Abel Sanchez has quietly become one of boxing's best trainers

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Abel Sanchez has helped Gennady Golovkin emerge as one of the toughest boxers to hit in the sport. (Courtesy of Abel Sanchez)

Abel Sanchez

Abel Sanchez has helped Gennady Golovkin emerge as one of the toughest boxers to hit in the sport. (Courtesy of Abel Sanchez)

All these years later, after training 14 men to world championships, including one to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Abel Sanchez still remains relatively anonymous.

WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin's coach proved many years ago – long before Golovkin made the windy trek nearly 7,000 feet up the San Bernardino Mountains to The Summit Gym in Big Bear Lake, Calif. – that he is one of the sport's best.

What Sanchez is in the process of doing with Golovkin, who meets Marco Antonio Rubio Saturday in the main event of an HBO-televised card at the sold-out StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., is the kind of transformation that Freddie Roach did with Manny Pacquiao earlier this century.

By the time Pacquiao wandered into Roach's humble Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Calif., in 2001, Roach was already one of boxing's best trainers. He'd worked with the late Johnny Tapia and future Hall of Famer Virgil Hill, and had learned from Eddie Futch, the greatest boxing coach of them all.

Roach, though, managed to cultivate Pacquiao's exceptional talent and that turned the Filipino into a global sports icon.

Golovkin had great physical gifts when he first met Sanchez three years ago. He was 18-0 when he met Sanchez in June 2010, but he was a vastly different boxer.

He's beloved by American fans for his aggressive, hard-punching style. Golovkin is constantly on the prowl and has one of the sport's highest knockout ratios.

But when he got to Sanchez, he didn't fight that way. He was more erect and vastly more economical with his punches. He fought behind a jab and wasn't looking to necessarily mix it up.

"Gennady has a completely different style than when he first came to me," Sanchez said. "We've been able to modify it and convert it into a fan-friendly style. If I'd have kept him how he was – the best way to describe it is that he came over here boxing like a Klitschko – we wouldn't be talking now.

"I was able to make a dramatic change, but I had to have a fighter who was willing to make that change with me. All of my guys fight similar styles, but they're similar because we feel, well, I feel, they need to entertain."

Fight fans should exult whenever they see Sanchez in a boxer's corner because rare is the Sanchez fighter who doesn't put on a good show.

Sanchez, though, hasn't become the celebrity that Roach has become despite his success. Roach frequently welcomes big-name actors, musicians and other athletes to his gym and his name has become synonymous with boxing.

Gennady Golovkin punches Daniel Geale during a middleweight championship bout in July (Getty Images)
Gennady Golovkin punches Daniel Geale during a middleweight championship bout in July (Getty Images)

Roach, who has won the Trainer of the Year award from the Boxing Writers Association of America six times, became so popular that filmmaker Peter Berg sold a six-part reality series on him to HBO.

Sanchez hasn't gotten that kind of acclaim yet, even though Terry Norris made it to the International Boxing Hall of Fame under his tutelage and the likes of Paul Vaden, Miguel Angel Gonzalez and Lupe Aquino won world championships with him.

This could be the year that, for the first time, Sanchez wins the Trainer of the Year award.

Sanchez, who owns a construction company, built The Summit in 2000. It is a 4,000-square-foot gym with a pair of homes on the property.

He's not a horses-for-courses type of trainer. He has a system that he is fully committed to using. It's been proven to work over time and, because he knows he'll be the fall guy if things go wrong, he demands his boxers use it or he won't take them on.

Sanchez gives a lot to his fighters, but he expects a lot in return, and he doesn't think twice about it.

"I run a very disciplined camp," he said. "I'm the boss. If the fighter wins, they're going to credit the fighter. If he loses, it will be my fault. So if it's going to be my fault, then I am going to run things my way and do things the way I think they should be done."

He's an affable, approachable guy with great insight into the sport, but he hasn't received a lot of acclaim because he is tucked away in Big Bear Lake, far from the limelight.

It's not an easy place to reach, particularly in the winter, and so Sanchez doesn't have a parade of reporters and/or television cameras in and out of his gym.

He's routinely made his fighters better, but his best work clearly has been Golovkin.

He's molded Golovkin into the consummate two-way fighter. Sanchez is eager to point out that, according to CompuBox, Golovkin is one of the toughest men to hit in boxing, behind only Floyd Mayweather.

"People say he gets hit, and I have to laugh a little," Sanchez said. "He's not really getting hit that much. He's better at not getting hit than someone like [Andre] Ward, who is known for his defense. But because of Gennady's come-forward style, it appears he gets hit more than he does."

Sanchez is a stickler for details, and Golovkin joked with Yahoo Sports about that during a recent interview in Las Vegas.

"My coach will tell me [if I make a mistake]," a beaming Golovkin said of Sanchez.

Week after week, though, they've been smoothing out those mistakes. Sanchez said one of the reasons he's been so successful with Golovkin is because of Golovkin's near-total dedication.

He said many young fighters are put on a pedestal way too early, far before they've learned the sport well, and definitely before they've become complete fighters.

As a result, he said those boxers think they know it all and aren't receptive to coaching.

Golovkin, Sanchez pointed out, is the rare fighter who is eager to learn.

"It concerns me the way things go with this business now, where when a young kid wins nine, 10 fights in a row, he's fighting 10-rounders and they're talking about title fights," Sanchez said. "We treat them like stars way too soon and then they don't want to train.

"Give Gennady the credit: In 2013, even though he has a wife and a young boy, 3, 4 years old, he was with me [training] for 10 months out of 12. Think of that. That's a commitment few fighters have.

"And when you have a fighter who is so eager to learn and so committed to being better, as a trainer, you can do a lot of things. Whatever credit I get for Gennady's improvement, you have to go back and look at him. I can tell him what to do, but he's eager to listen and eager to learn and he's the one who does it."

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