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Exclusive: Stankie, in His Own Words

(When this man talks, you listen. Occasionally you even understand.)

I called The Ultimate Fighter’s Al “Stankie” Stankiewicz for an interview and ended up getting a motivational speech. He can’t help it. That’s just what he does. As Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s eccentric old boxing coach, “Stankie” caught our eye early on this season with his antics, and as rumors filtered out about things he did off camera, we knew this was someone we wanted to talk to. Turns out the rumors are all true, but they don’t begin to tell the whole story.

We talked with “Stankie” recently to find out who he is and how he came to be standing next to Big Nog, going on semi-coherent rants about sardines. What we learned is that from working undercover during the Watts Riots, to training Oscar de la Hoya for the Olympics, here is a man who has lead an interesting life. And he was more than happy to tell us about it, in his own roundabout way. Thanks for talking with us “Stankie.” I’ve read some about your background, but is it true that you were a cop in Los Angeles before becoming a boxer?

I joined the department in August of 1962. I came from back east, I went to college at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. I came out to California just to see the California girls and to surf. What happened was, it was so beautiful I fell in love with it. It was October and there was Rafer Johnson, the decathlon champion, playing volleyball with Wilt Chamberlain down in Santa Monica. I called home and talked to my sister and told her about seeing these two superstars on the beach playing volleyball, and she knew what a jock I was and how big that was for me. And she said, “Al, it’s twenty degrees below zero here and we’re having a blizzard.” That’s the point where I told her, “Sis, I love you, but I’m never coming back.”

I got a job selling shoes at first. I was twenty years old. I fell in love with almost every girl who came into the place. It was 1962 and jobs were kind of scarce. There was this big advertisement that said, “Join the LAPD! Be part of the thin blue line! $650 a month.” And in 1962, that was big money. So I went down to city hall and took the test. For the psych test there was a Rorschach ink blot test. I had gone to college and written a paper on that thing, so I knew what to say. If you looked at it and said you saw two dogs fucking underneath a tree with blood all over it, you know, you’d be in trouble. So I got through and suddenly I was a cop.

And how did you go from cop to pro boxer?

I saw Mando Ramos fight at the Olympic Auditorium in 1967 and I was mesmerized. I thought, ‘I can do that!’ Mando Ramos was the greatest fighter I had ever seen in my life. At eighteen he won the world championship. So I started training just to learn, and six months later I turned pro. I turned pro and I wanted to be a champion, so I left the police force.

One day I was sparring with a small heavyweight – he was about 188 and I was about 158 – and he slipped my jab and broke three of my ribs. I thought I was going to die, it hurt so bad. But then I couldn’t fight for a while and I needed a job. So I sold encyclopedias, I sold vacuum cleaners, I sold insurance. I had a natural market there through my cop friends who all knew me, and I made a lot of money selling insurance.

Wait, you didn’t start boxing until your mid-twenties, then?

I was twenty-seven. I had never really boxed but I knew I could do it. Then I tried it and I kept getting beat up and beat up. (laughs) There’s an old saying: those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. I believe that. I liked it and I like helping people, so that’s what I did.

So you’d say you’ve been more successful as a trainer than as a fighter?

Sure I have, because of the five d’s and the two a’s you got to have on my report card. You got to have desire, determination, dedication, drive, and discipline, and that’s the hardest one, discipline. The two A’s, one is ability, but more importantly is attitude. You give me all that and I can take you to the top. I’m a motivator. I try to get the best out of kids to help them support themselves and their families. When we’re training I say, “Here we go, we’re going to buy your mother a new house.” And that’s what we did.

Well how did you go from selling insurance to training fighters full-time?

My captain said, Stankie, come back to the police department. I didn’t have to because I was making good money. But I liked helping people. The police department’s slogan is “to protect and serve,” and that’s what I wanted to do. I liked it. It gave me a good feeling. But what happened was in 1965 they had the Watts Riots. They burned Watts to the ground, and I was right there working undercover when it happened. It was a hot August day, everything was down and out, nobody had any money, and everyone just went crazy.

But my captain asked me to come back, he said, ‘Just try it.’ I had been working administrative vice, all the street hustlers, pimps, prostitutes, all that. And I liked it. It was shake, rattle and roll. I learned things. It was exciting. I can play three-card Monte and beat you nine out of ten times. But my captain said, ‘Stankie, all those guys you put in jail, when they get out, what do they do? They go back and do the same things. The only way to change things is to keep kids from going down that path to begin with’

I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to be a kiddie cop. He said, ‘Just try it. You don’t like it, I’ll get you your old job back. But just try it.’ So I did. I went back. It’s funny, because Joe Wambaugh, the writer, he was an old partner of mine. He quit to write and I quit to fight. Now he’s a millionaire and I ended up going back to the force. Just goes to show you that the pen is mightier than the sword. When I would tell that story to the Mexican kids I was training, they would tell me, “Stankie, maybe your sword just wasn’t very sharp, essay.” But it’s true.

You started training the kids you came into contact with as a cop?

Yeah, see, we had a boxing ring in the basement of the Hollenbeck police station and I would find these kids in the projects, the Mexican projects where I was working, and they’d be fighting in the park and things like that and I’d say, “Come on, let me teach you how to fight right and put it to some good use.” I love helping kids learn and helping them make something of themselves. I got Paul Gonzales when he was eight, on the streets in a park in Hollenbeck. I took him down to the gym and started training him and he swallowed up everything I taught him. He ate it up. Eleven years later when he was nineteen he won the gold medal in the Olympics in Los Angeles.

I just help them get to where they belong. No one likes living in the projects. I went through it when I was a kid, but it was a blessing in disguise because I got to play basketball with the brothers. They taught me how to play and I got a basketball scholarship. But I had kids who didn’t make it. Kids who got distracted by chasing girls, joining gangs, kids who got into drugs. I had kids who went to prison for armed robbery or murder. My captain told me, “Stankie, if you’re going to claim the glory for the champions, you also have to claim the guys who didn’t make it.” And I did. I still feel bad about those kids and it makes me want to cry. They don’t all make it.

I heard your son played Major League baseball for a while, is that true?

My son Andy “Stankie” Stankiewicz played baseball and he made it to the majors and signed with the Yankees. Stankie the Yankee. That was in 1992. I was training Oscar de la Hoya. He won the gold medal that year and my son made it to the majors. It was a good year for me.

What happened with you and de la Hoya?

Oscar’s father and I had a problem. I felt like I got cheated. In five years he never lost with me. But we had a falling out. And my whole world fell apart. I was kind of down, but I kept training and I met a movie producer, Jon Peters. He used to date Barbra Streisand, he’s a big movie producer, and he said he wanted to do a movie on me, and I thought, ‘Yeah, right. Show me the money.’ But he read an article on me and invited me out to his place in Beverly Hills. He’s a got a huge place with llamas and ostriches and camels. It’s crazy. When I got out there I said, “Jon, you don’t need a gardener, you need a rancher.” And he said, “Al, I got one.”

But he said to me, there’s this kid I think you should take a look at and see if you can help. His name is Vitor Belfort. He’s from Brazil. So I went and saw him. I worked with him, and I thought, ‘This kid has some of the fastest hands I’ve ever seen.’ This kid was super fast, he hit hard, he was great. So I said I’d work with him and Jon looked over at one of his assistants and said, “Cut Al a check for $10,000 to get him started.” I looked up at the Lord and said, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you.” Because I was broke.

Was working with Vitor your first exposure to MMA?

Yes, that was in 1995 and it was the first I’d seen of MMA. At first I didn’t think I’d like it but then my wife said, “Al, this is going to go somewhere.” I thought it was too complicated and too hard for people to get. She said women would love it. She told me to stay with it. So I did and now I love it. It’s great. These guys are real fighters. You get knocked down — and boom! — the other guy is on you. There’s no time to recover. You got to be tough to do this sport, and these guys are.

How did you meet Nogueira?

In 1996 I was in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro with Vitor Belfort. And he said, “See that guy over there hitting the heavy bag? That’s Nogueira.” You know his nickname, it means half-man, half-beast. And boy is that ever true. Have you seen him fight?

Yeah, definitely.

He’s great. I was in Vegas with him for eight weeks filming this show, and he’s so much fun. He’s a great guy, and tough as they come. Once he gets Frank Mir in the cage, Mir is done. He can’t hang with Nogueira.

Did you talk with Mir during the show?

Yeah, I like him. I like his whole team. We didn’t see them that much. They trained certain hours and we trained certain hours. Some of his guys would ask me to help them with the hand mitts and I’d say sure. But Nogueira saw me and said, “Oh, no. Don’t you help them. It’s me against Frank Mir. Once they lose, then you can help them.”

What do you think makes Nogueira such a great fighter?

Desire. Determination. The d’s. He’s got ‘em. And he’s got the a’s, especially the attitude. He’s got the attitude to be number one. The Brazilians, they know what it’s like to have to fight and scratch and claw for their money. There’s no welfare there. If you can’t feed your babies the government doesn’t help you. You’re out on the street. You got to fight your way up and fight to stay there. He’s got that fierce competitive nature. Watch what he does to Frank Mir. He’s going to eat him up. Have you talked to Mir?

Yes, I interviewed him not too long ago.

What did he say? Did he say he was going to kick Nogueira’s ass?

I don’t think those were the words he used, but that was the general message, yeah.

Let me ask you this, are you a betting man?


Would you like to make a bet?

Not if I have to bet on Mir.

Ha, ha! You’re smarter than I thought.

Cagepotato Comments

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FUCK JUNIE!- December 4, 2008 at 11:12 am
Absolutely classic! One of a kind. Gotta get more Stankie!
Anonymous- November 26, 2008 at 10:22 pm
At first, I thought he was a walking rendition of "Mickey" from the Rocky movie; my speculation soon ended after watching a particular motivating clip where he encourages Nogueira's team. (It was hosted on Spike (dot) com but was unfortunately removed for reasons beyond my understanding.) If you had the privilege of watching it, you would see the Stankie you read of here. Truly an adept trainer (albeit underrated) and one of modern MMA's redeeming qualities.
Oz Banger- November 21, 2008 at 9:53 pm
What an interesting dude.Love 2 have a beer with this guy!
Pac-Man- November 21, 2008 at 4:25 pm
I'm with CubicalGangster... Effin hilarious!
Martin- November 21, 2008 at 3:31 pm
lots of regards from Sweden :)
mahavishnunj- November 21, 2008 at 11:19 am
i never comment either, but that was great.
Ninja Bob- November 21, 2008 at 8:17 am
Excellent interview!
Anonymous- November 21, 2008 at 2:19 am
Stankie!!! Give him his own show!
ATLien420- November 21, 2008 at 2:04 am
Best interview ever! I was laughing as soon as i saw it was a stanky interview. Cant believe it took someone this long to talk to this guy. You should definately consider a weekly feature with him. Ps: Just went and found a couple Andy Stanky the Yankee rookie cards in an old book....LOL
Scar Tissue- November 21, 2008 at 12:52 am
Great work Fowlkes! That guy has lead an amazing life.
Bundy- November 20, 2008 at 10:47 pm
5 D's and 2 A's. That is the same philosophy Juanito Ibarra has. I wonder if Stankie and Ibarra ever worked together. I know Ibarra trained De La Hoya at one point in time.
rovin- November 20, 2008 at 10:18 pm
stankie's the real deal, reminds me of g,durant, a karate teacher from erie pa., i wonder if they new each other, mr. durant passed away but both are cut from the same cloth. thanks mr. stankie,
Davey D- November 20, 2008 at 10:12 pm
Geez CP, I have never laughed so hard reading an interview before. Ever. That was great. You've to respect people like Stankie. When they listen. Same with Nogueira. My money is on Minotauro here as well. I've got him winning via submission but a KO would be nice since he hasn't done it in so long. I don't expect Frank Mir to get crushed but I just can't imagine him defeating Rodrigo. I would also like to see how Frank would do against Captain America. Cheers
mma blaster- November 20, 2008 at 9:20 pm
Cool interview. Stankie is the man.
Mike- November 20, 2008 at 9:09 pm
Haha, best interview by far.

and Phunnybonz, as soon as I looked at that, the first thing that popped into my head was he looks like he can be John Polikowski's father LOL
TH3SH3PH3RD- November 20, 2008 at 8:45 pm
NOG ftw! I love stankie, what a great guy. Although I hate cops I bet he was a decent one.
knoname321- November 20, 2008 at 7:58 pm
Great interview, makes Stankie sound more like a nice guy and not a crazy old man.
sEAn- November 20, 2008 at 7:57 pm
I have to echo all the previous comments... best article yet. fantastic job! i knew i read this blog for a reason.
Stankie Stankiewicz- November 20, 2008 at 7:54 pm
Wouldn't it be nice if you didnt have to take it to the ground and smell all those farts? Bam Bam Bam, wouldn't that be nice?
Matt- November 20, 2008 at 7:22 pm
Best interview yet. I don't post comments, but this one demanded it. Top notch guys! Keep up the good work.
NinJay- November 20, 2008 at 6:46 pm
Excellent interview. It reminds me of that Navy commercial i saw a few years ago that i will never forget. "If somone wrote a book about your life, would anyone want to read it?" I would Stankies book. Everyone wishes to have just one or two of the life experiances this man has had. I'm very envious.
mir's butthole- November 20, 2008 at 6:38 pm
stankie is right, i hope nog doesn't rape me too hard!
greenseed- November 20, 2008 at 6:22 pm
Al Stankie is one of the coolest people on earth.
he could be the modern day jesus
CubicalGangster- November 20, 2008 at 6:03 pm
I think Stankie should narrate the bible, but replace the stories with his own recollections.
LookItsTheFatKid- November 20, 2008 at 5:43 pm
Very nice interview. It was just as entertaining as I'd expect an interview with Stankie to be.