HBO Boxing Insiders Year End Picks: Trainer of the Year

Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, it's as good a time as any to take a look back at a stacked year of fights on HBO. HBO Boxing Insiders made their selections for the top everything from this year's HBO fights. Next up, HBO Trainer of the Year.

Previously: Fighter of the Year, Breakthrough HBO Fighter, Best Blow, Best HBO Boxing Moments

Kieran Mulvaney: Javan "Sugar" Hill

Abel Sanchez has overseen the emerging superstardom of Gennady Golovkin, but as effective as he has been in molding his charge into the fan-friendly fighter we see today, the raw material with which he had to work was of the highest quality. Adonis Stevenson, on the other hand, was more of a diamond in the rough. The great Emanuel Steward barely had time to begin polishing that diamond before his untimely passing; Hill, Steward's nephew, has taken over the work his uncle started and has helped create a versatile and fan-friendly star in the making.

Eric Raskin: Javan "Sugar" Hill

In a year in which the most recognizable trainers with deep stables—Freddie Roach, Robert Garcia, Virgil Hunter—had too many ups and downs to keep track of, Hill is my pick because of what Adonis Stevenson achieved. Also, by picking Hill, I'm giving a bit of a posthumous award to the best trainer of recent decades, Emanuel Steward, who worked with Stevenson and Hill prior to his untimely passing in 2012.

Nat Gottlieb: Robert Garcia.

He's the hottest young trainer in the business, and he had a great year. Among the A-list of fighters he worked with this year were Nonito Donaire, Evgeny Gradovich, Brandon Rios, and his own younger brother, Mikey.

Tim Smith: Javan "Sugar'' Hill

The trainer for Adonis Stevenson set himself apart in 2013. Hill, the nephew of the late Emanuel Steward, took over training Stevenson after Steward passed away. Hill built on the foundation that Steward established and has set Stevenson on a path for greatness.

Hamilton Nolan: Abel Sanchez

There are plenty of good trainers and plenty of good fighters. But since no trainer this year can really claim two fighters who had incredible years, I have to go with the trainer whose one fighter--Golovkin--had the most incredible year. Sanchez is relaxed, cerebral, and knows what he's doing. Golovkin is lucky to have him.

Michael Gluckstadt: Freddie Roach

Just because someone's the best player year after year, doesn't mean you stop giving them the MVP. Roach continued to ply his trade as the best trainer in the game, overseeing the emergence of Ruslan Provodnikov, the resurgence of Miguel Cotto, and the return of Manny Pacquiao, among other feats. And the former boxer also showed he can still take a blow -- in this case, a kick to the stomach from Alex Ariza.

When Trainers Attack

by Kieran Mulvaney

Freddie Roach and Robert Garcia - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Before they became the stars of their own main event, when the trainers of Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios spoke to the press, it was about their fighters and their plans for Saturday night's contest here at the Venetian Macao. And when they were questioned, it was to inquire about their plans and strategies for that fight, and to ascertain how their charges were feeling. But even then, the signs of tension between the camps percolated beneath the surface.

On Monday, Robert Garcia, chief second for Rios, spoke with a few reporters in his fighter's hotel suite. Pacquiao, he was at pains to point out, "has been a great champion, considered perhaps one of the best in history, and we might not ever again see a fighter accomplish what he has accomplished." But, he added, "we've seen the last two years, the last two fights, there are some differences, there are some changes, and especially his last fight when he got knocked out. We don't know, nobody knows, how that really affected him. We've seen other fighters, and I would say nine out of 10 are never the same, but we don't know."

Then there came a point in the discussion when Garcia, who was 2012's Boxing Writers Association of America trainer of the Year, turned his focus unbidden to Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach.

"I went out on my own, with my own gym, five years ago, and in the last five years everything that I've done, that I've accomplished with my team, especially the last two years, has been great," he began. "For Roach to be worried about, 'I want to prove that I'm the best trainer. I want to prove that my gym is the best,' I'd be ashamed to say that about a 38 year old who started five years ago. I think they're the ones who have everything to lose."

So was Roach -- who won the same Trainer of the Year award five times before Garcia assumed his mantle -- as tweaked by his young rival's success as Garcia claimed? Asked about it the next day, the veteran cornerman didn't exactly seem consumed with anxiety, but he did acknowledge that, "I'd like to beat him, yeah," and referenced Ring Magazine listing Roach as being "out" and Garcia being "in" in its year-end list. 

Which brings us to the present, and the scene Wednesday morning when Roach entered the gym area beneath the Venetian Arena that the two camps are sharing during fight week. Rios and Garcia have the gym booked from 9 to 11 each day, and Pacquiao and Rios from 11 to 4. (That, in itself, was the source of some tension, given that Roach made the first pick: "Five hours?" exclaimed Garcia. "Who trains for five hours?") But on this day, Team Rios was still in the gym past 11 – a consequence, they said, of having to take 15 minutes to shoot an interview for ESPN's SportsCenter, and Roach wanted them out.

The result would not have been out of place in a schoolyard face-off.

"Get the fuck out."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"Piece of shit."

"Don't call me a piece of shit."

There was shoving, pushing, the hurling of at least one racial epithet, some apparent mocking of Roach's Parkinson's disease, a kick to Roach's stomach, and a near-brawl that was only quelled by the intervention of security. It was altogether unedifying, but for the rest of the day it was pretty much the only topic of conversation around the media room. Videos of the clashfilmed from different angles, were dissected with an intensity normally associated with scholars of the Zapruder film.

Later in the evening, at the final press conference, neither trainer took the opportunity to walk things back. Garcia said not to trust any video of the scuffle except for one. "I want to invite everyone to go to ESNewsReporting.com, because that's where you will see exactly what happened, " he said. When it was his turn at the podium Roach countered, "Yeah, go watch that website because that's his friend and he edited it for him. How dumb is that?" Promoter Bob Arum joked that he would be bringing in Judge Judy to settle the matter. Viewers will get a chance to decide for themselves when 24/7 airs Thursday night.

But if writing an account of the shenanigans felt oddly like detailing the settling of grievances after recess, the conflict was real, the volcanic release of simmering tensions. Whether it will affect the fighters, or the fight, is another matter.

Tempers Flare Between Rios and Pacquiao Camps

 Photo Credit : Chris Farina - Top Rank

Shoves, kicks, and slurs were exchanged this morning when the Rios and Pacquiao camps crossed paths between training sessions at The Venetian Macau ahead of this weekend's fight. Hall-of-Fame trainer Freddie Roach got into it with his counterpart Robert Garcia as well as several members of Rios's entourage, include Alex Ariza, who used to work with Roach. 

With the 24/7 cameras on-site for the melee, Thursday night's finale of '24/7 Pacquiao/Rios,' airing at 10 PM ET/PT, just got even more interesting.

 

Pacquiao, Marquez and Trainers Set the Scene

by Kieran Mulvaney

Most weeks begin on Monday. Fight week in Las Vegas officially kicks off on Tuesday morning. That’s when the fighters make their arrivals at the MGM Grand, to be met first by cheering fans and then by probing reporters. After Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao waved to the waiting throng, they and their trainers took turns talking with about a dozen writers, to break down Saturday’s fight, and the three fights they’ve already had.

 

Juan Manuel Marquez and Nacho Beristain

 

Juan Manuel Marquez, Nacho Beristain - Photo Credit: Will Hart

As far as Juan Manuel Marquez is concerned, there shouldn’t be any need for a fourth fight. He is adamant that he won all three of his previous encounters with Manny Pacquiao, especially their most recent contest last year. Asked what he would feel if this fight unfolded like that one, and ended with the same result, he says that “I’ll feel very angry. I’ll want to …” The word doesn’t quite come out of his mouth, sounds like an amalgam of ‘kick’ or ‘kill’, but the combination punching/strangling motion he is making with his hands makes his meaning quite clear.

“All I ask is that the judges are objective, that they really see the fight, and judge on what is happening in the ring, not on what they think is happening,” he adds. “I think that sometimes they look for more aggressiveness than sometimes is there. But obviously if I’m using intelligence and doing my job, I don’t need to be more aggressive. I felt that in the third fight I was more aggressive; I came out to get him a few times. There’s no more I can do than that.”

Aggressive. It’s a word Marquez uses a lot. But, typical of the cerebral boxer that he is, he uses it often in combination with another word.

“I need to change to maybe be more aggressive, but I need to be aggressive with intelligence,” he explains. “Counterpunches, throw a lot of punches with intelligence.”

That intelligence, adds trainer Nacho Beristain, is why Marquez has always given Pacquiao trouble in the ring.

“What we have in Juan is a guy who’s thinking in the ring all the time, who’s making adjustments all the time,” the trainer explains. “He has the technique, he has the skills to do a lot of different things. The other guy doesn’t. He’s just very strong, unpredictable, explosive; you never know where he’s going to come from. But that’s how Juan’s able to counter everything, because he’s able to make the adjustments.”

 

Manny Pacquiao and Freddie Roach

 

Freddie Roach, Manny Pacquiao - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Pacquiao is rarely talkative, rarely controversial.

Asked about his hugely disputed loss to Timothy Bradley earlier this year, he offers only that, “I always respect the opinion of the judges and the commissions.” Prodded to say that he is tired of seeing Juan Manuel Marquez, he smiles and says, “I love everyone.”  He adds for good measure that is “trying to maintain good fights and give to the people.”

That’s who he is: always ready to answer a question, but in a quiet voice that is almost never raised in opposition to another.

Then there’s Freddie Roach.

“We’re going to knock him out. End of story,” he says about Saturday’s fight with Marquez. The Mexican, he admits, is “a very good fighter.” But “I think Manny’s a lot better in this fight than he was in the third fight. I don’t think he’s really seen the best Manny yet. I think the best Manny’s going to be too much for him. Styles make fights and they know each other’s style. It’s always a very good boxing match. But we’re a little hungrier this time and we’re going to put all our chips on the table, I think.”

Even though he and his man were booed after their controversial win over Marquez last time, says the Hall-of-Fame trainer, if Pacquiao doesn’t score a knockout, he’ll “be satisfied with a decision win.”

Asked a similar question, Pacquiao comes as close as at any time in the discussion to talking smack and making a bold prediction.

Would he be disappointed if he failed to knock Marquez out?

He pauses, thinks about it, and smiles.

“Kind of, yes.”

Speed is Key to Pacquiao Victory, Says Trainer Freddie Roach

By Kieran Mulvaney

Manny Pacquiao, Freddie Roach - Photo Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank

Asked what he thinks will be the key to this Saturday’s contest between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley, Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach offers one word:

“Speed.”

His guy, he believes, has it, and the other guy doesn’t. And when he says speed, he doesn’t just mean that Pacquiao’s hands are fast. More importantly, his feet are as well.

“His footwork is the best part about him,” he explains. “He’s in and out a lot; you don’t know when he’s coming in and out. It could be a feint, you can’t read when he’s going to attack you, and that’s why he’s been so successful, because he doesn’t necessarily have a rhythm. It always changes.”

He believes the Filipino icon’s unpredictability will be of particular advantage against an aggressive fighter like Bradley, whom Roach is convinced will take the fight to Pacquiao – even if the champion doesn’t necessarily agree.

“I think Bradley’s going to attack us, but Manny thinks he’s going to run,” Roach revealed to reporters on Thursday. “I told him, ‘He won’t run until he feels your power,’ but we’re ready for both. Bradley isn’t really built to be a runner, though, and if he does run, it isn’t going to be in a fast mode. He’s very slow on his feet, and so speed’s the biggest factor. But if he does try not to engage, we’ll have to take the fight to him and we’re prepared for that. I think we can count on him coming to us, because that’s who he is. He’s the same fighter he was as an amateur. He makes the same mistakes, and they will be taken advantage of.”

Manny Pacquiao - Photo Credit: Chris Farina - Top RankAnother insight Roach is confident about is that Bradley will not attempt to emulate the comparative success of Juan Manuel Marquez, who last November came dangerously close to defeating Pacquiao in the third installment of their contentious rivalry. Marquez always provides difficult opposition for Pacquiao because of his ability to lure the Filipino off balance and then fire a succession of hard counterpunches. But if Marquez has provided the theoretical blueprint for beating Pacquiao, that doesn’t mean Bradley will be able to take advantage.

“I just don’t see that happening, because he’s not like Marquez at all,” says Roach. “He’s never been a slick counterpuncher. To try to be like someone else as a fighter would not be conducive for anybody. He’s going to be Timothy Bradley. I think he’s going to come after us, and he’s going to keep trying and trying really hard. I think he’ll be resilient, but all the muscle and all the pressure in the world isn’t going to win the fight for him.”

Immediately after the post-fight press conference on Saturday night, Roach will fly to Canastota, New York, to be inducted Sunday into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Asked which would mean more, the induction or a Pacquiao win, Roach doesn’t hesitate.

“The win,” he says. “That’s what I live for. I hate to lose, and winning is what it’s all about. Besides, a large part of the reason I’m going into the Hall of Fame is Manny Pacquiao.”

Boxing Fans Have Much to Be Thankful For

By Kieran Mulvaney

Photo Credit: Will HartIt seems reasonable to assume that there a lot of people involved in boxing in Mexico, Las Vegas, New York and elsewhere feeling extremely thankful this holiday weekend. At the front of the line: Antonio Margarito, who received a belated go-ahead from the New York State Athletic Commission to fight Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden on December 3rd; Bob Arum of Top Rank, who is promoting the bout and who was prepared to move it elsewhere at the last minute until being confronted with a Cotto ultimatum that it had to be in New York or nowhere; officials at the Garden, who assuredly did not want what promises to be a huge event snatched away from under their noses; and the thousands who had bought tickets to the fight and made travel plans to the Big Apple.

This has been a year of highs and lows in boxing – at times, seemingly more of the latter than the former – but even so, there has been plenty for which the rest of us can be thankful, as well. For example:

Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao: Each may be loathed by the other's fans, but for neutrals it's a rare treat to have two such outstanding and contrasting practitioners at the top of the game. Here's hoping in 2012, they give us something to make us truly thankful.

Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz: For what is still probably the leading contender for Fight of the Year.

Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez: For giving us another Fight of the Year candidate - one so good, in fact, that they're going to do it again, on the Cotto-Margarito undercard.

Freddie Roach and Ann Wolfe: Freddie Roach is the number one trainer in the sport, an always-accessible and engaging interview, and the subject of his own upcoming reality show on HBO. But if Freddie's is the most interesting story among active trainers, Ann Wolfe's is right there with him. Plus she gave me the best quote ever.

James Kirkland: For three minutes of boxing action that still has me breathless.

Joe Frazier: Because although he may be gone, he will never be forgotten.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. May your beagle make you a memorable holiday dinner of buttered toast and popcorn. 

Freddie Roach: I'm Telling Amir to Go for the Kill

As told to Peter Owen Nelson

Photo: Will HartAfter Thursday’s press conference at the Mandalay Bay Casino, Freddie Roach and his peripatetic caravan of fighters headed to the IBA gym off the strip, in a residential area of Las Vegas. There, the five-time Boxing Writers’ Association of America Trainer of the Year discussed privately some of the core strategic planning for Amir Khan to defend his WBA title from IBF champ Zab Judah:

To take away Zab’s power, Amir is going to land combinations and move to Zab’s right. Zab crouches down a lot, and Amir will be able to the uppercut nicely as he times Zab dipping down. My aim for Amir is to land two to three punch combinations and move out. In sparring he would throw three or even four hooks to the body at a time. He even knocked down a sparring partner with those shots, but in the fight we want him to throw one and then pivot to get an angle on Zab and further take advantage of openings from there. You can’t stay in one place for too long in front of Zab. His best punch is rolling the right hand and countering with the left — either an uppercut or straight. As long as Amir isn’t falling into the pocket after his own right hand and keeps his footwork clean, he should be able to take that shot away from Zab. When Zab walks away from Amir, as soon as his back foot is up in the air, Amir is going to pounce on him because it’s a habit Zab has that leaves him off balance and defenseless. If Zab walks to the ropes, Amir also can’t just follow him in. He has to use his feints well to open Zab up and then attack. We are going to be the aggressor in this fight. When I see Zab begin to fade, I’m going to tell Amir to go in for the kill — with caution, but we’re going to go for the knockout if it’s there for us.