As a scribe, one of the ways one learns about this game – since there really is no school of boxing or hard knocks – is by talking to those who have invested their lives in the sport. They can be either fighter or trainers; Buddy McGirt has been both with great distinction throughout the past four decades.
Boxing isn’t just a sport to him; it really is his life.
And have fighters, will travel, which is why this native New Yorker now lives in Florida and spends plenty of time out here in Southern California.
“It’s a professional sacrifice and Frank Sinatra said it best – if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. So coming from New York, I can live anywhere in this world,” said McGirt, who, during a distinguished career, was a two-time welterweight champion.
But why isn’t McGirt, who was developed as a boxer at the Felt Forum, in the Big Apple, once the center of the boxing universe?
“It’s not the same anymore,” he said simply. When pressed to expound, McGirt stated, “If I could answer that, I could pick the six numbers for Lotto. I mean, boxing’s not the same. Boxing in New York is not the same. It’s not the same; I can’t even explain it. It makes my stomach turn because I’m a believer that old-school boxing is the best way. I don’t care what nobody says and a lot of these younger fighters today, they go to an old-school trainer and say, ‘You’re smart but you can do mitts’ – I never seen Sugar Ray Robinson hit mitts.”
On this spring day, McGirt is at a swanky eatery in Hollywood for a press junket featuring the fighters (most of them promoted by Main Events) that supported the March 14 Sergey Kovalev-Jean Pascal main event on HBO from Montreal. McGirt was there with Isaac Chilemba, who soundly out-pointed Vasily Lepikhin on that evening.
There was a time (as McGirt guided Arturo Gatti to his late career renaissance and Antonio Tarver to an upset over Roy Jones) when he was the hottest trainer in the game. Then as he took some losses, well, McGirt wasn’t considered such a genius. Freddie Roach went through this in 2012 after years of winning fight after fight. That’s life as a trainer: You get some credit with victories, almost all the blame in defeats.
McGirt understands this dynamic, “At the end of the day, that’s all it is. If I make a mistake, I’ll be man enough to admit it. If my man lost to a better guy, well, it’s a better guy. But fighters want to point the finger but y’ know what? Like I said, the game’s not the same; the fighters aren’t the same. There are no true guys that say, ‘Y’ know what? I lost.’ I’ll give you a perfect example: [Manny] Pacquiao gets knocked out by [Juan Manuel] Marquez, took his loss and came right back to Freddie and came back.
“THAT’S a true champion.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, as Ricky Hatton defeated Paulie Malignaggi a few years back, Malignaggi had no problems repeatedly throwing McGirt under the bus. “I’ll put it to you like this: He talks about me but when he sees me, he comes up and gives me a hug,” said McGirt. “So my thing is, if you’re that mad at me, if you feel like there’s something wrong – confront me on it.”
McGirt isn’t angry as he says this. He knew what he was getting into as a trainer.
“They say you gotta be crazy to be in boxing; you gotta be crazy to be in this sport and I love it, man,” he says, laughing heartily. “I love the sport as a trainer; I just love teaching. I love to help guys get to that next level and help them see that goal of becoming a world champion.”
But yeah, this game and its participants will eventually disappoint you in some fashion. It’s as inevitable as the sun rising but Buddy understands this explicitly.
“I love boxing; it’s been my life since 12 years old. The last 39 years, boxing has been my life and I love it and I’ve seen it go through its ups and downs but hopefully it’ll come back on its ups and I see a lot of good fighters out there that could be better. I’ve seen a lot of things happen in boxing that are just crazy. These strength-and-conditioning guys, to me, it’s the biggest racket in boxing,” says McGirt, who is decidedly old-school in his approach.
This isn’t a surprise, given he was trained by Al Certo, who maybe wasn’t so crazy after all.
“He was crazy, period,” stated McGirt, with a chuckle, “but you just gotta understand [him] to know him. A lot of things he said make sense, man. The game is crazy.”
So is it like those children who grow up to become a parents and finally understand what their mothers and fathers went through raising them?
“Exactly,” he agreed. “Let me tell you; I had a guy come to the gym. I was in New York and he said, ‘Buddy, I want you to train me. I’m going to be champion but I gotta ask you one thing: Can you do mitts like [Roger] Mayweather?’ I said, ‘Can you fight like [Floyd] Mayweather [Jr.]?’ He said, ‘No.’
“I said, ‘That’s my answer to you.'”
Yeah, a guy who fought the likes of Pernell Whitaker twice, Meldrick Taylor and Simon Brown isn’t going to suffer fools. When you speak to McGirt, you truly are getting an education on the sport that can only come from an individual who has devoted so much to the game and accomplished so much in it. And beyond that, McGirt is engaging and quick with a laugh.
A couple of months later, I see McGirt this past Monday afternoon at the South El Monte Teamsters Gym, where a media day was held for the undercard fighters who will be in action this weekend in Houston, Texas. McGirt trains Chinese heavyweight Taishan Dong, who faces Karinn Davis at Minute Maid Park. The 7-foot Dong (and yeah, I just typed that) is a project to say the least, given his combat background lies in kickboxing and kung fu.
The emphasis for McGirt is to keep things very basic and lay a foundation.
“It’s funny you say that. We had a meeting two weeks ago and I said, ‘Look, in order for a house to be strong, you gotta have a strong foundation,’ and he was like, ‘Yeah?’ So I said, ‘Listen, let’s get the basics first. Because he’s never boxed before, he was doing everything with brute strength. He wants to do this in a fight or that in a fight…relax. Let’s build a foundation, then we can continue to build a house and then we go from there.”
Currently the hulking heavyweight from the Far East is 3-0 (2) and the plan is to keep him as active as possible and with soft touches, even if that means treating him like Asian Butterbean for the time being. As McGirt explained, “He has to get comfortable with the basics. Once he gets comfortable, then the sky’s the limit.”
And in Dong, he has an attentive student.
“Yes, I will give him that,” said McGirt, who lauds his work ethic. “There are days when we’re done and he’s still sticking around practicing on what we did that day.”
The one question you have with Dong as he lumbers around the ring: Is he is simply too big for his own good?
“Y’ know what? He has more body control than you’d expect,” claimed McGirt, who is dwarfed by his fighter. “Sometimes he’ll get crazy and then he’ll get his composure and get it together. It’s great working with him because it’s different.”
It was closing in on 3 p.m., which meant I had to get going and prepare for “The Next Round,” my weekly show with Gabriel Montoya but I did want to ask McGirt what he thought of this past weekend’s bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
“It’s like this,” said McGirt, who you just knew was going to be as blunt as can be. “I think they should both go retire, count their money and let’s leave it at that.”
Geez, that’s pretty harsh, Buddy.
“Floyd,” he continued, “I thought personally would do more. When you want to call yourself one of the greatest, I mean, I’m not mad at him. He made $100 million, whatever the case may be – but I’m mad that I went to Las Vegas and I had to leave before the fight was over. After eight, nine rounds, I got up and walked out.”
Speaking of that buzzkill, did Mr. Montoya really compare that fight to a “Cleveland Steamer”? Yes, he did and you can listen to it here on the latest edition of “The Next Round.”
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