Virgil Hunter on Ward, Dawson, Pacquiao, Ariza, Chavez Jr, De La Hoya, Jones Jr, Cotto, Khan, Importance of strength trainers & more...
By John J. Raspanti, Doghouse Boxing (Sept 3, 2012) Doghouse Boxing
Virgil Hunter
By John J. Raspanti,

"I’m not here to bash them, I’m here to question their effectiveness." Virgil Hunter    
Virgil Hunter cares about fighters.
He cares about how they train and what they put in their bodies.
He cares about their health and well-being. To Hunter, the influence of strength trainers in today's boxing world is a revelation.
“In some ways they can help fighters, and in other ways they don’t.” Hunter told this writer. “They can be more concerned about  how their fighter is going to look externally as opposed to how he’s going to feel internally.
“Strength trainers can be very detrimental to fighters depending on what direction the fighter is going,” Hunter said. “I remember Roy Jones telling me about Mackie Shilstone. He could put weight on a fighter, but couldn’t take it off. I’ve yet to see a fighter with a strength trainer take weight off correctly. Think about it, Pacquiao and his leg cramps, Bradley twisting his ankles, Jones fighting depleted, it goes on and on."
Hunter’s fighter, Andre Ward, faces light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson on September 8 in Oakland, Ca. Dawson will be dropping seven pounds to face Ward, who weighs 168 pounds.
“Let’s talk about Chad Dawson’s strength coach,” Hunter said. “He’s a disciple of Mackie Shilstone. He’s a guy that’s been with Chad, but has never reduced weight off the finished product. This tells you a few things. He’s going to be very rigid in his operations.
“Six percent body fat is what he said at the press conference (in Oakland last month announcing the fight). He’s thinking a bodybuilder not along the lines of what a fighter really needs. The chemistry of a fighter is made of fine little lines." 
Hunter believes that  in some cases, vanity drives a strength trainer's ambitions.
“I think they have big egos,” he said. “Scully (John Scully, Dawson’s trainer) is leery of this guy tweaking his fighter. He’s commented several times that he, ‘assures me,’ which means that he has questions.”
How much was Oscar De La Hoya effected by his weight when he fought Manny Pacquiao five years ago?
“Let's look at De La Hoya’s strength guy when he fought Pacquiao,” said Hunter. “He took the weight off him, but made him weak. He gave him this Hollywood diet. He had no idea what a fighter needs in a weight reduction.
“Now the forte' of a strength coach, when you think about it, is to add weigh to an athlete, not reduce. Look at Miguel Cotto, when he had to come down in weight to fight Pacquiao. His strength coach was of no benefit at all. It’s been proven they can add, see Michael Spinks, but they have a poor track record in taking it off.”
Hunter has heard of some strength trainers who morphed into a variation of Dr. Frankenstein.
“They can tinker with a fighter so bad that he’ll get weak and lose motivation,” Hunter said. “The fighter can even get slightly disorientated where you think they’re being rebellious.  
“The worse scenario is that they can get your body in such a weakened state that the fighter will get hurt or knocked out. If a fighter is knocked out, it will take him weeks to get him back to where he was. That’s my theory.”
Manny Pacquiao’s strength coach, Alex Ariza, has been a lightening rod of controversy for years now. Whether he’s leaving training camp unexpectedly, or accusing promoter Bob Arum of numerous shenanigans, Ariza fits the mold of the strength trainer gone wild.  
“I know (Ariza) works with Khan,” said Hunter. “I know he has worked with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. His (Chavez Jr.) weight was not a national printed issue until he started training at the Wild Card (Gym) under Ariza. Think about it. He’s had to go through all these changes to take the weight off. So if you’re an expert on this (weight) what’s the point?”
So, are strength trainers really needed?


“Well, there have been fighters in modern history who never adhered to it, whether in victories or knockouts,” Hunter said. “They never had a strength coach. When you think about the strongest fighters in the history of boxing, you have to go way back.
“What heavyweight was stronger than George Foreman? What lightweight was stronger than Roberto Duran? I know Henry Armstrong didn’t have a strength coach, or Joe Louis, and Sugar Ray Robinson.”
Hunter feels that Amir Khan’s recent loss is tied to a number of factors.
“Outsiders don’t see the damage that happens in the gym while a strength trainer is tinkering with a fighter, said Hunter. “Long before Khan was hit with that shot, something was going on in that gym.
“I looked at Amir after his unfortunate incident. I made it a point to look at his physique. He looked great – in his back and his abs. But, when I looked in the crucial areas that needed to be built up, like his trapeze and back muscles, they were almost non-existent. His neck muscles didn’t look right. There should have been more development there," he said.
“That punch that knocked him out moved his entire neck and head. There were no shock absorbers. However, he looked good. They always look good. Again, you’re dealing with a guy who specializes in cosmetics. But, is he an expert in sports performance? Boxing is different than all other sports.”
Can a trainer get caught up in the look of his fighter?
“Yes, I believe he can,” said Hunter. “You’ll hear, ‘He's going to the bigger guy on fight night.’ But, sometimes the body doesn’t want to rehydrate (see De La Hoya again) especially if you haven’t lost a lot of weight in a long time.
"The trainer has to notice any difference in his fighter,” Hunter said. "It’s like you’re bringing in an orca whale trainer to train your dog. All the theories you have aren’t going to tie-in like they do with a dog. You really need to go to the books and learn about dogs before you start tinkering with them. Somebody has to know who you are.”

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