The Importance of Trainers
“…[N]obody is as important to a fighter as his trainer. It is the trainer who is with you on some lonely road in the middle of nowhere before the sun has peeked over the mountains, running with you or driving besides you, pushing you beyond exhaustion to exhilaration. It is the trainer who analyzes your opponent and designs your strategy. It the trainer who runs your sparring sessions, determining the number of rounds, the weapons in your arsenal to be tested, and the sparring partners best suited to administer that test.”
A fighter's trainer and that trainer's ability to develop a proper strategy and fight plan is essential to a fighter's success. In some of the most closely contested battles in boxing history, it was the trainer who made the difference between victory and defeat. The most famous and basic example of this was between rounds 14 and 15 of The Thrilla in Manila. Sitting in the corner, Ali was utterly exhausted and in extreme pain from all the body punches he was absorbing from Frazier. Legend has it that he even said to head trainer Angelo Dundee, “This must be what dying feels like.” In that moment of doubt, Dundee summoned up Ali’s will and convinced him to go out for the last round. Inadvertently, Dundee ended up being the small deciding factor that had Ali win what is probably the most famous boxing trilogy in history (Just seconds later, Frazier’s corner stopped the bout with the result being that Ali won the rubber match in addition to the rematch.) This example only shows a trainer’s importance when it comes to motivating a fighter. The more important factors at play with great trainers are their abilities to strategize so that their fighter can overcome opponents who would otherwise defeat them as well as help their fighter achieve their overall potential.
The best example of how a trainer can mold a fighter to reach his potential is Freddie Roach's incredible work with Manny Pacquiao. If you saw Pacquiao against his first fight with Eric Morales, you saw an extremely flawed fighter that got by on pure power and speed. Several years later you see Pacquiao obliterating guys like Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto with speed combined with boxing skill. The improvements in his game from working with Roach are nothing short of phenomenal. At this point, many people ask, How can a trainer who never had their own great ring-accomplishments be able to teach their wards to be great? Specifically, you may ask, Freddie Roach was never considered a great professional fighter, so how is it that he can be such a great trainer?
The best response to this was made by peak performance coach Anthony Robbins in his best-seller Awaken the Giant Within:
Coaches have knowledge and experience because they’ve been there before. They aren’t any better than the people they are coaching… In fact, the people they coach may have natural abilities superior to their own. But because coaches have concentrated their power in a particular area for years, they can teach you one or two distinctions that can immediately transform your performance in a matter of moments. 2
You see, the trainer himself need not have been a famous athlete. Many times, these great trainers knew all the right moves to make and all the strategies to beat the great fighters, but they were not born with the athletic ability to execute. And so, their contribution to the sport is teaching others with those athletic gifts to execute. What is interesting to point out is that sometimes, a really athletically gifted fighter isn’t very skillful because throughout that fighter’s career, he never needed advanced skills or strategies to prevail. His athletic gifts up to that point were enough to carry him through to victory.
Most casual boxing fans already know that a trainer has tremendous influence over the style of boxing this his fighter embodies. For instance, it is evident that the Mayweather brothers (Floyd Sr., Roger, and Jeff) are all very defensively minded individuals. The mitt work that they perform with their fighters is unlike that of most boxing trainers. It is focused on building reactions to different movements from your opponent. This mentality is reflected not only in how the Mayweathers themselves fight, but also in the boxers under their tutelage. For example, if you catch a professional fight of Floyd Sr., Roger, or Jeff Mayweather you will see that they all tend to fight out of the "Philly Shell" and seek punch evasion over offense. They are “safety-first” fighters. They have also imparted this mentality to their fighters. For obvious examples, look at Floyd Jr. or Stevie Forbes. What do you see? A tendency to fight from a Philly Shell and shoulder roll just like their trainers once did. Ask them about their fighting philosophies and you’ll hear them echo the same principles of “defense-first” that their trainers espoused during their careers.