By W. Gregory Guedel: Those who observed the recent Heavyweight bout between Alexander Povetkin and “Fast” Eddie Chambers in Berlin no doubt recognized a familiar face in Chambers’ corner: James “Buddy” McGirt, who was serving as assistant trainer. McGirt was brought in to supplement the training normally handled by Eddie’s father, and help to prepare Chambers for the rigors of fighting Povetkin on foreign soil.. This is in keeping with McGirt’s status as a premier “hired gun” trainer brought in for special assignments, aiming to help contenders reach the next level in important fights.
There’s just one problem: for the past few years, the gun has been missing its target.
In the media and pre-fight announcements, McGirt’s status as trainer is typically associated with adjectives such as “outstanding”, “elite” and “world-class” He even won the Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year Award in 2002. However, since 2005 McGirt’s record with top-level fighters in marquee matches is decidedly mixed. A sampling of his notable fights from the past few years reveals that the problem in finding victories for his fighters is both pervasive and not confined to a given weight class. The roster includes:
Lamon Brewster, KO’d by Wladimir Klitschko in their Heavyweight clash;
Antonio Tarver, outclassed by Bernard Hopkins at Light Heavyweight;
Arturo Gatti, losing in succession to Light Welterweights Floyd Mayweather Jr. , Baldomir, and Alfonso Gomez of The Contender; and of course the latest disappointment with Eddie Chambers.
McGirt has also been called in for special duty on numerous “rescue projects”, in an attempt to get talented-but-troubled fighters back on the road to success. Unfortunately, the track record here is also rather bleak, including stints training Michael Grant (who in fairness could not be rescued by Teddy Atlas or Don Turner either), Clifford Etienne (whose current status as a penitentiary inmate reflects bigger issues than training), and Mike Tyson (whom even the Dalai Lama couldn’t save, especially with only two week’s worth of work).
While it’s difficult to know what specific methods of training and motivation McGirt employs with fighters prior to the bout, with regard to the Chambers fight it is hard to argue with the advice Buddy was providing between rounds. In colorful and increasingly urgent language, he exhorted Eddie to increase his work rate and employ more of the combinations that had been landing successfully on Povetkin whenever Chambers actually let his hands loose in earnest. In the later rounds, as Povetkin’s superior punch output seemed to put him clearly ahead on the scorecards, McGirt did not hesitate to be frank with Chambers and tell him in no uncertain terms that he needed a knockout to win. The guidance was correct, and the strategy apropos, but Chambers simply could not or did not execute. One must therefore question whether this failure was the result of fundamental shortcomings in the fighter himself, or in the training he received before stepping into the ring.
Reflecting again on Chambers/Povetkin, it’s especially puzzling to observe a less-than-full effort from one of McGirt’s fighters, given that as a fighter himself Buddy was known for giving his best in every match. As a trainer, he has a reputation for challenging boxers to work hard in preparation for their matches, and his corner instructions between rounds seem quite perceptive and instructional in regard to what’s happening for his fighter in the ring. He also displays a focused intensity in the corner that conveys a sense of urgency, and his expletive-laced pep talks to Chambers toward the end of the Povetkin match were classic no-nonsense, do-or-die advice that would certainly have worked if only it had been heeded.
So what is the root cause of the relative lack of success of McGirt’s fighters of late? Is it a misplaced emphasis in the physical training? An inability to connect and motivate on the psychological level? Or perhaps just a string of unfortunate luck with fighters who were reaching beyond their grasp? One can only hope the issues are discovered and resolved soon as he continues training a very special protégé: his son and undefeated Super Middleweight prospect James McGirt Jr..