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What’s So Great About Boxing Coaches, Anyway?

In the lead-up to Affliction’s Andrei Arlovski-Ben Rothwell fight I’ve heard the same question from MMA fans and analysts again and again: how much of a difference will Freddie Roach make for Andrei Arlovski? For those of you unfamiliar with Roach, he’s a former pro boxer and world-renowned boxing trainer who has recently begun working with Arlovski and who will corner “The Pitbull” on Saturday night. Naturally, it’s got to be a help to have someone like that working with you on your striking, but is it really the difference-maker many people think it is?

In order to get on board with that thinking you have to go along with two basic assumptions: 1) MMA fighters are generally far behind boxers in their technical striking ability, and 2) what a boxing trainer knows about striking is relevant and translatable for an MMA fight.

The first point is mostly valid. Because boxers only use their fists and only fight using a limited array of options, they’re probably going to be better at using them, if for no other reason than the fact that they can afford to spend more time on it. Just like a decathlete can do a lot of things well, he still can’t throw a discus better than the guys who do nothing else.

But it’s the transition to the second point that gets me. Boxing is a different sport. Some of the conventional wisdom in boxing — even basic fundamentals regarding stance, hand positioning, and defense — don’t necessarily work for MMA because of the threat of takedowns, kicks and knees, and the size difference in the gloves. So why is it necessarily so great to be coached by a boxing trainer?

I’m not saying that there is no value to having someone like Freddie Roach in your training camp. The guy has plenty to teach, and it’s not as if he just discovered MMA with Arlovski. I’m just saying that it seems strange the way we’re willing to place so much importance on it, when we wouldn’t necessarily have the same reaction if we heard that Arlovski was working with a great Greco-Roman wrestling trainer.

At Wednesday’s press conference I talked with kickboxer Pat Berry, who helped train Rothwell to face Arlovski. We talked some about how he had tried to prepare “Big” Ben and what he expected of Arlovski, and I couldn’t help but wonder which was of more practical use for a fighter — being coached by a boxing trainer or training with a kickboxer?

They’re both different sports with different fundamental rules and approaches, but isn’t kickboxing closer to what a fighter will experience in the stand-up aspect of MMA? Isn’t there less translation that needs to happen in order to make his lessons useful in the context of the fight?

Maybe it’s some holdover from the privileged position that boxing still enjoys in the minds of many Western fight fans. Even though we love MMA, we still grew up with the sweet science. We still hear ‘boxing trainer’ and imagine what Floyd Mayweather might do if he was also a BJJ black belt. Then again, maybe that’s just me.

I am genuinely interested to see what an influx of boxing trainers can bring to MMA. I’m just not more interested in it than I am in what some really great wrestlers and submission artists can, and already have brought to it. Of course there’s room for growth, but it’s a mistake for us to assume that boxing trainers are a magic serum.

They aren’t. They’re good trainers with a lot of useful knowledge. But they’re not the only ones. Just ask Pat Miletich.

(-Ben Fowlkes)

Cagepotato Comments

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mike- July 18, 2008 at 4:59 pm
Post written only two days after Kevin Iole basically wrote the same story. Mr. Slow On The Uptake strikes again.
Patrick- July 18, 2008 at 2:49 pm
Geez, you guys are getting really deep into this whole Rothwell > Arlovski trend that's been going down the last few days.
wiseman- July 18, 2008 at 1:23 pm
If arlovski learns one big thing from Roach then it is worth it. Roach will perhaps change arlovskis entire view of the stand up game. This could be huge considering that the past few arlovski fights have been boring as hell to watch and have not gone to the ground very much if at all. I hope for andres sake roach teaches him how to keep his intensity up. Roach will have a ton to teach andre though and its not like he not training ground any more. His training in my opinion has been great and now its all on him whether or not he can deliver and put on a great show.
Dax- July 18, 2008 at 9:01 am
That's a great point to bring up Ben. I think there are so many endless combinations (of styles) in MMA that it's impossible to say that being versed in one sport, such as boxing, is more important than another like kickboxing. For example, BJ Penn.. when the hell does he throw kicks? Not that often and the kicks he does throw are, in my opinion, weak. He puts an emphasis on the boxing and it works for him but he is still versed enough to know how to defend them. If BJ were to train with Freddie Roach than his hands would probably develop better and thus make him a better fighter. Now look at Forrest Griffin, his leg kicks were nasty and Rampage was a testament to that. Even though Rampage puts an emphasis on the boxing, he still needs to know how to defend Forrest's Thai kick. In Rampage's case I don't think he would benefit from a better boxing coach as much as BJ due to the fact that he lacks in other aspects of his game.

I think the hype in Freddie Roach lies in the fact that he's a decorated and world renowned boxing coach. He's trained champions in boxing and on paper that will translate into MMA. Every style has to be tailored to fit MMA and most fighters start out with a core of one or two disciplines. You can sign up for "MMA" classes at certain gyms, but the majority of gyms train in only a few disciplines (generally the most effective BJJ, Thai Boxing, Boxing and Wrestling). It doesn't matter if you're an Abu Dhabi champion, you'll still need the knowledge to defend the TKO on the ground and adjust your grappling style to fit MMA. It's the beauty and unpredictability associated with Mixed Martial Arts. This sport is still relatively new and I think people are going to be shocked when they see the next generation of fighters. The fighters who have evolved. Especially the fighters who can actually USE the rubber guard.. not just pull it for the first time in the middle of a fight.
chubbybubba- July 18, 2008 at 5:58 am
When you think about boxing in MMA don't think boxers like Mayweather think punchers like Pacquiao. Boxers at the highest level will knock you out with a single hit (regardless of the ounces in their gloves). While there are some great punchers in MMA, none reach the level of the top punchers in the sweet science. Roach has never been a defensive boxing coach, he trains you in one thing... Power. I'm not dissing MMA fighters because eventually MMA fighters will reach the level of power that boxers have. But, Today, I'll take Pac Man with 5 ounce gloves and a basic takedown defence over any MMA fighter out there.
patrick berry is the shit get hype- July 18, 2008 at 12:12 am
Patrick Berry killed his last opponent with a head kick off the oppening bell and Rothwell scares the shit out of me on some Saturdays. Much love from milwaukee
Who Cares- July 17, 2008 at 11:37 pm
I don't really see a negative in having a boxer trainer with you as long as you know training boxing alone won't help you in MMA. If you use the boxing to sharpen your punching mechanics and combination skills. Learn some better footwork and head movement to add to your defense then yes it would help.

Arlovski is a former champ though i doubt he is really thinking about going into this fight with the gameplan of only boxing Rothwell. Not everything in boxing can be translated to MMA like it says up above, but if you use it to make certain parts of your game better I don't see any problem with training boxing like any other style of striking.

Plus if more MMA fighters bring in boxing trainers and have success afterwards. Maybe boxers already using the same trainers will bring in some BJJ coaches and/or wrestling coaches to learn a ground game and give MMA a shot themselves.
Wyatt- July 17, 2008 at 11:04 pm
I would treat it as a team that is more focused on overall conditioning for stand up striking. I know that when I train fighters we focus WAY more on submissions, takedowns, and ground and pound. That doesn't mean we forget about the stand up game and phase it out, it just means our team strength is on the mat. A standard day is probably 75% jujitsu and 25% stand up work with two days a week jujitsu ONLY. I'm sure Arlovski is just working the opposite equation 75-25 striking heavy with two or three boxing only days.

Keep in mind Roach is just his lead trainer now, all trainers have a good team around them for weight lifting, cardio, nutrition, ect. His job is just to keep it all together and work the closest with the fighter on what ever his specialty is.

Having a specialized trainer is only dangerous if you stick to one thing exclusively. You need to Mix all of the Martial Arts together...HEY! They should call this Mixed Martial Arts! Someone get me Dana White on the phone...
jfh- July 17, 2008 at 10:48 pm
Is it me or does freddie roach look like he is the successful mating of the guys from mythbusters?
ICUH8N- July 17, 2008 at 10:38 pm
^^^Funny how someone says boxing sucks his balls and he names himself "Iron Mike Tyson"

Will Roach be in his corner during the fight? Giving him advice? I think he's just helping him out with his boxing skills, nothing more. I dont know if it will help him, but I dont think it would hurt him either... His last fight with Sylvia was nothing but boxing, since neither one knew how to box, the fight was boring and sucked, if he knew how to strike better, he would have knocked Sylvia out.

Believe me, if anyone one of these UFC fighters had the skills to be boxers, they would be boxers and not in MMA... World class boxers are multi millionaires. World class MMA fighters are thousandaires, I've been following the UFC since day 1, they get fucked when compared to boxers and especially seeing how much the UFC makes.
Anthony Camilo- July 17, 2008 at 10:35 pm
Boxing is bad for MMA

I have seen a nasty trend in MMA of looking for the knock out in every fight. I remember when that wasn't the case and MMA is now worse for it.

The beauty of MMA is the sawed-off shotgun approach to fighting. You never know how a fight will turn up with a fighter that could KNYTFO or make you cry uncle if you go to the ground. When you narrow the fight down to kickboxing or just plain boxing, then you end up with fighters like Tim Sylvia, who is very good in the stand-up game and knows how to use his physical attributes to his advantage but makes for a lousy and boring fighter. True MMA fighters like Anderson Sylva, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez make fights entertaining because they actually have bothered to 'Mix Martial Arts". Diego learned his lesson when he stopped mixing the arts and lost a stupid boring fight in a decision to a lesser talented fighter in Josh Koscheck. Diego Sanchez lost to Josh Koscheck because of boxing. He let De LaHoya convince him that boxing was enough to win and we all saw, what we knew to be true: that a good/decent boxer has no chance in the octagon against a mediocre MMA fighter. Isee this fascination with boxing trainers as a very bad thing for MMA. Don't believe me? Watch Rampage v. Griffin, and tell me you wouldn't tell Juanito to go to hell.
spacealias- July 17, 2008 at 10:00 pm
It would be interesting to hear what advice Freddie gives to Arlovski (between rounds) if he gets sucked into grappling match on the ground in the first round. I can't imagine him getting very technical with his instructions.
I believe the interest in Arlovski training with a boxing coach is that he already has KO capabilities with his striking, and if he puts in the work on combos and hand speed, it is exciting to think about an explosive knock out. It also lets you know that it is his plan to win on his feet with a KO which is more exciting than a submission to the average MMA viewer. When some one trains with a world class wrestling coach, that may mean the possibility of dominant position and great takedowns but somehow that doesn't get me as excited as the possibility of a KO punch!
By the way, if Mayweather was also a BJJ blackbelt, his fight with Uriah Faber would be very fun to watch!
martymarta- July 17, 2008 at 9:36 pm
imo this could possibly be a grave mistake. If Arlovski buys into the hype of having a boxing trainer and Rothwell does some simple counter training, Andrei could be laying himself a trap here. There are tendancies in boxing that can create huge problems in mma if not addressed. Not that Arlovski is a noob by any means, but you can't be taking the punishment you do in a boxing match while wearing 5ounce gloves. I think your comments are justified. I'd agree the transition from boxing to MMA is way to big of a jump and unless Roach has been very careful with his suggestions it could have just been a waste of time. Personally, I'd be getting myself a karate instructor to solve the problems arising from fighters like Machida and even GSP. It won't be long before everyone is incorporating these techniques!
armchair assasin- July 17, 2008 at 9:36 pm
I think that your right and wrong. I think that the beauty of MMA is that we have top level MMA athletes now. When a top level MMA athlete trains with someone that is at the top of the heap in a specific area say boxing it is then on the athletes sholders to adapt the knowledge that has been given to him into his overall fight game. I don't think it is completely up to Roach to make his boxing knowledge fit MMA but the more he works with MMA fighters the more valuble he will become as a trainer in MMA and maybe it will help Boxing as well.
Aaron from alaska- July 17, 2008 at 9:30 pm
Because I started out boxing then went to martial arts then to BJJ I would say that boxing has helped my striking and is what I rely on while standing, its more or less good only while you are standing at a distance or when you wanna use some dirty boxing in the clinch, gives you angles, also helps with foot work....but you never know untill the smoke clears
Iron Mike Tyson- July 17, 2008 at 9:27 pm
Boxing sucks my balls!!!3
I didnt even read the article I just though I would chime in.