George Gainford must be the greatest boxing trainer of all time because he trained the greatest fighter/boxer who has yet lived, Walker Smith Jr. better known as Sugar Ray Robinson. “He had everything,” legendary trainer Eddie Futch said after Robinson died. “Boxing skills, punching power, a great chin, mental strength. There was nothing he couldn’t do. He knew almost everything there was to know about how to box. When Ray was in his prime, he owned the ring like no fighter before or since.”
Truer words have never been spoken pertaining to any fighter because Robinson is the greatest natural blend of speed, power and skill anyone has ever seen in the ring. The debate begins with who is the second greatest fighter/boxer ever?
For years I’ve proclaimed that boxing trainers, especially the big name ones, are overrated.
In 2009 I wrote “In most cases it’s 90% the fighter and 10% the trainer, and 10% may even be a stretch. Angelo Dundee is no doubt a Hall of Fame trainer, but in truth Muhammad Ali didn’t listen to Angelo or Archie Moore, who was his first trainer. When it came to ring strategy and fighting, Ali didn’t listen to anything anyone tried to tell him. Emanuel Steward was a great asset to Lennox Lewis when it came to teaching him how to use his size and fight like a big guy. On the other hand did he “become inept” when he trained Jermain Taylor, who actually had one of his worst showings while Steward was in his corner?”
George Gainford only trained one great fighter, Sugar Ray Robinson. Is it a coincidence that Gainford never trained another fighter who could be considered outstanding, let alone great? In fact Gainford was once asked while holding court at a local tavern, “How come none of your other fighters fight as great as Robinson?” To which he had no response.
This week it was announced that WBO/IBF light heavyweight title holder Sergey Kovalev 28-0-1 (25) will defend his titles against former WBC/IBO and ring light heavyweight world champion Jean Pascal 30-3-1 (17). Earlier this year Kovalev stopped Pascal in the eighth round at Montreal’s Bell Centre. Based on how the first fight went it’s hard to make a case for Pascal topping Kovalev in the rematch. Sergey has the better inside and outside game not to mention he’s the bigger guy and harder puncher.
However, Pascal says he has a surprise for Kovalev this time. Jean stated, “I put him down in the eighth round in the first fight, but they called it a slip. But I promise you that Kovalev is going to have a full plate in the rematch. I’m going to have a full plate as well, but I have a new trainer (Freddie Roach), I’ve changed things, I’ve improved in ways that Kovalev cannot even imagine.”
That I can’t wait to see because I’m definitely a skeptic.
For the record I think Jean Pascal is a borderline outstanding fighter and worthy of another title shot, but Kovalev looks to be on another level. When they last fought Kovalev’s jab was the dominant punch of the fight. Pascal couldn’t get near him, unless he rushed in when Sergey was pulling it back, but even at that, he knew the right hand was waiting for him, so his runs were judicious at best and not all that effective. And the other problem Pascal had was – when Kovalev did get through with the jab, he felt it and had to break off the exchange to avoid getting hurt. What’s Roach going to do about that?
Kovalev is an outstanding boxer and is very hard to get to without paying a price, just ask Bernard Hopkins. I don’t care who trains Pascal, he can’t beat Kovalev on the outside. If he tries to do that he’ll be at the mercy of Sergey’s jab and fighting uphill all night. With fighting on the outside not an option, what’s left? He certainly can’t carry the fight to Kovalev, which will play right into Sergey’s strength and would be suicide for Pascal. If he tries to bring it to Kovalev he’ll be walking directly into his power, and chasing a puncher is a no no.
Yes, trainers are important but they’re overrated. Roach had Pacquiao looking great against Juan Manuel Marquez during the fourth and final bout between them, than Manny got caught and it was over. Freddie had Miguel Cotto fighting the right fight against Canelo Alvarez last month, but Miguel just couldn’t fully execute the plan because he lacked the physicality to do so. Canelo’s strength was the difference in the fight and ultimately decided the outcome. If you didn’t know Manny Pacquiao was injured when he fought Floyd Mayweather, you never would’ve guessed it while watching the fight. And Floyd totally out boxed Manny and would do so again with or without Roach in his corner.
I expect that to be the case when Pascal fights Kovalev this coming January 30th. The way I see it, Kovalev owns the style advantage and hits too hard to be out-boxed by Pascal. It’ll be interesting to see how Roach instructs Pascal to attack Kovalev, and if he has the physical ability to pull it off what the plan calls for. Perhaps Jean will make it past the eighth round this time, but I don’t see any path to victory for him over Kovalev…regardless of who the trainer is working his corner the night of the fight.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com