'Two seasons in one'


Ochocinco

Posted: 8:30 p.m.

The sweat is popping off Chad Ochocinco as fast as the boasts and the vows in Friday afternoon's steam of the Mount Auburn Boxing Gym

"I'm going to have two seasons in one because of what happened last year," he says. "How many guys in the NFL right now, I mean right now, how many guys in the NFL are working?"

One guy who isn't is Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson and he has stopped by with his daughter to pay a visit to "my son" during a vacation swing through Cincinnati. He has ended up in the back of Taft Elementary School, a dark, staid studio of canvas, rubber and hope that is a nine-minute drive from Paul Brown Stadium and 9,000 miles from the NFL.

Ochocinco, who has been boxing in Miami and Hollywood this offseason, got the name of the gym from some friends and has been coming in ever since he got back in town three weeks ago.

The Ocho may be a Twitter Heavyweight Champion, but he doesn't even have it as good as Rocky down here. At least The Rock had a locker before Mick bagged up his stuff. The Ocho brings a bag that he drops next to a folding chair.

"Who's feeding you? Look at you. You're ripped. You've got a chef, right? No more McDonald's?" Jackson asks The Ocho in between nine rounds and a punishing set of situps and something called Russian pushups.

The Ocho says something like, no chef and he can't give up McDonald's totally. He is more intent on devouring what Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann just said about him.

"(The Ocho) can't hold a candle to Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald or Hines Ward for that matter," Swann told USA Today this week in a story headlined "How Good Would Lynn Swann be today?"

"I tell you how good," Ochocinco says. "He couldn't get near the field."

Jackson, the Bengals receivers coach from 2004-2006 when Ochocinco made three Pro Bowls while leading the AFC in receiving yards all three years, shakes his head.

"They're just giving you motivation," Jackson says. "You've already done what those guys (Johnson and Fitzgerald) are just starting to do."

The Ocho takes it out on his body like the critics have taken out his awful 2008 season on him.

"Two seasons in one," he says. "I wanted to do the hardest sport to build up my body to play a 50-game season if I had to. It's not soccer. It's not tennis. Anybody who knows sports will tell you boxing is the toughest. Boxers are in 10 times better shape than football players."

At 6-2, 195 pounds, he would be called a cruiserweight. He boxes a round each against a light bag and a big ball in between some exercises before getting into the ring against 30-year-old Keith Redding, a 140-pounder who just turned pro after a youth he won every amateur tournament before the streets gobbled him up.

Golden Gloves. Junior Olympics. Police Athletic League.

"I've come back as a pro and had my first fight," he says.

Ricardo Williams Sr., the soft-spoken, gray-bearded wizard who has coached a handful of U.S. Olympians in this ring, grabs The Ocho as he steps through the ropes and ties one arm to his neck for two three-minute rounds.

"We're trying to get him to work on his jab and focus on his combinations," says Gary McNear, who runs the club and coaches with Williams. "He's got tremendous, fast hands. When I first had the (speed) mitts on him, I had to adjust to him.  Anything that he does in boxing is going to help him for football. Like when a defender tries to jam him up on the line."

Williams, whose son Ricardo Jr., won an Olympic Silver Medal in 2000, agrees.

"It can help him get off that line," Williams says. "It's the same kind of footwork he uses to get out of the corner and he's doing that real well."

Williams and McNear watch Ochocinco work on the jab as Redding offers little resistance so he can get the work in.

"Stay in there. Keep it up. Jab. Jab. Use that long jab. There you go. Work the speed, don't worry about power. Pop that jab. Make him pay if he comes in there. "

Then Ochocinco spars two more three-minute rounds, but no one is looking to make a name for themselves by KOing The Ocho. He does snap Redding's head back with an uppercut and Redding says "OK" and retaliates. Later they laugh about giving each other sore jaws.

And, OK, The Ocho isn't going to dethrone anybody soon. But like Williams says, he's got so much talent that if he'd been boxing as long as he's been playing football, "He'd be a champ by now."

"He did catch me with a good one," Redding says. "I was just holding back. We're having fun in here and he's learning. I don't want to hurt him. I want the Bengals to win. I told him the only place I'd hurt him is on the field. I told him he doesn't want to see me playing defensive back."

If it sounds like the kind of give The Ocho is comfortable taking, it is.

"He's a normal guy. He likes to joke around," Redding says. "I thought he'd stop by now. I thought he'd come for a couple of days and that would be it. But this is his third week. He's pretty good. Fast hands and he's got that long reach."

Ochocinco goes another round of jabbing against McNear's mitts. Then the blue bag comes out and everybody groans. It's not overly heavy, but for three relentless minutes McNear keeps coming with it even though it makes it feel like their arms are stumps and their heart on fire.

Then it is over to the corner for 100 situps with 25 pounds strapped to his abdomen. Another round against another apparatus. Then several lifts of a 15-pound sledgehammer smashed against a tire.

Then in what looks like a picnic game on LSD, McNear grabs The Ocho by the feet while he stretches out and walks on his hands in doing McNear's Russian situps until he collapses after a few passes on a patch of floor near the ring.

Williams look at the sweat dripping off Ochocinco's bare back and shakes his head. "I don't want to get Marvin (Lewis) mad at me," he said. "We had a heavyweight come in here at 280 pounds and he's 217 now."

So he turns to The Ocho and asks, "Hey Chad, are you able to keep your weight?"

"I'm good, I'm good," he says. "I always stay the same. I'm 195. I've played at 185."

He is reminded that this time last year he came in at something like 178.

"I didn't do anything," he says.

"Why?" asks a horrified Williams.

"I wanted out. That's when I was fussing," he says. "I was frustrated with the losing. But now my mind is right."

Williams nods.

"I can understand that," he says."We don't like to lose in here, either."

Jackson eyes The Ocho. The then-Chad Johnson allegedly started his boxing career by taking a swing at him at halftime of the Bengals Wild Card loss to the Steelers, but there has never been a doubt that they have remained close since Jackson left following the 2006 season.

"I can tell when he's in a good place and he looked to be in a good place today," Jackson says later. "I could see it in his eyes. When he's got a chip on his shoulder, you won't find a better receiver in the league."    

When McNear tapes The Ocho's hands before each workout, he knows what he's holding. He doesn't think there is a danger of him getting hurt because everyone knows the drill. There has been talk of an Ocho Exhibition, and McNear thinks Redding or Williams Jr., would be a good match because they've worked with him, aren't going to hurt him or make him look bad.

"I tell him, 'You've got to take us to the Super Bowl,' " McNear says. "I'm a big Bengals fan."

So is The Ocho. He reveals his itinerary for July with quarterback Carson Palmer when they meet next month in Los Angeles to throw.

"We've set the (start) date (July 6)," he says. "I'm going to stay with him and we're getting up at 5 a.m. for a light jog every day. Then we'll have breakfast and relax. Then we'll watch some film. Then we'll throw. Then we'll have some lunch, watch some more film and then he can have the rest of the day for himself."

Mrs. Palmer has already put the kibosh on the living arrangements and no doubt The Ocho is going off on one of his riffs. But he's quite serious about letting Jackson know that he's quite serious about this season.

Told Jackson will no doubt report back to the Baltimore DBs about what he saw, The Ocho agrees.

"I'm sure he will and they probably wouldn't understand what I'm doing or how good I am at it," he says. "I'm going to earn the right to do my talking this year."

The Ocho takes a swig of water sitting on the folding chair.

"You know how hard it is to go a round?" he asks.

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