Farmer poised for title harvest
Bernard Hopkins lost the first professional fight he ever had. So did the noted Marquez brothers, Juan Manuel and Rafael. Henry Armstrong tasted defeat in three of his first four fights. So, despite a rocky start to his career, Philadelphia-born super-featherweight Tevin Farmer 20-4-1 (5 KOs) is in good company.
Although he hasn’t yet reached the rarified level of those greats, the 25-year-old has been steadily rebuilding after going 7-4-1 during the formative stages of his career. Farmer may be a new name to many British fight fans but he has developed a unique blend of footwork, upper body movement, skill and counter-punching which is proving to be a tough puzzle to solve. In fact, ‘The American Idol’ might just be the best fighter you have never heard of on the current scene.
After a very brief spell as an amateur, Farmer took his own show on the road. During his first 20 months as a professional, he suffered four losses to four unbeaten fighters in four different states. His style may be almost entirely based on reflexes and spur of the moment reactions but by applying that same approach to decisions outside of the ring, he was hurting himself. After a late notice stoppage loss to current IBF champion Jose Pedraza in October 2012, the penny finally dropped. Close family friend Mark Cipparone entered the fray to handle his affairs and let Farmer concentrate on polishing his innate talents. It was a wise move. The pair are currently riding a 13 fight winning streak and Farmer has signed a promotional deal with Lou DiBella.
“I never took boxing seriously. It was just something I did,” Farmer told BM. “I knew I had potential so I decided I had to acquit myself. I decided that I should get it together. I only had a few amateur fights and I’d only been boxing for seven years but I had to start taking it seriously all around the board.
“I dedicated myself to the gym every single day but I also brought Mark Cipparone on board and he helped me settle in and focus on my boxing. Once I brought Mark in, my career went to another level. Mark had no experience in boxing at all. He was a guy who dealt in cars but he was a long time friend of the family who just wanted to help me. We’ve grown a lot and we’ve come a long way. I just told him the basics of being a boxing manager and he’s taken it to another level.
“I literally thank God every day for my four losses, though. They taught me how to be a better fighter and that I needed to work harder. When I fight these dudes now, they aren’t as experienced as me. They don’t know how to push through when it’s the ninth or tenth round and you’re tired. My four losses taught me how to do that.”
When you watch Farmer fight, everything you see is instinctive. He may have been in the gym since an early age but the ‘hit and don't be hit’ style which developed naturally has stuck. He may have grown up in a legendary fight city but he never stood in front of a gym mirror modelling his left hook on Joe Frazier’s. He didn’t spend hours perfecting the defensive tricks used by underrated masters like Benny Briscoe or Willie ‘The Worm’ Monroe. Given his style, you might imagine that nimble, quick-witted Philadelphia superstars like 76ers legend Allen Iversen or Eagles Hall of Famer Brian Westbrook would have influenced him but even they failed to make much of an impact.
“I was always self-motivated. I watched these people but never really looked up to nobody,” said Farmer. “I was always doing my own thing. When I played football and basketball I was always the star of my team so I always focused on myself more than anything.
“It just came natural. I was always naturally quick. I just worked on it more and, as I got more serious and more confident, I just started doing anything I wanted. That’s how it came out. I never watched no tapes, it was just a natural thing. I’m athletic all around so it wasn’t hard to transition over to boxing. I play every other sport so moving over to boxing was just something else to do. Once I started taking it seriously I started figuring out what I needed to do and what I shouldn’t do. I was a point guard in basketball and I was a runningback in football and I was good at both of them.
“I didn’t watch boxing either,” laughed Farmer. “Lot’s of people asked me if I’d watched Pernell Whitaker but I’d say, “Nah, I ain’t watched him!” Once I started really taking boxing seriously and had my style and everybody was telling me I fought like Pernell I decided I had to google this dude. I found him on YouTube and was like, ‘Damn, this is like watching me!’
“I wasn’t a boxing fan. I only started watching a few years ago. When people have boxing conversations I don’t butt into them. If it’s not about myself, I’m not really big on having debates about boxing.”
Unsurprisingly, both of the sporting positions Farmer described require fleet of foot, excellent peripheral vision and speed of thought. Plenty of athletes have attempted to make their mark in boxing and the results have been varied. Athletic ability and a willingness to learn can help a fighter negotiate the early stages of their career but many have been found wanting when the punches start flying back. Farmer is in his element when his opponent leads.
“It’s all natural reflexes to me. People are always asking me how I’ve done certain things and I get kind of mad because I can’t give them an answer. I can stand right in front of you and you will not hit me. It just kind of happened for me. You won’t find my style in boxing these days. I’m fan friendly. Everybody who sees me fight - be it a grandma or grandpop - they become a fan instantly.
“I’m not being biased but I look at all of the world champions and try to figure out ways that they can beat me and I can’t see any. In order to beat me they have to be better than me all around. You won’t outwork me because I work very hard so the only way to beat me is to be skilfully better than me. I don’t think there are many guys as skilful as me.
“I would stop Jose Pedraza right now [if the pair were to fight again]. He told me a couple of months ago that he will not fight me again unless I’ve got a world title. That’s a sign of respect. He’s saying that ‘This kid got good, man. I’m not fighting him unless he’s worth it’.”
In recent fights, his slick outside game has been supplemented by a willingness to stay close and use his upper body movement to force mistakes. Entering into an exchange with Farmer must be akin to taking on one of those supposed games of skill at a fairground. You think you have worked out the secret to the game, throw plenty of shots at the target and walk away frustrated, severely out of pocket and realising that the stall owner saw you coming and picked your pocket. There was genuine joy in Farmer’s voice when I asked about the new dimension to his game.
“Oh man, I’m glad you brought that up, I’m glad you brought that up. I always had power but I’ve developed to the point where I will stand there right in front of you, make you miss and knock you out,” Farmer told BM. “Before I was all about moving and slipping because I really didn’t know much about boxing. I made myself a promise that three of my next five opponents - if not all five - will be knocked out. I’m already one for one [a knockout victory of the then 30-2 Daulis Prescott, brother of Breidis, last August].
“Some people ask me why I do that but if I say something, I have to live up to it. That makes me work extra hard. Even before I was here today, I would always walk around carrying myself and talking like a champion. I’ve become a world class fighter because I had to live up to my word. That’s how I keep myself motivated.
“Now, I’m in a position where I can fight for a world title but we’ve got to get into the position where I can get to the number one spot because nobody is going to volunteer to fight me. Nobody wants losses. I’ve got to get to the number one spot. I’m number 14 with the WBC but after 30 March when I win my NABF title, I’ll be ranked in the top ten. I’m getting close to being a world champion.
“By this time next near, I should definitely be defending my world title.”