Loyalty in Boxing: Good and Bad
In the last year I have noticed fighters leaving their trainers, managers or promoters. Managers and promoters are protected by contracts; trainers are not and that’s scary. It doesn’t matter how good of a relationship a trainer has with a fighter if there rarely is paperwork to protect the trainer for all the time he invests.
A trainer invests more hours in the gym with his fighter than anyone else, yet the fighter can decide one day he would rather work with someone else and there is nothing the ex-trainer can do.
On the flipside, a fighter has hard decisions to make at particular times in his career. Does he stay with the trainer who taught him how to box and who guided him through the amateurs, the man who taught the fighter the basics? If the original trainer has a slim track record in the pros, should the boxer move on to a more well-known or more-experienced trainer in the belief that the veteran trainer take him to the so-called next level? Does he stay with the original trainer out of loyalty? Does a fighter stay with his trainer after losing an important fight, an elimination bout, a world championship challenge?
To change or not to change—that is the question!
How much does loyalty mean to a fighter or how much does it cost a fighter? Each situation is different.
Heavyweight champion Joe Louis was with Jack Blackburn (left) until Blackburn died during Louis’ championship reign. Sugar Ray Robinson was with Harry Wiley. Thomas Hearns stayed with Emmanuel Steward from start to finish. Once he came under the guidance of manager Al Weill, undefeated hjeavyweight champ Rocky Marciano never left Charley Goldman. Louis, Robinson, Hearns, Marciano–their loyalty didn’t cost them anything. Instead, it helped build them into the great fighters they were.
Middleweight champ Marvelous Marvin Hagler took loyalty to the next level. Hagler stayed with the Petronelli (Goody and Pat) brothers from first fight to last. In fact, when they were trying to make the Hagler-Sugar Ray Leonard fight and Hagler couldn’t get the money he wanted, the Petronellis told Marvin they would take a smaller cut to increase Marvin’s share to get the fight done. To his credit, Marvin told the Petronellis he didn’t do business like that and that he would get what he wanted and the Petronellis would get their regular share and that’s what happened!
In the last year I have watched managers and promoters force trainers out by giving fighters ultimatums. I have seen trainers walk away from fighters they had for more than 10 years because they were no longer the only one, or the main voice, in the corner. Sometimes this can benefit a fighter; sometimes it can break a fighter.
Hall-of-Fame promoter J Russell Peltz witnessed the perfect example in the 1970s concerning Philadelphia middleweight contender Eugene Cyclone Hart. Hart turned pro when he was 17 years old in 1969 with veteran Sam Solomon as his manager and trainer and he knocked out his first 19 opponents. When he was 21-0, 20 K0s, Hart took on contender Denny Moyer in 1971 at the Spectrum. In the sixth round of a fight Hart was winning, he and Moyer got tangled up in the ropes and they fell through them onto the Spectrum floor with Moyer on top. Moyer injured his ankle and Hart was knocked unconscious and the fight was ruled a No Contest even though Hart recovered and wanted to continue.
Lawsuits followed over the years, claiming the ropes of The Spectrum ring were loose. Lawyers got involved and when Hart lost for the first time two fights later to Nate Collins, Solomon was forced out of both roles as manager and trainer. Fight-film collector Jim Jacobs became Hart’s new manager and he brought in the legendary Cus D’Amato to train Hart in the Catskills. What a disaster! Hart went 2-4 under D’Amato and was K0d three times. Hart wanted to go back to Solomon and that’s what he did, going unbeaten in his next six fights, one of which was his legendary 10-round draw with Bennie Briscoe at The Spectrum, one of Philadelphia’s all-time greatest fights. Though D’Amato is a Hall-of-Fame trainer, the chemistry and D’Amato’s peek-a-boo style, which worked for Floyd Patterson, Jose Torres and later Mike Tyson, simply did not work for Hart.
Each situation is different. Good trainers have walked away from fighters and never looked back, simply because the fighter added another coach to the team. Yet, if the Philadelphia Eagles only had one coach they probably would not have made the playoffs this year. Although the boxer only has one man in the ring on fight night, it still is a team sport and sometimes one head trainer is not enough.
Today it’s more than just the people closest to the fighter who get inside the fighter’s head or even the trainer’s head. I can think of several fighters who went through this or are currently going through this. One word of advice: Look before you leap!
Another twist to this trainer-fighter relationship is social media, which is good and bad. Everyone can be a critic. When Philadelphia junior middleweight Gabriel Rosado lost recently to unbeaten Jermell Charlo, social media blew up with people commenting on twitter, facebook and instagram, most blaming Rosado’s long-time trainer Billy Briscoe. That’s the same Briscoe who ran the corner when Rosado beat Jesus Soto Karass, Sechew Powell, Charles Whittaker and went to war with Gennady Golovkin, J’Leon Love and Peter Quillin. Briscoe has been with Rosado from the start yet suddenly he did something wrong. Fans lose perspective. Briscoe is one of the best trainers around, not just in Philadelphia.
People are entitled to his their opinions–promoters, managers, fighters, trainers and fans. It is up to the fighter to make the decision. It reminds me of the John Wooden (legendary UCLA basketball coach) quote: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”