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Stick or twist? The complexities and dangers of changing a trainer

Wladimir Klitschko
Action Images/Andrew Couldridge
Breaking up with a trainer is not a decision to be taken lightly, writes Matt Christie

THERE comes a point in almost every successful boxer’s career when they consider changing their trainer. Perhaps it’s an unexpected loss that preluded the uncertainty, a run of poor form, a battle for power in the relationship, third-party interference or the fighter feels they can achieve greater reward elsewhere. Whatever the rationale, the boxer will, at some point, look over their trainer’s all too familiar shoulder and notice how green and inviting the grass looks on the other side.

There are several examples of boxers moving away from old trainers and achieving greater things with new ones. Two that immediately spring to mind are Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko. Both achieved greatness after improving significantly under Emanuel Steward. Anthony Crolla is another who took his career to the next level when he joined forces with Joe Gallagher. Without question, each of the three developed into more complete fighters and, pertinently, are now in the enviable position of being happy in retirement after quitting on their own terms and surpassing all expectation. 

A quality shared by each of them is a very clear understanding of oneself – a crucial component in the makeup of the successful boxer. It’s also worth noting that all three suffered setbacks or periods of frustration with their new coaches, yet they recognised the relationships forged were the right ones.

This week, Kell Brook makes his return after 14 months out of the ring with trainer, Dominic Ingle, in his corner. Their journey to this point hasn’t always been smooth. 

Brook, despite his considerable achievements, will now admit he did not knuckle down when he should have done, his focus wandered when out of camp and – in a lesson to every young fighter – he took his youth for granted. He left Ingle on more than one occasion, gambling that a new trainer would solve all his problems but now, at the age of 33 and under no illusion his career is nearing its end, he knows he cannot twist again. He is sticking with the man who knows him best and the man who knows how to get the best out of him. The man who has always been there for him, sacrificing so much of his own time in the process. 

Brook is not the first boxer to go full circle. It’s common when a fighter senses the end. They fear their potential will go unfulfilled and they return to a safe place. One that reminds them of the days when their future seemed endless. 

Frankie Gavin, a man accused of squandering his significant talent, changed coaches numerous times during his career while failing to solve the real problem behind that inability to deliver: Himself. With his career winding down, he went back to his amateur coach, Tom Chaney, in an ultimately futile effort to go back and start again.

Different to Brook and Gavin is the ferociously ambitious Scott Quigg. But we can certainly apply similar logic. After claiming a world title with Joe Gallagher, he chose to move to America following a close loss to bitter rival Carl Frampton. Often criticised when under Gallagher’s tutelage for taking too many punches, he ended up taking even more when the great Freddie Roach was in his corner. He faded from public consciousness, at least in the UK, and behind the scenes no doubt missed Gallagher’s relentless loyalty to his fighters. It was announced in the last fortnight that Quigg, now 31, has returned to Gallagher’s Gym.

A significant number of the greatest fighters in history had only one trainer thoughout their career. No time was wasted pointing the finger at others for their own mistakes. One wonders if Oscar De La Hoya’s career would have been even greater if he hadn’t spent so much time changing his coaching staff. One doubts that Andy Ruiz Jnr will ever the find a trainer who is the perfect fit. 

Boxers have a small window in their life to make the most of their talent. It only becomes apparent how precious time is when it starts to run out.  

The relationship with a trainer is the most important of a boxer’s entire career yet it will not always run smooth. The strongest, longest and most successful partnerships never do.

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