Monday, September 9, 2019

Marc Ramsay: The Light Heavyweight Whisperer

These are good times for Marc Ramsay, the Montreal-based boxing trainer. The former Canadian Olympic coach has amassed one of the more impressive stables in the sport, including light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev, former light heavyweight beltholder Eleider Alvarez, heavyweight contender Oscar Rivas and a slew of top prospects such as Christian Mbilli, Erik Bazinyan and Sadriddin Akhmedov. Next month Ramsay has one of the highest-profile opportunities of his career as Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs) faces fellow titlist Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KOs) in a light heavyweight unification match on October 18 in Philadelphia (ESPN will televise). 

Ramsey has now cornered three prominent light heavyweight champs with Beterbiev, Alvarez and Jean Pascal, and each of them scarcely resembles the others in the ring. Unlike trainers such as the late Manny Steward (fight tall behind the jab) and Freddie Roach (Attack! Attack! Attack!), Ramsay doesn't have a signature style, and that is by design. To Ramsay, a trainer's job isn't to create cookie-cutter fighters, but to examine each boxer and work on ways to make him more well-rounded.

In his belief, a good trainer can have success with all different styles. And even though Beterbiev (a natural knockout puncher), Alvarez (a traditional boxer-puncher) and Pascal (an athletically gifted but awkward brawler) are vastly different in the ring, all have made it to the championship level. Ramsay believes that it's his job to work with whatever technical strengths and limitations a fighter may have to take him to the top.

"The first thing you have to understand," Ramsay said, "is that every fighter is very different. As a trainer, you cannot impose a specific style for everybody. You have to look at what are the strong points and the weaknesses of each fighter. You have to make sure that the strong points stay and you need to make the progression with their weaknesses...It’s a question of adaptation from one fighter to the other one."

Photo Courtesy of Marc Ramsay

Ramsay, a former amateur boxer, had his initial success as a coach for Team Canada at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. He segued to the professional ranks with Pascal. However, as he garnered more success in the pros, he never took his eye off the emerging amateurs. 

"I always continued to watch amateur boxing very closely," he said. "When I had my first world champion, I was able to travel and go to world championship tournaments, such as the Olympic Games and the Pan American Games. I would introduce myself as Jean Pascal’s trainer. It helped me to scout and recruit fighters. And this continues...Every four years I like to target specific fighters from the Olympics. During the last Olympics, that was Christian Mbilli from France." 

An interesting aspect of Ramsay's gym is that his fighters come from all over the world. Alvarez landed in Montreal via Colombia. Pascal was originally from Haiti. Beterbiev and a number of other fighters hail from Russia or Russian-speaking countries. Ramsay, who speaks French and English fluently and can mix in some Spanish, takes pride in the cosmopolitan nature of his stable. And despite potential challenges with cultural differences and language barriers, he has been able to train fighters from a variety of backgrounds. 

"Working with different cultures and languages at first can be a little difficult," he said, "especially with Russian. But with Beterbiev and all those guys in my gym right now from that part of the world, they are able to learn English very fast. And we also speak the same boxing language." 

In recent years Montreal has emerged as an international boxing hotbed, with world-class amateurs and professional throughout the city, but Ramsay is selective with whom he chooses to train. He has specific criteria when working with fighters. 

Ramsay, an understated and cerebral type, believes in doing his homework. Before agreeing to train a new fighter he conducts not just physical and technical assessments, but also a psychological one. He wants to know if a fighter has personal problems or is hard to work with. He tries to gauge desire and work ethic. He uses his extensive boxing connections to get as much information as he can before determining if a fighter would be a good fit for his gym.

"Like everyone, the first thing I'm looking for is talent," he said. "Without talent, you’re not going to get to the point where a fighter can generate money and make a living from it. Talent is very important at the beginning, but eventually everyone is talented. I also watch for psychological characteristics. I see if a fighter had trouble with his national team. I try to profile every single athlete [under consideration]. Sometimes the athlete can look very good but you discover that he has some issues with psychological aspects. You need to have a sense of all the psychological elements, because that will help determine if they can make it all the way to a world championship." 

And Ramsay's research also extends to potential opponents. Gvozdyk, for example, is a fighter who has been on Ramsay's radar for several years. Ramsay witnessed Gvozdyk's triumph over lineal light heavyweight titlist Adonis Stevenson in Quebec City and one of his fighters had an opportunity to fight him in the past before the bout fell through. Unlike a number of other trainers, Ramsay doesn't try to minimize an opponent's strengths in the ring. 

"I respect Gvozdyk a lot," he said. "He’s a complete fighter. He’s a good boxer. He’s stronger than what may appear on the outside. Good defense. Good speed. Real good technique also. He’s a complex boxer and you have to be very smart to beat a guy like him." 

Ramsay takes issue with the perception that Beterbiev is merely a knockout artist. Even though Beterbiev has stopped all of his opponents as a professional, Ramsay is quick to point out Beterbiev's amateur success, intelligence and work ethic. Before his last fight in May, Beterbiev had only two fights in the previous 18 months, as he was embroiled in promotional issues. Despite that period of inactivity, Ramsay noted that Beterbiev was always in the gym and never let his legal proceedings get the best of him. 

In Ramsay's opinion, Beterbiev is going to have to be at his best to defeat Gvozdyk. For this training camp, Ramsay even used Eleider Alvarez to help Beterbiev with some technical aspects of preparation. Although Beterbiev and Alvarez used to spar frequently when Beterbiev was a young pro, Ramsay has trained them completely separately in recent years. However, for this camp, Alvarez was brought back into the fold, not for full-contact sparring, but to help refine specific techniques. (He maintains that although the two fighters aren't necessarily friends, they have a healthy respect towards each other.) 

"Against an opponent of this caliber," he said, "Artur is going to have to be very complete. You can’t go in there and just expect that something is going to work. You have to prepare for everything. You can’t be surprised by the speed or the technique. You have to be prepared for all those aspects. Artur Beterbiev will need to be a complete fighter on that night. Not just a boxer. Not just a brawler. He’s going to need to be smart, good in all aspects and very aggressive."

Ramsay respects the challenge that Gvozdyk presents and embraces it. He's expecting a tough fight, but believes that his boxer is ready. And while he has other big fights on the horizon, such as Alvarez's return to the ring later this year, he knows that all eyes will be on the light heavyweight showdown on Oct. 18. Ramsay isn't one to issue bulletin-board material or to make headlines with bold claims, but he knows what a Beterbiev win would mean to his fighter and his gym. And he welcomes the opportunity. 

Long past the days of dreaming about becoming a player in world boxing, Ramsay is now among the big boys. And while words like "talent," "projection," and "skills" will always be a part of his vocabulary, at this phase of his career he is also searching for the one concept that separates the elite from the merely very good in boxing: mastery. Beterbiev will have that opportunity in October, and Ramsay will be in the corner, meticulously prepared, and ready for the big stage. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
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