Virgil Hunter, renowned boxing trainer out of the Oakland area, has worked with a roll call of current luminaries, like Andre Berto, Andre Ward and Amir Khan. For his ability to develop young fighters and refine established fighters, Hunter was named the 2011 Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year.
For his accomplishments and expertise, he will appear as an analyst on the Premier Boxing Champions series, which debuts April 4 on CBS with a light heavyweight title match between champion Adonis Stevenson and Sakio Bika.
Hunter’s prized welterweight, Khan, could be next for the winner of the bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Few trainers are more hardwired into today’s sweet science than Hunter, who spoke with CBS Local Sports about his life as a trainer, his thoughts on the May 2 mega-fight and his new role as a boxing analyst.
JK: Were you a fighter growing up?
Hunter: Boxing was part of my family, from grandfather down. I played a lot of sports, like baseball and basketball. But boxing was different. During my time, there weren’t as many opportunities to play other sports, in the financial department.
JK: How did you start as a trainer?
Hunter: I went back to the gym in my late 20s to work out to box, but not in a serious way. But then I started working with my old coach. He was getting up in age. I began to see the sport through his eyes. I really admired him and his story. His name is Jimmy Simmons.
They had a boxing show weekly near the shipyards where he worked. They said he’d fight two or three times in one night. He had something in him. Even at 80 he had no visible deterioration from boxing. Back in those days you couldn’t train a kid unless you had an apprenticeship. The fighter represented a gym, and a gym wouldn’t send a kid out until he was ready.
JK: Any trainers you looked up to as a young man?
Hunter: I’d say Bobby Warren. I take him everywhere with me. He trained some of the great fighters, especially middleweights, out of Oakland. He’s the personification of the old ways.
JK: How do you attract new fighters?
Hunter: Boxers find you. You are aware of certain fighters at this level, but they find you. Right now I’m very content. Like Andre Berto, like Amir Khan… they had bumps in the road. What they needed was what I had. I don’t solicit fighters. Some do, but I’m not comfortable with it.
JK: How much of boxing is physical versus mental?
Hunter: Ninety-five percent is mental. You can’t achieve the physical without the mental toughness and commitment. No one likes to get up at 4:30 a.m. for roadwork. No one likes to be punched. So it’s the discipline that separates boxers. But all fighters have one thing in common — they have a competitive spirit but they don’t trust others, teammates, to help them or hurt them. But boxing is all up to them.
JK: How do you handle wins?
Hunter: It’s really delicate. You want your fighter to have swag. You want him to think he can’t be beat. At the same time you want to have input into the same personality to bring reality into it. Usually it’s simple. If you continue to do what you did the last fight, it will be difficult to beat you. But if you leave your head here and body in the last fight and become content, you will be beat.
JK: How do you handle losses?
Hunter: You could lose a fight, but if you do everything you can, you can accept it. But if you cut corners, those are the ones that stick. In my case, it’s known that I’m demanding. If he can’t be coached, I don’t want him. Most fighters come to me after they’ve been on top and need me to help them get back. They didn’t understand the terrain of being on top.
JK: How do you tell a fighter when it’s time to quit?
Hunter: If you really care about a young man, it’s no problem saying so. There’s one kid in particular I think should quit. I won’t say his name. No amount of money would get me in the ring with him again. But you see the end five years out. They start cutting corners. They start losing discipline, gaining weight, not working out between fights, getting hit with punches they slipped the year before. Or they can’t land their signature punches.
First thing you notice is the legs. I don’t have to tell them. The fight tells them. The training tells them. But if I have to, I’ll just tell them they shouldn’t fight anymore.
JK: How do you handle a fighter you know isn’t quite good enough to become champion?
Hunter: I’ll be honest, I won’t ever have a kid like that. It’s like Bill Belichick. He can’t go back to high school or college football. Same with me. I won’t even train a kid who’s not already in the top 10. I’m lucky enough to be in that position. But I will take a high-level amateur because he can beat most of the pros already. A journeyman in the pros would not win an amateur tourney.
JK: What if someone has all the tools but a bad chin?
I have Amir Khan. The moment I saw him I knew he was a welterweight. He struggled, like many fighters, at a weight that wasn’t right for him. Now some say he has a glass chin. Really? He’s never lost a fight on his back. He always gets up, which tells me the opposite. He’s got a fine chin. It’s about legs, being at your natural weight, as much as anything to do with your jaw.
JK: Prediction for Mayweather-Pacquiao?
Hunter: I see it through a coach’s eyes, not a fan’s eyes, as a guy with a fighter (Khan) who could fight the winner or loser. But if I had to shut that part of it down, I see it playing out in two segments: the beginning and after halfway point.
If it gets into the sixth round and it’s even, then I give Mayweather the advantage. If it’s the seventh round and Manny has done some damage, then I give him the edge.
Really, it depends how they are halfway through the fight. If Manny has won three out of the six, Mayweather has won two and the sixth is a draw, then I say Mayweather. Manny can’t just be the busier fighter, he has to be effective. Otherwise Mayweather has the edge.
JK: Thoughts on Evander Holyfield’s comments that Mayweather can’t win because boxing won’t allow anyone to leave the sport undefeated?
Hunter: Evander is a special guy. But I’m the first to admit I don’t get that one. I’ll wait until I speak to him personally before I can say more.
JK: Thoughts on your debut on April 4 with CBS as a boxing analyst?
Hunter: I’m excited about it. Majority of me is humbled by it. It’s a great opportunity. I will give the viewers the best. I think I can provide a special perspective as a trainer. You have someone like Kevin Harlan, and a fighter, like Paul Malignaggi, and then you see it through a trainer’s eyes. It’s a perfect tag team, a wonderful balance.
Premier Boxing Champions debuts Saturday, April 4 at 3 p.m. ET on CBS.