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ESB Exclusive Interview with boxing trainer Virgil Hunter
“But as far as my personal opinion, and I think that I’m entitled to have my personal opinion like Steve Bunce or anybody else who’s a Joe Calzaghe fan—in my opinion we would have chewed him up!”—Virgil Hunter
Exclusive Interview by Geoffrey Ciani – Yesterday afternoon I was afforded the opportunity to speak with boxing trainer Virgil Hunter, who recently helped prepare and guide Andre Ward to his tremendous victory last weekend against ‘Bad’ Chad Dawson. Hunter shared his views on training and preparations for that fight, the action that unfolded in the match itself, and future plans for him and Ward. He also provided his unique insight for the upcoming middleweight showdown this Saturday night between Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Junior. Here is a complete transcript from that interview.
GEOFFREY CIANI: Hello everyone. This is Geoffrey Ciani from East Side Boxing and I am joined here today by head trainer Virgil Hunter, who recently helped lead Andre Ward to his spectacular victory against Chad Dawson last weekend. How’s everything going, Virgil?
VIRGIL HUNTER: Everything’s going good today. How are you today?
CIANI: I’m doing very well, thank you. And I have to say Virgil, I was very impressed with Andre’s performance, and the thing that impressed me the most was the way he was able to neutralize Chad’s jab right from the get-go through footwork and upper body movement. I’m wondering is that something you specifically worked on in camp to take away Chad’s jab?
HUNTER: Well that’s one of the specifics that we worked on to take away his jab. Actually the position of his eyes in an area of Chad was the most important thing. If we had the eyes positioned in the right place we knew that his body would be positioned in the right place and that he could maneuver Chad. We wanted to maneuver his jab. We wanted to give him the target that we wanted to give him, so it was very important that the positions were adhered to. So his eyes were the most important thing in that situation, and we worked on that, and once we got the hang of where the eyes were supposed to be, and the position his eyes were supposed to be in and centered on, the rest was pretty easy.
CIANI: What impressed you most about Andre’s performance and did you think that he would be able to coast to such an easy victory?
HUNTER: Well you know of course being his trainer, to me it was a tough fight, and what I mean by that is in order to make it look easy to some people you had to be willing to go through tough areas in the fight. So it wasn’t like it was a given fight. I mean he had to really implement his plan. He had to really implement his determination to make it look easy, but the tough part of it was to implement that. You know to get him to cooperate, to get him to cooperate and also to unknowingly fall into areas that we needed him to fall into. You know the end result looked easy, but the leading up to that part of it, it was quite a bit of work. So I’m really pleased with how he implemented the plan.
CIANI: Do you have any regrets? Some fans are talking, and I’m sure you guys anticipated this. A lot of people aren’t giving Andre the credit he might deserve because Chad came down to 168. Do you have any regrets that Andre didn’t go up to 175 to take his titles at light heavyweight?
HUNTER: No I don’t! Light heavyweight I believe is in our future, and it’s not time for us to move up to light heavyweight yet. 68 is well in reach. It’s not a worry now. So I don’t regret it at all, and also the fact that Chad was very confident and adamant about coming to 68, I’m very comfortable with the weight we fought at.
CIANI: Now Virgil, I’ve always felt that Andre had some underrated pop in terms of punching power, especially that he so frequently lands the type of shots that his opponent can’t see coming. But with the knockdowns Andre scored and with the way Chad was so reluctant to engage, do you think that Andre is starting to gain his “man power” that a lot of fighters see come their way when they reach their late 20s?
HUNTER: No. You know what? Andre had a lot of knockouts in the amateurs and this is with guys with headgear on. I think what people really have to keep in mind is that Andre graduated to the A-league very, very early in professional fighting. People have to remember he fought Mikkel Kessler with only 19 fights. He went right to the A-league. Now if we would have nursed him along in the B-league, you know 26, 27, 28 fights and kept him in the B-league zone, believe me, he would have been 27-0 with 21 just like everybody else. But by him going into the elite level with the minimum amount of fights, and I think you can check the record books. No one has fought for the super middleweight title with that amount of fights. That right there suggests that he’s fighting the best with the minimum amount of professional experience. So we knew the power was always there, but you’re fighting the best now and elite fighters are not easy to knockout. So our goal, our immediate goal at this point was to dominate the fight, continue to dominate a fight, and when it came time to take people out inside the distance that we would make the necessary adjustments to do so. We were never bothered by that. We knew what we had, and it’s also validated by the fact that you don’t see anybody wanting to come back and fight him again after they fight, either. So the power is validated. Everybody was supposed to walk through him and for some reason they didn’t want to walk through him. So they tasted his power and they were reluctant to take on it. So the power was always there.
CIANI: Virgil, one thing I wanted to ask you, there’s been a lot of rumors on boxing message boards and stuff, and I don’t know if these are true, but rumors that Chad was knocked out in sparring by Edison Miranda. I was just wondering if during the preparations if any news like that or rumors came your way to your team?
HUNTER: Look, this is professional boxing and you’re going to hear rumors on top of rumors, and I haven’t been in one fight yet where we got to this top level that I haven’t heard rumors of people getting knocked down, and knocked out, and that situation was no different. I heard a couple of things that he had some difficulty in sparring. I heard he got knocked down. I heard he got wobbled. Well that’s nothing new with sparring. That happens. So that was nothing that was going to deter us off our plan and cause us to change our game plan. We have to stay focused and locked in and lined in on our job, and then all of this other stuff takes care of itself. But in no way, form, or fashion, was it something where we said, “Wow” and took it seriously, because we’ve heard these things so much before. You’d be surprised what you hear when you go into training camp to fight an elite fighter. We’ve heard it from the Super Six on down all these different things that are happening, so you take it with a grain of salt. Unless Chad Dawson said it himself, to me it’s a rumor.
CIANI: Changing things up here a little bit, I’m curious, one of the guys out there that was perceived as an opponent with a lot of appeal for Andre was Lucian Bute. But that kind of all went downhill when Bute was beaten, and beaten badly, by Carl Froch. What did you think of that fight and were you surprised? Did anything different happen than you expected going into that one?
HUNTER: No, I wasn’t surprised by the outcome of that fight at all. I think in Lucian’s case, some of the competition he was fighting, even though he came out victorious in those fights, there were areas in those fights that I felt that if he fought an opponent who can capitalize on that on a more consistent basis that he would be in trouble. Also, even though he’s a great puncher to the body, he’s not really an in-fighter, and I’ll be the first to tell anybody: if you want to have success with Carl Froch you better know how to in-fight, because if not, it’s going to be much more difficult to neutralize some of the things that he does. So I wasn’t surprised by the outcome of that at all.
CIANI: Any regrets from you or your team that Andre didn’t get a chance to face Bute at a time when that match had a lot of intrigue and appeal amongst boxing fans?
HUNTER: No regrets at all! I mean we felt strongly that coming through the Super Six and running a gauntlet like we ran, and here’s a guy that’s just going along so to speak coasting on easy pickings. We felt that the fight, well let’s put it this way: if he had beat Carl Froch we would have looked real great, wouldn’t we? Now the fight even has more appeal. So you got to take a gamble either way it goes, but if we’re going to be realistic about it he hadn’t fought anyone. So in this sport we tend to be realistic about things, and we felt that he hadn’t fought anyone and if he was everything that they said he was that he would emerge victorious. And if he would have emerged victorious versus Carl Froch, the fight would have been a no-brainer. It would have been demanded. It would have been in great demand. So he didn’t come through on this one, and also if he emerges victorious in the rematch then the fight is right back on the table.
CIANI: One thing about Andre Ward it seems to me right now, is he’s sort of in a predicament similar to Wladimir Klitschko where right now fans just assume that Wladimir is so dominant that he’s going to beat all the heavyweight contenders out there. So in order to find interesting match-ups for Wladimir, fans look to heavyweights of the past and create these hypothetical scenarios with Ali, Foreman, Louis, and things of that nature. The same thing is starting to happen to Andre where there are no perceived challenges south of cruiserweight for him, and fans are now pitting him in hypothetical match-ups with Joe Calzaghe and prime Roy Jones at 168. How do you feel as his trainer knowing that right now the perception is that Andre can beat anybody south of cruiserweight and do so easily?
HUNTER: Well it’s great that the fans feel that way. I know all fans don’t feel that way. Every now and then I will go on the internet and get a perspective of how the fans are feeling and talking, and of course across the water Andre is far from being convincing to the European audience. Here among the boxing purists and some of his own personal fans, he has gained somewhat of a stature of not having an opponent. However, I feel that’s definitely untrue. Anything can happen in a boxing ring and there’s always that person out there that’s going to give you a very difficult time. So again, it’s hypothetical you know to even think that way, and I’m certainly not thinking that way. Anybody that he fights is a huge risk and a huge test, and we’ll continue to look at it like that. We’re glad that there are fans that have put him in that category so to speak. It is just a testament to his work, and determination, and skill.
CIANI: Sticking with this Calzaghe-Jones type of scenarios, I’ve seen more threads in boxing message boards about Andre Ward and a prime Joe Calzaghe at 168. I have to ask you, if you were preparing Andre to face the best version of Calzaghe at super middleweight, how confident would you feel in Andre’s ability to beat Joe?
HUNTER: Very confident! Look, I saw the article I think that Steve Bunce and a couple of pro-Joe Calzaghe fans and acquaintances wrote and you know, “Oh! No way! No way”! Well I mean, that’s what their supposed to say. They’re fans of Joe. He was their guy. And even Joe said, “He wouldn’t beat me. I would give him angles, I would give him this, and I would give him that”. But the fact of the matter is Joe Calzaghe would have been tailor made for us. There are just certain things that he did that we would have chewed him up, like the bouncing in place. You know we would have threw that completely off. Also the fact that he made that he was too strong. That was really ludicrous. He would have got manhandled all over the ring. Joe Calzaghe hasn’t fought one fight against anybody to give an indication that he could manhandle anybody. But I still give him his due as a great boxer. You can’t take away what he did in his time and era. But as far as him beating Andre Ward, in my mind, and I believe that I’m all the way correct, he would have a problem. We would chew him up. We would chew him up, and that’s just a fact.
Roy Jones? Listen, Roy Jones is Andre Ward’s idol, but I don’t have to speak for Roy because Roy said it himself. He was asked a question, “Who would have been your most difficult fight in your prime?”
And he said, “Andre Ward”.
So that speaks for itself. So we’re not going to go there with Roy, because he already spoke on it. He said, “That would have been my most difficult opponent”, so Roy knows.
Look Joe had a lot of problems with Bernard, and you know a lot of people say we’re a Bernard Hopkins clone and things like that. There are a lot of attributes that Bernard had that we admire, and there are the cerebral aspects of it, and some of the technical things that he does, and he gave Joe a very difficult time. And Joe never wiped out a division. He waited. Some of his name fights, the fighters were past their prime! And when he had an opportunity to fight the best, he didn’t fight the best. He stayed over there in England and he fought who was comfortable for him. Saying that, look! I admire Joe Calzaghe. I’m a Joe Calzaghe fan, and Joe Calzaghe was a dominant champion in his era. But as far as my personal opinion, and I think that I’m entitled to have my personal opinion like Steve Bunce or anybody else who’s a Joe Calzaghe fan—in my opinion we would have chewed him up!
CIANI: It seems to me right now Virgil, that one of your biggest challenges as a trainer might be keeping Andre motivated given the fact that he’s being showered with the type of pound-for-pound praise he’s been receiving since his victory. Do you think that will be any problem? Maybe not for the next fight or two, but going forward, do you think keeping Andre focused and motivated will become an issue in any way, shape, or form?
HUNTER: That would be the least of my worries. Look, Andre is a God-fearing man and he’s a humble man, and he and I have always thought along the same lines. We don’t rest on what has just happened. We begin to look forward to what’s happening, and we just don’t go back. People ask me all the time about the Gold Medal and how I feel, and I can’t even give them an accurate answer. You know I hope I’m blessed to one day retire and have some years in life that I can reflect back on it all, and then I can get a better perspective. But look, we understand professional boxing and we know there’s work ahead, and we also know that along with the praise and along with the accolades there’s still a huge amount of criticism and there’s a huge amount of favoritism in boxing that leaves enough fuel in the tank and leaves a big enough chip on your shoulder that you continue to press forward. No way Andre Ward loses his motivation as long as he’s putting boxing gloves on. It’s impossible. I would be—I can’t even say I would be surprised! I just know he’s not going to do it. We’ve never rested on our laurels. We take one fight at a time and we look forward to the next one. He’s already in preparation for whoever he’s going to fight next. We’ve already laid down the ground work and planned on the next preparation. So it’s what’s ahead. It’s what’s happening, and not what has happened.
CIANI: Talking about what’s next for Andre, when you look at 168 and 175, who do you see out there that you think would pose an interesting match-up for him?
HUNTER: Well it would be hard to say. You know my personal opinion on this situation is that looking at the fights coming up this weekend with Canelo and Josesito for instance, and some of the fights that the other champions have had, I really believe Andre’s in line for some fights that are not necessarily what would you say “big name opponent” fights. I mean I would like to fight a couple of fighters that are two weight classes below us. I would like to fight a couple of fighters who have never won a title, and with the exception of Andy Lee, not even top ten. I would like to fight some Antonio Rubios, and I’m not saying that out of disrespect at that level, or Peter Manfredo, or things like that. I’d like to see him have a couple of coasting fights so to speak; not coasting fights, but you know what I’m trying to say, some fights of that stature and be compensated for it. Unfortunately the deck is not stacked that way, so unless he’s fighting the best, all of a sudden it doesn’t appear like Andre Ward can get a fight.
But it seems like it’s a different set of rules for everybody else, but that’s my personal opinion, that he should have a couple of fights that he’s able to sit back and say, “I’m a champion, I’ve wiped out a division, I’ve beaten the best at light heavyweight in a dominant fashion. I should be able to enjoy some of the fruits of my labor and be compensated and be respected for a couple of fights of not so high of what you would call boxing stature”. That’s my personal opinion.
But whoever else comes aboard for us to fight, we take the fight and we go on with it. So I don’t have any personal preference of who we fight. I can’t just come and say well I want to fight this guy, and fight that guy, and fight this guy. I can’t do that for some reason. I’ve never been able to do it because of the way we had to come up, so whoever’s next, that’s who’s next.
CIANI: Well after going through the Super Six and culminating with the victory over Dawson, I think fans would understand if Andre did take a couple of fights of those magnitude that you referred to. Virgil, I just have two final questions for you. One, as a boxing trainer, I’m curious if you could give the fans out there your take on the upcoming middleweight fight between Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Junior?
HUNTER: I think that’s going to be a very interesting fight, particularly in the first four rounds. I think the first four rounds will determine the winner in that fight. If Junior can disrupt Martinez’s rhythm during those first four rounds and put him in a position of having to make adjustments, I think he has a great chance of winning that fight down the stretch. However, we haven’t seen him in a grueling fight where he has to battle into the late rounds to pull one out. So far he’s had tremendous advantages in that area. If Martinez can come out and establish his rhythm and begin to pot shot Chavez and take advantage of his position in the ring and right away begin to land flush shots, I think that it’s going to be a long night for the kid.
CIANI: Virgil, for my final question for you, is there anything else that you would like to say to all the boxing fans out there and all the readers of East Side Boxing?
HUNTER: Well I would like to thank everyone who supports us. I appreciate it very much, and I also would like to thank those who are not Andre Ward fans, because it wouldn’t be boxing without that. I thank East Side Boxing for giving us an opportunity to have a voice. I love the sport of boxing, and I hope you guys continue to do the work that you do and do it in a fair manner, not playing favoritism and not buttering up somebody and tearing down somebody else, and just going about it in a fair level manner. And with that being said, I appreciate everything you guys have done. Thank you very much.
CIANI: Virgil, it was an absolute pleasure getting the opportunity to speak with you here again today. I thank you very much for your time. I wish you and Andre the best of luck going forward, and I certainly can’t wait to see where you guys go next.
HUNTER: Thank you so much. I’ll be looking forward to talking to you in the future.
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