The Blame Game: Trainer’s Edition

    Does Freddie deserve all the blame?

    In sports, it’s usually the athlete that gets the glory when winning, and the coach that gets shame when losing. Boxing is no different. When you’re on top, a fighter is praised as one of the best in the sport and enters the realm of the mythical pound for pound list. For a trainer riding with that fighter, perhaps an award of trainer of the year is on course but as soon as it goes south, so does the trainer.

    In team sports you have a rough year, the coach is usually the first to go. In boxing, where there are two men in the ring looking to tear each other’s heads off, the trainer can establish the game plan but can only do so much outside the ring. However, should the plan not workout, adjustments not get made, or the star fighter flat out has a bad night, questions arise and fingers get pointed. Usually they all get directed to the trainer.

    The past two months, two high profile boxers have either decided to fire a trainer in the case of Victor Ortiz, or have heavy doubts in their trainer in the case of Amir Khan. Both fighters have gone this route because of their recent performances where each fighter has taken bad losses. In the case of Victor Ortiz, he quit on his stool and felt his trainer Danny Garcia did not have his best interests in that bout or should have thrown in the towel sooner. In the case of Amir Khan, he feels that training in the busy Freddie Roach stable may not be the best for him, whereas he might need more attention from his head trainer. Khan also claimed jet lag was an issue traveling from England to the Philippines to Los Angeles to Las Vegas in his knockout loss to Danny Garcia. Did anyone stop to think that maybe they both just had an off night and/ or got beat by the better fighter? reached out to a few prominent trainers to weigh in on both situations.Henry Ramirez who trains Josesito Lopez was on the opposite side of the ring when Ortiz tapped out and did not want to continue. He stated, “Only Victor knows what type of pain he was in and what his pain threshold was.  To be honest, to me what he said in the after math, that the knockout was coming and that he was chewing Jose out, well the motherf*cker is delusional is what he is. I have no respect for Victor Ortiz, f*ck Victor Ortiz, we don’t have to give him a rematch. If we do we do, if we don’t we don’t. Fuck His rematch clause. I have no respect for the man that won’t give Josesito credit after the fight.

    What Ramirez does know and wanted to exploit was the mind state. That, he says no trainer can prepare you for. “Maybe there was a letdown on Ortiz side, mentally there was a letdown. I don’t think Ortiz expected the war and firefight he was in. Part of our plan was to create doubt in Victor’s head and I don’t think Danny (Garcia) or anyone else could have changed that.”

    Robert Garcia has a star filled stable and his past relationship with Victor Ortiz has been highly publicized on the HBO 24/7’s, along with his fall out with his brother Danny Garcia, Ortiz’ ex trainer. On the topic Garcia stated, “I don’t know the game plan those guys had, but it looked like Victor was the one getting the refs attention to stop the fight. First thing guys want to do is blame the trainer; whether it’s Ortiz blaming Danny, or Amir Khan and Jorge Linares blaming Freddie Roach.”

    Garcia acknowledges that one day he might be in the same position but agrees to the sentiment that on a certain day, someone else’s fighter might be better than your fighter. “Roach has done a great job with all his fighters. There comes a day when someone’s better than you, doesn’t mean the trainer’s doing a bad job, so sometimes you need change,” stated Garcia.

    According to Garcia, fighters get so comfortable with the trainer, they start calling the shots. Freddie Roach attested to the same thing when Manny Pacquiao took on Miguel Cotto. According to Roach, Miguel was the boss in his camp, calling the shots, and was most likely not listening to criticism from his coach on the mistakes. Garcia agrees, and that becomes the start of the downfall and the end to a relationship. “It’s bad. When a fighter dictates how much they’re going to run in the morning, who they spar and how many rounds they go, that’s when the trainer loses control. In my case, my fighters are happy and listen to my instructions from Donaire to Rios. If anybody wants to get involved and disagree with me, Rios says whatever Robert says, it’s what goes. Maybe 3 years from now, I’ll start seeing what other coaches see, but right now I still haven’t seen it.”

    Victor Ortiz - Victor Ortiz v Josesito Lopez
    Ortiz fired Garcia after his loss to Josesito Lopez

    Garcia feels that its important as a trainer, that having more than one high profile boxer in your camp is essential to not losing control of a fighter.  “Victor Ortiz, who else is in that gym that Victor could feel pressure or feel someone be better than him, nobody. When you have that in one gym and he’s the star and everyone is basically kissing his ass. Whatever he does is funny and whatever he does is the right thing, even when you know it’s not the right thing. When you have 30 kids trying to be better than you, you push yourself extra not to let that happen.”

    Maybe the size of the stable for a trainer might workout great for one and not another. 2011 Trainer of the year, Virgil Hunter, head trainer of Andre Ward has a quality stable headed by Ward, along with fighters like Brandon Gonzalez, Karim Mayfield, and Mike Dallas, Jr. In asking Hunter, if he would want his stable to grow, he stated, “I’m content with working with the guys that I have, I’m retired now so it’s not difficult giving them all the individual attention. The easy thing about it is that they are all in the same weight class. I got middleweights and Jr. Welterweights; I got 3 or 4 guys in the same or around weight class. It gives us all great in house sparring, and they’re all great amatuers, so it’s a matter of tweaking them. I don’t think I have put myself in a situation where I can’t manage or leave somebody out that’s with me.”

    While Hunter believes in having a stable and controlled gym, he doesn’t necessarily think being the boss of the fighter or the gym is the right way to go about it. “The fighter is the boss. I don’t think the trainer should be boss on the level of recognition or success. I don’t need to be the fighter’s boss. I need the fighter to respect me and everything will fall into place. As long he believes in me and adheres to the visions we agree to, we can bond and get to that vision. There’s always going to be a fighter better than you at some point in your career but as long as they have the desire and the drive, I don’t need to be the boss. I don’t want to tell you what to do; I rather tell you that’s enough. If you’re not motivated, it’s not going to work, because we’re not going anywhere,” explained Hunter.

    In the economics of boxing, a trainer that wants to be successful financially has to have more than one guy to train or even one star. Amir Khan has stated that he needs more time with Roach and maybe needs a trainer more dedicated to him. But from a trainer’s perspective, he also has to think financially and it would be foolish to some to just train one fighter, and even more foolish to think at this point to think Roach is going to push Manny Pacquiao to the side to give Amir Khan more work . When economically, Roach’s golden goose has been Pacquiao and will continue to be, until Pacquiao retires.

    The fact of the matter is trainers, even well respected great trainers need more than one, two, three, or even four decent wage earning fighters to be successful. Respected trainer Ronnie Shields was a guest of’s radio show and weighed in on the Khan-Roach situation. “Khan says he wants quality time and wants to be the number one fighter. Every fighter wants to be the number one fighter but we make our money training more than one guy. If I was to train Amir Khan, I’d be in the same situation, unless he wants to pay me a couple of million dollars. I’m sure Khan has got his own training time, I’m sure they (Pacquiao and Khan) don’t always train at the same time or together. But it’s hard for a trainer to drop everything for one guy. Unless Khan is going pay me 3 or 4 million dollars a year, then yes to be honest, I’ll drop everything and train that one guy because this guy is going to pay me 3 or 4 million dollars a year. But it’s unrealistic,” explained Shields

    Shields was also an observer of the Khan-Garcia fight and feels that Roach didn’t deserve the finger to be pointed at him. Shields stated, “In the first two rounds, he was boxing on the outside using his speed and jab, and that’s the way I would have told Amir to fight Garcia and that was probably the game plan. Then after, it seemed like Khan wanted to fight on the inside instead of using his speed and his jab. I don’t think you can fault Freddie Roach for that. I don’t believe it was Freddie’s fault. I think Amir wanted to go for the knockout and got too close and got caught. But the wrong thing is for people to start pointing the fingers and blaming Roach for that and see if Amir followed the game plan.”

    Chad Dawson - Bernard Hopkins v Chad Dawson
    It all comes down to your relationship with your fighter

    When following a game plan, it seems like a fighter and a trainer need to have a special bond to execute the plan in high level fights. Jon Scully, trainer of Chad Dawson can attest to that. “I have a connection with Chad and I can get him to be in that beast mode anytime I want. I just have that relationship; I know which buttons to press. I’ve known him since he was 11 years old and I’ve traveled around with him since he was an amateur, so we know each other well. It doesn’t necessarily take the best trainer to get that out of him. I know fighters that when you say something like that other fighter is trying to take food off your family’s plate, they change. While that may not be true, that clicks with some and it doesn’t click with others. Every fighter is different, every mental makeup is different, and you just have to know how to reach it. I know how to reach Chad,” explained Scully

    Scully should know that because Dawson and Scully parted ways before but it wasn’t due to boxing reasons, more of logistics and problems with Chad’s management. But after the Jean Pascal loss and his performance against Adrien Diaconu, Chad reached to Scully simply because, “He told me I want to get back to the way I used to box, when I was with you,” Scully said. It has paid off with one victory over legendary   Bernard Hopkins and with another big fight on the horizon against Andre Ward, Dawson and Scully might have that chemistry to win fighter of the year.

    The moral of the story is that boxing, like any other sport, will have its drama when something goes wrong. But as fans and media alike, there are factors that go into any situation, and before we all point fingers and blame someone, those factors should be considered.