William Dettloff

Great fighters make great trainers, not the other way around

Freddie Roach, who has become boxing’s most sought-after trainer during his tenure as Manny Pacquiao’s head coach, has received deserved accolades for his role in developing the Filipino hero into a great fighter. However, despite his knowledge and accomplishments, Roach could only do so much with fringe contender Peter Manfredo Jr. Photo / Ed Mulholland-FightWireImages.com

Manny Pacquiao’s many successes have made an unlikely star out of his trainer, Freddie Roach, who has become the most-covered and most-quoted cornerman in all of boxing.

It is no coincidence that Roach also has become the most sought-after trainer in the business, and not by guys just turning pro. Amir Khan, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. and Vanes Martirosyan are just three of the many higher-level guys vying for Roach’s time and attention at the Wild Card Gym in California, and many come to the Wild Card fully mature pros.

All this attention on Roach and the work he has done with Pacquiao and other good fighters seeking his counsel compels us to ask the question many ask when they see fighters and trainers trying to find their way in this business, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, sometimes both simultaneously: Does the fighter make the trainer, or does the trainer make the fighter?

Kevin Kelley, the popular former WBC featherweight titleholder who won 41 straight fights between 1988 and ‘94, told RingTV.com there’s no question the fighter makes the trainer.

“The fighter makes the trainer all day long,” he said. “Without the fighter, the trainer has nobody. Without the fighter, who is the trainer? If it was true that the trainer made the fighter, why is it that after a trainer gets one champion or two champions or three champions, he can’t produce any more champions?”

It’s a valid point. To this day people call Kevin Rooney a great trainer for the work he did with Mike Tyson, but if Rooney is so great, where are all the rest of his champions? Jack Mosley took his son from the amateurs to the top of the pound-for-pound list, but why is Shane his only success? And Robert Alcazar, who took over as Oscar De La Hoya’s trainer when De La Hoya was still an amateur, had not a bit of success in boxing after De La Hoya fired him in 1995.

Kelley said anyone can learn how to box, but real fighters are few.

“Fighters are born, not made,” he said. “Boxers are made. Fighters are born. Anybody can be a boxer. Anybody can be taught to box. I can teach anyone how to throw a jab, a left hook. But I can’t teach him to be a great fighter. That’s a different story. The aggression, the killer instinct, you can’t teach that.

“To be a fighter you got to be the kind of person that when you get hit with a shot you want to get back at that person so bad to hit him that you can taste it. And you can’t teach that. Fighters are born. Boxers are made. That’s my rule.”

Long-time manager Cameron Dunkin agrees, but with a caveat.

“The fighter makes the trainer and God makes the fighter, in my opinion,” he said. “And you can see that by how many fighters win titles with fathers and guys who have never trained a pro fighter before and the kid goes off and wins a world title. But the difference is if you can get that fighter with a good trainer, what a huge difference it makes.

“(Top Rank matchmaker) Bruce Trampler used to say this to me all the time, and gosh was he 100 percent right about this. He said a great trainer will make your fighter five to 10 percent better, and a bad trainer will make your fighter 100 percent worse. A bad trainer can ruin a guy who was going to be a champion anyway. But a guy who’s going to be a champion anyway can be five or 10 percent better, and that’s a big difference.”

Dunkin cited the career Danny “Kid Dynamite” Romero. The 1990s flyweight and junior bantamweight titleholder was trained throughout his career by his father, who trained no one else of note.

“Romero was a world champion but you know what I know: After every fight, his face looked like someone beat him with a baseball bat,” Dunkin said. “He blew everybody out early because I picked all the easy opponents, but once he reached the top level, if he didn’t knock guys out early, then over the rounds he’d just keep getting pounded and pounded.

“And he retired at like 26 years of age totally shot. How much better could he have been? He had so much ability I wonder how far he’d have gone if he had a Kenny Adams or Nacho Beristain or Jesus Rivero.”

The point: Some guys have so much natural ability they’re going to be champions no matter who trains them, but the right trainer can make them more than champions. Cameron cited the career of former world middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, who has been trained throughout his career by Jack Loew.

“I always wanted Kelly with (Kenny) Adams because I think he would have been great,” Dunkin said. “Yes, Pavlik won the title. But those hard fights with (Jermain) Taylor and (Edison) Miranda, he gutted them out. But how good could he have been if he could have stepped to the side, used angles, moved his head, all those things Kenny teaches? My God, he could have been special. That’s what makes me sick.”

Probably the best way to measure a trainer’s worth is to determine if he’s ever taken a kid from his first day in the gym all the way to a professional world championship. In that regard, there has never been anyone like Emanuel Steward, who in the 1990s churned champions and top contenders out of the Kronk Gym in Detroit like no one’s business.

Steward said that while many trainers latch on to a single gifted fighter and never experience great success again after that fighter is done, the quality of the chemistry between that fighter and his trainers cannot be underestimated. He cited the success the Petronelli brothers had with Marvelous Marvin Hagler, a success they never found again.

“What happens is you get a chemistry, a relationship, and you speak the same dialogue, the same language,” Steward said. “And that’s important. Maybe no one else would have gotten that out of Marvin. Freddie and Manny have that too, a great chemistry. Roach never had that chemistry with any kind of fighter inside or outside the ring. So it’s a combination. It’s the chemistry between the two.

“But ultimately this is what it comes down to for me: The fighter is the most important. You can have a great trainer and teacher and this and that but when that bell rings, it’s the fighter that’s out there. He has to take the blows, he has to make the adjustments and listen to his coach, but the most important thing is the fighter himself.”

That’s why we should never expect miracles when a fighter loses a big one and immediately dumps his trainer. A mature fighter is who he is. His trainer can’t move his head for him or make him bite down and punch or make him get up. It’s up to the fighter, for better or worse.

Some random observations from last week:

Bernard Hopkins more or less kicked Jean Pascal’s butt Saturday night, but from my couch I scored it 114-113 for the Canadian. That’s the kind of thing that can happen when a guy gets dropped twice. And don’t expect a rematch; Pascal wants Hopkins again like he wants a hole in the head. I don’t blame him.

Hopkins should be expected to scream about the majority draw decision, but no one else should. It was close enough to have gone either way. One note to Bernard, though: You don’t get extra credit from the judges for being 45 years old. Stop acting like you should have gotten a couple 10-8 rounds for making it to the ring. …

It is startling how much more interesting Antonio Tarver is as a broadcaster than he ever was as a fighter. …

There are a couple ways to look at Floyd Mayweather’s apparent refusal to enter into discussions for a fight with Manny Pacquiao. One is to detest him for what is widely believed to be fear. The other is to admire the emotional strength it takes to resist the pressure to make this fight, whatever the reason. …

Who else loves it that Anthony Mundine got pancaked by a novice? …

Roach is already talking up how dangerous Shane Mosley still is, and reportedly is demanding that Mosley be tested for steroids if a Pacquiao-Mosley fight gets done. This is as clear a sign that you could want that Pacquiao-Mosley will happen. Isn’t that great? …

Paulie Malignaggi scored a knockout on the Hopkins-Pascal undercard. In other news, hell froze over. …

The recent Ring Theory episode featuring a guest appearance by HBO’s Jim Lampley has at this writing generated more than three times as many hits as any past episode. I guess that means we have to work harder at getting high-profile guests. Damn. Working harder was never the goal here. Seriously.

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