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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.