Hard, heavy rock music might play only a bantamweight’s role in the theater of boxing, but boxing definitely is a huge inspiration in Philip Anselmo’s life. The former vocalist and songwriter of mega band Pantera, and current leader of Down, absolutely, totally loves boxing, and that might even be an understatement.
For over a decade, Phil has collected hundreds upon hundreds of fight DVDs of everybody from Herol Graham, Yuri Arbachakov, Junior Witter, Orzubek Nazarov, Shane Cameron, Audley Harrison, Matt Skelton, to all the obvious greats. He even used to bring his boxing trainer on tour with him. Last month, Phil participated in a two-hour film feature where he instructed a novice for a three round gym match at the famous Church Street Gym, all of which was filmed by MTV2′s Headbangers Ball.
“I love the one on one sportsmanship of it,” he says. “Once the bell rings it’s your skill against his. That does something for me. Boxing is so glamorously real.”
This is how Phil’s fistic passion began: “When I was a little kid I wanted to be a scrapper,” recalls the 39-year-old resident of New Orleans, Louisiana. “My old man taught me to lead with the left, keep the chin tucked, right hand cocked and elbows in. Not soon after I remember there were fights on TV. Larry Holmes was in the shadows of the legend of Ali. I’m a huge fan of Holmes now. He was a great champion for a long time. I remember feeling miserably sorry when Barry McGuigan got knocked out by Steve Cruz.”
Today, Anselmo pays homage to the Klitschko Brothers and believes Wladimir is on his way to becoming the king of the heavyweight charts. “As far as pure boxers go, Wladimir Klitschko is a piece of art. A piece of art. Nobody ever did anything like that to Chris Byrd. Nobody. He didn’t even throw one body punch. Look at the way he beat Ray Austin with that quadruple left hook. He never threw a right hand in that entire fight. I don’t think that’s ever been done in history, where a heavyweight champion defended his title only using one arm.”
Anselmo has a friendship with Emanuel Steward and in October spent a few hours in the Motor City with the Kronk maestro himself, who brought along three special surprise guests – Andy Lee, Kermit Cintron and Johnathon Banks. “Emanuel Steward was talking about Wladimir,” Phil said. “He was comparing him to other heavyweights. Basically he said he knew how to train another fighter to beat Lennox. Emanuel said he knew Lennox’s weaknesses. And he could train a fighter to beat him. Wladimir Klitschko – he says he has no clue how to train a fighter to beat him. He says Lennox Lewis was very physical and he used his big presence in the ring. And he would get into in-fighting and moving and use uppercuts. Wladimir, he said, does not even have to use an uppercut. He can. But he doesn’t have to use it.”
Says Steward of Anselmo: “It was funny. When he was here, we all went out for lunch, we were just talking, and we were all shocked about what he knew about each of them. Phil said to Kermit, ‘…you looked like a nervous wreck with Margarito, it was your first time in Las Vegas…’ And his opinion on the Calzaghe and Cotto fights turned out to be exactly right. His knowledge of boxing is amazing. And you don’t realize what a star he is. We drop him off back at the hotel and you see all the busses lined up, all the people waiting for him, all the employees he has. And he’s a boxing junkie, to us.”
Back in 1994, Phil invited a former three-time world champ to a live performance in Puerto Rico. “That was a vile audience, comprised of young, bald, tattooed maniacs with nothing but violent intentions on their minds,” he says. “I wonder how Bernard Hopkins got out of there alive when he threw down that flag? Stage diving, slam dancing. I had ‘John John’ Molina sitting with his wife on stage next to me. And they had never seen Pantera before, never heard our music. The look on ‘John John’ Molina’s face when we started playing – he looked like he didn’t know what hit him!”
Talking boxing is pure joy for Anselmo and the enthusiastic conversations can last until the crack of dawn, free flow to anywhere. “Are we talkin’ junior welterweights now? The most avoided motherf*****, and I’ll say it right now, Junior Witter. Junior Witter’s a bad ass. Brendan Ingle does a great job with those guys – Herol Graham, Prince. They have those awkward styles, crazy footwork, and they’re knocking guys cold. It’s in the legs. That’s where they get their arc from.
“…probably the most exciting moment, when my head hit the ceiling, was when Holyfield knocked out Tyson. I almost had a stroke on the spot. The whole tour bus almost did. We were on our bus in a small town in Nebraska.
“…another time when my head hit he ceiling was when Hasim Rahman knocked out Lennox Lewis. I watched that fight every morning when I woke up – for a MONTH!”
Anselmo will never forget how marvelously lucky he was one day in Italy in 1999. “The imagery of Marvin Hagler, an unstoppable force. I got to meet him in Milan while we were on tour, he happened to be in the same hotel. He sat down with us and we talked boxing for an hour. He’s just so approachable. He said in the Duran fight, after one of the rounds, Duran said, to the effect, ‘You can’t do that to me, I’m ROBERTO DURAN!’ And Marvin then said, ‘Well, I’m Marvelous Marvin Hagler and I’m gonna kick your ass!!’”
Currently, Anselmo, who has been called “The Muhammad Ali of frontmen” by some of his fans, is on break after touring Europe promoting Down’s new album “Over The Under.” But the musician will also make time to study the latest batch of seven DVDs from his friend and collector Ray Poplawski. “The guy is definitely a student of the art of boxing,” says Poplawski. “I think the perfect example is the first time I met him in ’96. I brought him a rare tape of Mike Tyson sparring, a tape directly from Tyson’s people. It was a homemade tape, without proper lighting, dark and grainy and Tyson was sparring with fighters wearing headgear, shirts and big gloves. And Phil was able to recognize the sparring partners. He knew by looking at them who they all were.”