Thell Torrence Interview: “Audley sacrificed his fight date for Vassiliy’s [Jirov] sake. That shows Character!”

vassily jirov03.07.07 - By Izyaslav “Slava” Koza: On July 14th, my favorite fighter, the Kazakhstani native, Vassiliy Jirov, will be making his long awaited return to the boxing ring. Currently the “Russian Tiger” is in training under the watchful eye of legendary mentor Thell Torrence.

A former fighter himself, Torrence was managed and trained by the celebrated Eddie Futch who also helped guide Torrence on the road to becoming a great coach in his own right. Now, Thell tries to raise a new generation of fighters and attempt to guide them to the type of success his previous apprentices, Ken Norton, Riddick Bowe, Montell Griffin, Virgil Hill, Mike McCallum, and others have tasted under, and thanks, to his tutelage.

A soft-spoken, kind, and humble man, Thell spoke with us about Vassiliy’s second cruiserweight run, Audley Harrison’s attempt at a comeback, his family, as well as his newer crop of youngsters.

ESB: Can you tell us a bit about Vassiliy’s upcoming opponent Kenny Craven?

Thell Torrence: I don’t know too much about him. Hopefully we can get something before the fight so we have some idea of who we are fighting. It was one of the names submitted to us besides Derrick Harmon, and another guy who’s last name is Gomez.

ESB: How is Vassiliy looking in the gym?

Thell Torrence: Ok. He’s been off for awhile, and wanted to get back to work but it has been difficult because of managerial issues so he struggled with that. He is dedicated, though, wanted another title shot, and hopefully we can put something together and get him back in the picture. We hope we can get a bout with Virgil Hill for his title first. Might need another tune up before it but it will mostly depend on how Vassiliy looks on July 14.

ESB: If you don’t mind saying who is Vassiliy Sparring with? I know he had mentioned “Wreckless” Willie Chapman.

Thell Torrence: Willie Champan, Lapheral Bunting, Jimmy Strohl, Dameon Norris who is fighting on Friday. Kind of hard to keep guys here though.

ESB: How did you react to the doping allegations regarding James Toney?

Thell Torrence: Disappointed, because we were close to having the fight done, had agreed on the terms and conditions, but James wanted a tune up. We didn’t think it was a good idea and weren’t going to take one either, but even that was ok by us. We were negotiating, had the Russian representatives here, had the terms all laid out too. Spoke to Dan Goosen and it was just a disappointment to me.

ESB: How did you and Vassiliy start working together?

Thell Torrence: I first met him in 2000 and we went to London together and then Kazakhstan. He approached me about training him. He was actually one of the guys we scouted and selected after the 96 Olympics. We also looked at David Reid and a few other fighters from that class.

It surprised me that I was later approached to train him. We met at my home, he was with Ivailo back then, it went over well, and we went to London from there, with the rest being history. He’s been a real gentleman towards me and is also a very dedicated family man. I feel good about being a part of his career and working with him.

ESB: Can you tell us a little about your past and some of the more famous people you have worked with, boxers and trainers? I know the info is available elsewhere but it might be good for the newer readers out there.

Thell Torrence: I was first introduced to boxing by one of the greatest men in my life back in Camden, Arkansas by the name of Willi Browning and I later met Eddie Futch after the Navy Tour. I was trained and managed by Eddie Futch, and at the end of my career we formed a company, and together trained a host of outstanding fighters and had a great deal of success with them. Some of them were Ken Norton, Riddick Bowe, Tony Tubbs, Mike McCallum, Virgil Hill, Marlon Starling, Maurice Blocker, Montel Griffin, and Wayne McCullough who we got after the 92 olympics.

ESB: Riddick has been trying to kick start a come-back but the truth is he seems to really lack any sort of work ethic. When you worked with him did you signs of that?

Thell Torrence: I have a lot of respect for Riddick, and out of all the fighters I dealt with, two treated me with the most respect. One was “Boss Man” Jones and the other was Riddick Bowe. There were other guys, but these two stand out in my mind. I have nothing bad to say about Riddick and I think he did some great things in his career.

Unfortunately, life gets in the way, and yes I read he is attempting a comeback, and all I can do is wish him the best of luck right now. I never had training issues with him, yes, there was one instance but we quickly got past it and he was a true gentleman ever since. I never joked or played around with him, and we were always completely about the business. I was on good terms with him and his family and was extremely well treated. Even by Rock Newman, who had issues with other people but never with me.

ESB: Who else are you training that we can look out for?

Thell Torrence: I have some youngsters I am working with, and also trying to build my own gym as well. I have Vassiliy, Audley Harrison, Derrick Hanky, Michael Hunter, who just won the nationals, and if I can get respect, and time, to develop their fundamentals it will be fun and worthwhile to work together. I have another Mexican kid named Lazano, and also his brother Luis who just turned pro, but Abdon is in the gym everyday and shows a lot of interest in what he is doing. If they continue to show it, then it will motivate me, and if they stay then I can give them a lot more attention cause it shows they are serious about it.

ESB: Audley has had a lot of problems in the pro ranks so far. There are plenty of critics who feel he is basically done at this point. How do you see him now?

Thell Torrence: He was in a very unique situation. Won the Olympics in 2000, didn’t have a lot of boxing experience, was 29, and it was a challenge. He had a lot of problems in England with promoters, and everyone resented that he tried to do things his own way. It drew a lot of resentment from fans, but those are some of the things that happen if you don’t follow the normal trend.

If you are a fighter, you have to devote 100% of your time, and while he was and accomplished some things because of it, it also made him lose focus. However, that is part of being a kid and growing up and learning and getting experience.

He is out to prove something now, and if he can focus himself correctly he still has a shot. If you are in the limelight, and become a target, and they see you as their shot, and get up for you, and you can’t do that for them because you are the star, you will be at a disadvantage. Sometimes that works as a wake-up call and allows you to go back to first base, and focus on being a fighter primarily.

I think he is smarter then he has been before. The saying goes “Lose the fight but don’t lose the lesson,” and that being the case, I think I have his undivided attention now, and we will see what happens in his next bout.

ESB: Any word on Audley Harrison's next bout?

Thell Torrence: Well, he had a bout on the 14th of July, too, but at a different venue, and agreed to forego it for Vassiliy’s sake. He did it because they are stable mates, and he understands how important Vassiliy’s fight is right now. That shows character on his part.

ESB: I have to say, that is a very selfless, and humble act on his part. Can you tell us a bit about your family?

Thell Torrence: Of course. I’m married, my wife, Eunice, is a registered nurse, who still works part time because I travel, so she came out of retirement to go back to work and stay busy. I also have five kids. Linette, works for the Los Angeles school district. Then my son, Virgil Torrence, who was also an athlete and had a track scholarship to San Jose State, is an IT manager at a Casino called “Table Mountain” in Sacramento. My daughter Phylis Allen, is married, and works in the Chicago school district. I also had one son, Donald Torrence, who was killed by a drive-by shooter in 1995, right before he graduated from High School. They had gone to Carson with his girlfriend and her mother, to see about a dog they were breeding, and some idiot shot into the car they were in and hit several people, including a fatal shot at Donald. I was in London at the time with Justin Juuko.

Other than that, I also have another daughter in California, named Stacy, and another son named Hong who also works for the Los Angeles school district as an assistant principle.

ESB: Thell I am really sorry to hear it and I don’t know what to say really. Thank you a great deal for speaking and sharing with us. Would you like to add anything in closing?

Thell Torrence: Well, at the moment, Vassiliy has a new lease on life and hopefully we can kick-off a second run with his career. He is with a new group of people who have a lot of interest in his future. Hopefully they are successful and I hope for the best for them.

Audley is also about to make a new start, and so is our whole stable. Hopefully it will be a good year and everybody will be successful.

I wish the best for Four Bears Casino and Lodge, where the fight will be staged, and want to thank them for putting on the show. As I understand it, once Vassiliy’s name was mentioned, the whole show sold out very quickly.

ESB: Once again thank you for your time and I wish you and Vassiliy luck and victory on the 14th.

I want to thank Vassiliy for providing the necessary contact information for Thell, as well as Cary Lynn Redlin, Thell’s assistant, for providing the pictures and additional info.
Check out Thell’s website at

Article posted on 04.07.2007

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