Sparring Partner Fred Tukes No 'Punching Bag' for Champ Miguel Cotto
TAMPA, Fla. -- Several times a year, Fred Tukes leaves his wife Heather, his two-year-old son Jeremiah, and his 14-year-old daughter Alana, at home in Atlanta to go and trade punches with some of the world's best professional boxers.
"I just say, 'daddy's got to go to work,' you know?" said Tukes, whose son "goes to the gym with me all the time when I'm at home," and whose daughter "has figured out by now that I can take care of myself, since I've been doing this for longer than she's been alive."
For nearly half of his life -- starting at the age of 17 -- Tukes has earned his primary living as a sparring partner to the stars.
Tukes' clients have included included Floyd Mayweather Jr., Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Arturo Gatti, Zab Judah, Arthur Abraham, Joel Julio, Vernon Forrest, Tony "The Tiger" Lopez, Buster Drayton and presently WBO king Miguel Cotto -- the latter during his preparation in Tampa for his Nov. 14 defense against Filipino sensation Manny Pacquiao.
"I'm making a good living, and my wife really doesn't worry too much. When I'm working constantly, I'm making probably more than some of the fighters make," said Tukes, 35, who will earn about $9,000 for some two months of work with Cotto, and has held odd jobs over the years that include construction.
"I love sparring. And I don't think that there's anyone that I've mentioned who will say anything bad about me. I've always shown up to work hard, smile, laugh, and keep on moving," said Tukes, whose next employer will be welterweight contender Joshua Clottey.
"It's a job that's taken me all over the world -- to Romania, Colombia, all over Europe. And everywhere I've ever gone, I've become a part of the people and the fabric there," said Tukes, who began fighting professionally four years ago and is 8-1-1 with five knockouts.
"Especially Europe, when you're in places where you really don't speak the language. Your best asset is your body language," said Tukes. "You'll be surprised I can actually have a conversation with somebody and not even speak the language. Everywhere I've gone, you can gain a lot of friends. I've never had an issue or complained about a situation."
A 17-year-old Tukes was still an amateur in the summer of 1991, when he received his first assignment -- helping then-IBF and WBA superfeatherweight champion Tony "The Tiger" Lopez for his title fight with Brian Mitchell.
"[Fellow Atlanta resident] Evander Holyfield saw that I was a southpaw, and he told Tony, 'Hey, why don't you get some work out of that kid.' So we did, and at the end of our training, he gave me $250," said Tukes. "I was like, 'What's this for?' And he said, 'It's for you. For the sparring.' Lopez lost to Mitchell, but he called me and told me that it wasn't because of anything I didn't do."
Of his work in Tampa, Tukes said Cotto "ranks right up there with the best of them as far as training and championship mentality," adding, "Where Miguel is at right now, he deserves every bit of the recognition that he's gotten. I mean, from what I can see, he's working really hard for everything."
On Wednesday, Cotto, Tukes and Kenny Abril of Rochester, N.Y. went three spirited three-minute rounds with 30 seconds rest in-between.
During their regimen, which takes place Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the 152-pound Tukes imitates Pacquiao's chicanery.
"[Cotto's trainer Joe Santiago] wanted Miguel to get used to seeing the overhand left because Pacquiao throws a whole lot of overhand lefts and he throws a lot of jabs," said Tukes, who is completing his fifth week as Cotto's foil.
"I was trying to emulate that as much as possible," said Tukes. "I throw my combinations, move out of the way, let him come to me, try to counter off of what he's doing, that sort of thing."
The 149-pound Abril, 25, emulates the Filipino star's sheer agression.
"Kenny, he came right after me the following week and we started mixing it up. We both give different looks. Kenny has a lot of head movement and throws good combinations, has pretty fast hands. Kenny is a bit more in-your-face, straight up, one-two, spinning around," said Tukes.
"For Miguel, on Nov. 14, it's all going to be about timing, and Miguel is looking really sharp," said Tukes. "Compared to when he was at 140, and now, at 147 pounds, Miguel is a much better boxer because he's not killing himself to make 140. He can eat more of what he wants as he comes down to welterweight, which is good."
Over the years, Tukes has developed close relationships with many of the champions, often "discussing their experiences, whether they were happy, some of their deep emotions and their hopes and dreams," he said.
"Some of the occupational hazards of sparring can include your broken noses, broken hands, shoulder injuries. You can get injured in the middle of camp, or maybe you accidentally cut somebody who is getting ready for the fight," said Tukes.
"Thank God, and knock on wood, I've never had a situation where I've been in camp and someone has gone out because of an injury or a cut or anything that cost them the fight," said Tukes. "Pretty much everyone I've trained with has remained healthy throughout the camp."
Most sparring partners are sworn to secrecy concerning strategy, and Tukes said he is a most loyal employee.
"Because I can get pretty close to these guys, I've been in situations where people want me to compromise information," said Tukes. "I may know a lot of these guys because in training, you're eating dinner together, running together. But that's not my thing. When I'm with you, I'm with you."
But no matter how close he gets to his employee, when it comes to doing his job, Tukes pulls no punches.
"The biggest misconception people have about being a sparring partner or training partner is that you go and get your ass kicked every day, and that you're getting pounded around and they're treating you like a punching bag. Never been knocked out, ain't been dropped, never taken a beating in camp," said Tukes.
"If you're not giving the fighter the right work, and you're not giving them the intensity in camp, they're going to send you home and bring someone else in. And I want to put it out there and let people know that I've never been sent home from any training camp."