First off, could you please tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Al Sands, I am known as The Haitian Temptation, a professional boxer, and a fitness trainer. I was adopted from Haiti at 18 months old, adopted to northern Minnesota, I went to school in the East end of Duluth, Graduated in 2005 and found boxing at age 20 year old, and dedicated myself to it as far as I can go.
What are your motivations?
I have always wanted to be a successful individual, since being adopted I have been on this journey to find myself, I am always on this quest to find myself. In that quest I found boxing, have tons of fans, and tons of supporters. A product of that is having a great deal of people looking my way and a lot of youth who look up to me as a mature athlete, so I have taken that on as a coach, as a role model, someone kids can lookup to. No matter what your situation is good or bad, I can do great things, as long as I stay focused and be the best version of myself.
What do you feel before and during a fight?
Nervousness, however this last fight I was a little more relaxed then usual, but I felt that I am becoming a veteran of the sport, and gaining that type of experience. Previously I would always feel anger through the amateurs. I would get myself into the angry mindset [voice goes deeper] I must destroy! But as I got older I stopped drinking and chose to live a sober lifestyle and that all went away, and no longer focusing on the anger, but focusing on the skills, becoming stronger, becoming more accurate, being more responsive to things around me. In my most recent fights, they have all gone the distance but I have not felt angry. I am happy with the person I have become and I happy to compete at the level I am right now. I also do not hold any animosity in the ring as well, I walk across the ring and say hey good job man, thanks for making the trip, it was one heck of an experience, just all-positive energy that comes from the fights now.
What are your goals in your boxing and personal life?
A world title, I want to be a world champion, if you are in the sport and you do not want to be world champion why are you here? You can always go to the bar and fight someone [laughs] there are always plenty of fights there for you. I feel boxing is a far more elite sport and the athletes should conduct themselves as such, so if you are not willing to make the sacrifice, put in the work to get to the top, then do not get in people’s way. In my personal life through boxing, I would really love to go back to my home country of Haiti and do something significant. Start a clean water project, or do something in Haiti that really makes a difference to the community. I want to go back and see my orphanage and be a big part of that. This is where the trip comes from, in my sobriety, I have always taken my want and my need to get to know myself better and know where I came from, and really, it has become a big part of who I am and who I need to become. We are still growing, still changing, I just want to go back to Haiti and just do something of significance. Plus winning a world title would be great!
What makes a good fighter?
Presences of mind, hard work and a darn good coach (Chuck Horton), four eyes are better then two, you know? [Laughs] Someone that can see something from a different perspective, that can tell you “this might look like it is going to work, but this is what I see when I look at the two of you facing off.”Yes, that extra set of eyes is very important. In your gym you are training, you might feel that you are doing hard work, but someone can look at you and tell you are not doing much, those are the words of advice that really mean the most at this level, Woo…woo, at times I would think I was slowing down, but coach would be like “No your good!”[laughs] “That’s big output”[laughs again] yes that extra set of eyes is pivotal, in training camp, in especially that minute between the rounds, if that connection it not established, it is like you were fighting blind.
How do you feel after knocking out an opponent?
[Voice deepens] I feel really good! It definitely feels good to win by a knock out. It is a very decisive way of doing the referee and the judge’s job for them. I am the best because I am the last one standing, end of story. It goes back to what Jet Li said, “In fighting there are only two positions horizontal and vertical, and vertical is the winner.”[laughs] And when you knock someone out you are vertical and they are horizontal. [laughs again] It is very definite, no one can argue against it, and it is there for everyone to see. [pauses] I hate going to decision, because you leave it to someone’s opinion. A knock out is great, but the decision is a gamble. But as long as you put the work in, you should get the decision. I am not one to speak on the specifics of all that, I just do the best I can whenever I go out there. But knocking someone out, it is tough to get but when you get it…wooo…its awesome! [laughs]
What was the hardest period in your life?
Oh boy! That is getting all kinds of deep. All right, the hardest period in my life, I would say, gosh [pauses] it would be my first loss, I was still in the mindset of I did the best I could and I came up short. Looking at me, and looking at my opponent you would say, “Al is going to win hands down”but I lost. Why? Because I did not work hard enough, no I thought I worked hard enough, but I was not living the right life style. So I went into the fight saying, lets give it all she’s got and I got beat, then shortly after that I accepted it, went back to the gym and I hit a slump, got really depressed, so I started drinking. I should say I started drinking heavily, and then I got into trouble with the law, I ended up getting a d-dub (D.U.I.) and I felt the world crashing down on me. After that I could not drive to work, ended up leaving my job, had to move in with my mom again. It was embarrassing you know? But I did this for a year. I would have ask people for rides, and it was so embarrassing to call myself a professional fighter, but this the life I am forced to live.
So I had to think to myself what was the common denominator here? What was it putting me in this situation? Well, I was hung over during the fight, just got a d-dub, can’t drive to work, I am living at home with mom, what am I doing?! What activity am I partaking in that is putting me in the situation? Then I realized it was drugs and alcohol! It was the party lifestyle! So from there I wiped it all out, I started living a sober life and I wanted everyone else to do the same. Started taking my training seriously, took the bus to the gym, and stayed there for eight hours at a time. It was cold out [laughs] I did not want to sit at a buss stop. From there I started training other people, took the buss there 5 a.m. trained myself, drank a protein drink, trained someone else, wait a couple hours till my coaches came in and train some more. This was my life, for about a year. Then when I got my license back, suddenly I started having more hours in the day, but I did not change that discipline. I continued to train just as hard, Zach (owner of the Jungle boy gym) was also growing the gym, and the gym was gaining in popularity, and I started getting passes to the Y.M.C.A so I could train there, now that I could drive I could go there, where my training became more efficient, from there I grew my classes, instead of training people one on one, now I was training groups. Slowly we began to dig ourselves out of this mental funk. Spent a lot of days…a lot of days crying myself to sleep, wondering how is this the result of what was going?
How is this, I do not understand this, I was doing so good, and all of this because of alcohol? So when I changed things, things started looking up, it was a snowball effect. I just worked hard, I did not know when my next fight was, but I kept on training. Then Zach had said, “I will help you make the best career that you can.”I said all right, just let know of the fight, give me a weight and a date and I am good. [laughs] so we had our first fight, and started climbing our way out of the funk. From there we started getting knock out after knock out, after win, after win, it was great. Then we fought for the state title, and we started getting some traction, people started looking at me, the news stations started coming in, newspapers started doing interviews. I thought what a better opportunity to talk to kids, and coach. I started talking with kids and Northwoods, I started getting involved at woodland hills (Both are mental health communities based services for youths) I went to talk with group of their kids. It has just been a complete change from being sober and helping others do the same, and living the life you are talking about. Not being the guy that tells you to eat healthy and then goes and eats a cheeseburger. There is something to be said about leading by example, and I have really taken that seriously in all that I do, that is why I love the phrase “Be the best version of yourself.”Cause no matter what, you can always make progress, no matter where you start, or how far you have come, there is always something you can do to better yourself. So that would be the long answer to your question [Laughs}
No, no it was a great answer to my question, thank you; So What led you to boxing?
Gosh [laughs] you know, I have lived an interesting life [laughs again] I played hockey when I was a kid, I was a natural athlete, I was always outside, I would be out at 8 a.m. and not be back till 8 p.m. saying, “where is dinner?”I was wanted to be active, but from being adopted, from being the only person of color, in the Congdon park community (East side of Duluth) in schools most of the time, I am used to being different, team sports just really, they rub me the wrong way. It did not go with who I am as a person. We played hockey in elementary school, we did football, we did track, we did all of things in foster care, and after graduation I thought to myself, I have already been one of the top competitors in the state in all the team sports, I did not want to do the same thing in college.
Then I thought what do I want to do? So I started lifting weights, just to stay active, just wanted to get big and strong, typical young adult. [laughs] I then hit a point where I was thirty pounds heavier then where I should be, but it was all muscle, I looked all big and scary, but I could not run mile to save my life. So I was thinking what do I want to do? Be Big for no reason? Why am I getting this big? So I had this buddy of mine, he asked me, “Have you ever thought of boxing?”I had multiple friends interested in the sport, and I was like, yeah, yeah, let me know where to check this out! But before boxing I went to this M.M.A. gym, and the personalities from there turned me away from it, this was not what I was about, so then I was on the beach one day and one of my buddies had a couple of classes with Zach Walters up at U.M.D., he said, “Want to go meet the jungle boy?”Who is that I asked “Local boxer and he is like 13th in the world.”Some guy is 13th in the world lives in Duluth Minnesota? I said Get outta here, he said “yeah he is right down there with his girlfriend”So I met him, keep in mind at this time I am about 230lbs, I was jacked, you know pretty proud of myself, so I go walking up and I meet Zach Walters he is what, 185lbs at the time, and I say how you doing? I got this bravado about me, and I am thinking this guy is 13th in the world as a fighter? That guy is not that big, thinking to myself hmmm? [laughs] I thought I could do that.
I walked up to the gym, and that was most eye opening experience in my life! I thought I was in pretty good shape, I lasted two, three rounds, tops my first week and these guys go for hours. I am thinking to myself, all right there is something going on in this room that I need to learn!My mindset has changed because that dude (Zach Walters) could definitely kick my ass! [laughs very hard] I have not told this to, to many people either [laughs again] Just after that first work out, I just kept coming back, I kept coming back, I knew what was happening to my body and was transforming, both mentally and physically. I realized when I went back to the gym and started lifting weights, I lost 20lbs like [snaps fingers] that. All my lifts got heavier, I was lifting more weights, but I was getting physically smaller, and I thought woah this is getting crazy! [laughs] Boxing is the shit! So we kept coming back, kept listing to the coach.
I would get stuck on the bag, I was not even an amateur yet, but I would train at the same time with the pros, and Chuck (Horton) would be giving Zach exact directions and all the other pros direction, I would listen to what he (Chuck Horton) would say, and then I would try to do it on the bag. Then I would get it. Oh! That’s what he is trying to do, ok I get that, and after 3 or 4 weeks of that, I sparred for the first time. Al this is the time to show them what’s up, because I was “big Al”at the time, and no body messes with big Al right? [Laughs very hard] This was my mentality going into it, so we go in there and I am treating it like a street fight, I am throwing haymakers and what not, and Zach lands a jab on my nose that felt like a drop kick, it was crazy, it was like boom! [eyes role back and mouth opens] My nose started bleeding, my eyes started watering, this was my first time being in a fist fight and I could not defend myself. This guy weighs 50lbs less then me! This does not make sense! There is something I have to learn about this sport.
From there that was the spark that helped me to continue to learn what boxing was all about. You know it takes all the strongest attributes, from the training of all the other sports, the toughness of a football player, the focus of a golfer, the footwork of the basketball player, you know all the little aspects of training that I love to do, and it all takes place in a 20-foot square. This is what a boxer is! I am thinking to myself this is the ultimate sport. You are the only one competing, and at the end of the day, you do not lose because someone else did not do his or her job, at the end of the day you know exactly what you did not do. There is an element of accountability that means if you did not run, people can tell, if you did not lift your weights people can tell! It’s Not only that people watch you, yourself knows, and the fact that it is a mental game, that you continually fight your self.
There is a bit focus, and a bit of nerves. There are always nerves! Even if you know you can knock this guy out, you think this guy could land this one punch that knocks you out and you would be laid out flat in front of everyone you love. That little bit of nerves is what I love. That adrenaline rush, it is all or nothing, and that is my new drug, which is what I love! I love this sport. It only comes a few times a year but when it does, you know you worked your behind off to prepare for this moment, and it’s your time to show everyone what its all about! I loved it since that first day I walked into that gym, loved since that first jab hit me, loved it since my first punch at a heavy bag. This is what it comes down to. People think all boxing is, get off the ropes and go punch someone in the face just punch them, no! You have to turn your hips, turn your toes, stay light on your feet, skip rope, lift weights, eat right, and make weight! There are all these different aspects that go into this one defining moment, which your average person will never understand unless they get out and do it! That is why I love boxing! Cause if you do not do it everyone can tell! [laughs] even a casual fan can tell your not doing your job, saying, “why is he getting tired in round three”[laughs again]
This question is from one of our female readers, what is your support system?
[Laughs very hard] Ahh! I get that questions so many times from women, ahh well when I first started it was just a lot of friends, bunch of drinking buddies saying, “Go knock his ass out Al!”Then we started getting into the golden gloves, and started being a candidate for tournaments, since then my support system has been the community, boxing fans. It was close friends and extended family, my foster parents were a big part of that as well, if I had a question about anything, or just need a hug, give them a call and go up for dinner. Stuff like that you know?
A lot of community members in my support system, people at the gym, kids in the gym. What it means for people looking at me as a role model, but for people looking to me as role model it is amazing, I am not doing this just for me, I am doing this for people who look up to me, I am doing this for the people that are also thinking “I do not have much right now, there is not that much out there for me in the future”. I am doing this for people that do not know where they want to go or what they want to do, and they stay sober, work hard. You can have kids look up to you too. As a boxer or a role model, or a mentor, anything of that nature or what I call a sober crusader, fighting that sober battle, its just the community, not just the people that give me props, but the people that I give props, the people I help.
Excellent now if I may ask, what irritates you most about other people?
Armchair quarterbacks! Armchair quarterbacks meaning, people that never trained, competed, or have been involved in the sport, at a physical level. That need to tell you what you need to work on, how you should do this, who you need to fight, how you need to promote yourself. I just look it like this, what fighter have you produced? Who have you worked with? What is your involvement in the sport? It is so annoying with people that have no concept of the pressure that comes from being a hometown fighter, or being a fighter in general. Not just the social but the financial burdens you take on.
You put a lot on the line, you have so many things to lose, yet so many things to gain. But there is always somebody there with a negative attitude, and in a sport that you put everything on the line. During training camp, you’re not eating much, you feel like garbage and you go run your miles anyway. Your tired, but you cannot sleep, no matter what it is, there is always someone saying something negative, or trying to giving advice when you’re doing just fine that way you are.
The answer is to what irritates me the most is people that have nothing to do with you on a personal want to tell what to do on a professional level. So many opinions but no proof of work just shut up, I am fine, I have my team, and this is how it is going to be, until I find a reason to change that, I do not need your negative opinion!
People that do not have the common curtsey to shake your hand when you go to meet them, and they are going to get on a blog, and tell you what you’re doing wrong, or who you need to fight, you’re a chump because you did not do this, you’re not doing this, or that, with this other guy, everyone has something to say! Just shut up!
You do it, you’re 200lbs, you think you can do better then me, then you do, you stay sober, you promote these kids, you go talk to these kids bout being the best version of themselves, you train these classes, you get on the news and tell people how excited you are to take your shirt off and the only protection you get is on your hands and your balls, go up there half naked and fight somebody hand to hand, lets go see if you can do that! and you need to tell me what I need to do? Just shut up!
Now is it more important to be respected or feared?
That’s a good one…wow! I would have to say Respected, not just as a fighter but as a man, being a black man in America, I feel that we have been feared for years, it would be nice to be on the same level as everyone else, to be respected, to have the same opportunities. That is what I feel is the most important for everybody! Yeah I would definitely say respected. Respect would be huge.
If I may, and if I make take a more optimistic view, one day we will get there.
[laughs] Thank you, I appreciate that, unfortunately today is not day yet. This nation was birthed on genocide, oppression, and slavery. We have made a lot of progress, but there is still a large amount of residue from that in society these days. Respect is one of the most important things to me. Fear is easy, you could raise your voice really loud, and people will be scared of you, that is easy to get. Respect is the hard thing to get.
Fair enough. What do you think is more important glory or money?
Glory, for the simple reason that money comes and goes, if your rich or poor it does not matter, you get buried in the same hole. Glory I feel can be passed down to your youth. If I may take it somewhere else, work ethic, being proud of who you are. That can be passed down by the generations after you, even the people that look at you say, “wow, he is broke, he works hard, damn he really cares about other people.”That is something that has the power to change the community, changes peoples lives, and to give hope to others who would not have it. I would definitely have to say glory, however money is nice, everyone has bills to pay. [laughs] no body is rich.
How do you beat someone faster then you?
That’s interesting in this training camp, I have always been the faster guy in my weight class, but this last training camp I went to a gym in the cities, and I got to spar with Caleb Truax, Cecil and Deangelo, but they are middle weights, and I am sitting at 210, I was thinking that I am going to thump theses guys and I could not touch them, it was wild, it was a wake up call from sparring guys that could take a punch, to guys who I could not touch.
After my couple of rounds were done, I stepped out of the ring, and Coach Chuck Horton asked how I felt, I said man they are fast! [laughs] it was the first thing that came out of my mouth. I knew I could keep up with them; I just never trained to keep up with someone that fast! I was training to beat these big guys who could take a punch, so the next week when we went down and I knew in my mind these guys are fast. They would through a jab and I would not even see coming, and I would just get hit. So this next time, I was aware of that, I had it in mind that, this is the type of speed we needed to get use to. So we went down there and I felt that we were on a much more leveling playing field. You know I was not trying to smash the guys, I was just trying to touch, touch, touch, touch, just keep up with them, it made for some incredible sparring!
That gave me a direct mindset for the fight I was going into. This guy (Andres Taylor) has twice the professional experience that I have. His (Andres Taylor) last fight was for a world title eliminator, the guy who beat him, is now fighting for a world title. So this guy (Andres Taylor) is fast and strong! So it definitely helped sparring against guys like that and woo, I am glad we did. Yea its just your body is capable of so much, there is nothing you can or can’t do. But just as you think you can’t that is when it is not possible.
I do not care how fast anybody is; I know I can move that fast too. I might have to work a little harder then they do, but it is possible. So with that mind set, it just does not matter, if you train a certain way you will preform a certain way, end of story! So with all that in mind, how do I beat someone faster then me? I train to beat someone faster then me!
Can a boxer mentally control a match?
Oh yea, that is what boxing is! The majority of boxing is mental! I would say 80% is mental and the rest is just fist to face. From the weigh in, to the interviews, it’s all a mental game. My last opponent, I hit him with a perfect shot, and I knew it hurt him, but he looked at me and even though is legs were wobbly, he looked me and sneered and shook his head as he was falling back, I said screw it, go for it, boom, boom, boom, lay into him with a combo you know its a mental game, no…I should say inexperienced fighter, though I have more experience to gain, an inexperienced boxer would have hit someone perfect like that and got a smile in return they would have backed off, but you can mentally beat someone before the fight even starts.
Even form the entrance music, he (Andres Taylor) walked out to bone crusher, some crazy music, it was very Mike Tyson [laughs] and I know that is what I was going up against. I thought to myself as I was picking my picking my music, you know what, I usually walk out to upbeat Caribbean music, something you could dance too, but you know what, I am going to take control of the situation, I know he was going to walk out to something bad and I did not know this before the fight. I picked out a song possessed by Machel Montano, It is very African, it definitely makes you think of sunshine and sandy beaches, and it did just that, not just for myself but the crowd too.
I came out there dancing I stepped through into the ring, and it flashed on me! That’s who we are fighting! We are fighting that guy (Andres Taylor) Woah! Things got very real, so from there I thought, “do not fall mentally before this fight.”I was freaked out about this fight, the entire fight from when they introduced him I looked out of the corner my eye Taylor [Stuck his tongue out and growled] drew a line across his neck. I am like oh my gosh! That guy is crazy! I still freaked out, but before the fight I was in the locker room Chuck said something that changed my mentality on the entire fight. I am not sure if he could tell, but he saw me sitting there [made a scowl face] Chuck Horton tapped me on the shoulder and said, “How you doin?”I said I am all right, and he said, “It’s going to hurt…that is what makes us different.”You know what, that’s right! That’s right, that’s what this is all about.
We are not a football player; we are not any other type of athlete. We are fighters! We are prestigious fighters at that. Not only that but we are sober crusaders; this is what makes of different. Being able to harness that type of emotion and put forth the action to beat your opponent, and to stay focused. We were in great shape; I knew physically nothing was going to fail me. Except my mind, and that little bit right there gave me the boost I needed, lets get this done, lets make more people proud, lets motivate more kids. It was surprising how that little phrase definitely builds that connection, he knows exactly what I am going through right now and that’s the type of coach you need on your team. But yea, it’s totally mental.
What is the strongest punch in boxing?
I would say it is different for every fighter, I mean I felt that my strongest punch was the left hook in the amateurs. What’s strong in each training camp, in the last year I would say it was my uppercut. However generally speaking, the way the power is generated through the punches I would say the cross, you can throw the majority of your bone structure into that shot, when thrown properly of course.
How would you defeat a boxer with a better jab?
Counter punch him, counter punch, you can always slip a jab, I sparred and fought a few guys that will eat four shots to land a big one, and they can have a quicker jab, but if their jab has no power you can just take that on the forehead. Then take a big loop over the top or hit the body. If someone is faster then me, I would tear that body up every chance I had. No matter who you are. I do not care if you are superman, if your body is tore up you are not going to be moving that fast anymore, you are not going step that fast anymore.
Justin house, the lumber jack from West Virginia, he was fast, he was really bouncing around on his feet, I thought I am going to slow this guy down. I really wanted to knock him out, and sure enough, I landed a crisp and clean body shot, it echoed everywhere. He did not drop, but it looked suddenly as if he had bricks on his feet. So I jabbed, and I slipped his jab, his jabs were coming slower, so I slipped it again. Every time he brought his jab back his hands went to his body, because that body shot hurt, I slipped his jab again and gave him the thunder right up top, it looked as if he jumped into the corner. [laughs] It was really funny but if you got to beat someone with a better job focus on the body hard, slow it down, and then pick your shot. But the jab is one of your most effective shots, so if you can find a way to slow it down. Do it!
All right if you can put to rest the debate, who would win in a fight Ali in his prime, or Tyson in his prime?
Ali. Ali was a monster in every round, it did not matter to him, he could drag you deep and Tyson proved that if he could not beat you in the first half of the fight, he would fizzle out, his power would be gone, his structure would be gone. However with the charisma Ali had, he could have gotten into Tyson’s head before the fight even started. [laughs]
This is another questions from the female readers, Are you single?
[Laughs] Oh boy, yes we are single. [Laughs harder]
I would say married to your work?
There you go! [laughs again]
A personal note from the author:
I just wanted to thank Al Sands for the opportunity for this interview, your time, and your patients. I would also like to thank Coach Chuck Horton for setting up this interview. Thank you both again.
Author: Matthew Thiry