The fighter-trainer relationship is among the most iconic in sports. As the ring warrior undergoes the painful and arduous journey of preparing for combat, the trainer is his constant companion, guiding and motivating, part coach and part drill sergeant. The intense, one-on-one nature of the relationship means that often the most successful trainers become synonymous with their fighters.
So it has become with Freddy Roach and his most famous charge, Manny Pacquiao. As Pacman's star has ascended to fabulous heights over the past decade, Roach's has risen right alongside it. He has become the most sought-out and recognizable trainer in the sport, even crossing over to the exploding mixed martial arts scene, where his clients have included UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre.
It is a reputation that is well deserved. In Pacquiao, he took an undersized fighter with an explosive left hand and little else and has turned him into a well-rounded, multiple division world champion and somebody who gets mentioned in all-time, pound-for-pound discussions.
Roach's entire life would seem to have pointed him in this direction. A respectable lightweight contender with a 40-13 (15) professional record, Roach himself was trained by the legendary Eddie Futch (who will appear later on this list).
Roach, who also trained actor Mickey Rourke during Rourke's Quixotic pro boxing career, owns the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California. Beyond Pacquiao, he trains an extensive roster of fighters, including junior welterweight champion Amir Khan and current WBC middleweight belt holder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
But as he prepares Pacquiao for his November clash with Juan Manuel Marquez, a boxer who has already fought the Filipino Congressman for 24 nip and tuck rounds, there is no doubt that his attention will be firmly placed on coming up with a plan for beating the rugged three-division Mexican champ.
A member of the most recent class inducted into the Boxing Hall-of-Fame in Canastota, NY, Ignacio "Nacho" Beristain is among the most successful trainers in the sport's history. He has worked with well over a dozen world champions and was the primary trainer for three Hall-of-Famers: Humberto "Chiquita" Gonzalez, Ricardo Lopez and Daniel Zaragoza.
In recent years, his highest profile fighter has been Juan Manuel Marquez, only the fourth Mexican born fighter to ever win world titles in three divisions. Freddy Roach himself has commented that Marquez has, so far, been the one fighter with the style to really give Pacman problems. Beristain has to be given substantial credit for this.
At 38 years of age and fighting at welterweight, it remains to be seen whether Marquez will still present Pacquiao with the same challenging puzzle as he did in 2004 and 2008. But with a trainer like Beristain in his corner, he should at least have the blueprints for another winning game plan.
Emanuel Steward would go on any short list with the previously mentioned Roach and Beristain as one of the top active trainers in the sport. Like Beristain, the list of champions he has worked with runs well into double digits. But for those of us boxing fans who remember the 1980's, he will forever be linked with one name first of all: Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns.
Steward is credited with turning Hearns from a frail, light-hitting prospect into one of the most devastating punchers in the history of the welter and junior middleweight divisions. Hearns' shockingly quick knockouts of otherwise dominant champions like Roberto Duran and Pipino Cuevas provide a true testament to Steward's tutelage.
Though the list of champs Steward has worked with is too extensive for any true consistency of style, Hearns can nevertheless be viewed as the prototype of what might be thought of as a "Steward fighter"—a long, angular fighter who uses a great jab and lateral movement to set up punishing overhands. Lennox Lewis and more recently, Wladimir Klitschko, are Steward's heavyweight versions.
Ray Arcel was born in 1899 and began training fighters in the 1920's. By the time he started to work with Roberto Duran in the early 1970s, he was already among the most legendary trainers of all time, having trained such all-time champions as Bennie Leonard, Barnie Ross, Ezzard Charles, Ceferino Garcia and Tony Zale.
But its hard not to see the Panamanian, Roberto Duran, as the pinnacle of his career. With a nickname like "Manos de Piedre" ("Hands of Stone"), it is hard to imagine Duran was put on the planet to do anything other than knock other people unconscious. Arcel crafted the raw slugger into a well-rounded boxer-brawler with tricky defensive abilities.
The result was one of the greatest stars in the sport's rich history. In 2002, The Ring ranked him as the fifth best boxer of the past 80 years. Burt Sugar ranks him as the No. 8 pound-for-pound fighter of all time and he is considered by many boxing writers and observers to be the greatest lightweight of all time.
This one was either going to have to be a double entree on the list, or else Angelo Dundee was going to have to appear twice. In the past 50 years, the two biggest stars in boxing have been Muhammad Ali and Ray Leonard; both men were trained by Dundee.
Dundee picked up the tricks of his trade working as a "bucket man" at Stillman's Gym in Miami, where he was mentored by such legendary trainers as Ray Arcel and Charlie Goldman. His first world champion was the "Upstate Onion Farmer" Carmen Basilio.
Dundee was tapped by the "Louisville team" of investors behind the man then known as Cassius Clay to train the young Olympic champion in the early 1960's. Throughout one of the most epic careers in professional sports, Clay's name, and almost everything else, would change radically. But Dundee remained in his corner for the entire ride.
Dundee began training Leonard following his sensational gold medal victory in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Once again Dundee found himself working with a star who transcended the sport.
One of the most famous between-rounds images from the sport's history occurred during Leonard's classic showdown with Thomas Hearns. Pictured in the linked video, Dundee famously told his fighter, "You're blowing it son."
When Charlie Goldman became the trainer for Rocky Marciano, he could not have faced much competition for his new prospect. Marciano was an undersized heavyweight, a semi-pro baseball reject with a meager amateur record of 8-4.
As I hope everybody reading this will remember, the Rock went on to become the only heavyweight champion in history to retire with an undefeated record.
Goldman was without a doubt a great match up for Marciano. He had a stated philosophy of not changing the way a fighter fights, but instead cultivating what the fighter does best. He taught the short, stocky Marciano to fight from a crouch, making him a difficult target to hit and creating the explosive, hook and uppercut offense that became the stuff of legends.
If there had never been a Mike Tyson, Cus D'Amato still might have made this list due to his work with Floyd Patterson, or even Jose Torres. But it was the relationship he created with the young Tyson during the years before his death in 1985 that is truly the stuff of sporting myth.
D'Amato was essentially retired and living in the Catskills when he met the 13-year-old Mike Tyson, an inmate at a nearby reform school. Tyson became D'Amato's full time project; the dominant heavyweight he had been waiting his life to train. He moved Tyson into his home and eventually adopted him.
Short and extremely compact, Tyson was the perfect fighter to learn D'Amato's "peekaboo" style of defense. In the early days of his career, Tyson was viewed as some sort of raw force of nature, but Tyson was very much a thoroughly and effectively trained boxer. The explosive, devastating attacks that Tyson unleashed on the best of the weight class in the late 1980s were exactly what D'Amato had envisioned him doing all those years before, and it was precisely what he had been training Tyson to do.
D'Amato tragically died 16 months before Tyson actually captured the world title. Nobody ever took his place and what might have been among the greatest careers in the sport's history ended one of the sport's great "what-ifs" instead.
Like many Americans his age, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was born into a dysfunctional family environment. However, in Money May's case, his family had a unique characteristic: more collective points of boxing IQ than perhaps any other bloodline on the planet. His father Floyd Sr. was a cagey welterweight contender in the 1970s and 80s and his uncle Roger was a two-time world champion.
Not surprisingly, Floyd Jr. has been the greatest protege in the sport's history, trained at one time or another by both his father and uncle.
Mayweather started his professional career being trained by uncle Roger, while his father served time in prison. Upon release, Floyd Sr. took over the lead trainer role and led his son to his first world championship.
However, Floyd Jr. fired his father in 2000 and rehired Roger. There have been more public feuds and reconciliations between father and son in the years since than I, for one, can keep track of. Most recently they had a heated argument in front of the cameras during the filming of HBO's 24/7.
The Soap Opera antics can be tiresome, but there is no denying the level of boxing greatness that has emerged from the turbulent Team Mayweather camp.
For boxing fans my age, Gil Clancy was more famous as one of the sport's top broadcasters, although he did come out of retirement to work with Golden Boy Oscar De La Hoya in the 1990s. At various times he worked with such stars as Ali, Frazier and Foreman.
But he made his reputation with Emile Griffith. He was the first and only trainer for Griffith, guiding him to the undisputed welter and middleweight titles over the course of the New York City star's 20 year career.
Griffith himself went on to be a notable trainer, working with champions Wilfred Benitez and Juan LaPorte.
As was noted in the first slide, Freddy Roach was trained by Futch as a fighter and got his start working corners with him. Roach has often referred to his mentor as the best trainer of all time, and the record makes a compelling case.
This list of champions cornered by Futch includes Bob Foster, Mike McCallum, Alexis Arguello Montell Griffin and Riddick Bowe. He worked with Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick, four of the five men who beat Muhammad Ali.
Norton has to be viewed as his crowning achievement. Norton was a terrific natural athlete. He attended college on a football scholarship and high school sports officials in Illinois actually instituted a "Ken Norton Rule," limiting the number of events a competitor could enter at a track meet, in order to prevent a superior athlete like Norton from simply sweeping the entire event single-handedly.
However, he did not begin boxing seriously until he was a Marine in his early 20s. In the sweet science, this is a late start indeed. Futch made him into a contender and eventually a champion.
Still, Norton rarely even shows up in the top 20 on most people's all-time heavyweight champions list. Yet, with Futch training him, he gave the great Ali all he could handle over three classic fights, beating him once and losing two very close return bouts, including a third fight which a lot of observers felt he won.
The teenage Joe Louis had all the physical gifts you would want for a heavyweight champion. But raw talent in a fighter means little without a trainer to mold it and sharpen it to a fine point. Jack "Chappy" Blackburn was the grizzled old warrior brought in to teach the shining young prospect the ropes.
Blackburn was a former lightweight and a veteran of the rough and tumble years after the turn of the 20th century. Like many fighters of his era, he frequently fought much larger men.
Blackburn developed his young fighter's left jab into a battering ram, and a perfect set up punch for his quick and powerful right cross. He was a tactical genius who almost always had a better strategy in place for Louis than his opponent's corner.
Due to the racist and patronizing manner in which Louis was covered by sportswriters of his era, Blackburn's work went largely ignored, at least when compared to the kind of attention trainers like Dundee, Roach or Steward have enjoyed. It was more dramatically interesting to the hacks of the era to present Louis, trained and managed by an all-black team, as some sort of primal force of nature than as a meticulously prepared athlete.
History has revised that opinion considerably, and Blackburn is rightfully remembered today as among the great trainers of all time.