by JR Valrey
Long before Karim “Hard Hitta” Mayfield held a professional boxing title, he was considered a beast in the streets of San Francisco – because of his hands. Eight years after retiring as a street fighter, this professional boxer has risen to superstardom. He was one of the sparring partners of Manny Pacquiao, when he was getting ready for his fight with Suga Shane Mosley, and Mayfield is starting to have his fights regularly picked up by ESPN.
I wanted to catch up with this City (San Francisco) native, who is putting the SFC on the map right alongside Andre Ward putting the Town (Oakland) on the map, to talk about his life, his career and boxing in general. Stay tuned.
M.O.I. JR: For the people that don’t really know a lot about you, can you tell us how you got into boxing?
Karim: You know I started from being on the streets for the most part. Back when I was coming up, it wasn’t too many people shooting. We were literally the last generation of guys that were throwing punches when we had an altercation.
I was definitely known; they used to call me Little Tyson. And I was known for dropping cats in the streets. Nevertheless, a boxing gym opened up just two blocks from where I was spending my idle time hanging and chilling, just wasting time.
I went to check out the gym, and out of the gate, I’m like, “Let me get in there and put the gloves on.” They’re like, “No, let me teach you to jab.” I was still like, “Let me put the gloves on.” So they allowed me to put the gloves on, and I didn’t know that I was going to be going in there with a guy that had been training for almost two years. They put me in there with the sharks, and I swam. I was backstroking, man (laughs). Nevertheless, I dropped the guy – and been inspired ever since.
M.O.I. JR: How long ago was that?
Karim: That was already about eight years ago.
M.O.I. JR: How old are you now?
Karim: I’m actually 31.
M.O.I. JR: So you basically started coming out of the streets. Isn’t that the story of Joe Frazier?
Karim: Exactly. It’s actually a lot of stories of cats that just got their career started, or started late with boxing.
M.O.I. JR: Tell us a little bit about your training, how it’s been going and how you got to the point where you had a title fight?
Karim: My training is definitely rigorous. When I don’t have a date scheduled, I’m just training to maintain, but when I do have a date scheduled, I’m training to gain. I only had 16 fights, and a lot of times guys with that amount of fights won’t be campaigning for a contender spot until about 24 fights, but I’ve fought a lot of undefeated guys already, and that actually moved me up the rankings a whole lot.
I only had 16 fights, and a lot of times guys with that amount of fights won’t be campaigning for a contender spot until about 24 fights, but I’ve fought a lot of undefeated guys already, and that actually moved me up the rankings a whole lot.
Because a lot of times, what people are trying to do is fight guys that they know that they are going to win, and that’s not too much of a threat to their record. Anyhow, I’ve taken on those challenges, and came up victorious. That put me in line. First off I fought Manny Paciaou here in Los Angeles and helped him get ready for Suga Shane Mosley. And I did a tremendous job, and that is actually when I started to begin to get a lot of offers for fighting contracts.
M.O.I. JR: Wait a minute, slow down. You fought Paciaou?
Karim: Yeah, I sparred him. I was out there for a month, and I sparred him to get him ready for Suga Shane Mosley. Anyways, after I fought Paciaou, I guess there was a lot of people speaking on me – about this kid doing good against Paciaou – and I began to get a lot of offers after the Paciaou sparring, so that gave me a lot of exposure.
That was almost a year and a half ago. After that, I just capitalized on everything else. I fought him, and it got me in line for a NABL title. I took the challenge and fought a guy named Patrick Lopez, a two time Olympian. And I kept moving forward ever since. I came up victorious. I actually defended my title two weeks ago on ESPN, an ESPN Main Event.
M.O.I. JR: I know it’s a dumb question but we have to ask: Where did you get the name “Hard Hitta” and who gave it to you?
Karim: My original coach, my coach now, told me that he gave me the name, but if I’m not mistaken, a friend’s daughter gave me the name. I was at a fight, and I dropped a dude several times, and when I got out the ring she said, “Man, you got one hitter-quitters.” And I’m like “OK.” She was like, you are a “hard hitta.” She was calling me “hard hitta” and gave me the name. It was like given by two people, because my coach, when I came in that first day, he was like, “You hit hard.” But I say that she is the one who deemed the name for me, “the Hard Hitta.”
A friend’s daughter gave me the name. I was at a fight, and I dropped a dude several times, and when I got out the ring she said, “Man, you got one hitter-quitters.”
M.O.I. JR: I just got finished reading Sugar Ray Leonard’s biography, where he talked a lot about the health of boxers. Do you ever worry about getting Parkinson’s like Muhammad Ali or having your brain mushed up because of the violence of the sport?
Karim: There’s always a concern of you getting hurt or injured, just the same as if you were playing football. You wouldn’t want any injuries to your legs or your body, concussions, or getting hit the wrong way, or spinal injuries.
In any type of contact sport there is a concern of being messed up, but for the most part, I try not to dwell on those things and move my head. If my family saw me getting beaten on, they wouldn’t agree and be backing me in this sport.
But I’ve been successful. The only time that I’ve been cut was through an accidental head butt. But for guys like Muhammad Ali, who have Parkinson’s, I don’t plan on being in the sport for that long. I actually started older, which is a good thing for me. I wasn’t too young getting hit up. Like I said, there is always some concern about your health. I just look to making my mark in the sport and getting up out.
M.O.I. JR: As a fighter, what is it that you really like about the sport? Is it the adrenaline rush after knocking somebody out? Is it the training that goes into it? What is it that you really like about being a beast in that ring?
Karim: Definitely raising your hands in victory at the end: It’s the most. It’s the ultimate high; it’s a natural high. And during all the training, you know that your opponent has prepared as well and just as hard. Coming up with the victory is the highlight of the whole camp and the whole night of your whole career.
Raising your hands in victory at the end is the ultimate high; it’s a natural high.
I definitely get a lot of zen and peace when I’m running on the beach with my puppy at night time or when I’m out zoning to my iPod. I get a lot of peace out of that. Overall, that’s the joy, because it’s definitely a rough and hard sport. And if you’re doing it, keep doing what you’re doing, but for my son I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a lot of rigorous training, and you have to continue to do the same exact thing. Sometimes, it definitely gets boring, you know?
A lot of times, the night before the fight, people are always asking me if I’m scared, or if I’m ever scared. And I say anytime you going into the theater of the unknown, you always going to have some type of butterflies. Regardless if you’re doing a stage play or if you have another performance, there is going to be that thought of being in the theater of the unknown. I mean, you could slip on a banana on the stage.
Nevertheless, the last day before the fight, you are anxious. You got all of this bottled up energy, and there is so much going on. Like I said, I wouldn’t recommend it for my children. But I’m happy, I’m winning, I’m successful, and I haven’t been hurt. I’m just thankful for all my blessings.
The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.