By Lem Satterfield Alex Ariza, Amir Khan's strength and conditioning coach, gave his thoughts in this Q&A on his reunion with Khan and the fight against Zab Judah on Saturday in Las Vegas on HBO.
Strength and conditioning guru Alex Ariza spoke to RingTV.com concerning his return to the corner of WBA junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan, who faces Zab Judah in a junior welterweight title-unification bout on Saturday in Las Vegas on HBO.
Ariza was not in Khan's corner for his sixth-round technical-decision victory over Irish southpaw Paul McCloskey in April after having worked alongside trainer Freddie Roach for Khan's previous six bouts.
Khan (25-1, 17 knockouts) worked with Michael Vale for the McCloskey fight.
The 24-year-old Briton began working with Roach and Ariza after Khan’s first-round knockout loss to Breidis Prescott in 2008, going 6-0 with them. Among his victims: Marco Antonio Barrera, Andreas Kotelnik, Paulie Malignaggi and Marcos Maidana.
Ariza said in this Q&A that the skills of Judah (41-6, 28 KOs) will present perhaps the stiffest challenge of his tenure working with Khan, whom he is training at Roach's Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif.
RingTV.com: How is the reunion with Amir Khan and the training going?
Alex Ariza: The training is going well. I mean, it's going really, really, really good. So the fact that we're here in camp, we got to finish it completely here in Los Angeles at Wild Card Gym. We stated early, so we were able to focus on some things and to get right back on track from the stuff that he did in the last fight.
RingTV.com: How long has your training camp lasted this time?
AZ: We've been here for almost 10 weeks, and that's for sure the longest training camp that we've had with him.
RingTV.com: Was there a re-association process that had to take place or anything lost in Amir Khan after having been separated for one fight?
AZ: No, I think that it's a good thing Sometimes, fighters have to go out and experience different things. Obviously, whatever Amir went and tried it didn't work for him, and that's why he's back. But Amir came in with a huge work ethic. He knows what we do, so it was nothing new to him. It was nothing for him to go back to the same old things that we did before.
Amir knew that he was just going to just have to bite down. His performances are really a result that he puts in and a result of his strength and conditioning programs.
RingTV.com: Was there anything that had to be restored?
AZ: That's a good question because you don't know what they did or what they didn't do or what was missing. You just don't know because I'm not there. When I got him, I just started from scratch again.
I picked up where we left off with the Marcos Maidana fight and tried to forget that anything else ever happened.
I didn't ask, “What did you do?,” or, “What didn't you do?” or “What happened?” We just got right back to it, like, “Boom!” We got his mind to where it was before and achieved the same level of focus that we've always had.
RingTV.com: Do you train him based on the opponent and gear it toward the energy level that he will have to have based on the strategy that has to be employed for the fight?
AZ: Yes. Sometimes, depending on the opponent, I will keep him heavier throughout the camp. Sometimes I'll keep him lighter. Sometimes I'll focus more on his speed and power. Sometimes, like for the Marcos Maidana camp, I focused on keeping his size and conditioning up.
RingTV.com: What were some of the key things that you focused on in preparation for Marcos Maidana?
AZ: It's hard to tell you for Zab because I would be telling you what the strategy is. For Marcos Maidana's camp, I knew that Maidana was a juggernaut. It was going to be an opponent reminiscent of an Andreas Kotelnik but with power. He's a guy who comes forward and throws punches, and I knew that it was going to be a long fight.
So the idea for me was to try to build on that frame of Amir and to get him a little bit bigger, physically, and to obviously take his conditioning to a different level. Those were the things that I focused on for that fight.
RingTV.com: How does Zab Judah rank in comparison to the other opponents that you've prepared Amir Khan for?
AZ: Zab offers you a little bit of everything. That's the thing. But the most important thing is that he's smart, he's crafty. And you've got to remember that he was beating Floyd Mayweather for the first six rounds of that fight. And he can punch. So when I look at Zab, I look at him as if he's going to be the best Zab that he can possibly be.
That's a guy who is dangerous, very crafty and smart, he can punch and he can fight when he wants to fight. So, for Amir, I just work on the same things that I worked on for Marcos Maidana. But you have to make a little bit more of the finer adjustments and work on certain things and hopefully, those are things that will come into play when he's fighting Zab.
With a guy like Zab, this is not going to be a question of endurance or stamina, but more a question of following the game plan, being disciplined and sticking to a strategy. That's what wins you a fight with a guy like Zab. Zab is not these younger guys.
He's experienced and he's been in with some of the best fighters, Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, so it's not like he's going to come in there and be shocked or taken aback by anything.
RingTV.com: So while Freddie Roach takes care of strategy and that aspect, what will your role be in the foundation of Amir Khan against Zab Judah?
AZ: For me, in a fight like this, you have to get Zab's respect. So for me, it's building a stronger and bigger puncher. That's my approach for training Amir for this fight. That would be the one thing that I focus on more. You don't want to compromise Amir's speed.
So it's going to be a fine line. Guys that are big punchers aren't going to be the fastest guys in the world. Guys who are speed demons aren't going to be the biggest punchers. But if you do things right, then you can get a little bit of both.
RingTV.com: Can you do anything for Amir Khan's chin?
AZ: Well when he was hurt by Marcos Maidana, I told Freddie that all we needed was about 15 seconds and that he would come right back. I think that the biggest misconception is that theory about the chin, and this is just a theory of mine, and that is that the strength of the chin has to do with something in the neck or the jaw muscles or things like that.
But really, when you get hit, what's the first thing that goes? The legs. So, so much of my work that I do for these fighters is that I concentrate on the legs. So the drills, the balancing, the positions I put them in where the legs are stable when you're completely fatigued, I think that that was the key element for Amir against Marcos Maidana.
I knew that once Amir was able to get a few seconds in moving around that his legs would find their stability because they had been there before. Amir has been there where he feels like they're not under him and things like that. So these are things that we've done before, so it was nothing new for him to feel like that and to recover from it.