The WBC trainers’ roundtable
Whether it be the Clean Boxing Program or the Ring Telmex pension and stipend program, the WBC is always working on implementing improvements in boxing.
A new addition to the 54th edition of the World Boxing Council Convention was the trainers’ roundtable. The purpose was for the trainers to discuss issues in boxing affecting fighters that could be improved upon, such as hand-wrapping, sparring, stoppages and fathers being involved in training and cornering.
Aside from trainers Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Abel Sanchez, Joe Gallagher and Stacey McKinley, former two-division titleholder Paulie Malignaggi was also involved.
First up was a discussion regarding hand-wrapping and whether it’s being done adequately throughout the sport. Each trainer and fighter has their own personal preferences, with the primary goal being to protect the fighters’ hands.
Muhammad emphasized securing the wrist, making it tight and straight. Sanchez said he prefers to get his fighters to wrap their own hands and that he makes them use small gloves to hit the bag and mitts in order to toughen up the hands and ensure that the target is being hit correctly. The discussion then delved into overprotection of the hands – too much wrapping – causing weak hands and worse punching technique.
“(BBBofC British super middleweight champion) Callum (Smith) was using 14-ounce gloves and was having hand problems. Now, since he switched to 10-ounce gloves, he’s not having any,” said Gallagher, continuing with, “Sometimes the hands are too protected and, on fight night, the fighter feels a shock when they connect.”
Malignaggi mentioned that, with pre-existing injuries, he’d use big gloves to make up for them but it also meant he’d get away with loose, open-hand punching in training. “It’s better to wait for the hands to heal and then start again with smaller gloves,” he said.
McKinley noted that some coaches and managers are cheap and don’t want to spend the money for proper gauze. Sanchez said he’d suggested to the California State Athletic Commission that it makes trainers take a course on hand-wrapping.
Organization President Mauricio Sulaiman brought up the idea of doing workshops to instruct trainers on proper hand-wrapping practices. He also pondered if tampered wraps were a problem due to there being a lack of available inspectors. The general consensus was more so that badly-wrapped hands are more of an issue.
Next was the issue of sparring – How much is too much? – and related safety practices and precautions.
Malignaggi said he liked to do a lot of rounds when training for an upcoming bout, usually around 125. For Muhammad, he prefers an eight-week camp with sparring on Wednesday and Friday, with no sparring the week before the fight to completely help the body recuperate. According to Sanchez, his prized pupil IBF/WBA/WBC middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin only spars about 70 rounds per camp, split into nine sessions. He won’t allow fighters to spar if they’re not in shape and within a certain amount of their fight weight.
Gallagher lets his fighters spar until Monday of fight week but, when the fight gets closer, controlled, technical sparring with bigger headgear is implemented. He also doesn’t want his fighters to spar if they’re too heavy.
Regarding being out of shape and sparring, McKinley said fighters get hit too much in those situations. Malignaggi said sometimes he’d spar just to see how out of shape he was and that he knew he shouldn’t do it. All of them agreed that fighters shouldn’t be sparring if they’re not in ideal physical condition.
Sanchez brought up preparation before sparring, saying, “Some guys just show up to the gym and want to spar right away. I have my guys doing a set of things before sparring like skipping rope, shadowboxing and ab work. I want them tired before they spar so they can do rounds nine, 10, 11 and 12 like the first four.”
If a fighter is only fighting in four or six-round fights, those are the durations they’ll be sparring. He believes there’s no point in sparring 12 rounds at that stage of a career. “Too much punishment too early,” he detailed.
McKinley stated that some heavyweights will only spar about eight rounds a week. Responding to Sulaiman asking how many rounds per month seems appropriate, Malignaggi said it’s hard to gauge because every fighter approaches sparring differently. Some will work on defense or certain aspects of their game.
“Too many fighters are running the show,” Sanchez said. “It’s not about the amount of sparring; it’s about the quality of sparring. Coaches have to take control.”
Though getting hit in the head is going to be bad for anyone’s health, no matter what, ways to reduce that were discussed, including neck strengthening and head movement. McKinley cited new brain trauma studies indicating that neck training helped absorb blows to the head better. Muhammad emphasized head movement, simply saying, “I’m 64 years old and you never heard me stutter yet.”
On to the topic of stoppages and the right moment to stop a fight, Malignaggi admitted he’d rather get stopped by being down and out than on his feet or in the corner. It’s a delicate issue as fighters have a lot of pride and, by nature, let it get in the way.
“If my fighter’s getting hit and not responding, I’m stopping the fight,” stated Muhammad. “One time, my fighter got knocked down and, back in the corner, I asked him, “Where you at?” and he replied, “Joe’s Crab Shack.”
Sanchez said coaches don’t like to lose and a lot don’t make any money, so some make decisions for tomorrow that benefit themselves rather than looking out for the best interests of their fighters. Malignaggi discussed how fighters are reluctant to quit, even if they want to. Fighters’ body language will give every signal that they want out but, if asked in the corner if they want to continue, they’ll say they do, fueled by pride.
A quick discussion followed about the involvement of fathers as trainers. The WBC supposedly has a rule outlawing fathers from being chief seconds. They can still be a second assist, however.
“Throughout the years, history has shown that a father lets his son take too much punishment,” said Sulaiman. McKinley for his part, initially said the father may be quick to pull the trigger in stopping a fight due to being emotionally attached. Sanchez said he won’t train a fighter whose father is heavily involved.
After the end of the segment, the WBC created a trainer’s council within the technical committee to further work toward improving some of the aspects discussed in the roundtable. With a much greater focus being turned toward fighter safety lately, it’s an initiative that will hopefully have an impact in tightening up some flaws that can be corrected with the right steps taken.
You can follow Rian Scalia on Twitter @rian5ca.