Tag Archives: Bob Jackson

Stupid Fans, Teddy Atlas, and the Politics of Boxing: A Post Mortem of Pacquiao-Mosley

by Al Alvir

To the boxing world over, there is nothing valid to the argument that Manny Pacquiao was ever on HGH or, at this point, that Floyd Mayweather Jr. is clearly better than Pacquiao.  People who make livings following the sport and assessing the facts are convinced that all the talk is just fanfare to obstruct the truth: Mayweather does not want to fight Pacquiao under any circumstance – Pacquiao no drugs, no food, one arm…  There aren’t even any reliable tests for HGH, and it doesn’t mean anyone should be condemned for taking HGH only for that person being so good.  Even Barry Bonds left a trail of witnesses and suspicious corroborations; not just his size and performance.  The reasons given as to why Mayweather is ducking Pacquiao are simply ad hoc hypotheses.  Whether you know what that means or not, the point is that anyone in his right mind can objectively see that Mayweather does not want to fight Pacquiao for every reason opposite their scapegoats – he’s so much better rather than he’s on HGH, he’s so much better rather than he’s not giving me a hundred million dollars, he’s so much better rather than he’s gay.  Yes, those have all been excuses given by the Mayweather camp.

But stupid fans – oh, so stupid fans – continue to hold on to their biases or, dare I say, prejudices. 

These are the people who have played park basketball and know the material strategies of how to beat the Lakers.  They played little league baseball and know how to adjust a slumping Derek Jeter’s swing.  And maybe they’ve been in a street fight or a few, so they know the strategies that can make a Shane Mosley obliterate Manny Pacquiao. 

Perhaps I suffer from the same delusions, as I’ve argued for years against those idiots mentioned above.  But although I have studied the art of boxing under real boxing trainers since I was a child and once experienced the training life of a boxer and have taken punches in the ring, I can be objective enough to admit that I could be wrong.

Can any of those halfwits who painstakingly hold their rights to their opinions see the little things that go into applying professional game plans?  I’m not talking about the trite “crash the boards” strategy employed by people who know no other way; in boxing, it’s “keep your hands up and jab” that the average dunce exults.  I’m talking about how to set up traps, different defenses, angles, and hiding different combinations.  But the idiots who don’t know the slightest thing about boxing always act like they know more than anyone.  Do they know what makes a slick boxer slick?  No, and that ignorance and lack of education helps their hypotheses (or they may call it “theories,” although that is NOT what it is) fall flat on their faces.  I’m not saying Floyd Mayweather Jr. was not great at 135lb., but I am saying that image sells a lot to the public – dancing, talking, antics, etc.  Corollary, Naseem Richardson said that Pacquiao gets rounds when he gets excited to fight.  It’s called “stealing rounds,” and Mayweather does it a whole lot more, before and after the fight, along with his uncle and father infecting the minds of people who “don’t know [crap] about boxing.”   

Boxing is like politics.  It pulls on our heart’s strings and we put our spin on every fighter’s greatness like it’s a spin top.  The natural barriers of society – like race, religion, place, position, affinities and affections – guide our applauses.  And often, we wear our affiliations for all to see.  Teddy Atlas is one commentator whom I lost great respect for, as he is in an ESPN commentator obliged, but fails, to show objectivity as a known face of the sport, especially because he lacks Larry Merchant’s eloquence to ever explain his partiality.  Bob Jackson, who worked under Cus D’amato like Atlas did, said that he yelled at Teddy Atlas about his actions after Michael Moorer lost to George Foreman.  Atlas quit as Moorer’s trainer after the loss instead of staying by his fighter’s side.  “He only cares about himself,” Bob Jackson told me.  Worse than Atlas’s bad-mouthing Mike Tyson over and over every chance he had seeming to delight in the limelight of having supposedly been the only person who didn’t condone Tyson’s bad behavior, or his indulgence in loud antics in the corner of major fights, he questioned Manny Pacquiao’s legacy before his bout with Shane Mosley.  “Who has Pacquiao fought?” he asked.  “No one but Oscar De La Hoya.”  And now Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino who seems to be oblivious to the divides, may feel the prejudice and aversion akin to that which African-Americans have suffered for decades: “Is it because he’s black?” 

It is as though Manny Pacquiao is the true symbol of the underdog who has overcome.  He is a minority among the smallest-known minorities.  He is from an island country where the identity is arguably to have been conquered by an assortment of cultures, yet also to be servile, welcoming, and humble.  And he’s a fighter who has conquered his opponents resoundingly.  He had to overcome the Mexican elite until they all respected him almost as much as he had respected them.  And what makes him such an easy target to the people who can attack him only with their bully voices is that he is not at all boisterous.  He admits to being hurt and he claims to get lucky.  He smiles at his opponents and prays for their health while trying to crucify them.  Pacquiao also seems to be oblivious to the parade of posturing by the Mayweathers.  He may not even realize how good Mayweather may be; he just wants to fight him for honor, as though he is a throwback to 1521.

The record shows that Pacquiao has agreed to unlimited drug tests, a 50/50 split, and even offered a possible “winner take the whole purse” solution to bring Mayweather to an agreement.  The politics of how information is exchanged and how knowledge is retained may keep people from realizing that Mayweather boxed as a Junior Flyweight, 108 lbs. and has moved up in weight – just like Pacquiao.  But Mayweather’s highest weigh-in weight, 150 lbs., is actually more than Pacquiao’s highest weigh-in weight, 145 lbs.  And Pacquiao did it even more gradually, so the argument of unnatural growth is nonsense (and Pacquiao doesn’t have to dehydrate before weigh-ins).  At welterweight, Pacquiao hadn’t shown immense power either.  Numerous opponents (exception, Shane Mosley) said that Pacquiao had great speed and accuracy, not power.  So the HGH accusations are material nonsense there, too. 

Mayweather fans who don’t know boxing may have forgotten that Jose Luis Castillo already beat Mayweather the first time on many scorecards.  Oscar De La Hoya, too, may have given that Mayweather fight away to a draw – but De La Hoya was robbed by many experts’ accounts.  Mosley badly rocked Mayweather, and Mayweather fans who don’t know better misremember Mosley as having been dismantled with ease.  Mayweather had 8 or 9 tough rounds with Ricky Hatton, as well.  He was not nearly as dominant as Pacquiao against champions or former champions or in title defenses by the sheer score of rounds.  And if it’s the outcome that counts (or even who looked better in each of their worst performances in those bouts), why not open the mind to the possibility that Manny Pacquiao, who has won more, may be better?   

At least Pacquiao is willing to prove it.  There’s no spin you could put on that.

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Fit But Not To Fight – Commentary on the State of Training and Over-training

by Al Alvir

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”  “It’s not how strong you are, it’s leverage.”    “Skills pay the bills.”  These are some oft spoken training maxims, but pure fitness has always been a center piece of martial arts, romanticized and necessary in its core.  Now, with the boom of crossfit training, the popular implementation of strongman routines, and the everyday mma poseur who thinks he’s showed talent in some bravado bar brawl, how much muscle under one’s bench means so much more.

There may be a false pretense because being in shape is starting to mean more than being in fighting shape to many people trying to be fighters. 

MMA guys are spending so much time in the gym body sculpting (whether they call it that or not) that they inadvertently sacrifice fighting technique.  Tire flipping for hours, then benching, then sledge-hammering tires, then throwing medicine balls in every angle for another couple of hours is becoming the norm for mma practitioners.  Macebells.  Chains.  Kettlebells.  Ropes.  Sandbags.  War hammers.  Indian clubs.  Clean and press….  It’s usually followed by 20-30 minutes of hyper mitt work, a small chunk of which may be technical mitt work.  Fight studying is left to the few professionals who solicit it.  Even their skill drills consist of contrived ways to achieve fitness without actually doing the boring thing they’re training to do.  E.g. Sprawling on medicine balls.  But consider that relying on attrition and drilling over strategy is one way to be unprepared.  And some fight camps only have sparring twice a week.

Martial arts training has always dangerously revolved around cute trends.  “What’s cool at the moment” has always meant more than good ol’ boring work.  On a lesser scale than other martial arts, boxers have found ways to escape the monotony of training since the adherence of the Marquess of Queensberry rules.  Bouncing handballs to train hand-eye coordination and training to jazz music are examples.  Speedbags, heavybags, shadow-boxing are accepted today as good drill work, but they have been around for as long as we can track back in time.  New training routines and training apparatus are regularly being introduced to martial arts.  Until the 1970’s and 1980’s, old-time boxing trainers were wholeheartedly against any weight training, as they believed it ruined flexibility and took snap out of punches.  Today, everything the everyday martial artist does revolves around weight training.

In Rocky IV, the “cool” trend that Rocky contrasted in the series’ obligatory training montage was the costly machines and expensive regimens.  His character basically favored the strongman/circuit training that is coincidentally the fad of today.  The displacement and unpredictability of the weight indeed lends to a more well-rounded work-out (you have to stabilize the weight and use your core), but how many drills does a fighter have to do?  Is the idea that strength and size replaces skill?  The arguably dumbest line in the history of combat movies may be Rocky’s response to Paulie when he was asked where he’s going to spar.  “”I don’t think I need it anymore, Paulie.” dismissed Rocky on his arrival to fight camp.  Perhaps this is a sentiment of today’s martial artist, specifically the mixed martial artist who seems to put technical-training on the backburner of fitness.

The cliché of the fight game, “styles make fights,” seems to have missed the mark in mma.  It’s not how a fighter wears his tattoos or designs his board shorts that style refers to.  It’s not whether a fighter is sprinting on a road or on a track.  Style is fighting style – habits, strengths, weaknesses, moves, and how each relates to the other fighter’s style.  (I was going to edit out the condescension, but it may really have been needed to be said).  The ultimate fact is that training should consist of as much simulation as possible to improve style; attrition will come with the intensity of work and the several complimentary drills.  But a fighter doesn’t need to do every damn drill in lieu of the real thing. Perhaps it is because trainers are trying to make it fun for their students that they try to implement new regimens and new training devices. 

But fight training is not supposed to be fun.  It’s supposed to be hell.

Overtraining muscles over skills is a problem, and the proof is in the quality of fights that are put out.  Guys have great physiques.  Some of them are fast.  So many of them are powerful.  But no one seems to have timing anymore.  And for such fit people, they don’t last the marathon of professional fights well.  This can be attributed to the lack of experience and savvy of being in the situation.  They suck air while punching like bums.  They lack technical proficiency.  They lay on the ground to rest, or they paw and push punches while struggling to get to the bell.  I can spot 7 out of 10 televised mma fighters who are simply mediocre.  And the numbers of top ranked boxers who are showing less than expected technical skill are also alarming, perhaps 3 out of 10.

Simply, there are too many work-outs to build specific techniques’ muscle memory and strength, so fighters must narrow down their work-out programs in order to focus more on ring or cage hours.  Any technique building exercise is more valuable than too much strength work.  And if the technique work supplements strength work (padwork w/ weighted vest), it’s even better.  But an honest assessment of training needs to be made.  If technique is suffering – a ubiquitous problem in mma – refocus needs to be made for its improvement.  And more weight training is not the solution.

A fighter is not a weightlifter or runner or strongman contestant.  He is certainly not a swimmer.  So, a professional fighter, especially, usually cannot be a professional of any of those pursuits simultaneously.  Imagine a fighter training to do the butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke, and aiming to increase swim speed over an 8 week training camp. Then, that fighter practices throwing barrels, lugging sleds, and doing farmer’s walks?  Each workout takes some serious technique and practice in order to perform well and, more importantly, decrease the chance of causing injury. The fighter’s focus, therefore, is removed from fighting in every one of the grueling workouts.  Doing a few things to enhance a specific fighting need where there is a deficiency is certainly encouraged.  I, for one, think strongman training is actually the best fitness training in the world.  But fighting is a game of skill and needs as much practice as possible in itself, as any other pursuit does.

How can a fighter improve his routine after falling for all the trends?

The individual fighter simply has to know what matters.  The drill sergeant coaching needs to be put into extinction for any fighter in the world.  The fighter has to not be a follower.  The fight game is a self-motivating discipline in which coaches are there to spot weaknesses and remind fighters to focus, not baby them into mindless onslaughts of hard work.  It’s not the military in which a kid may just be trying to get through his service tour and have his college tuition paid for.  The fight game is “exclusively” for people who love fighting and are compelled to do the work that goes into fighting.  It’s not for people who need to be psyched-up like power-lifters and football players.  They need to drop the ego that goes with all the “cool” and “hardcore” routines.  Because there’s nothing more hardcore than fighting.  The fight game is for composed warriors, warriors composed in all trials.  The discipline of fighting is like no other because it should be boring.  The discipline is in the routine, the monotony.  Bob Jackson, an old trainer of mine, once told me, “There’s no music in a fight.”  The “fun” in training and preparation was supposed to be in the “hunger” to be the best.  The question is: What is the goal, really?  Surely, not just image.

I forget which famous fighter once said this: “You wanna know how you practice fighting for an upcoming fight? Fighting.”  And no martial artist can ever disagree.  And so it goes for sprawling, too.

Little Known Boxing Wisdom – 12 Things Maybe Only Cus D’Amato Knew

I consider Cus D’Amato to be the greatest boxing mind to have ever lived.  He was the closest thing to a boxing clairvoyant, a man who had an uncanny ability to read people and tell what their future would likely be.  He could point out the minutia of fights, what to focus on, and what would make the difference in the outcome.  D’Amato had the inexplicable ability to gauge fighters just by an exchange of words, even a demeanor or a handshake.  D’Amato had his defined philosophy on boxing, but he adapted to his fighters in his approach to coaching them.  He took in fighters who he deemed to fit in his stable of fighters.  Bob Jackson, renowned boxing trainer who worked under D’Amato, once told me that it was “that thing, [Cus] could see it if you got it.”  It might be something about being around for so long; Bob started to see it, too.  Cus D’Amato saw “that thing” when these fighters were just boys: Rocky Graziano, Floyd Patterson, and Mike Tyson.  (D’Amato also trained Jose Torres a few years before turning pro, but he wasn’t as young).  Great trainers all over the world have worked corners of dozens of hall-of-fame champions, but D’Amato may be the only one who had ever forecasted multiple children to become greats on their own rights (meaning, someone else wasn’t touting them as prodigies before D’Amato did).  Bob Jackson believed his magnum opus was a young Rohnique Posey who Jackson took off the streets of Far Rockaway, NY.  Posey, 30, has not become a champion, but is a grown man and perhaps a magnum opus in his own right.

 

Too many boxing trainers are hacks and boxing quacks – they know surface fundamentals, figure they can come up with some strategy for a slugger and a boxer, and improvise with the appearance of nuance.  A lot of them had personal success in the ring, often by no means of strategic genius or extensive boxing IQ, but they purport to have more understanding of the sweet science than others.  Many of them learned boxing in a common martial arts academy where real boxing is hardly anything more than boxing terms taught by good communicators, so they know their terms well.  Some are just boxing fans who know what they know from watching boxing, but they can communicate it to beginning fighters.  The regretful thing is that you don’t have to communicate the right stuff to be a good communicator.  There is only a small percentage of trainers, from my observations and education, who come from the school of thought about studying the idiosyncrasies of fighting from every aspect: reading, watching, training, and doing.  I have a great respect for old school gym guys, such as Cus D’Amato and Bob Jackson, who inundate[d] themselves in the art.  D’Amato was a boxing fanatic, not like some sports analyst who fancied sport to fill a void in his life, but one who relished in boxing’s kinship to the nature of people and simply loved the art.  Boxing is widely considered a microcosm of life, and D’Amato, the philosopher he was, saw it as such.  D’Amato used fighters’ fears as tools for fighters to build their mentality.  D’Amato is the most widely recognized trainer known for creating his own distinct style and system of fighting.  The implementation of original training devices such as the Willie Bag (Teddy Atlas cashed in on this with Everlast) and slip bag could arguably be credited to Cus D’Amato.

 

I’ve seen world-class trainers showing people nonsense in top gyms.  It is common to see trainers speeding up the necessary process of learning fundamentals just so they can make it “fun” for fighters.  Yuppies and coddled upper-middle class people across the world are learning boxing… the wrong way.  Some trainers just don’t care to give some of the minor things any thought.  Others believe that the real effort should only be put in real fighters who want to go “somewhere,” like turning professional.  So many trainers rely on tradition and ignore other possibilities – e.g. if a trainer is not from the school of pressure fighters, meaning he doesn’t choose to teach it, he might omit the use of certain tactics that would make the fighter more productive moving forward and get him to start countering and stepping back.  Boxing is steeped in a culture of inheritance, the passing down of techniques, training regimens, and lore.  And boxing, as proven of an art as it is, is not part of a gym culture that examines beyond the realm of what has been passed down to its trainers.  This is the crux of boxing’s integrity; it always works so well and dumps the uselessness and ignores the fads, but it hardly evolves in the ways other sports do.  When other athletes drop miles off road work because scientific proof says that anything over x amount of miles of running a day can be counter-productive, boxers run more.  When other athletes find that lifting weights enhances their speed and strength, boxers continue doing push-ups only.  When other athletes swear that sex doesn’t affect their game-play, boxers swear-off their wives and reduce to masturbation (trainers I’ve known have always sworn-off ejaculation of any sort).  When other athletes drink protein shakes that help them get their nutrients, boxers continue downing their urine.  Some of these are old boxing myths, and certainly not jokes, but their prevalence in boxing culture continues.  Of course, some top pros skip the old superstitions and hire specialists for their training camps in order to harness optimal preparedness.  But for the overwhelming majority of boxing gyms, fighters continue doing what they’ve done for years – what they believe has worked for years from the trainers they know. 

 

If you were to adopt a regimen for training, first comparing the detailed routine of 10 top pro-fighters, the work-outs would vary in an alarming way.  They do so many different kinds of work-outs, but it’s not really known whether it’s the routines that work best for particular fighters or just their choice work-outs.  The fundamentals of boxing are exact enough, but the philosophies of trainers, too, vary to the point that fighters would have to wonder, “What will work for me in this sea of contradiction?”  If one core-workout is the best, why don’t all fighters do it?  So, one would have to question what works best in all of boxing.  I’ve been in gyms for many years and follow boxing like an anal retentive grump.  I can explain and debate for days with anyone in the world about the fundamentals that I believe work better or worse, the training styles that can be enhanced, the strategies that certain fighters should use against their opponents, and I will never prescribe to ad hominem.  Trainers of all sorts will always have something to disagree about, as boxing can be very subjectively complicated, but I’ve met only a handful of trainers who have the forethought and stamina to examine their convictions on a daily basis and possibly evolve.  If I were ever proven wrong, I would want to accept it and test it, and test it some more.  I urge everyone, including trainers and cutmen, to strive at being craftsmen at what they do, not just go through the motions to get it done.  As a trainer, if you feel you have the luxury to be lazy or to make an arbitrary choice, you are not doing your fighters any justice.  Here is a list of some classic passed-down common knowledge, obsessive compulsive pet peeves, personal decrees, and some tips maybe only Cus D’Amato knew (but don’t think I wouldn’t fight him tooth and nail on it, as well, if he disagreed.  He may be Cus, but ad hominem… you know):

  1. Putting out the cigarette.  It does not mean you are properly shifting your weight or turning your hips just because you a pivoting on the ball of your foot.  There is more to shifting weight and turning your hips than that.  When someone pivots like he’s putting out a cigarette, it often means he has too much weight on that leg.  Power comes from the hips AND shifting your weight.
  2. Turning hooks.  Trainers say to turn over the hook so that your palm faces down, but guys tend to turn it too early.  The turn adds snap and force and it should be on contact.  See Mike Tyson vs. Trevor Berbick.
  3. Step and slide.  You do not slide the second step, you hover.  The point is to be as close to the floor as possible, but you don’t want to drag your feet.  Dragging, or sliding, your feet slows you down and could tire your leg.
  4. Enswell pressure.  When a cutman rubs swelling with the enswell, pushing the blood away, it is a temporary job, and it lends to the swelling increasing faster.  A cutman should only, if ever, rub out swelling if it’s the last chance for his fighter or the fight is going to be stopped.
  5. Mayweather-like Patty-cake-work.  Here’s another example of ad hominem.  I’ve said for years that the Mayweather pad-work was pointless.  But because Mayweather is/was on top, gym fighters insisted it worked.  Anybody can do it; it’s partially choreographed and it doesn’t help simulate a real fight or real moves.  It’s just a display of fluidity and speed at its best.  But it’s not great pad-work feeding or a display of great skills.  Fighters of all sorts are doing it now, and it’s plain bad and obviously not too difficult.  If you have a routine and can look away, you are obviously not doing what its intended use is—to focus.  Patty-cake Baker’s man, it’s all show.
  6. Speedbag.  It’s good at first, but any fighter gets used to a bag and a platform after seconds and can do it with his eyes closed, so it takes away from the training.  Switch bags and change up the way you hit the bag to get the most out of it.  Pin the bag.  Play around. It’s for hand-eye coordination, so if you can look away, trust that it’s not doing much more than keeping your arms moving.
  7. Snap.  Contrary to what boxers may feel like they’re doing when they punch, they are not punching through the target.  They are actually punching at the target and transferring the greatest force by snapping at the target and changing the trajectory of the punch.  It’s a complicated explanation in physics, but very simple and natural for boxers to perform.  Twisting the fist uses more, larger muscles and increases kinetic energy.  Even if a fighter punches with a follow through, there is a point when he snaps/pops his punch and changes the trajectory even slightly.  Force has to transfer to the target and not dissipate with it. 
  8. Uppercuts.  You should rotate your fist and you should throw it from angles.  People tend to throw the uppercut with the weakest fulcrum – as though their arm is in a cast and sling as they swing their arm up.  That is the weakest angle for your punch because you’re using the weakest muscles.  Your palm should rotate as though you are flexing your bicep, so you get more leverage.  And uppercuts, when possible, should use your chest muscles as much as possible – like a vertical hook.  And try not to throw uppercuts right in front of your opponent.
  9. Where to look.  Generally, stare at the center of the chest, but let your eyes roam.  You want to peak at your opponent’s eyes, he may be cut or having a seizure.  You want to be aware of his hand (only from far away), he may have a ripped glove that could cut you up.  Also, your opponent might have a give with his eyes.  You might have a guy staring into your eyes, and you can trick him by looking up or down. The point is, your eyes are a tool to maximize your awareness.  Also, when you hit the bags, train your peripheral vision.  When hitting the double-end bag or slip-bag, look past the bag at times.  You can’t treat the thing you’re slipping the same way you do the thing you’re punching; you don’t stare at a fist when you’re bobbing and weaving, do you?
  10. Breathing through teeth.  Leave the grunting to tennis players.  Boxers breathe through a bitten-down mouthpiece and make a “sst” sound, not a “shh” sound.  A “sst” sound through the teeth and mouthpiece comes from deep down.  A “shh,” as though you’re telling someone to shush, is basically a superficial exhale.  And biting down will keep you from getting your jaw broken.  Only Manny Pacquiao hasn’t had his jaw wired for this girlish quirk.
  11. Cross vs. Straight vs. Overhand.  Know your 2’s.  It’s important to know the differences between all your 2’s because of the different functions.  I’ve seen it dozens of times when a guy is trying to break through someone’s defense and could do so with a different approach with his 2 punch.  These three shots each function as different punches depending on the angles you get and the angles you make in a fight.
  12. Stepping and punching.  Stepping is ONLY about moving location.  You never have to step with a punch if you are not moving location.  Trainers sometimes insist that fighters step with the jab regardless of positioning.  It’s not going to add power without true forward movement and it can be another give/tip-off.