It seems only appropriate: Yusef Mack arrived in Lake Arrowhead on Dec. 26—Boxing Day. Appropriate because Mack is the No. 7 boxer in the U.S. and the current holder of the NABA (North American Boxing Association) light heavyweight championship title.
Mack will defend that title tomorrow night, Feb. 6, in a bout in Salisbury, Md. He faces Chris Henry, the North American Boxing Federation light heavyweight champion. One of the two men will leave the ring holding both titles.
If Mack has his way, that man will be him. He’s in better shape than ever, thanks in large part to his trainer of one year, John Tandy. “I’m eating healthy and taking vitamins as a result of working with John,” Mack said. “My whole life has turned around, both professionally and as a person.”
The two began working together on Jan. 25, 2008, in New York. Mack’s manager had contacted Tandy in his native England and brought him to the U.S. to work with Mack.
“We clashed heads for about four weeks,” said Tandy, “and then we clicked.” Mack agreed: “We each had our own way of thinking but met in the middle.
“My manager told me this guy is great,” Mack said. “I said, ‘You don’t even know him.’ After we met, I told him he could go back home. But after my first fight under him, I saw everything was working.” Since training with Tandy, Mack has won three fights, two with a knockout and one decision.
“Lots of trainers and fighters don’t have that bond,” Mack continued. “A trainer can see what I can’t. If I’m hurt and he stopped my fight, I’d be mad but I have to trust him.”
On the first day they worked together, Tandy made the decision to move Mack up from the super middleweight division to light heavyweight.
“I had been told I wasn’t big enough to fight as a light heavyweight,” Mack said. “I struggled to make weight at the lower class.” What Mack did was take laxatives to shed the last few pounds. With the weight he also shed some of his strength. Super middleweights range from 160 to 168 pounds, light heavyweights from 168 to 175.
Late last year, Stuart Duncan, owner of Mile High Training Camp at Arrowhead Ranch, brought Tandy to Lake Arrowhead to oversee the gym. Where Tandy goes, his boxers go.
Tandy, his wife Michelle and their two children settled into mountain life. When Mack is in town for training camp, he stays with the family. Both the boxer and his trainer agreed it’s not the usual setup, but Tandy said, “With guys you know, you don’t mind if they stay with you.” Tandy said Mack is like his little brother. The whole family has embraced the boxer; in fact, Michelle has trained a bit with him.
“This is the perfect place to train,” Tandy said. “There are no distractions.” Mack added he’s very focused during training camp, which usually takes place over the course of the six to eight weeks prior to a fight.
“When I’m not in camp,” he noted, “I chill with my family in West Philly (Pennsylvania) and have fun.”
“Part of my job,” Tandy added, “is to keep him focused and make sure he’s working hard enough and doing the right things.”
As a rule Mack runs about an hour every day. In the week leading up to the fight, he reduced that schedule to every other day to give his body time to get strong. “I make sure I work in different ways every day,” Mack said, running sprints, up hills and on the treadmill.
Since arriving in Lake Arrowhead, Mack has a new running partner: Dan Pribble, mixed martial arts competitor and head instructor at the Lake Arrowhead branch of Jeff Speakman’s Kenpo Karate, located at The Club in Twin Peaks.
“I was looking for someone to help me with my MMA training,” Pribble said. “I looked up John and started running with Yusef. Our sports are very different,” Pribble added, “but have similar elements. We can benefit each other.”
Pribble has also opened his gym up to Mack, who does some of his training there. In talking about Tandy, Pribble said, “John is a world-class trainer, one of the top in the world. Fighters come from all over to train with him. People have him here in their backyard and don’t know what an asset is here.”
Mack left for Philadelphia on Tuesday. He’ll pick up his title belts and some family members and then drive to Maryland. One of his nephews will help him parade his belts into the ring. “I’m going there with five belts,” he said, “and will leave with six.
“You bet I’m confident,” he responded to a question about his attitude. “I can take Henry into deep waters (later rounds) if I have to. I have enough to go the full 12 (three-minute rounds).” But his prediction is he’ll take Henry down in four or five rounds.
This will be the first time Mack and Henry, who is from Texas, face each other in the ring. “He’s never fought anyone like me before,” Mack said. “He’s coming to my turf—the East Coast. The press has me as the underdog and I love being the underdog.”
The fight takes place on Friday night and will be shown on ESPN2. The eyes of Philadelphia—and Lake Arrowhead—will be on that ring in Maryland.
“This is my year,” said the boxer.