Pro punchers marvel at Tillman's skill
Boxers, MMA fighters impressed with Bears cornerback's ability to knock the ball out
By Chris Kuc, Chicago Tribune reporter
November 6, 2012
Even the guys who make their living landing punches on moving targets are impressed with Charles Tillman's ability to consistently get his fist on a football.
The veteran cornerback is the NFL's master of the punch-out after forcing four fumbles during the Bears' 51-20 dismantling of the Titans on Sunday in Nashville, Tenn. Tillman raised his number of knockouts this season to a career-high seven and with his pugilistic abilities has forced 36 fumbles in his career.
"He's got a good right hand," said light heavyweight boxer Andrzej Fonfara. "He'd make a good boxer. If he punched somebody in the chin with that punch he'd be knocking out guys."
The ability to land the punches directly on a football during the maelstrom of a play is what has drawn the admiration of combatants who ply their trade in the boxing ring — or the mixed martial arts octagon.
"You can train for that until you're blue in the face, but it's something that you're either good at or you're not," said local MMA fighter Mike Bodziach, who played college football at Youngstown State in the late '90s. "There are a lot of MMA fighters who train that way and still aren't that accurate with their strikes. That's kind of a God-given talent.
"It's extremely impressive just because he's got that awareness to do it," added Bodziach, the head MMA coach at Emerald Smoke training facility in Chicago. "You see a lot of guys go for the strip, but just the fact he sees that there and punches it, his instinct and awareness is probably second to none."
Shawn "The Savage" Jordan knows a little something about fighting, carrying a 13-4 record in the heavyweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He also knows football, having been a fullback on LSU's national championship teams in '03 and '07.
"It's a gift to have that hand-to-eye coordination, to follow a ball that is going that fast and coming from a different place and distance each time," said Jordan, who was a teammate of the Bears' Craig Steltz at LSU. "To relate it to fighting, we are hitting moving targets all the time. He's running downfield, his body is doing one thing, and his eyes are doing another and then he has to react. The fact he can react the same way every time is pretty impressive.
"You can tell the difference between an elite athlete and just another athlete in the fact they are able to perform these things and have the ability to adjust and adapt to what is going on around them. Every great defensive back really has great control of their bodies. Knocking passes down or punching (the ball) out, it's the same thing. They're getting their hand on a ball while they are competing with another athlete."
Because "Peanut" Tillman is so adept at punching, he has a standing invitation to trade a few with "Chicago's Polish Prince" Fonfara, who trains in Chicago and will fight Tommy Karpency for the IBO light heavyweight world title Nov. 16 at UIC Pavilion.
"If he wants to spar with me one day, we can spar," Fonfara said.