At 7:25 a.m. Tuesday, a silver SUV pulled up at the Wildcard Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif. This isn’t just any boxing club, but the venue owned by renowned trainer Freddie Roach, whose prized pupil, Manny Pacquiao, knocked out Ricky Hatton last month and is considered by many to be boxing’s pound-for-pound champion.
But on this Tuesday morning, neither Roach nor Pacquiao were anywhere to be found. Out of the SUV jumped Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco, ready to go to work with his specialized personal trainer, former WBC featherweight champion Kevin Kelley. While the Bengals worked through organized team activities in Georgetown, Ky., Ochocinco was ready to work through footwork drills inside the boxing ring.
Brought together through mutual friends, Ochocinco and Kelley first spent two weeks in Miami going through two- and sometimes three-a-day workouts. Now they have come cross-country to Los Angeles to finish what they started.
My first impression was, “here we go again” — the mercurial wideout is looking for another publicity stunt to force the Bengals’ hand, steer clear of Cincinnati and begin to drum up talk about wanting to play elsewhere in the NFL, openly calling for a trade.
But that wasn’t the character the Artist Formerly Known as Johnson wanted to play. Instead, he was quick to clear the air about why he has been away from the Bengals’ facility in favor of the boxing ring. Ochocinco says it’s all about erasing the sting of the 2008 season.
Take away Ochocinco’s rookie year in 2001, and 2008 represents his worst output. He had 540 receiving yards and just four touchdowns. He started just 10 games, four fewer than his previous low (outside his rookie campaign).
Humbled and embarrassed, Ochocinco said he needed to rededicate himself to what made him one of the top-flight wide receivers in the NFL. That meant digging deep — putting himself through an offseason boxing boot camp that stresses core work, explosiveness in his hips and feet, and even Tai Chi breathing — all in hopes of gaining an edge on the football field.
Ochocinco honestly believes he has found gold in the boxing gym. Judging by how hard I saw Kelley put him through the paces, it’s hard to disagree with Ochocinco’s theory.
As for the Bengals’ mandatory June minicamp and July training camp, Ochocinco says, absolutely, he’ll be present. HBO and NFL Films cameras also will be present for “Hard Knocks — Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals.” No conversations with QB Carson Palmer or coach Marvin Lewis, no problem, according to Ochocinco. He’ll rebuild those bridges when he surfaces in Cincinnati later this summer.
Ochocinco has two years left on his contract, worth $9.5 million, and the Bengals can pick up a club option for another season in 2011 for $6 million. Regardless of what Ochocinco does, it’s highly unlikely the Bengals will trade him. They’re in a marriage that needs counseling but appears to be far from over.
Ochocinco is a guy who has spent the better part of his professional career making sure everyone knows who he is. But the fighters at the Wildcard Boxing Club, based on what they saw, were convinced that he was just another guy trying to make it in boxing’s rough-and-tumble world. That alone might signal there is a method to Ochocinco’s madness.
– Fran Charles