Rosario was a very hard hitter. There was a Colombia in the amateurs. We fought in 1975 in Washington, DC in USA vs. Colombia. I weighed 128. This guy was a big guy, like 87-0 with 55 KO’s. I’ll never forget that record. The guy hit me real hard in the first round. I woke up in the dressing room. He hit so hard he jarred my memory. I woke up when my father took my handwraps off. I whispered to him, Where am I? Did I win? He said, Yeah, you won. He hit you with one punch, he never hit you again. After that one punch I didn’t remember anything. My father said I was signing autographs on the way to the dressing room. It turned out he was a welterweight. They put me in the wrong weight class.”
When Were You At Your Best?: “My 4th pro fight. Probably could have fought anybody. I fought Tury Pineda, who had 37 fights. I knocked him out in the 4th round. He had all those fights and couldn’t do anything with me. At that time I thought I had arrived.”
On Training Shelby Walker (from 2005): : She’s coming along fine, doing well. She’s been with American Top Team for seven, eight months. Her first match is on February 12th at the War Memorial in Fort Lauderdale. She has a devastating right hand. If she hits anyone solid, they’re going out. In one MMA fight she made history. She’s got the fastest KO on record – seven seconds. But we need to work on her defense more. She’s not really a defensive fighter yet. She’s improving as we speak. Her work ethic is very good. She comes to the gym every day. But she definitely needs to work on her defense. You can’t throw punches all the time. That’s what I’m working on with her. Defense is just as important as offense.
People Qualities Most Admired: “I like someone that’s fair and honest and has integrity. Somebody that has a conscience with what they’re doing. That’s what I look for in people I meet and work with. If I see something a little unethical, I’ll stay away from those people.”