Gordon Marino steps into the Doghouse - On Mayweather, Cotto, Pacquiao, Bradley, Floyd Patterson, Angelo Dundee and much more
By David Tyler, Doghouse Boxing (April 13, 2012) Doghouse Boxing
Gordon Marino
He is the boxing writer for the Wall Street Journal. A trainer of both amateur and professional fighters. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He is a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College. He is the author of several books and countless articles for periodicals (boxing and philosophy.) If I had a son interested in boxing, he is the trainer that would teach him the skills of the 'Sweet Science.' Please welcome Gordon Marino into the doghouse......

David Tyler: Gordon, please tell our readers when and how you become interested in boxing?

Gordon Marino: I became interested in boxing because we had Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays nights fights in my house. There was a good deal of violence – attendant anger and fear—and there are few better workshops for dealing with the bears of those emotions than the sweet science.  Floyd Patterson was my role model—a sensitive, hard guy—a man who was both powerful and kind.  I think a lot of boys long to have someone like that around them. As a kid I wrote to Floyd a few times a week- and now and again the champ would reply.

DT: Were you interested in other sports?

GM: Yes, as a teenager, I went back and forth between amateur boxing and football. I played division I football at Bowling Green State University but got hurt and transferred to Columbia. In New York,  I went to the Gramercy Park Gym which was then run by Al Gavin and Bob Sullivan – two of the greatest mentors in the world. But I managed to get in a good deal of trouble as a kid in New York – stopped and started boxing again –signed a pro-contract with a manager in another gym who was getting me killed sparring and wasn’t teaching me anything. I couldn’t break the contract and my career was counted out. Not that I could have been a contender, but that experience still pains me today and stands as a negative object lesson for me in how not to train boxers.

DT : In our earlier discussions you were telling me about your unique relationship with Angelo Dundee. How did you meet Angelo and what did he teach you?

GM: David, I met Angelo about a decade ago when I was working on a piece about boxing tips for the MENS FITNESS website. Ang was still in South Florida at the time – working out of the South Florida Boxing Gym. Some – many celebrities are so narcissistic that they can’t get outside themselves enough to think about anyone else – especially reporters! But Ang was so different.  He was a champion at developing relationships – checking in – keeping in touch. Of course, he used to do a lot of that for practical reasons, to keep his fighters in the eye of the public. But it went way beyond that for him – he knew how important friendship was in life and how to cultivate it. I talked to him almost every day for years. In the process, he taught me most of what I know about training boxers, keep your knees bent, slide don’t step, etc. But more than anything I hope that I have learned something from my mentor about how to treat other people.  David I should also mention that he was one guy who knew how to take his boxers individually- whether it be Carmen Basilio, Muhammad Ali, or Sugar Ray Leonard. He was the same with people – he didn’t put them in boxes.  Sorry to carry on, but the man was living proof that love does not decrease as it is spread around. I was just one of many people whom Angelo took a special interest in.

DT: Some kind and strong words about a very unique man.....thank you. Gordon, how did you become a boxing trainer?

GM: As I mentioned, I had some very bad experience with my boxing trainers – as a kid I was thrown in way over my head – and by people who just didn’t know how to communicate or teach. Back in the early 90’s, in my early 40’s I took a position as a philosophy professor and coach of boxing at Virginia Military Institute – an amazing institution. There I had a sage of a coach who helped me get started, Colonel Gordon Calkins.  One incredibly valuable thing he taught me was to be honest enough with yourself  to know when your ego is getting in the way . As he instructed, you can’t get into this business without an ego – but you have to keep an eye on it. And that held for many other aspects of life. I also coached football at Yale and St. Olaf but there is a closeness that I found, an impact that you can have on a person's life in boxing that is something very special.

DT: Where are you presently training boxers?

GM: I train a lot of kids in this small town of Northfield, MN. I have taken some of them up to this fantastic gym/ youth center, The Circle of Discipline, in Minneapolis. It is just an amazing place founded by Sankara Frazier. He and his son along with a host of other coaches, have cultivated an atmosphere of warmth and respect between all members that is really a wonder– and I’m sure this is carried beyond the doors of the gym. I’m honored to be on the board of The Circle of Discipline and by using boxing as our classroom, we work hard at teaching young people how to become aware of and control their emotions. And make no mistake about it, many of our kids find an isle of peace in this boxing gym, many come from very challenging environments – where there is little positive going on – and the Circle provides a circle of affirmation and trust that is very special. At the same time, we have nationally ranked amateurs, and three very promising pros, Jamal James, Jon Perez, and the fellow I train, Vincente Alfaro.

DT: Gordon, what motivates you to keep training youngsters in this sport?

GM: So many ways to answer that question. I can tell you one thing that has changed for me over the years. For decades I enjoyed working  with kids and having an impact --- but there was always a little part of me that felt like – well, I was working donating my time. But last year the truth nailed me on the chin, hit me with how privileged and enriched I was for the fact that these fighters were opening the door to me, trusting me enough to let me into their lives. That was an epiphany for me.

DT: Has your job as a philosophy teacher helped you with training boxers?

GM: I think coaching boxing has made me a better teacher of philosophy and teaching philosophy has made me a better boxing trainer.  Being in front of the classroom has helped me come to understand how to break things down and into manageable bits of information. First we learn the jab, then defense against the jab, then counters. Sequences like that....boxing has also improved my ability to read my students, to know when to push them hard – when to back off—to try and get a sense of them as individuals and how best to motivate them.  Also, teaching at a college has given me an appreciation of the fact that learning how to learn takes some practice. Some kids who have had a bad time with school have a harder time focusing and following instructions. You go to show them a move and they are looking around the room.  And not everyone has the idea that if you practice something every day you will get better and will probably be successful. It is hard to get that sense in your life when you come from a world in which everything is pretty much chaos.

DT: Gordon, in our earlier conservations you mentioned a current medical study of active boxers which will hopefully produce data that can be used to help boxers prevent long term brain damage...can you provide more information about this program?

GM: David, the Ruvo Center for Brain Health in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinc, is undertaken the “Professional Fighters Brain Health Study”. This research, directed by Dr. Charles Bernick, will be the most extensive study so far of the effects of taking blows on the brain. Right now there are 144 boxers signed up – and some will be extensively tested after every bout – trying to ascertain if there are any neurological and cognitive markers to indicate when grey matter matters are getting dangerous. My wife Susan is a neuroscientist and she is involved in mining the data from this study. But we need more research like this and for all of us involved in boxing to take a careful and honest look at the findings. Yes, there are other risky sports but sometimes in our defensiveness about the sweet science, we act as though trading blows were no less dangerous than trading shots in volleyball.

DT: Who are some of your favorite active fighters?

GM: I’m a big fan of the Klitschko brothers. They have barely lost a round in five years and are such well rounded individuals.  Though I’m tired of Pacquiao and Mayweather sucking all of the air out of the room, I have the utmost respect to the way in which they approach their art. I love the way Sergio Martinez plies his craft - fast, unpredictable, and those amazing short power shots.  I enjoy watching Cotto- a consummate professional but my favorites of all time were Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier, and Mike Tyson.

DT: Thank God for HBO and their PPV program....boxing comes alive during these events.  Let's discuss the May 5th fight on HBO PPV.  Prior to the main event, Canelo Alvarez takes on Shane Mosley.  How do you see that fight?

GM: I’m really intrigued by the Alvarez / Mosley matchup.  Alvarez has those heavy hands and can fire beautiful short combinations but I don’t think he handles lateral movement that well. He has no head movement and is easy to hit. I would also like to see how he fares in the later rounds with a tough opponent in front of him. I sensed him getting a little over-heated with Citron. I  know the powers-that-be are figuring that Mosley is shot – but if he is not,  Alvarez will be in trouble.  It is a real test for the 21 year old kid.

DT: And the main event...Mayweather vs. Cotto. How do you see the fight and what advice would you give Miguel Cotto if you were his trainer?

GM: If I were Cotto’s trainer I would step aside and tell him to put Emanuel Steward back in his corner. Emanuel did and amazing job turning Cotto’s style around against Yuri Foreman. He got his weight off of the front foot and had Cotto using that jab. He needs to keep using that jab because Mayweather can be hit with it. Look back to the De La Hoya fight—de La Hoya was popping Floyd with it—and then in round 9 he stopped using it- later said that his shoulder locked up. But Floyd takes the jab away by making his foes pay for it with his incredible counter right hand—so you have to jab but move your head. You can’t rush in like a crazy man (Hatton) because Floyd will nail you then – but you have to put the pressure on – go to the body as Zab Judah did in the beginning. I will have to go with Mayweather by a decision or maybe late stoppage because I think Cotto is too easy to hit and busts up – but I give Cotto a very good shot. I love the fight.

DT: Moving to June 9th...HBO Boxing will have Manny Pacquiao vs. Tim Bradley on their PPV program.  How do you see that fight?

GM: I like the Pacquiao / Bradley fight a lot. I was ringside at the Bradley /Casamayor fight and thought Casamayor seemed like he really didn't want to be in there , Bradley looked outstanding. He stayed in closed without smothering his shots and was ripping combinations. He is quick and cagey but he also tends to stand in front of his opponents and that could be his undoing with Pacquiao. On the other hand, Pacquiao still comes flying in with his chin exposed and that could be trouble with a fighter as fast as Bradley - especially if Pacquiao has had the problems with his legs that he has had in the last two bouts. But if forced to choose, I would still give the Pacman the edge.

DT: last question...what are your thoughts about this sports current condition and the future of this sport?

GM: Boxing always has its ups and downs but it is taking it on the chin these days. There are not a lot of local gyms – in the inner city – a lot of them have been taken over by white collar boxing. Local boxing cards are few and far between these days. Between the sanctioning fees, paying the physicians, etc. it takes a lot of money to put on a show. And because everyone is terrified of a loss – instead of being terrified of not learning the art— the conclusions of about 90 % of the bouts are highly predictable. I could go on – on this topic – but one thing that has really struck me working as a trainer is the nasty feelings that people in the business have for one another. Angelo Dundee would blow his top now and then but never bad mouthed anyone- but that is all we do in boxing sometime. We need to work together – at the pro level you can’t have the Golden Boy League and the Top Rank League. And we need to get the sport back on network television – but the bell just rang so I’ll stop and take some deep breaths – but not without noting that great sites like Dog House Boxing are a big part of what is keeping the sport alive – knowledgeable and passionate commentary—and I’m honored to have had the chance to talk with you about the sport that we both cherish. Thanks.

DT: Gordon, thank you for those kind words. Very rarely have I had the pleasure of interviewing someone with such a positive take on learning and enjoying the sweet science. Best of luck in all of your future endeavors in and out of the square circle!

***David Tyler replies to all his e-mails and loves to hear from the readers. Comments, Questions, Suggestions, E-mail David now at: dtyler53@cox.net

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