Meet The Contender Trainers - John Bray

By Barbara Pinnella

John Bray’s participation as a trainer on The Contender was rather a surprise to him. He was a late replacement for Buddy McGirt. “It was all last-minute,” he told me. “It really all happened the day before I had to fly out.”

Before becoming a trainer though, Bray was a fighter. After amassing an outstanding amateur record of 124-12, John turned professional. As a pro, his record was 15-3-2. At one point in the show he told the fighters that he himself had blown opportunity after opportunity, and I was curious as to just how he did that to himself. His response was immediate.

“I didn’t stay focused. I let everything distract me. I paid more attention to my personal life then I did my professional life. You can’t do that in this game. It’s got to be everything. To be a boxer you have to live a very, very disciplined life if you expect to be successful in it. Those tools you learn in boxing, you’ll carry throughout your life. The work ethic that you learn you can use towards something else.”

He went on to tell me about someone he trained ten years ago who did exactly that, went to Pepperdine Law School, and is now a lawyer. John is very proud of the impact he had on that young man’s life, and it can never be said that he is not passionate about his craft.

“I’m sure you could see in the show, when I saw guys just not living up to their full potential – and there were some – it was just breaking my heart. That’s why I would tell them ‘Everything that you’re doing, I did, and look at where I’m at.’”

After winning the first two fights for his Blue Team, Bray’s fighters took a nosedive, and I wanted to get John’s take on that. “You know what? They were not receptive to my directions, and I can understand that, because I’m not their full-time trainer. I was working with them for a five-week period, and it’s hard to get adjusted.

“But,” he continued, “that can be used as a reason or as an excuse. Champions find a way. It doesn’t matter who’s directing, you’ll just find a way. And these guys were not finding their way. In five weeks, I’m not going to teach or train anybody to do anything different than what they’re normally accustomed to doing. I can just be the extra eyes on the outside; tell them what I see, like ‘Hey, I see the guy has his hand down, look for the right. I see that when you pressure, the guy’s starting to fold.’ Things like that, very basic things.”

John elaborated on that a little more. “Some guys are boxers, some guys are punchers, and I’ve got to make a quick evaluation what they are, what they do best, and go from there. And then, not having time to study the opposition, you have to make decisions right on the spot.”

We spoke a little bit about how surprised many people were that Felix Cora, Jr. was eliminated when he was. We also talked about Alfredo Escalera, and how he let things in the loft get to him. Bray told me, “We have a saying in boxing; you lose your head, you lose your ass.” That was exactly what happened to Escalera.

I then asked him if there were fighters that surprised him, both in a positive and negative way. “Oh, absolutely,” he told me. “I think there were surprises on both sides. I was surprised at A.K. (Laleye) and how well he did, and I was surprised at Deon (Elam) and how poor he did. Those were the guys that afterwards I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t think that was going to happen.’”

I must mention a couple of other things that are near to John’s heart, one of which is putting on boxing clinics. This past February he hosted the second annual John Bray Free Youth Boxing clinic. “I love working with the kids,” he told me. “You give back to the community. If it wasn’t for the guys that helped me growing up, who knows where I’d be.”

He has another vision for the future. “Hopefully and eventually I would like to re-open the John Bray Boxing Club – a boxing club for amateurs and kids who work out of Fortune’s Gym in Hollywood. At the present time we hold events at the L.A.P.D. facility right there in San Fernando. So hopefully that dream will come true.”

John had some final words on his being connected with the show. “The Contender was a great experience for me. Traveling to Singapore was great. I think The Contender is a wonderful program. I think it is revitalizing boxing. So many people have approached me; ‘Oh, you’re from The Contender; oh, who’s going to win; this is the best season; the fights are great,’ and on and on. So when I hear that, I’m just happy for boxing.

“Boxing was a savior to me, and to kids that I’ve worked with. I hope The Contender series will carry on, and continues to spark interest in common folks. I think it’s a great thing for the sport and for the youth. Anything that’s going to distract them from the streets, and bad stuff, I’m all for.”

Don’t forget, if you can’t be there in person, watch The Contender Finale this Wednesday on VERSUS. Check your local listings for the time.

I want to thank John for his time, and wish he and his fighters the best of luck!

Be safe and God Bless,

Viva La Raza,