The 2011 Yahoo! Sports Trainer of the Year would not be my first choice if I managed fighters and had a promising young prospect in my stable.
I'd choose a trainer with more proven, time-tested methods, one who has developed a slew of fighters and made a positive impact on each.
I'd look for a trainer whose work has drawn the praise of peers, who is obsessed with fundamentals, who works incessantly on perfecting the little things.
Trainers can make an impact in so many ways; when a fight is close, a slight adjustment or a word of encouragement at the proper time can be the difference between winning and losing.
Rarely has a trainer's impact been as stark as it was in November, when Ann Wolfe took James Kirkland to Mexico and came home with a super welterweight upset of Alfredo Angulo in one of the year's most exciting fights.
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Wolfe doesn't have many top-level fighters. She doesn't have a reputation as a master strategist and she's not known as a brilliant game planner.
Her only fighter of note is Kirkland, but her impact was so great upon him that she's the 2011 Yahoo! Sports Trainer of the Year.
Wolfe wins the award in a year with no obvious slam-dunk choice. Other experts have chosen Virgil Hunter, whose only major fighter, Andre Ward, was brilliant in winning Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic.
Ward routed Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch in 2011, fighting intelligently and with a purpose. That's in large part due to Hunter's long and tireless work.
But the trainer of the year is not a lifetime achievement award – which is why Freddie Roach, the newly elected Hall of Famer, didn't win. And Hunter's man did what he was supposed to do. While that speaks highly of Hunter, remember this: Jockeys are expected to win when they have the best horse in the race. So, too, should trainers.
Wolfe faced a much different challenge. She'd been replaced early in the year as Kirkland's trainer by Kenny Adams, the former U.S. Olympic coach and one of the most highly regarded teachers in the sport's history.
Adams was hired to tighten Kirkland's defense, to improve his fundamentals and make him a complete boxer rather than the reckless slugger he had become.
Kirkland scored a pair of knockouts against nondescript opponents, then was expected to do the same to Nobuhiro Ishida. But even Adams' brilliant tutoring could not make a difference. Kirkland raced in as he always does, chin up, hands flailing.
Ishida caught him on the button and Kirkland went down. Two more knockdowns soon followed and referee Joe Cortez stopped the bout. Kirkland was dismissed as a fraud and Adams was fired.
Kirkland was simply more comfortable with Wolfe, who led him to easy wins over Dennis Sharpe and Alexis Hloros before a showdown with Angulo on HBO.
Much was riding on the Angulo fight for Kirkland. Were he blown out, he likely never would have gotten another big-time shot.
Kirkland didn't feel he was ready for Ishida. Wolfe put him through her camp, in which he boxed two men at once in a ring smaller than the shower in your average La Quinta Inn. She had him chase a truck with a heavy bag hanging off the back, punching away. She made him tote boulders and survive some sort of football-type gang tackle.
It clearly wasn't the way Angelo Dundee prepared Muhammad Ali, but the important thing for Kirkland is that it worked.
Kirkland was knocked down in the first minute of the fight, clipped by a perfect counter right as he charged in on Angulo. This time, though, when he arose, he wasn't unsteady on his feet. He didn't lose his composure. He went to the ropes and Angulo pounded away at him. Kirkland blocked most of the shots and allowed Angulo to punch himself out.
He then roared back to drop Angulo, pummeling him over the next five rounds and stopping him in the sixth. It was one of the most entertaining fights of the year and a critical one for Kirkland.
For leading her fighter to a win when it mattered most, Ann Wolfe is the 2011 Yahoo! Sports Trainer of the Year.
Honorable mention: Virgil Hunter, Robert Garcia, Freddie Roach, Barry Hunter, Fritz Sdunek, Pedro Diaz, Nacho Beristain.
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- James Kirkland
- Alfredo Angulo
- Ann Wolfe