Trainer Manuel Gabrielyan: “I want to see Nikolai Valuev become like Lemeshev”!

21.09.06 - ESB exclusive interview by Izyaslav “Slava” Koza, photo © Last month Oleg Maskaev stopped Hasim Rahman in the 12th round of their WBC championship fight, to capture that very title. For the first time in professional boxing history, only a fighter from the former Soviet Union could claim to be the best in the division since the other three belt holders also hailed from different republics of the former state. However, the question of which of these fighters will rise to be the “heavyweight champ” is still in doubt.

Until these unification fights are made, or other fighters come forward and take those belts away, it is important to look at and consider some of the differences between the four ex-Soviet champs, rather then simply lumping them all together. When it comes to Nikolai Valuev there are three major factors that need to be considered. Firstly the man is the biggest heavyweight among the four fighters, and while bigger is not always better (which is yet to be decided in Valuev’s case) sometimes perception is even more important then reality, especially with fans and spectators..

Secondly, although most Soviet fighters are usually well skilled amateurs, in Valuev’s case he had to learn on the job so to speak. Part of the irony is that while the other three champs do have that amateur Soviet pedigree, Valuev is the only one who has an exclusively ex Soviet trainer in Manvel Gabrielyan who will be the focus of this interview. The other part of the irony leads us into point three since had Valuev been a well schooled amateur he might not have a chance to chase the great Rocky Marciano’s tremendous undefeated career record of 49 wins, since he would have no chance for many fights at the lower level.

Thus the third important factor is Valuev’s stellar record of 44 victories and no defeats. While some fans could and have argued that Valuev’s level of opposition is not strong enough and thus why it’s not really that great accomplishment, there is a point regarding this that I have yet to see mentioned. While this is a reasonable argument to some degree, the fact of the matter is neither Ross Purritty, Mo Harris, or Corey “T Rex” Sanders were elite fighters when they not only beat but stopped the other three champions via TKO. While I am not trying to discredit the other men I am trying to say that staying undefeated and, controversy or no, not folding under the pressure to some hungry young underdog is not easy. So many elite fighters can attest to this, that while it is true that gushing over an undefeated record is not always wise, neither is discrediting someone because their level of opposition is not up to a fan man’s standards. For a man who was never expected to amount to anything, straight from his first days of fighting in post Soviet Russia, to the first article written about him on this site, his accomplishments are and will forever be quite impressive.

In part this is because as I have always written Valuev is a hard worker and extremely serious about his profession. Whatever you think of or whatever his skill level may be he won’t lose because of undertraining issues, or child support problems, or music albums that need to be recorded. Still the other more significant element of Valuev’s success undoubtedly belongs to the man answering most of the questions in the following interview.

Very often in the boxing game the “man behind the man” is never paid his dues in terms of attention even though his fighter will be the first to bow down in praise for personal success. I am glad that to some degree this interview gives Manvel Oganesovich Gabrielian the attention and respect that someone of his character undoubtedly deserves.

ESB: Good Evening Manvel Oganesovich! Thank you for your time. First of all can you give us some impressions about our country?

M.G.: Good Evening. Thoughts? I liked the country and thought it very beautiful. The people were also all very warm and friendly.

ESB: Which of the three cities that you visited did you like the most and why?

M.G.: I liked Los Angeles the most. There we trained well, ran, the ocean was nearby, and overall it was just interesting. We didn’t really get a chance to see the other two cities because we were always on the move, promoting the fight. So I liked Los Angeles the best.

ESB: Nikolai seemed upset with the fact that he didn’t have enough time to train while you were here. Do you agree with him?

M.G.: Of course. We had very little time allotted to us for training, and were mostly trying to promote, and promote the fight. We could only train twice there, so it was definitely not a lot.

ESB: Many fans who saw a photo of Nikolai while you were here, have said that he has never looked better in the last five or six years. Is it true that he is preparing even harder for his first major bout in America?

M.G.: Not really. For every fight we prepare in almost the same way from a physical standpoint. We train very hard regardless of whom we are fighting. In that sense it doesn’t matter who the opponent will be.

ESB: So you don’t agree that he looked that much better?

M.G.: Maybe because he was in a suit and not his training gear.

ESB: No no, I was referring to a photo somebody took of Nikolai when he finished running in L.A. To be honest he did look very strong and well conditioned.

M.G.: Well it could be the result of our training in Armenia, which went very well. It’s a very well known camp there. So maybe that is the reason, but for now, there is much work to be done, and I am saying that as a trainer. He is not yet in the kind of shape I want to see him in. Like versus Beck for instance. However, come fight night he will be ready and that I guarantee.

ESB: O.k. well what did you think of the Peter Toney fight?

M.G.: Yea we were there. To be honest, I felt very bad for Toney, because he fought beautifully. However, I do also think that he wasn’t ready for that fight. He didn’t train well. He trained but he didn’t train like a professional. He didn’t have the deciding punch, and I know he has those combinations and the necessary punches in his arsenal, but I just didn’t see them.

ESB: But you still thought he w…?

M.G.: (interrupting) Yes, Yes of course! I am 100% certain of that (laughing). Cedric Kushner, who was sitting behind me, even asked who I thought won and I pointed at Toney. I am absolutely sure that he won. Peter didn’t do much more then hit Toney in the back of the head.

ESB: Did you see Maskaev’s fight?

M.G.: With Rahman? Yea I have the tape and am analyzing it now. The fight was tough and was fought on an almost even footing throughout. Rahman didn’t have enough stamina, and also Maskaev outsmarted him tactically and grabbed the initiative and did not let go. Hasim Rahman is not the type of boxer who can make the mistakes he did in that bout.

ESB: Thank you. The referee in the upcoming fight will probably only speak English. Do you have somebody in your corner who can communicate with him?

M.G.: With the ref? We can all understand English very well. I understand and Nikolai does too. I understand a lot myself, I even got an A in English when I was in school. Just now I am in Germany and have forgotten a little but I still understand a great deal.

ESB: Yea that is good, because it happens with our boxers sometimes and they have problems.

M.G.: Of course. That is why I also study the language here so that I don’t have any issues like that. Even at the press conference there were moments, although there we have an interpreter, who is quite good so we don’t have these issues.

ESB: How did you and Nikolai meet?

M.G.: In 2000 one of my students was training with him and introduced me. His name is Lyova Kirakosyan and he fights in France and Europe now. Recently fought for the Euro title. He was also the first national champ among Armenian boxers in Russia. So he came to me and said, “we have a Heavy there in Peter.” At first I refused but then about half a year later he came again because they asked him to try and get a trainer.

He just knew me, even as a trainer in the USSR. I had many successful students who had won championships of Europe and so on. Then I decided to go to Petersburg and I went and saw him on the first day. He also had issues then, and he didn’t want to fight anymore, and there were problems with his first trainer, and his bouts were bad, you know? So I decided to stay and told him, “Starting tomorrow we are going to begin working professionally.” I saw those training sessions and I saw that he didn’t know a lot yet, and that is how we met Slav.

ESB: As you know all the champs in the Heavyweight division are from the former USSR. However, Nikolai is the only one who has an exclusively Soviet trainer. Do you think that is one of the reasons behind his success?

M.G.: (laughing) Truthfully, we are very close, we are friends, and I’ll tell you our families are close, and his four year old son is even training with me already. It’s not necessarily the Soviet system, it’s that we are close. That is the whole story. I can’t say it’s the Soviet school, unless maybe because we understand each other better. Also I mean he is a very hard working guy so I don’t really have any issues with him.

ESB: There is a video going around now on the Internet where you are furiously yelling at Nikolai in between rounds

M.G.: Yes absolutely. When he doesn’t fight well or do what I tell him to do, or accomplish the goals I set out for him, I yell at him and get very angry, and that is not exclusive to the fights but in training too.

ESB: It is interesting because for instance Klitschko’s trainer Steward is almost always very calm and patient with his boxer.

M.G.: (laughing) Well that is Steward and this is me. I have that hot Caucasian (note: “Kavkazkaya”) and Armenian blood. I cannot stand to see him get hit, or miss a punch.

ESB: Do you think that each fighter should be approached differently in that sense or should you only be tough with them? Like we say here without “sugarcoating” it.

M.G.: No, personally I was always a tough trainer throughout my entire working life so far. Always. God forbid somebody broke the rules, even if he was a champ, I would kick him out of the gym. I had one guy, champion of the USSR, I threw him out because he violated my regimen.

See, I live their life, their routine, and I never break or violate the rules, ever. Often you have guys who go out, party, but I will never do that. I sleep and get up like my fighter. We are like one person and that cannot be broken up.

ESB: When did you start training fighters in the pros?

M.G.: In 2000 I crossed over into the professional ranks.

ESB: Besides Nikolai did you train any other perspective fighters?

M.G.: Pros? Well I still to this day help train Mger Mkrtchian who lives in St. Petersburg. Long time ago he competed in the Junior World Championships in Istanbul. First he won then lost, cause the Turks robbed him. Then in France I have Hamlet Petrosyan, and Lyova Kirakosyan. Armen Khachatryan who won four bouts and then quit.

ESB: You are one of the few former Soviet trainers who train at this level in the pro’s. Could you please tell us what the differences are between the Soviet (Russian) and the American schools of boxing?

M.G.: To be honest, right now, I don’t see any technique or tactics in the American school of boxing. It all consists of who can hit the hardest and that is the guy who will win. Besides Toney there are just no strong technical boxers that I have seen in America. I am not talking about greats like Ali, but just that right now I don’t see any real tactical boxing.

In our boxing dictionary we have the word “Tehnar’ (note: Technician). I want Kolya to be a technical boxer, the most technical boxer at this weight.

ESB: So our former Soviet guys are more technical?

M.G.: No doubt. Klitschko, Maskaev, Lyakhovich. I study and analyze all their fights and know them by heart. By the way I met Lyakhovich a long time ago in training. Their whole team was there. When we were in L.A. we said hello and he asked me how I was and so on. I introduced him to Nikolai.

ESB: I thought maybe they might have sparred with each other back then?

M.G.: No, no that was a long time ago, sometime in 96. So, where are you calling from?

ESB: Oh from New Jersey. Bergenfield its one of our local towns here.

M.G.: We had a fight in New Jersey once. Was Ettiene from New Jersey? No, he was from Louisiana.

ESB: It was probably against Linberger or Nelson.

M.G.: Yea! Kolya took him out in the first. They didn’t let me go for that fight. Didn’t give me a visa.

ESB: Yea that was in Atlantic City about an hour or two ride from here. Well can you talk about some of the differences between the major schools of boxing in the USSR? Like say the Russian, or Armenian, or Kazakh schools.

M.G.: To be honest they are very similar to each other. They all developed together almost so they are about the same. Maybe the exercises with combinations are different in say the Kazakh school or the Armenian school.

My system was pretty unique I think. I had guys who achieved a lot of success with it in their time. My number one was Artyom TerAkopyan who became Soviet champ among juniors. He won the Soviet Cup, and was champion of Europe among juniors. In 1988 he was the youngest participant in the exhibition match between the Soviet Union and the United States. He was one of the rising stars of the Soviet Union, but after the Earthquake of 88 I lost him. (note: The Leninakan Earthquake took place in the Spitak region of Armenia in December of 1988. An estimated 25,000 people died and many more were injured.)

However, all the schools: the Armenian, Uzbek, Ukrainian, they are all similar. I never even noticed any major differences. All of it was combinations and technique. That was our all.

ESB: In your opinion who is the greatest Soviet fighter ever?

M.G.: Well in my time the one I liked the most was Vyacheslav Lemeshev. Then also Boris Kuznetzov 57 kg, and then Rufat Riskiev. Savchenko, Rybakov, the three time European champ. Then our Armenian guys Samson Kchachataryan, Israel Hakobokyan, Munchyan 48 kg.

Of course the most accomplished was Lagutin. However, my true idol was Muhammed Ali. When I used to go to sleep I used to keep his photograph under my pillow, cause I wanted to be like him, because I was boxing back then too. I was an honored master of the USSR. So I kept it under my pillow cause I loved him so much.

ESB: Wasn’t he in the arena when Nikolai won the title? Did you get a chance to meet him?

M.G.: Yes he was there but it was very hard to even get close to him. I just saw him but I couldn’t say hello. I very much wanted to shake his hand. It’s ok though I think and hope that in America we can see each other.

ESB: Who do you think was the best Armenian boxer during Soviet times?

M.G.: Well we had a lot of good ones but the one I liked the best was Davit Torosyan. He lives in Los Angeles now if I am not mistaken. I passed along greetings to my countrymen but I didn’t see any of them there at all.

ESB: Which Soviet boxer does Nikolai remind you of?

M.G.: It’s hard to say but I personally want to see him become and fight similar in style to Lemeshev, so that after he lands his right nobody can get back up on their feet.

ESB: It’s interesting you know an acquaintance and I wrote an article about him for our American readers.

M.G.: Yes he was the gold medallist at the Munich Olympics, and then conquered Europe with his right hand, and that hand was broken at that. I just adored him. Then we met in Germany when I served there. Oh how I loved him, and we even became friends.

ESB: Wow you were friends with him? Can you tell us something about him?

M.G.: By that time I remember he started drinking and came in drunk for a fight once. This one private knocked him out but they disqualified him and awarded the win to Lemeshev because he was an officer. It was in Germany in 78, 79.

ESB: Was the fight against a young and inexperienced kid?

M.G.: Yes, YES! The guy was from Armenia, he was one of my buddies too, Arkadii Arakelyan. Arkadii knocked him out and he fell but was really drunk you know. His wife ran to the ring all in tears. Then they said that Arkadii hit him with an open glove, but that is a lie cause the punch was perfect, and so they gave the victory to Lemeshev the officer.

ESB: You know I wrote about that bout, about how he fell under the ropes and turned over but I didn’t know all the details.

M.G.: I was at that fight, I also took second place in the under 57 kg category at that tournament. (note: East German Armed Forces tournament in Weismer, Germany.)

ESB: I definitely wanted to ask if you boxed in your younger days?

M.G.: Yes I started in 69, 70 and became an honorary Soviet master of sports. I was multi time champ of many tournaments. Took second place at the Burevestnik tournament, was two time champion of Armenia, many inter Soviet tournaments, and well it would be hard to list everything. I had 82 fights.

ESB: How many did you win?

M.G.: 64 wins and 18 losses

ESB: When did you stop fighting?

M.G.: After the tournament in 79 in Germany, I came home and won another local tournament and then became a trainer. Right away my students became champs in the junior ranks. In 76 I finished the Instructor’s institute of physical culture with a degree Phys Ed (equivalent).

ESB: Yes I wanted to ask about your education as well?

M.G.: I have it all, a diploma, master of sports, honorary trainer of Armenia for many years already. In 87 I became the youngest such trainer in Armenian history. Artyom won the “Friendship” tournament, which was the toughest one, because it was like for the world championship, and I became an honorary trainer after about only two, three years.

ESB: So Artyom was your most perspective fighter?

M.G.: I had many guys with potential, Lyova, Ashot Sukiasyan, Armen Hachatryan, but the one with the most potential was Artyom. Thankfully though God gave me another Artyom in Nikolai (laughing).

ESB: (laughing) I read that on his birthday you gave Nikolai a bottle of Armenian Cognac?

M.G.: (laughing) Yea, good and expensive Cognac, so that after the fight he could down 100 grams.

ESB: (laughing) What brand was it?

M.G.: One of the expensive kind…… Ararat. Good Cognac. Although that is after the fight now, absolutely not.

ESB: (laughing) Well what did he give you the last time it was your birthday?

M.G.: (laughing) Me? You know what present he got for me?

ESB: What?

M.G.: Became World Champion

ESB: (laughing) Just doesn’t get any better.

M.G.: For me that was the best present he could ever give. I told him so. Last year I turned 50 and that is when he became champ, and that for me is the most important present I have gotten in my life, and nothing else is necessary.

Oh and well I got myself a car, so let that be his present (laughing)

ESB: (laughing) What kind was it? Mercedes?

M.G.: No, BMW #5. I want to put 50-150 on the license plate.

ESB: Why is that?

M.G.: His weight is 150 kg and I was 50 years old (laughing)

ESB: (laughing) So how did you celebrate? Did you go to a restaurant?

M.G.: Yes we were in Armenia at the time so we went to a restaurant. We danced, laughed, and just had fun with my friends.

ESB: Nikolai was probably there too?

M.G.: Yes of course. Our birthday’s are in the same month. Mine is on the second and his is on the 21 of August. So we always celebrate them together.

ESB: Not long ago I saw a picture of you sitting on somebody’s shoulders and holding the pads for Nikolai. Was that just a joke or do you actually train that way sometimes?

M.G.: (laughing) No that was a joke, how could you work like that? We were in Saint Petersburg and one of Kolya’s friends picked me up on his shoulders and said, “Manvel come on work with Nikolai.” We were joking around.

ESB: Manvel Oganesovich can you tell us about your family?

M.G.: Slav I have a very good family. My daughter graduated from college with a red diploma. On July 8th of this year she got married, my beautiful girl. Nikolai called and congratulated us, cause he just had the operation on his knee, but he said a wonderful toast and everybody clapped in the restaurant.

My son too. He is in his third year of college in the Phys Ed department. My wife is great. Everything is the way it should be.

ESB: What is everybody’s name?

M.G.: Wife is Gayane. Daughter is Meline, and my son is Tigran.

ESB: Did you name them after anybody?

M.G.: No just when they were born we named them Tigran and Meline cause we liked the names. Wife is Gayane and I am Manvel.

ESB: Great. I only have two more questions here.

M.G.: Not a problem, you can have 102. We have excellent weather here and I am just walking around. I always take a walk around the camp in the evening.

ESB: Oh well I don’t want to bother because I know its late there. When do you usually go to bed?

M.G.: Oh around 12, 12:30

ESB: Nikolai too?

M.G.: Of course. Until I give him his evening massage he doesn’t go to sleep.

ESB: When do you get up each morning?

M.G.: In the morning? 7:30 always. First we exercise, massage and run to training. Run from training to training.

ESB: Do you want to make a prediction for the fight?

M.G.: Honestly I don’t like to do that and never have. I will tell you this though the fight will be ferocious and beautiful. I am preparing Nikolai for that. Since we are fighting in America he will work fiercely and beautifully.

ESB: Did you analyze Barret’s fights already?

M.G.: Yes I watched all the tapes. We analyze all the fights. How he was against Beck, and Rahman, and Klitschko. I analyze all of the fights. I know them all by heart. All of his weak and strong sides. I know him almost as if he was my student.

ESB: Manvel Oganesovich what would you want to tell the people who will read this interview?

M.G.: Yes, well yesterday was September 11, and I want to say that, with all my heart I sympathize with and feel for the American people. From the bottom of my heart, my entire soul. We hate and despise this horrible enemy, this so called “terrorist.” They are big enemies of sports as well.

Otherwise I wish all Americans, including many of my countrymen over there, health and happiness. We can’t wait to come and fight for you in America. We will show you great boxing, not that Barrett Rahman stuff but sensational boxing.

ESB: I want to thank you once again for your time. I wish you all the best. Say Hello to Nikolai from us and we hope you come out victorious.

M.G.: No problem I am happy to help. I’ll go back and tell Nikolai you gave him your best.

I want to thank Manvel Gabrielyan for his time as well as Heiko Malwitz, from Sauerland Events, for setting the interview up.

Article posted on 20.09.2006

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