Ranking the 10 Best Trainers in Boxing Today

Briggs SeekinsFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2016

Ranking the 10 Best Trainers in Boxing Today

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    It's important to approach a concept like this with a great deal of trepidation. Ranking fighters is tough enough. Ranking trainers is like stepping into a minefield. 

    A fighter is properly ranked by what you see him do in the ring, factoring in who he has done it against. But a trainer's real work takes place in the weeks, months and years before the fight and during the frantic one-minute break between rounds. 

    To properly rank the trainers, one would need to spend a lot of time in a lot of different gyms across the globe. Unable to do that, one falls back on ranking the results of their pupils. 

    For that reason, there is a strong emphasis on trainers who are currently sending some of the best prepared fighters in the sport into battle. Resumes over the years have been balanced alongside recent performances. 

    The result is more a snapshot of who has done great work over the past year or so, not an assessment of all-time standing. Some familiar names will go absent from this list. Nacho Beristain is one of the best trainers of this century and could be in the all-time top five. 

    But with an emphasis on the word "today," he didn't make this list. 

    Likewise, trainers such as Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Naazim Richardson, Teddy Atlas and Brendan Ingle remain walking, breathing boxing encyclopedias.  But it's important to measure resumes of men like that against the great recent work of trainers such as Peter Fury, Eddy Reynoso, Arnulfo Obando and Anatoly Lomachenko. 

    As a result, this list combines some well-established trainers with some promising, rising stars. 

10. Brian McIntrye

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    Brian McIntyre is a great example of an old boxing head meeting a rare opportunity and riding it straight to the top. From 1994-2007, McIntyre was a club-level heavyweight pro—and not a particularly good one. His career record stands at 7-14. 

    But he was in the perfect place at the perfect time to begin working with Terence Crawford, one of the great boxing talents of this generation. Omaha, Nebraska, has traditionally been the furthest thing from a boxing hotbed. But Crawford and his team are turning it into one. 

    Crawford has substantial physical gifts, but the most noteworthy thing about him is his boxing intelligence. Perhaps no current fighter makes better mid-fight adjustments. 

    It takes a skilled fighter to do what Crawford does. But that skill has to have been well-taught. 

9. Joe Gallagher

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    Joe Gallagher's top three fighters all lost this year. Scott Quigg lost a super bantamweight unification fight to Carl Frampton, and Anthony Crolla dropped his WBA lightweight belt to Jorge Linares. Liam Smith was knocked out on pay-per-view by Saul Alvarez. 

    But a fairer way to look at it might be like this: In the biggest fight of 2016 and in three different weight classes, Gallagher was sitting in one corner. 

    The Manchester native turned to training after an amateur career and built up his stable slowly and steadily over the years. He now handles some of the top rising stars on the British scene. 

8. Derrick James

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    Derrick James is on this list because of the work he has done with a single fighter: welterweight phenom Errol Spence Jr. But building a fighter like Spence from the ground up is an amazing accomplishment. 

    James began working with Spence in 2008, just as he was finishing his own professional career as a super middleweight journeyman and club fighter. At the time, Spence was winning local amateur tournaments on pure athleticism. 

    Last April, James told Sean Reed of BoxingScene.com, "Even back in the day, everybody was telling him how good he looked, but my job was to look for flaws. ... I wanted him to have a more competitive style; counter-punching, angles, using distance to his advantage, being more focused and fighting smarter."

    James turned Spence into an elite amateur, culminating in an appearance in the 2012 Olympics. But he is being recognized here for the work he has done transforming Spence into a dominant professional. 

    This year against Chris Algieri and Leonard Bundu, Spence showed veteran patience and offensive versatility in order to finish a pair of contenders who had never been stopped. These were the kind of performances that do not come naturally to any fighter but must be taught in the gym. 

7. Shane McGuigan

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    Shane McGuigan is the son of boxing legend Barry McGuigan, a featherweight champion and major box-office attraction in the 1980s who remains one of the sport's most interesting commentators. The younger McGuigan was a decent amateur boxer but hung up his gloves at 21 to focus on a career as a trainer. 

    McGuigan is primarily on this list due to his work with Carl Frampton, one of the top candidates for 2016 Fighter of the Year honors. While Frampton has great natural gifts, what has been most notable about his ascent to the top of the sport has been his conditioning and game plan. 

    In July, Frampton beat the larger, more imposing Leo Santa Cruz with a great tactical fight that relied upon relentless energy. Behind any such performance is a great trainer. 

    McGuigan has also turned into a hired gun of sorts, being brought on board to help plot the comeback of heavyweight David Haye and lead super middleweight George Groves to an elusive title. 

6. Ronnie Shields

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    Ronnie Shields was a good amateur featherweight and fought for a world title as a professional. But his true mark on the sport has been made as a trainer. 

    Over the years, he has handled a huge number of world champions and superstars, including Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Mike Tyson, Arturo Gatti, Raul Marquez, Juan Diaz and Kermit Cintron. 

    In 2016, he remains at the top of his game. He trains WBA super welterweight champion Erislandy Lara, one of the sport's best boxers, and IBF super welterweight champ Jermall Charlo, one of boxing's rising stars. 

    Charlo's victory over former champion Austin Trout was one of the year's best performances. It was a perfectly executed game plan and textbook work for a Shields-trained fighter. 

5. Robert Garcia

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    Robert Garcia was a world champion as a boxer, winning the IBF super featherweight belt in 1998 before losing it to Diego Corrales. But it has been his work as a trainer that will put him in the Hall of Fame. 

    Garcia's Boxing Academy in Oxnard, California, has become one of this generation's most venerable institutions of higher learning in the fistic arts. Fighters come to Garcia from all over the planet. Many of them win world titles. 

    Garcia developed Brandon Rios into a two-division world champion and turned Marcos Maidana from a relentless brawler into the fighter who gave Floyd Mayweather his toughest fight in the second half of his career. 

    Garcia's greatest pupil has been his younger brother, Mikey. An undefeated, two-division world champion who finally returned to action this year after a break of more than two years, the younger Garcia should factor into some of the major fights of the next few years, with his older brother guiding the way. 

4. Freddie Roach

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    Freddie Roach was a lightweight contender and entered his career as a trainer under the mentorship of Eddie Futch, my own choice for the greatest trainer who ever lived. Roach has built a career of his own that can at least be mentioned in the same conversation as his legendary teacher. 

    He has been the most celebrated trainer of this century. He turned Manny Pacquiao from an athletic fighter with an explosive left hand into a well-rounded, two-fisted superstar. 

    Roach may not be at the top of his game any longer, but his recent work with Viktor Postol proves that he is still one of the best in the business.

    Roach turned the Ukrainian super lightweight from a classic European boxer with little power into a dangerous puncher who was able to stop the hard-as-iron Lucas Matthysse in October 2015.  

3. Virgil Hunter

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    Like others on this list, Virgil Hunter's career as a trainer might never have gotten off the ground if not for meeting the right young fighter early in his career. If there was no Andre Ward, Hunter might never have become a household name among boxing fans.

    But without a teacher like Hunter, Ward might never have developed into the pound-for-pound superstar he has become. Hunter learned the sport from the ground up alongside his young charge.

    Hunter is a bit like the great Angelo Dundee in that his value as a trainer is as much due to his psychological insight as his technical acumen. But he knows the sport and has become a go-to teacher for struggling stars such as Andre Berto and Amir Khan.

    Still, Ward has remained his greatest project. And he will be in the corner for the year's biggest fight in November, when Ward battles undefeated light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev.  

2. John David Jackson

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    John David Jackson was a top professional fighter in the 1980s and 1990s, winning world titles at super welterweight and middleweight. He turned to training and captured his first world title as a coach when Nate Campbell beat Juan Diaz in 2008. 

    Former opponent Bernard Hopkins brought Jackson in to train him for one of the biggest fights of his career against Antonio Tarver. Future Hall of Famer Shane Mosley brought Jackson on board for a pair of fights in 2005. 

    But Jackson's greatest work as a trainer has been what he has done with current light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev. The Russian came to Jackson with a strong amateur background and demonstrated power at the professional level. 

    Jackson has developed him into a pound-for-pound superstar, a patient assassin who has dominated since shifting his career to the United States. 

1. Abel Sanchez

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    Abel Sanchez was a highly accomplished trainer far before he paired up with current middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin. He made "Terrible" Terry Norris a super welterweight champion and one of the top stars of the 1990s. He made Terry's brother, Orlin, into a world champion at the cruiserweight level. 

    He also captured world titles with Lupe Aquino and Carlos Baldomir.

    But it has been his current run with Golovkin that has elevated him to the top of the sport. Golovkin came to him as an Olympic silver medalist with dangerous power.

    But Sanchez deserves credit for making GGG a true boxing terror in the classic "Mexican style" favored by the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez.

    As a result of his success with Golovkin, Sanchez's gym in Big Bear, California, has become a destination for fighters from around the world. In addition to Golovkin, he also handles light heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera and undefeated welterweight Konstantin Ponomarev, among others.