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31 OCTOBER 2014

 




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The Trainer’s Perspective


Inside Amir Khan's corner: HoganPhotos.com
Inside Amir Khan's corner: HoganPhotos.com

By Derek Bonnett: The boxing ring is a merciless haven where fighters collide to establish superiority over their opponent in the manly art of self-defense.

A casual fan may shell out fifty bucks to purchase a seat so far back that the gender of each fighter cannot be determined for certain; yet, he’ll talk about the sport as a veteran of fifty fights would. The less frugal aficionado has no qualm with the ringside ticket price ranging from several hundred dollars right on up the ladder; his demeanor can often be mistaken for a fight manager or promoter in the right setting.
The bottom line: we all become boxing experts on fight night and will not hesitate to hurl instructions or insults at the fighter while tearing apart the fight-plan devised by the reprehensible trainer, the owner of the best seat in the house – the corner.

The most unforgiving place for a boxing trainer these days is the online boxing forum. Not only is he unable to explain himself on most occasions since the excoriation is unbeknownst to him, but he is typically outnumbered greatly by an angry cyber mob of bloggers whom have never laced up a pair of gloves for themselves, let alone for someone else in the role of trainer.

Spend any amount of time on a boxing forum after a big fight and you’ll surely witness a written crucifixion of such heralded pugilistic masterminds as Buddy McGirt, Freddie Roach, and Emmanuel Steward.

Hollywood has glorified the fighter’s preparation for battle with many a memorable montage and HBO’s 24/7 has dove deep within the fighter’s heart, mind, and soul.

Now, what about the trainer?

There has to be more to it than funny hats and Q-tips behind the ears.

Active boxing trainers “Iceman” John Scully (JS) and Colin Morgan (CM) were willing to help try to sort out the mentality of their roles and offer the trainer’s perspective.

Scully, a former light heavyweight world title challenger, trains contenders like Matt Godfrey (200), Mike Oliver (122), and Matt Remillard (126). Morgan worked with former cruiserweight world champion Wayne Braithwaite and currently guides the red-hot young middleweight contender Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin.

The following is a Q&A interview with both venerable trainers offering very different insights.

1. Tell me, how does defeat impact the trainer in comparison to its effects on the fighter?

CM: It’s a different feeling for each boxer. With some boxers, with whom I have had a long-term relationship, I could sense when they were about to lose. In a case like that, I’ve felt I did the best I could. Then there are the fights you, the boxer and most of the crowd think your boxer won, but the judges saw it differently; that drives me crazy. Lastly, there are those who have been over matched. Going in, the boxer and trainer know that upsets make boxing interesting, so you give it your best shot. If you lose by a close decision or it’s a win, you are satisfied; if you lose by a KO that was unexpected, I feel sad, crappy and the walk back to the dressing room seems long and never-ending.

JS: I have experienced some awesome victories as a trainer and some devastating defeats. I can tell you that I have had questions pop into my head where I questioned if I wasn’t a good trainer. Trainers are like fighters, wins bring confidence and pride, and losses bring doubts and questions. I can say this, though: a good trainer is a good trainer regardless.

I hate it when a guy will see some of his boxers lose fights and people will begin to aggressively question and doubt his training prowess and skills. I mean, take Buddy McGirt, for example. Some of his fighters have suffered defeats in recent times, but he is still the same guy who trained Antonio Tarver to that unreal stoppage of Roy Jones, right? It’s not like his knowledge of the game has left his brain or something.

I always say that circumstances on any given day mean everything in boxing. I am still the same guy who trained Jose Rivera to the WBA 154 pound title and Buddy is still the guy who steered Antonio to beat Roy. It’s just that there are so many other things involved: styles of fighters, the fighters weight, his mental state, or maybe he has the flu. Maybe his marriage is in trouble at the time. Maybe the other guy has his number. I mean, there are certain boxers who can go into certain fights and it wouldn’t matter if Eddie Futch, Ray Arcel and Georgie Benton all trained him for it.

Enzo & Joe Calzaghe: HoganPhotos.com
Enzo & Joe Calzaghe: HoganPhotos.com
2. Under which circumstances do you feel a loss is the fighter’s fault?

CM: That is complicated. You could do everything right as a trainer, but the boxer might have a problem develop close to the fight - mental or physical. He keeps it a secret and it diminishes his performance. That is a sad and angry feeling at the same time.

Here is another example: Fight day you make a timetable for your boxer, e.g., breakfast at 8:00 a.m., a light walk afterwards, rest/sleep until lunch at 2:00 p.m., another light walk, rest until dinner at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. depending on fight time. Instead of following the timetable, the boxer runs around buying an outfit to wear, going to the barber, and collecting money for tickets. At the end of the day, he gets no rest and had only one meal. After two rounds his sugar level drops, causing a loss of energy that brings on fatigue and he loses the fight. That is the boxer’s fault.

If the trainer does not pay the boxer the proper attention, or feels over-confident and thinks the boxer’s ability is enough to win the fight, it’s the trainer’s fault.

JS: I like to think we are in it together, but for me I had two different trainers in particular who never once even began to let it into their minds that their training methods or lack of something in regard to their instruction giving skills was their fault. A lot of trainers feel that victories were always because of them and losses were because of the fighter.

I could certainly point to specific times in my work with certain pro and amateur fighters where my input definitely, 100 percent for sure, steered them towards a victory that realistically might not have happened if I weren’t there. But, truth be told, there have also been times where I had a guy and the certain punches he used and certain moves he used to win a particular fight were more his doing than mine.

3. What is your approach to a fighter that is clearly losing and over-matched? How do you keep them motivated in the fight? How honest do you need to be?

JS: Honesty is a very subjective thing. You sometimes have to be brutally honest in the corner; sometimes you need to lighten and bend the truth a little bit. It all depends on the particular boxer. Some boxers are very frail mentally while others are rock solid. It depends on the guy. Sometimes if a guy is losing and I know that victory is very unlikely I will touch on some other factor to keep them in it. I mean, sometimes a victory is in the eye of the beholder. I could keep a guy going just on pride alone. It’s kind of like in "Raging Bull" when Lamotta tells Robinson, after he stopped him in the 14th, “You never got me down, Ray. You never got me down." To him that was a source of pride and in his mind a type of victory. His corner men no doubt knew that was the type of guy he was and I bet something in regard to that way of thinking was used in the corner that night to keep LaMotta in it as long he was.

4. Can a trainer hit a slump just like a fighter can?

CM: I never had a losing slump and I don’t think there’s such a thing. The only slump I have had is getting big fights. Boxers hit slumps when they move from trainer to trainer.

JS: Definitely. For me, I can point to certain fights where I felt my words in the corner were really sharp, really accurate. I have impressed myself on occasion. There have been other times, though, where it was like I jumbled my thoughts and my words, too. Like I was having a bad night the same way a boxer would.

5. How do you keep yourself sharp as a trainer? Do you have a routine in preparing for a fight?

CM: I am at the gym from Monday to Saturday. I don’t drink, smoke, eat red meat, cheese or drink milk. I have a group of boxers – we live like family; they help each other in preparing for fights all year round. I see myself as a teacher among other things. I am big on proper fundamentals; with good fundamentals you have a better chance.

JS: I think that as a trainer my strong point is the fact that I have been a boxer before and I can relate to any fighter in the world because of that. Any situation they will face, I have faced it before, too, and I use that knowledge to guide me. I look at things I did successfully in the past, but also I use times when I failed to get certain points across to anyone I might be trying to help get ahead.

So that’s why I still spar as much as I can to this day because the best way for me to keep my finger on the pulse of my fighters is to keep experiencing being one. So far this year I have already sparred close to 200 rounds. Being in the ring keeps my memory of what these guys go through very in tune and sharp.


* Colin Morgan is currently training Peter Quillin for a June 11 bout against Dionisio Miranda.

* John Scully is currently preparing Matt Remillard for a June 13 bout against Jose Magallon.


June 10, 2008


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