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Abel Sanchez on The Boxer-Trainer Relationship

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There is an unwritten code of ethics among boxing trainers that I am just now starting to learn. It’s not easy to see. And the trainers might not speak of it frankly. But they know it’s true.

You don’t step on another man’s toes. You don’t mow another man’s lawn.

Abel Sanchez speaks of the code and told me much more about the boxer/trainer relationship.

Sanchez trains Gennady Golovkin, the undefeated power puncher and middleweight champion. He also owns one of the hottest boxing gyms in the country in Big Bear, CA. Sanchez said that he knew before anyone that GGG was a destructive force in the ring. But he refuses to take full credit for GGG’s emergence.

Sanchez doesn’t like to change his fighters and says that they think too much. But he wants them to follow his lead.

Call it a boxing contradiction. Teaching fighters mindless activity in the thinking man’s game sounds like a new concept. Sanchez argues a cohesive boxer/trainer relationship eliminates fighters having to think for themselves.

Ain’t that something?

Read on. You just might learn something new about boxing.

RM: Why did you choose Big Bear to train fighters?

AS: I grew up in Southern California. I started to come to Big Bear in the early 90’s. I trained Miguel Gonzalez out there when he fought Oscar De La Hoya at Joe Goossen’s gym. Then I noticed the property was so cheap and I got so many fighters it was almost like I couldn’t do anything else.

RM: Do you think that you started getting more fighters because you had a successful gym? Or was it more about your relationships with the fighters?

AS: I started getting more fighters because of my history with the Norris brothers and other champions. When I opened my gym I had already worked with nine world champions. So everybody associated me with Norris. And around 2007 I started working with guys that really weren’t superstars or big names, but they helped me get my act together again.

RM: You’re talking Terry Norris, the former junior middleweight champ?

AS: Yes.

RM: Now that you are training Gennady Golovkin, how do you compare Norris to Golovkin?

AS: Terry was a great athlete. He was a great basketball player. He actually had a four-year ride to Baylor. He was more of an athlete. Gennady is an exceptional fighter. He has more of a purpose in the ring. Terry was more reactive. He didn’t have a plan. He would react to his opponent.

RM: What’s the difference between them?

AS: Three years ago I sent an email to Robert Morales, a writer that I went to high school with, and said, that I have a fighter (Gennady Golovkin) that is better than Terry Norris ever was. I said that three years ago. And it was not that I was trying to put Terry down but there was a big difference in the type of fighters that they were. To tell you the truth, Orlin Norris was a better fighter than his brother. But he just didn’t have the killer instinct that his brother had. I trained Orlin Norris to a cruiserweight championship.

RM: I see. So you’re saying Terry had the athletic ability to adapt in the ring and Golovkin is more of a…

AS: He is more of a fighter. He is more of a warrior. Gennady will abuse you and take things away from you. Terry would react to you.

RM: Right. OK. I hear you. You see, I talk to a lot of trainers and love to learn from them. Angelo Dundee was someone I always talked to. He told me that every fighter is different and it is up to the trainer to adapt. He said you have to train every fighter in a different way. Do you agree with him?

AS: No, I don’t. I’ve always had a trusting relationship with fighters. I am the coach and they are the fighters. They trust me with their careers for my judgment, my knowledge, and experience. It’s like I told Gennady four years ago, he allowed me to do what I needed to do with his attributes. I told him four years ago that he would be the most avoided fighter and the best middleweight in the world, and we wouldn’t be able to get a fight for him. That is exactly what is happening today.

RM: That’s funny.

AS: I wrote that on the board for him during the first couple of months he was at my gym. Unfortunately, with today’s fighters we coddle them too much. We allow them to do too much thinking. Instead of trusting the coach, we allow them to listen too much to what other people outside of the camp are saying. And that is why we have a bad Olympic team. We get these coaches that are not qualified to run a team and the kids don’t listen to him. So, if a guy doesn’t want to listen it’s a big problem.

RM: That’s true.

AS: Because when they lose, guess who loses, the coach loses, not the fighter. They blame it on the coach. But when they win, they win by themselves.

RM: That’s a good point.

AS: So, if I can’t do it my way and they are going to blame it on me, then I want it to be my fault.

RM: So, when you say the fighters listen to other people, what other people are you talking about? Do you mean other coaches?

AS: Look Ray, when fighters start to have success, all of a sudden everybody else knows what they need to do. They have new friends. Everybody else knows how they need to train…. Now they need a defensive coach. Or now they need a strength and conditioning coach. Think about when Freddie Roach started training Amir Khan. Khan got beat because he doesn’t have a chin. And everyone said Freddie needs a defensive coach. They said Freddie is a great offensive coach but he can’t teach defense. But here is the truth, every fighter is different and coaches have their own way of teaching. And if the fighter doesn’t like a coach then he should go somewhere else.

RM: So, losing is not the coach’s fault?

AS: Look, we try to get the most of the fighter. But not everyone is going to be Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather or Bernard Hopkins. There is going to be guys that lose.

RM: OK. You’re saying the trainer and fighter must have the same mindset. Correct?

AS: Absolutely, when the fight gets tough and you are sitting in the corner with your fighter, there has to be trust. It’s just like Rios’ fight with Pacquiao. When Brandon Rios is in the corner with Robert Garcia, Brandon needs to trust Robert.

RM: Right.

AS: We coaches can look at it from the outside and say ‘he needs to do that or he needs to do this,’ but Robert and Brandon worked on certain things.

RM: Yes.

AS: So, Brandon needs to listen to Robert and not one of his buddies that never had a fight in his life, or another coach that never had any success with anybody. When Robert Garcia tells Brandon something and Brandon doesn’t get it, after spending five years together then they are on not on the same wavelength. That means Brandon is not getting the benefit of Robert’s experience.

RM: I hear you.

AS: That’s the same thing with my guys. If the fighter and trainer are not on the same wavelength then it’s not going to work. It can’t work. When you have outside influences and friends or other coaches that supposedly know everything, those are the people I am talking about. Unfortunately in this business we have other coaches trying to advise someone else’s fighter. And it messes with the fighter’s mind and more importantly, messes up the cohesiveness of a team.

RM: Do you run into a lot of those issues with coaches?

AS: I don’t because I am a very outspoken person. I say what I want to say and I don’t beat around the bush. If people don’t like me then people don’t like me. I’m not going to allow another coach to step in my gym and try to coach you, especially if we have spent some time together. I’m going to be the first to tell that guy to shut up and leave my fighter alone. That’s my fighter, you know.

RM: Yeah. There needs to be more respect among trainers?

AS: Yes. Those coaches are not in the gym everyday with my fighters. They don’t know what their process or mind is. There are so many things in the mind of a fighter that trainers have to know. So, we have to respect the coaches that spend the time with those fighters.

RM: That makes a lot of sense Abel. So let’s say Brandon Rios came up to you before the Pacquiao fight to ask for advice, what would you do?

AS: I’d call Robert. I’d call Robert immediately. In fact I would call Robert in front of Brandon.

RM: OK.

AS: That’s just out of respect. We as coaches need to respect the fighter and trainer relationship. When Robert says Brandon and me aren’t working together then it’s open season. But until then, you have to have the respect for the coach.

You can follow Ray Markarian on Twitter at @raymarkarian or email him at Raymond.markarian@yahoo.com

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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