Can a Quality Trainer Turn a Good Fighter into a Great Fighter?
By Stephen Jones (January 3, 2005) 
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I used to spend my time studying the way trainers behaved in a busy gymnasium, some would just love to teach, and not just to his or her own charge... I mean they would allow anyone within earshot to soak up the years of corporal education they had to offer, like a preacher spreading words from the good book. Others would work at close proximity with their own exclusive clique of boxers and apprentices, carefully selecting who was worthy of the priceless years of schooling that was to be had, often cutting into heavy sparring sessions to beckon a participating fighter into almost an intimate huddle to pass on advise without those nearby obtaining access to any careless whispers.

Occasionally you would find a trainer that would consider himself larger than the gym itself, “It's my way or the highway” attitude. Guys like that always seemed to be the ones with no students to teach, barking criticisms to every other fighter in the house, cussing negatives to fellow seconds and not actually offering any decent constructive advice to anyone, just hollering mayhem and confusion into an already crowded environment.

There is no right or wrong way to train a prize fighter, no two fighters are the same, you just have to be able to push correct buttons at well timed opportunities to allow the willing fighter to develop, and absorb the brand of knowledge that you have to offer. Unfortunately many great trainers cannot communicate particularly well, in which case they use a close friend or relative of the boxer as a medium to instruct , relaying messages courier fashion to and fro like an interpreter would direct a foreigner to a place he has never encountered before.

Too often on the large stage we see highly rated trainers during the most stressful periods of a prize fight seize the moment to audition for an Oscar at the expense of their student's dignity and or well being. A great example of this is Teddy Atlas and his bizarre attempts to motivate Michael Moorer at the most inappropriate opportunity , during a fight that was actually well under control. The choice of weapon Mister Atlas often opted for was his cellular phone, to Teddy, this prop was priceless.

Moorer had just returned to his corner following yet another taxing championship round. What does he really need?? Words of wisdom? Calm constructive advice?

Compassionate reassurance that everything is going to be all right? Or your trusty trainer sat on your stool holding a cellular phone, telling you that your baby son is on the other end asking why his daddy doesn’t want to be champion anymore? Then continuing to explain that you may have to break the news in years to come that you lost your world championship to an average fighter named Vaughn Bean.

The decision to motivate may have been a good call, but the delivery and amateur dramatics that were employed were just a little tasteless for my palette. One fight later Moorer would lose his unbeaten record, his precious title and his dignity in one of the largest grossing heavyweight championship fights in history to a granddaddy named George Foreman; whilst healthily leading the fight on points he would sleepwalk late in the bout onto a right hand delivered straight from reverend Foreman's biblical proportions.

Teddy Atlas out, Freddie Roach in, or should I say, “Confusion out , solution in.” One year on and Michael Moorer would be IBF Champion once again.

Lennox Lewis suffered a similar fate in 1994 , whilst trainer Pepe Correa was barking “He is British and he’s bad!!" Lennox’s head was getting bigger, his knowledge was becoming more limited and the source of his wisdom was less willing to comply to his charge's precious needs. Correa had the best Heavyweight in the world under his tutelage but was naïve enough to think his fighter didn’t need any more cultivating to grow , develop and dominate.

Correa in my opinion thought , fighter Lennox Lewis, best heavyweight on the planet.. Trainer Pepe Correa, best trainer on the planet..

But it just doesn’t work that way, and the vastly experienced Emmanuel Steward observed this transition from afar and embarked on a well timed mission to expose both fighter and trainer alike in one foul swoop. Emmanuel’s weapon of choice was loose cannon, maverick heavyweight opportunist Oliver McCall who at the time just happened to be penciled in as #1 challenger to Lennox Lewis’ hierarchy. Manny smoothed together a tight team for the job, the friendly face in camp for Oliver to familiarize with was Greg Page, who would act as motivator while Steward himself would be chief instigator.

Like a tag team they whipped Oliver into a frenzy, fuelled and molded with enough ammunition to pull of such an astonishing stunt. To be truthful they were all part of a bigger plan that Emmanuel had schemed for his own damn self. As planned, Oliver executed the job beautifully and Lennox , Pepe and all concerned were all removed from within the fragile bubble that surrounded their little imaginary safety zone. But the plan wouldn’t end there. Emmanuel's bigger picture was to blow the house down, then move in on the remaining rubble and rebuild it bigger and stronger than before; in fact it would turn out the finest example of renovation that I have ever seen in boxing.

Correa was blown out of camp as soon as Manny had triggered the detonator to McCall’s right cross. In reality I would be nearer the mark if I were to say Emmanuel demolished a luxury house, and embarked on plans to rebuild a fortress. By the time Lewis faced Oliver McCall in a rematch, Manny would not only be in the reverse corner, but he would unveil a 20 lbs. heavier, multi faceted monster that not only regained the title but reduced and confused his former conqueror to a self destructing flood of tears. McCall actually refused to participate after a handful of rounds and was removed from combat for his own safety.

Changing to a sound trainer can prove a catalyst to great achievements, but it does need several ingredients, great communication, rapport and a two way understanding of who really is the boss.

Lou Duva once said of his relationship with Evander Holyfield... "We took a 22 year old Junior heavyweight and with a little care and molding we now have a 29 year old former Undisputed Cruiserweight and current Heavyweight world champion.” If Evander looks flat in the gym we (George Benton and I) would allow him the day off. If Evander on any particular day appeared bored we would move him onto doing something he particularly likes (weights or pads.) There is no monotony or stagnation, balance is the key.

So when I am asked how important a good trainer is , I say, “If the trainer brings out the best in his fighter he is priceless, but if the greatest trainer in the world cannot make the fighter respond , he may as well have his mother in the corner, at least she would have his best interests at heart , and knows what makes her son tick.
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