Reigning Trainer of the Year Virgil Hunter spoke to RingTV.com concerning his progress with former IBF and WBA junior welterweight titleholder Amir Khan, also offering his assessment of Saturday night’s unanimous decision by unbeaten junior middleweight Austin Trout over four-time, three-division titlewinner Miguel Cotto at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Khan (26-3, 18 knockouts) will face Carlos Molina (18-0-1, 7 KOs), not to be confused with the 154-pound contender by the same name, on Dec. 15 at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in a bout that will be televised on Showtime.
The 2011 Trainer of The Year, Hunter also guides the career of RING, WBA, WBC and Showtime Super Six World Super Middleweight Boxing Classic Champion Andre Ward, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist who was named Fighter of The Year for 2011.
Khan left trainer Freddie Roach after 10 bouts and an 8-2 mark that includes four stoppage wins following July’s fourth-round knockout loss to Danny Garcia, whose triumph added Khan’s WBA belt as well as the division’s RING championship to the WBC crown he already owned.
The loss to Garcia was the second in a row for Khan, whose winning streak under Roach ended with a controversial split-decision loss to Lamont Peterson last December.
Khan began working with Roach following his 54-second knockout loss to Breidis Prescott as a lightweight in September of 2008. From there, Khan won eight straight fights, four of them by knockout, and earned two major title belts.
That stretch also included knockouts of New Yorkers Zab Judah, the current IBF 140-pound beltholder at the time, and former titleholder Paulie Malignaggi, as well as victories over Marcos Maidana, Marco Antonio Barrera and Andreas Kotelnik.
A five-time Trainer of The Year, Roach is the proprietor at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif., where he is preparing Manny Pacquiao for Saturday’s fourth bout with Juan Manuel Marquez that will happen on HBO Pay Per View at The MGM Grand.
RingTV.com: How is Khan doing?
Virgil Hunter: Amir is doing well. The thing is is that we’re coming together on an understanding on a lot things, and he’s applying them. I look for good things from him.
RingTV.com: What are the key changes you are expecting to see in Khan’s game against Molina?
VH: Well, I felt that he needed an understanding of boxing. He needed more mental training instead of physical, and that that was going help him.
Amir Khan has the physical ability to adapt to this understanding. I mean, it’s not anything that he can’t do if he understands why he’s doing it and why he needs to do it. It’s not like he has to be taught something.
He just has to have it mentally infused into him why he needs to do this, and then, when he’s in the ring, he needs to be given examples of why he needs to do them. So he learns very quickly.
RingTV.com: Can you give an example?
VH: Well, in other words, if you’re getting hit in this area, the first thing that I’m going to tell you is why you’re getting hit in this area.
Then, then is what you need to do, physically, to avoid getting hit in this area, and this is why you’re getting hit there. Or, why are you even taking yourself into this area and this doesn’t even have to happen.
So the communication is one of preventing things as opposed to adding things. It’s not like I’m having to add something to him, I’m eliminating.
RingTV.com: What are your thoughts on Molina?
VH: He’s a good fighter and he’s going to be determined, and I don’t think that it’s going to be an easy fight. But as the rounds emerge, I expect for Amir to execute.
RingTV.com: Are you looking necessarily for a knockout or the foundation of what you’re teaching to become manifest in his execution?
VH: Well, if the knockout comes, it comes, but more than anything, what I’m interested in is seeing him begin to apply the things that we’re working on.
You know, not allowing things to happen. And if he can knock him out in the process, and in the course of that, that would be great. But the mindset is not to allow this to happen.
So, it’s like, “I’m not going to let this happen,” and, “I’m not going to get caught here or doing this.” His offense speaks for itself, the guy who tries to knock Amir out has got to be willing to get hit.
RingTV.com: Meaning what?
VH: You know, you’re not going to just walk in there and knock him out. Amir is going to hit you, and he’s going to hit you from some awkward angles, really hard and really fast.
So, anybody who tries to knock him out has got to be willing, like Danny Garcia, to stand there and be in the mouth of the cannon, and be willing to punch with him.
And you had better have some power. But that’s the whole thing, is for Amir to recognize when guys are trying to do something.
Garcia was the only one who was willing to take the punishment to try to get his punch through. Prescott just caught him cold. But in each fight, he still had an opportunity to overcome the situation.
RingTV.com: What do you mean by that?
VH: If he would have thought, once he got up. So, that’s what people are not looking at. They say that it’s his chin, but I don’t think it’s that, because he got up from a heckuva punch.
RingTV.com: You had some thoughts on Khan’s mentality going into the Garcia fight?
VH: Well, that fight was lost long before it was fought. At the press conference, when Angel Garcia was going at him, Amir should have been calmed down.
When Angel got up there and said what he said, somebody — me as a coach — I would have pulled Amir to the side and said, “Look man, you’re not fighting him.”
I would say, “So don’t get caught up in what he is saying.” But as soon as he started jawing back and forth with the father, I would have interceded.
I would have definitely would hve gotten up and interceded, and Angel would have been my job and not his.
I would have had some have had something to say to Angel, nothing stupid, but I would make him ashamed of some of the stuff that he was saying.
Later on, I would have taken the kid to dinner, sat him down and said, “Look, we’re not training for Angel, this is only his biggest chance, which is to get you mentally out of your game.”
I would say, “He’s trying to get you to do something that you shouldn’t be doing,” and that’s what happened. That’s one of the advantages of being an amateur coach at the highest levels.
VH: That’s not always good for fighters, because it stresses the body tremendously. Your blood is like sludge at first, and I’m not going to tell them how to train at high altitude, because there is a way to do it.
But I’m not going to mention it. But if you are training at high altitude with a 32-year-old body, it takes five to six weeks just to overcome the stress aspects of it.
So if you’ve got to go through all of the other training to get ready for the fight, then you’re wore out. And all of the extra stuff that you’ve got to do, chasingi balls and this exercise and that exercise…
That’s not good for a 32-year-old. But I still picked Austin to win, before I realized Cotto’s training program. But it’s too much for a 32-year-old who has been in all of the wars Cotto has been in, to absorb.
When you’re younger, you may be able to handle it a little bit more. But at 32 years old, at high altitude, I wouldn’t have done that with the wear and tear on his body. How much can his body take?
In the fight, he wasn’t even up on his legs like he normally is, and he didn’t move like he normally moves. Think about his movement that night. He trained too hard to be facing a 27-year-old guy who is big and strong.
The combination of the high altitude and the over-training, and he was facing a young man. Trout also made a smart, smart, smart training decision bringing DonYil Livingston into his camp to spar.
Livingston is Cotto’s size, but boxes exactly like Cotto and is just as good. I know that he gave Trout all that he can handle. He kept DonYil Livingston in his camp for six weeks, so I knew he was going to be ready.
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org