How Jonnie Rice Pulled Off A Major Upset By Knocking Out Michael Coffie
On Feb. 11, 1990, James “Buster” Douglas pulled off what is considered the greatest upset in boxing history when he knocked out then-undefeated Mike Tyson in the 10th round of their heavyweight title fight in Japan. Douglas’ reign was short-lived, as Evander Holyfield would knock him out just eight months later to become the undisputed heavyweight champion.
Fast-forward 31 years: Journeyman heavyweight Jonathan “Jonnie” Rice, with only two weeks’ notice, stepped in for Gerald Washington (who tested positive for COVID-19) to face undefeated Michael Coffie on July 31. Rice earned a fifth-round TKO over the previously undefeated Coffie.
While it wasn’t of quite the same magnitude as Douglas-Tyson, the upset did send shock waves through the boxing world. Rice now sets his goals on avoiding being a one-hit wonder and has formulated a strategic fitness regimen built on consistency.
Rice breaks down the mentality of an underdog, the proper mindset to pull off a stunning upset on short notice and his future plans in a wide-ranging conversation with Zenger.
Percy Crawford interviewed Jonathan “Jonnie” Rice for Zenger.
Zenger: Congratulations on the huge win.
Rice: Thank you so much.
Zenger: I read where you said you have always had people around you that believed in you, but you had to start believing in yourself. What made the Coffie fight that moment for you?
Rice: I just decided to dedicate myself to the lifestyle of boxing. Just to keep digging and going. It wasn’t just that night, it was an everyday thing. It started with me going out to Miami to train with another top prospect in Filip Hrgovic. (12-0). From there, it was nonstop to build that belief in myself. You mentioned the word confidence. That doesn’t come without a lot of work. Just so happened, this was my chance to show what I was working on, and all I can do was show the world what I’ve been preparing to do in training. That’s all that happened.
Zenger: Due to COVID-19, fights fall through all the time. You took this fight on two weeks’ notice, so obviously you were staying ready in case something happened. Talk us through that process.
Rice: Gerald Washington is a buddy of mine. I was hearing that his training was going good, but he wasn’t feeling too well. It was always a matter of does he have it or is he good? It was mixed feelings for me, because when you’re about to fight, mentally it really wears down on you. People never think about that. They get to watch two guys fight, but it’s so many thoughts and emotions that really overwhelm you as you’re leading up to the fight.
The thing that I had to continue to do was keep my thoughts very simple. I said, “Okay, all we’re gonna do is what we trained to do. I’m not going to get in there and get stage fright.” That happens to guys sometimes. I tried my best not to get overwhelmed and understand that I had been living this boxing lifestyle. Whether I had a fight or not, I’ve been in the gym, because like you said, you’re staying ready. I continued to get better.
Zenger: Coffie’s big moment came when he knocked Darmani Rock out in January. Did you see that or were you aware of Coffie prior to fighting him?
Rice: It’s funny you ask that question. Obviously I had heard of Coffie because he was Deontay Wilder’s sparring partner. I heard the dude was a beast. It didn’t matter that Deontay was hitting him with them big right hands. I was offered the fight for Rock, but they only wanted to pay me $25,000. I am a bit delusional. I do be thinking I should be getting paid more and more money, but my record is terrible [14-6-1]. But if you think you should be getting paid more money, guess what, that’s what’s going to happen. You might have to get a job in the meantime (laughing).
Coffie steps in against Rock and just unbelievably knocks him out. I’m at the casino at the time hustling and gambling, playing craps trying to get mine. Their fight is on the big screen in the casino. I’m sitting there like, “Wow!” So, I had to step in for Gerald last minute. They put me on a small notice just in case within that two weeks, so I had to fight the man that beat the man.
Zenger: The commentators compared you to Buster Douglas when he knocked out Mike Tyson, and stylistically we saw a lot of similarities. What is the mentality of pulling off an upset of this magnitude?
Rice: It’s a combination of mental and physical preparation, but the biggest thing is consistency. Consistency over time is going to help me move forward. Now, I don’t want to move backward because the moment you stop being consistent with your training . . . and when I say consistent, I mean progressing. I can honestly say, since I lost to Efe Ajagba, I didn’t say, “I’m done, man.” I didn’t have a loser’s mentality. I said, “Heck nah! This can’t keep happening. It’s time to set some goals, get consistent with my progression.” Anyone would be honored to be compared to Buster Douglas that night that he beat Mike Tyson.
But when I hear that Buster Douglas comparison, my mind immediately goes to, we don’t want to be a one-and -done. We want to keep putting on those kinds of performances consistently. People are now wondering, was it a fluke like Buster Douglas? And when I say, fluke, I mean, he just trained super hard for that fight, or is this man dedicated to hard work. I want to show people in my next fight that I have turned my career around and I am dedicated to becoming a world champion. So, to pull off that upset, you really have to feel like you are better than before. What I did in the past is the past. I learned from it, but now it’s time to move forward, show that I learned from it and win. Your fruits are your labor.
Zenger: Unfortunately, people in boxing are trained to only look at records in many cases, but I look at resumes and the rounds that you were giving quality and undefeated heavyweights. I felt like if you showed up, it could be interesting.
Rice: I just hope you made some money off of me. I have some buddies that didn’t. I wish I would have been mentally able to put my money down, because I should have bet my whole check. Obviously, you’re not thinking like that. You’re just thinking you gotta win that fight.
Zenger: You are 6-foot-5 inches at 270 pounds, so you fit right into this era of heavyweights, which are giants. What do you feel you have to do to show this wasn’t a one-night deal?
Rice: I look at how I moved into this position in the first place. I set a lot of fitness goals; as far as running, I stayed consistent with my training. First thing I want to do at 268, I need to drop 10 pounds because I still feel like I could have been a bit faster and more mobile. I need to look at my weight training and increase those things. I need to look at things that made me real good in the fight and bring that into training.
It’s really a matter of cutting the fat right now. When I say cutting the fat, I mean, trimming the bad stuff from my overall performance. I keep a record of everything that I do every day for training. I keep a record of everything that I eat. That’s where the consistency is going to come in at. You gotta make what you did already, better. You already know it works, now you gotta make it even better. The fight was pretty one-sided the whole time, so I took what I can to make it a bit better. Hopefully, I can fight in November around the holidays, so everybody can watch me again.
Zenger: You stopped Coffie in the fifth round, was there a moment during those rounds where you felt it was going to be your night?
Rice: No, because I’ve lost like that in the past. When I got knocked down by [Arslanbek] Makhmudov, I was like, “This big dude can’t hit me.” I just started relaxing a little too much to the point where it takes away from your actual strength. That strength is, you’re always on high alert. Your mind is always running a million miles a second, even though the action is calm. But if I calm my whole mind and being down, I’m really a sitting target. In that fight, I said, I ain’t never going to think I got it in the bag. Until he is out, he can touch me.
I never lost that focus in the Coffie fight. I used my pure instincts in that fight. A lot of times I felt like I could have gone after him a little more, but I knew that dude was still dangerous. That’s how he caught Darmani Rock. Rock was coming at him, and he was outboxing him. That was a dangerous dude. You gotta come at him the right way. I never for one second thought that fight was easy until it was over.
Zenger: Congratulations again in what could be the upset of the year for you. I look forward to seeing you back in the ring, brother.
Rice: You already know. Thank you, brother.
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Stan Chrapowicki