Andrew Maynard was a baby when it came to boxing experience but he won gold at the 1988 Olympics nonetheless. Today, in conversation with Thomas Gerbasi, he explains why he regrets having Sugar Ray Leonard as his mentor during an eventful but difficult professional career
MINUTES before the biggest fight of his young life, 24-year-old Andrew Maynard warmed up in Jamsil Students’ Gymnasium in Seoul, South Korea and waited for his name to be called to fight the Soviet Union’s Nurmagomed Shanavazov in the light-heavyweight division’s gold medal bout of the 1988 Olympics.
As the time slowly ticked by, the Maryland native wondered what was going on in the ring as his Olympic roommate, Roy Jones Jnr, faced South Korea’s Park Si-hun in the light middleweight gold medal bout. There was no television monitor in the locker room, only the sounds from outside the door.
“He’s fighting a Korean in Korea and I’m listening to the crowd,” Maynard recalled. “If it’s ‘Ahh,’ that means the Korean is doing something to the American. If it’s ‘Uhhh,’ then it’s the American doing something to the Korean. So I’m going by that.”
The bout ended and Maynard was called to make the walk.
“As I’m going to the ring, I’m still listening to the crowd, and as I’m going through, I’ve got my hood on, and it’s not loud, it’s like a murmur.”
Maynard was met by his coach, and as he stepped into the ring, he had just one question.
“Coach, how did Roy do?”
It was the upset of upsets for a team that featured Jones, Riddick Bowe, Michael Carbajal, Kennedy McKinney and Ray Mercer, just to name a few. What made it worse was that Jones’ loss wasn’t even considered to be legitimate, but a horrible judges’ decision. At that moment, Maynard knew whatever game plan was on the table had to be shelved.
“I gotta put it on this guy,” said Maynard. “Put pressure and don’t take a step backwards. And that’s what I did. I just kept going forward and sideways. I thought, ‘Do not take a step backwards. Because if you take a step backwards, that’s showing them that he’s being aggressive.’ And that’s what I did the whole fight and I ended up winning.”
The decision, 5-0, wasn’t even close, and for a fighter who only picked up the gloves five years earlier, it was a story embraced by the world both in and out of the sport. Maynard was the kid heading down the wrong path until he found boxing, and even then, there were no guarantees that he would one day represent his country and win an Olympic gold medal.
“A lot of people don’t know that I went to Sugar Ray [Leonard] before I even started boxing,” Maynard said. “I went to him at the time when he was coming back and asked him when I was 19 years old, ‘Ray, if you teach me how to box, I will win a gold medal.’ He asked me how old I was and I said 19. How many years have I been boxing? I’m just starting. How many fights? None. Then he just dogged me. And I never forgot that. From that day on, that’s what made me win the Olympics. I used that as fire and desire.”
Soon, Maynard was boxing and winning, but his career didn’t pick up speed until he joined the U.S. Army. He was away from the distractions of the streets, he had a goal in mind, and when he got his shot, he hit his mark. That might have been enough for some to hang up the gloves and move on, and Maynard even considered staying in the Army until he put his 20 years in, a goal he wanted to reach for his father, Theodore, who saw one of his seven sons dishonorably discharged while others spent time in jail.
The two spoke after he returned home from Seoul. The first words were, “I did it for you, daddy. I got my gold medal.”
The next ones focused on his future.
“I wanted to stay in the military and do the 20 [years] for my father,” said Maynard. “And then my father told me, ‘Son, I love you but I don’t want you to do it for me; you already did it for me.’ and he gave me a hug so tight. And I started crying. Then I gave him the gold medal and I went and got out of the military.”
He was on his way to the professional boxing ranks.
“From one crazy business to another,” Maynard laughs.
It was crazy in the pros for Maynard, who signed with Mike Trainer and ironically, Sugar Ray Leonard, when he made his punch for pay debut in 1989 with a first-round TKO win over Zack Worthy. And though he won his first 12 bouts, Maynard didn’t look like the same fighter stylistically as he was in the amateurs, where he simply overwhelmed his opponents with volume.
“It held me back a lot because Ray changed my style,” said Maynard. “He ruined my whole style. It made me look bad.”
By fight number 13, Maynard was in with 40-fight veteran Bobby Czyz and was halted in seven rounds. Bouncing back quickly, Maynard won the NABF light heavyweight title by stopping Lenzie Morgan in February 1991, and three fights later he halted faded former champion Matthew Saad Muhammad in three rounds.
As a number one contender, Maynard could have waited for a title shot, but in January 1992, he took on another sanctioning body number one in Frank Tate and got stopped in the 11th round. There was still value on his name, though, and by the fall of 1992, he was in Paris to fight Anaclet Wamba for the WBC cruiserweight title.
Undersized at 179 ¾ pounds to Wamba’s 184 ¾ pounds – and that was on weigh-in day, Maynard got a rude welcome to France as the two engaged in the opening round.
“First round, this dude hit me with a brick,” Maynard chuckles. “As soon as we came out to touch the gloves, he threw the right hand, and I was on the ground. ‘What the … am I doing down here? (Laughs) He tried to take me out in the first round. Lord, my old instincts took over because he jumped on me.”
Maynard rose to his feet and he took the fight to Wamba, breaking his ribs and making a late charge before losing a 12-round unanimous decision.
“If it was 15 rounds, I would have knocked him out,” he said. “I’d have stopped him. I would have been cruiserweight champion.”
It would be Maynard’s only world title fight, and while he got high-profile matchups with the likes of Thomas Hearns, Sergey Kobozev and even Brian Nielsen in the future, none would have a belt on the line and he would lose more than he won, ultimately retiring at the age of 36 after a 2000 defeat against Gary Wilcox.
“Basically, a lot of people rushed me because of my age,” he said. “They had to rush me because I started late. They tried to get me up there as fast I could and see what they can get out of me before I burned out. They were trying to cash me in as quick as they could.”
Maynard could have been bitter, but just when you think the father of three is about to go there when talking about his career, he will come in with his trademark “Yeah, Baby,” and you know that he’s a fighter that isn’t going to let anything in the past keep him from enjoying his present and future.
Now living in Texas, far from the cold winters of the east coast, he wants to open a gym, but he’s wondering if there are aspiring boxers who want to learn the trade from a man who actually went out and did it.
“Nobody wants to fight like I fought,” he said. “Everybody wants to drop their hands, grab and hug. If that’s what you want to do, you’ve got the wrong guy.”
Maybe that’s the way Maynard can look at his career, as the timing just wasn’t right for him to become a world champion. But that doesn’t reflect on the man, who is one of the rare folks in the business that seemingly everyone has a good word to say about.
“I never really looked at it like that,” he admits. “I was upset that I didn’t get a title fight in the weight class that I wanted, but I guess I am satisfied that I got that respect. At least my kids can have that, because you want that reputation for your kids so they have that pride and their chin up in the air.”
That’s worth more than a closet full of championship belts, and Maynard knows it, punctuated with a “Yeah, baby” and the words of wisdom he has for anybody chasing their own version of gold.
“Keep your hands up and go get it.”