How important are trainers?

By Paul Strauss: Current boxing headlines contain rumors of possible breakups between several topnotch fighters and their famous trainers. The most notable is Amir Khan and Freddie Roach. Another shocker is Vicious “Victor” Ortiz and Danny Garcia.

We’ve had fighters such as Chad Dawson, Miguel Cotto change trainers without negative effects. Circumstances or the chemistry was not quite right. Finding it sometimes involves a lot of effort, and other times it might just be a stroke of luck..

Are the relationships between fighters and their trainers all that important once a fighter reaches a certain level? Is the input of some trainers of continuing value? Are there intangibles? Apparently, a lot of fighters think so, because there are so many changing their allegiance. There also are as many opinions on the subject as there are situations out there. That’s not a cop out, it just demonstrates the complexity of the relationships.

Jack Dempsey needed Jack “Doc” Kearns, even though the personal life of the Manassa Mauler suffered, and Kearns most likely was pilfering from Dempsey’s purses. The fact is Kearns discovered Dempsey, recognizing the potential greatness in the fighter. The question remains, would Dempsey have been able to regain the heavyweight title in the “Long Count” rematch against Gene Tunney if Kearns was in his corner? Quite a few of the old time experts have said yes.

Joe Louis needed Jack “Chappie” Blackburn. Chappie was a helluva fighter in his own right, but more importantly, he knew what made the Brown Bomber tick. He was able to get the best out of him. Joe never had any thought of changing trainers, but fate dealt a hand when Chappie passed away at a relatively young age of 59 years in 1942.




Rocky Marciano needed Whitey Bimstein, someone who recognized and developed in Rocky strengths that not too many thought were there. He taught the short, stocky Rocky to make himself an even smaller target. He taught him how to force his opponents into exchanges, so he could get inside and turn his short reach into a valuable asset. Whitey’s calm demeanor helped Rocky remain calm and focused on the task at hand, even when serious cuts occurred. With Whitey in his corner, Rocky never gave up hope that the kayo was just one punch away.

Jose Torres, Floyd Patterson, and Mike Tyson would never have become champions if it wasn’t for Cus D’Amato. Cus was the right fit for their situations and personalities. They all had excellent hand speed, and felt secure exploding out of the peek-a-boo style But, much beyond the style, he tutored them in boxing’s history, and helped them stay under control. Tyson was never the same after Cus passed away.

There are many other combinations of note: Ali and Dundee, Frazier and Durham, Hearns and Steward, Calzaghe and his father. Currently, there’s Pacquiao and Roach, Ignacio Nacho Beristein and Marquez and Nasheem Richardson and Hopkins. Would any or all of these fighters have enjoyed the same success without their mentors in their corners? Maybe, but it’s more likely they would not have enjoyed the same success. .

There’s something to be said for the pure boxing knowledge that trainers have, but the exceptional ones also develope a chemistry with their charges. They don’t just observe footwork, and punching form. They go beyond it with an intuitive sense of what is needed and when, even if it doesn’t make sense to others. Often times, it’s an inherent or unsaid street smart type of understanding into the mental makeup of their fighter. Sugar Ray Leonard explained he really didn’t learn or improve his boxing skills under the tutelage of Angelo Dundee, but yet he needed him to be successful, and he understood that. Something as simple as “You’re blowing it, son!” said at the right time might be all that is needed.

Think of Joe and Enzo Calzaghe. They are a unique story in the sense that they learned the sport together. Joe and his father were repeatedly told to get someone with more experience on board. They ignored that advice and kept their special fighter/trainer bond, and had pretty good results.

Often times, fighters and trainers talk about a special kind of relationship, kind of a father and son thing. That certainly was the case with Tyson and Cus. Current examples are Pacman and Roach, Nacho and JMM, or Steward and Andy Lee. Obviously, there is a special “blood” relationship between Roger Mayweather and Money, but those two plus Floyd, Sr. are a story in themselves.

Now we have Khan’s and Ortiz’ rumored breakups with Roach and Garcia, respectively. Do those splits bring an ill wind for the fighters, or will they move on to bigger and better things? Khan’s relationship with Freddie might be a type of family relationship, but Manny is certainly is the favorite son. Some fighters who play second fiddle can’t accept itl. In Khan’s case, he’s might be entitled to feel he deserves more attention; however, he could be simply the potential spoiled child. His relationship with Freddie shouldn’t come as any surprise. He obviously knew the situation when he signed on.

Let’s get back to the original question. Will it hurt him or help him to go his own way? As many point out, he already has plenty of amateur and professional experience. Like Sugar Ray Leonard, there probably aren’t too many trainers out there that can teach him much about boxing. Maybe they can remind him of a few things, but that’s often the case. He, as well as anyone, knows what mistake(s) were made in the Garcia fight. Does he need Freddie around to get them corrected? The answer is probably not. Maybe he should visit with Carl Froch for a little while, as Carl seems to have a pretty good handle on what Khan should be doing with his skill set in future fights.

Ortiz is a different story. He already had a difficult breakup when he left the tutelage of Robert Garcia for the guidance of Robert’s brother Danny. It caused a serious sibling rift in the Garcia family. For Vicious Victor, maybe his greatest need is stability. On and off, he has been under attack for his actions in the ring and sometimes poor choice of words. Who can forget HBO announcer Max Kellerman jumping all over Ortiz’s comments made after the Marcos Maidana loss? It was a tough situation for Victor to overcome.

Danny stuck by him and continued believing in him, giving him strength and a good self-image. Victor turned that belief into a great performance in his victory over Andre Berto. . Now, it sounds as if his upset loss at the hands of Josesito Lopez may have churned up everything all over again. Despite the fact that he sustained a badly broken jaw, and life threatening severed blood vessel, his courage and heart are once again being questioned. Will Victor be okay and come back strong without Danny Garcia in his corner? Chances aren’t as good with Victor as they are with Amir.

Another situation where the jury is still out is Kelly Pavlik and Robert Garcia. Until recently, Kelly’s long-time trainer and hometown friend is Jack Loew. Their relationship sprouted out of the “Rust Belt” and Youngstown, Ohio. They epitomized the idea that tough times and circumstances can forge some pretty incredible results, examples being: Harry Arroyo, Tony Janiro, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and most recently Kelly Pavlik.

Kelly reached the pinnacle when he captured the world middleweight championship. An unexpected loss to the old master Bernard Hopkins, and then to stylist Sergio Martinez did seemingly irreparable damage to his psyche. None of us know what was going on inside his head after those defeats, but it’s a safe bet it wasn’t good. He turned to alcohol for solace, and it got the better of him. With some good advice, he recognized the problem and sought help. As part of the healing process, he felt he needed to change his surroundings and environment, so at the urging of promoter Bob Arum, he pulled up stakes and moved to Oxnard, CA and the boxing academy of Robert Garcia.

Since his loss to Martinez, he has chalked up four wins, two of which were TKO’s. He feels that he is close to being one-hundred percent again, and wants to be matched with one of the big names soon! He may get his wish, as Carl Froch claims he wants to shut Kelly up by fighting him in Nottingham, England. If the two sign, will Kelly perform better under the guidance of Robert Garcia, or is he going to miss the more harsh style and encouragement bounced off him in the corner by the black topper/trainer Jack Loew?

Some will be quick to say it doesn’t matter, because Kelly is done and he has no one to blame but himself. After all, he has only suffered two defeats, and those were against two of the best pound for pound guys in the business. Except for the cuts suffered in the Martinez fight, he presented himself pretty dam well. Sergio certainly didn’t have a cake walk. It’s also true that Hopkins, although he might have “schooled” Kelly, didn’t give him a terrible beating by any means. It was more of an embarrassment than anything. Unfortunately those can be the toughest to overcome. So Kelly’s biggest problem seems to be Kelly. Can Robert help him with that?

The truth is many corner men say the right thing, but not at the right time or in the right manner. As a result, they don’t get the right results. It’s that intangible thing, an intuition. In addition, they all care about their fighters. It’s not something that necessarily is said. Rather, it is felt. All the great ones seem to have it, the ones previously mentioned do, plus men like Eddie Futch and Ray Arcel.

The answer then to the original question is yes. The right guy in the corner can make the difference between a fighter being good or great. Sometimes, fighters don’t realize it and mistakenly think it’s all them.

How will you bet if there are rematches between Amir Khan and Danny Garcia or Lamont Peterson? Can Victor Ortiz perform like the favorite he was in his first fight with Lopez and beat him? Chances are it will depend greatly on who is in their corner!

If Kelly and Carl sign to meet in merry old England, will Kelly once again believe in Kelly, and can he win as an underdog? Will having Robert Garcia in his corner make a positive difference?

Will that special relationship exist in the corner for any of these three fighters and will it result in victory for one or more of them?

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