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Gardener Returns after
Decade of Frustration!

Andre Courtemanche

Watching Jesse James Leija complain that Hector Camacho got a break from his home state officials because he is a "money" fighter, Boyd Gardner had to laugh. Ten years earlier, he fought a spirited war with a young, undefeated Leija, only to suffer a controversial decision loss in Corpus Christi, Texas. The disappointment sent the Detroit native into a retirement that lasted nearly a decade. On Friday night, fighting in the co-main event of promoter Gerald Evans' "Survivor" show, Featherweight Gardener looked very impressive in running his record to 9-4 with a win over Missouri's Robert Hayes.

The fast and skillful Gardener also holds the distinction of having beaten a diverse group of future world champions in the amateur ranks. His heavily decorated unpaid career included victories over former Heavyweight champion Chris Byrd and former Featherweight champion Tom "Boom Boom" Johnson.

Fightnews caught up to Gardener as he greeted a long line of Motown fans after his fight.

Were you pleased with your performance tonight?
I felt pretty good. After nine years of layoff, my body felt pretty good. I fought a strong fighter. For my first fight in nine years, he was a pretty good fighter.

Was it a conscious decision to give you such a tough opponent for your first fight back?
Well, in the boxing book he was 3-1, so we thought it was a pretty good fight. He was 3-1 and 35 years old, but as you can see, a pretty good fighter. And then, in the book it said he was right-handed, but he was a southpaw. That made it even more difficult, but hey, I felt good and it was no problem.

How did you stay so sharp with all that time off?
I always kept busy. I may have trained a couple weeks out of every three, or four months I would train for a while and then stop. I always kept my body in condition playing softball, and basketball. I always did something. I never sat around and let my body get out of shape like that.

What made you decide to come back after nine years?
What made me decide to come back was that it was always still in my heart to come back, that's why I still trained every now and then. I thought maybe I would. Then one day, my manager (Greg Brown) came around to me, and he used to also be a fighter, and he knew how I was in the amateur days. He told me I had too much talent to just let it go and to give him a chance to do something with it. It was already in my heart, so I decided I would give it one more try and I feel good about it. I have someone in my corner now to help me and do everything for me. He's in my corner.

How did you lose four of thirteen fights with all the skills you obviously have?
Well, I lost all those fights because I was brought in as an opponent. I fought plenty of guys heavier than me, I was coming in at my weight 125 pounds, while my opponents were coming in at 129 and my managers at the time were taking the fights. That made my fights hard and some of those losses, I felt I beat the guys. A fighter knows when he loses and I know if I lost a fight. I didn't lose most of those fights.

Promoter Gerald Evans says he's going to do something with you to make you a well-known Detroit boxer; did you have that kind of backing the first time around?
I didn't have any backing. I thought I did, but I didn't. I was with Johnny Ace first and I thought I had that; I didn't. Then I was with Emanuel Steward and that didn't work out for one reason or another. The manager I have now, he's the best manager that I've had.

I'm already scheduled to fight in October and November and maybe even December, they told me it was up to me. They want me to fight for some type of belt this time next year. They're planning on keeping me busy.

Tell me about your fight with Jesse James Leija.
I was brought in as an opponent. At the time I fought Jesse James, I was told my opponent was 4-11. I didn't know I was fighting Jesse James until I made it down to Corpus Christi, Texas and he was 13-0. It didn't bother me. I knew what I could do and I just went in there and took care of business the best way I could. I felt I beat him. He knew it. His coaches even said they felt they lost that decision, but he won a unanimous decision because it was his hometown. Jesse was an up-and-coming fighter at the time and they were trying to move him.

I'm not bitter at Jesse, but when I watch guys I fought on TV it bothers me because it should have been me. I just had bad management. That's the only thing that frustrated me and made me get out of the game for a while. I have to move on now and just do what I'm going to do.

Who would you most like to fight in the upper levels of the featherweight division?
Morales is not that strong of a fighter to me. He's on his way down, so I'm looking at Morales. Barrera is a good fighter too, but I feel I could hang with any of them. Once I get my body in the condition it should be in, I can hang with any of these guys.

My boxing skills are even better than they used to be. I used to just trade with my opponents. I had to learn to sit back, think and place my shots better.