Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Buddy McGirt: Searching for the Rabbit

Similar to all of us, when Buddy McGirt heard the initial rumblings that his fighter, Sergey Kovalev, could be a potential opponent for Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, he didn't believe it. He thought it was joke. After all, Canelo was fighting at middleweight and Kovalev was a light heavyweight titlist, and a big puncher at that. Yet months after the initial speculation, with various other fighters considered and rejected, here we are: Kovalev will be taking on Alvarez this Saturday in one of the biggest fights of the year. 

As McGirt had more time to consider a potential matchup with Alvarez, it started to make sense to him. Alvarez needed a big fight, something that would be acceptable to DAZN, which has made a prodigious investment in Canelo's career. After consulting with Kovalev and promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events, all were in agreement and wanted the fight. Canelo would represent the largest payday of Kovalev's career and perhaps just as an importantly, this would be a matchup where Kovalev, the bigger fighter with a great jab, would have a path to victory. This fight didn't represent a simple cash out; they believe that they can win. 

But first things first, Kovalev needed to make a title defense in August against mandatory challenger Anthony Yarde before the Canelo fight could come to fruition. And despite some rocky moments in the eighth and ninth rounds, Kovalev was able to stop Yarde in the 11th. 

Photo Courtesy of Buddy McGirt

As Saturday approaches, McGirt acknowledges that Kovalev should be considered the underdog. Canelo is one of the best fighters in the sport and a pugilist, in McGirt's eyes, who has continued to improve since his early career setback to Floyd Mayweather. McGirt jokingly said that when they beat Canelo the media will say that Kovalev pulled a rabbit out of the hat. But McGirt has been a big underdog before, both as a fighter and a trainer. It's his job to find that rabbit and to help shepherd Kovalev to victory. 

I recently had an opportunity to talk with McGirt about the Canelo fight, his time working with Kovalev and the Yarde victory. Here's what he had to say: 

Interview conducted by Adam Abramowitz
The interview has been edited and condensed. 

Buddy, what was your initial reaction when you heard that Kovalev was being considered as a possible Canelo opponent?

I didn’t really believe it at first. We thought Canelo was just throwing Sergey's name out there. But then eventually I understood that Canelo liked challenges. And who else was there to fight that could put asses in the seats? The answer was Kovalev.

Have you followed Canelo's career? What is your sense of him as a fighter?

I’ve always been a fan of Canelo. I’ve always watched him and I think he has made some major improvements since the Mayweather fight. His trainer does a great job with him too...The best thing he does is the way he sets traps. So we have to be aware of that. 

One supposed weakness of Kovalev's is that he doesn't take body shots well. What can a trainer do to work on this aspect?

As for the body attack, you can and can’t make changes if you know what I mean. There are some things we can do. You just got to make some minor adjustments and we’ll be OK. I'm not too concerned.

Was there a concern about Kovalev, a veteran fighter at 36, going through back-to-back training camps?

Kovalev wanted to stay busy. He understood that if he was out for too long he would lose some sharpness. And bam, here we are. He came into camp in great shape and in a great frame of mind. He wanted this fight...I think this is a great time for us right now to have this fight. The activity level gives us an advantage in my opinion. Kovalev’s confidence is right where it needs to be.

How do you view the Yarde fight? Kovalev had to survive a few rocky moments.

It was a fight that he needed. I think he erased a lot of doubts in the fight with Yarde. He fought a young, strong guy who put pressure on, and didn’t come to lie down. Yarde pressured him. He tested him. And Kovalev passed the test.

What led to Yarde's success later on in the fight?

Kovalev got lazy is really what happened in my opinion. He was winning the fight with just his jab. I always tell my fighters the easier the fight, the more focused they have to be. So after the eighth or ninth round, whatever round that Kovalev got hurt, I had to light a fire under his ass. I said if you don’t change things I’m going to stop the fight. He said in the corner, "Don’t worry. I’m ok. I got this. Plus, he’s exhausted. I got him." And he went right out there and changed it around.

In preparation for the Canelo fight, how can you ensure that Kovalev doesn't depend too heavily on one punch, that he needs to bring his full arsenal to the fight?

I had to show him something new that he could do. Not brand new, but maybe something that he got away from. He showed me some amateur tapes. I said, what happened to this guy there? He said he got away from that. I said, maybe it’s time to bring it back. The thing about Kovalev is that he is a really good student. People underestimate his boxing IQ. And he has a really strong boxing foundation. 

If you are able to beat Canelo, what will the headline be in the media the next day? 

If we win the headline will say that Kovalev pulled a rabbit out of the hat [laughs]. We view ourselves as the underdog. We weren’t announced first at the press conference, which is OK. We understand that. 

Buddy, this isn't the first time that you've been the underdog in your career, either as a fighter or a trainer. What do you say to your fighters who are underdogs going into a big fight? What should their mindset be?

I will tell any fighter who is the underdog: One, keep your eye on the prize. Don’t let stuff like that get to you. And two, don’t pay it any mind. Do what you’re supposed to do and good things can and will happen.

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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