On August 19, 2011, I had the rare opportunity to not just speak to Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain (that can happen at any media day for his fighters) but to sit for two-and-a-half hours and ask him anything I could think of. I was in Mexicali to cover Alfredo Angulo, who was returning after a 13-month layoff and Beristain, who said he had not been in Mexicali in some 20 years but has been a friend of Angulo’s for ten of them, was going to work the corner as a cut man.
The night before the fight, Lucy Haro, attorney for Perro Promotions and essentially, my host for the fight, arranged for me, Scott Hale of Halestormssports.com and photographer Ray Flores to travel to Mexicali with to meet with Nacho at Lucy’s favorite café, Slow Down. It was here in a private room that we all sat back, watched Nacho drink his coffee and smoke his Salvadoran cigar and listened.
150 minutes are not enough to get all the answers I wanted. I’d have to spend a lifetime in the gym with him to get those. However, it is long enough for me to split what I’ve got into two parts. As I write, my translator, Zaira Nazario, is still working away at the transcription. This is just a beginning of a conversation.
“In my birthplace, there were boxing competitions of purely amateur boxing,” Beristain said of his beginnings in boxing. “I started boxing there with some professional boxers. I was in school; I was like 11 or 12 years old. At school, one is constantly fighting. They saw me and invited me to train with them. After about a year of being trained there, I started competing in the Golden Gloves. I lost the finals to a cousin. Afterward, in another tournament I found, I beat him. He retired and I continued fighting in the amateurs. He retired and is now an agricultural engineer.”
As a light flyweight, Beristain competed in the nationals held in Ciudad Juarez, finishing third. From there, he turned professional, fought “around 17” fights before his career ended, following a right eye injury.
While he could no longer compete in the sport, the die was cast for Beristain. “Boxing poisoned my blood since I started training. I stayed to never ever quit boxing,” he said.
Beristain spoke of his apprenticeship as a manager and as a trainer.
“I was with a legendary manager as a fighter,” Beristain said. “I was with Arturo Hernandez, who was a legend in Mexican boxing, and with Adolfo Perez, who was known as "El Negro" Perez. He was the manager of "El Zurdo de Oro" (The Golden Southpaw), Vicente Saldivar, who was a two-time featherweight world champion of all sanctioning bodies. Between [Perez] and I, we managed him. That was 1964-68. Then he came back in 1969 and won the championship again. He fought in England, in the United States. He beat Jose Legra and Raul Rojas in California. He fought in Mexico and many parts of the world and won.”
For Beristain, boxing was his Godsend, his gift. Many people go through life and choose what they want to be but it is the rare person who discovers who and what they were meant to be.
“Look, boxing is the second love of my life. My kids are the first, my family. I think I will never separate from it because I like it more every time. The compromise now after the Hall of Fame is bigger for me. I have to do better. I know God has been very kind with me because He has given me 20 world champions and two female champions. Right now in the gym, Romanza, which is a combination of the names of the first two world champions I had. One is originally from [Mexicali], Gilberto Román, two-times super flyweight champion of the world. The other one is Daniel Zaragoza, who has been world champion four times.”
At the mention of his champions, we asked who among his fighters was the best or his favorite. I ventured it was Ricardo Lopez, who defended his WBC strawweight belt a record 21 times while picking up the WBA and WBO versions along the way. For an encore, Lopez won the IBF light flyweight title and defended it twice to retire undefeated at 51-0-1 with 38 knockouts. Some fight fans might disagree and say current lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez is his finest fighter. Nacho would too.
“I believe Juan Manuel is from another generation and so is Ricardo,” said Beristain when comparing them. “Ricardo has not been the best. The most technical has been Juan Manuel. Juan Manuel has been champion of the world three times in different weight classes. Gilberto Román, in his time, was a very technical boxer. I don’t know if you saw him.”
I have. Roman, like the most technical of Beristain fighters, stands almost at a fencer’s angle the lead hand just a bit higher than the rear. From this position, the lead can shoot the jab, parry any incoming flak and is not above throwing a lead uppercut to devastating effect.
Beristain told of us of a gift he received from the IBHOF.
“I was given an iPad as a gift, with 100 world championship fights of the fighters I have had and with classical music,” said Beristain. “They hit me right here in the crown of the head because I was a little bit angry with the people of the Hall of Fame. I don’t know how they investigated and found out that I like classical music and gave me this big gift.”
Beristain left it a mystery as to why he was mad at the Hall of Fame.
I asked why Mexicans seem to go perfectly with boxing. It seems to be in our blood. While we look at the decline of our sport in the US, in Mexico, it still is very much part of the culture. The next night at Angulo’s fight, which was clearly going to be of the tune-up variety, there were a reported 20,000-plus in attendance. I can’t think of a current fighter from the States who can do those attendance numbers for a comeback fight.
“In Mexico, the kids play marbles and some of the abusive kids come and want to steal their marbles and they would beat each other up for the marbles,” answered Beristain simply.
In other words, fighting just comes with the territory.
We asked about his style and where it comes from. Most Mexican boxers are known for their come-forward mentality, often shirking defense in favor of landing volume or, in some cases, one or two heavy shots. Beristain’s fighters generally are known as technicians, employing a counterpunching style, utilizing sound fundamentals. However, Beristain stressed he does not try to fit his technical style into every boxer he trains. As fighters, strengths and nature sometimes fold into the equation.
“I am very inclined toward technical boxing,” said Beristain, “but I have had fighters that it is useless to want to teach them how to box and I have had to refuse to develop a different boxing, like the bantamweight champion I had, Victor Rabanales. Juan Manuel Marquez, Gilberto Román, a lot of my fighters have good defense because I believe that the most important thing is boxing is defense, so my fighters do not come out so hurt.”
One thing I notice in gyms I visit is a lack of attention to footwork. Everyone wants to punch; nobody wants to move. “The feet” are the starting point of Beristain’s training.
“I think that in the gym, kids start by coordinating their feet movements and afterwards, their feet with their hands, so that there are less difficulties later on to teach them the punching routine,” he explained. “We have less problems that way.”
Beristain explained an important reason for needing solid offensive and defensive technique. Having it is not just about surviving a fight or a career without injury. It is the pure necessity of winning in order to keep making money. This is a worldwide sport and to survive in it, you have to go on the road. In order to win- which doesn’t always happen even when you clearly do, (see Chris John vs. Juan Manuel Marquez in John’s home country of Indonesia)- one must have superior technique. Being a face-first brawler might be exciting but it generally leads to “opponent” status. While pure boxers don’t always win to be sure, it stands to reason that the more weapons and defense you have at your disposal, your odds of success will be greater.
“Now, all my fighters, the 20 world champions I have had, all of them have gone "door-to-door" to fight,” said Beristain. “We have won five titles in Japan, in Korea. We have to go out and fight wherever, "door-to-door", to earn more money. We have also won championship titles in the United States. I reached the conclusion that in order to have high-level boxing, exported boxing, leaving Mexico to look to earn dollars, or yens, British pounds sterling, one has to have a quality boxing.”
Beristain explained why Mexican fighters tend to be known as brawlers who eschew defense in order to land heavy leather in volume.
“What happens is, look, I’ll explain. In Mexico, there are fighters in the provinces that retire early from boxing and dedicate themselves to train boxers. They never got to master a given boxing technique, so they transmit a very poor boxing in terms of technique,” said Beristain. “There are now many trainers that have been getting better. Before, you could count them in Mexico with the fingers of one hand. For example, there was a trainer in Yucatan who worried a lot about teaching the fighters how to box well: Miguel Canto, a very good fighter. His trainer at that time is now a great trainer but he is retired. Arturo Hernandez was a genius of boxing. He had "El Negro" Perez. They were masters of boxing with curiosity. They investigated; they observed and they taught a very high level boxing.
“But the trainers have been improving on that,” Beristain added. “Boxing evolves in the entire world but in Mexico, trainers are worrying more to teach more technique.”
The conversation was just beginning (End of part one)
As the conversation moved along in the private room at the Mexicali
café “Slow Down,” photographer Ray Flores, writer Scott Hale of Halesports.com,
our translator, Lucy Haro, and I asked Hall of Fame trainer Nacho Beristain
about the changes he has seen in boxing’s popularity, globally, and
particularly in Mexico.
“What happens is in
Mexico, boxing was the number one sport, the number one show. Not today because
now, soccer came to push all sports to the side worldwide,” said Beristain.
“Soccer is the most popular one now. Even I am very attracted to watching
However, Beristain was quick to dismiss the clichéd notion that boxing is
dying with the advent of MMA.
“It is very
difficult because boxing is an extraordinary show,” said Beristain, sitting
back with his cigar and contemplating the future. “It will not die in Mexico. A
lot of people attack it. There are many detractors but if you go to the history
of boxing, you will see that boxing was very popular in the first Olympic
Games. What has to disappear- and it is a little bit difficult- are the thieves
we have in boxing.”
would go into detail about one “thief” in particular, who will be mentioned
later in this particular installment and highlighted in a later installment.
conversation moved to the subject of trainers. One subject that recently has
come to my attention is the lack of trainers’ rights. A fighter can spend years
with one trainer, move to a top position and because of the lack of contract (which
is often the practice between trainers and fighters), the trainer can be left
in the cold in favor of a more cost effective choice or a trainer who is more
agreeable. Beristain started by sharing a story of trainer Alcides Sagarra, who
trained such notables as Felix Savon. Sagarra suffered a fate worse than being
to go to Cuba three times a year from 1964 to 1980,” said Beristain. “I have a
video that someone just gave to me as a gift of a Cuban trainer. The greatest
trainer of Cuban fighters, Alcides Sagarra, is my friend. They have him
punished now because he took a fighter out of the team that was going to the
Olympics and replaced him with another fighter. He assured them that fighter
was going to win the medal and he couldn't win the medal.”
Beristain his thoughts on if trainers need more legal protection provided by
the commissions. I’m not sure he understood my question initially; regardless,
he did provide a hilarious anecdote.
“Well, I have
received a lot of awards. In Mexico, I received "El Heraldo de
Mexico". In the United States, I received a sculpture of the spirit of
boxing, the California Boxing Hall of Fame, Canastota Boxing Hall of Fame...I
think besides the fact that God has been very, very, but exaggeratedly good
with me, people in boxing feel a lot of love for me in all the world,” said
Beristain. “I receive letters from England, from Ireland, from Scotland, from
many places, where people congratulate and recognize me. Even a very ugly lady
in Spain wanted to marry me. She has a lot of money but looks like a mummy. She
has a lot of money but when they showed me the picture, I said, ‘No,’ and I
almost faint. I almost insult seriously the Spaniards that called me. ‘Ugly’
was little to say. This lady, besides ugly, was old. Two weeks ago, there was a
piece in a newspaper in Mexico saying she already found a man who will marry
her. He is 28 years old and is from Spain and he was holding her hand. Let's
see if the hand doesn't fall off because she's already too wrinkled.”
of today often have a nutritionist, strength coach, speed coach, conditioning
coach, motivational speaker and the guy who holds the towel. Beristain is from
the old school and believes a good trainer should be all of those things.
never needed a physical conditioning coach,” said Beristain. “The government
sent me to Russia precisely to take a physical conditioning course but the old
trainers have never needed a strength-and-conditioning coach.”
Finally, I got through with my
question about the fighter/trainers contract. Like each of the trainers I spoke
to in my recent article on trainers, (creatively titled The Trainers), Beristain believes it is up to the individuals to
handle their business.
“I do not sign a contract with the
fighters because when they make me mad, I have the freedom to ask them to
leave,” said Beristain. “Ricardo Lopez, being a world champion, the only
fighter that [I have] retired undefeated as a professional - he never lost as a
professional - made me mad one day and I asked him to leave. He then come to
ask me to forgive him and I told him: now you will pay $100,000 for each fight
before you fight. He came back to train with me and I charged him before the
kind of freedom allows Beristain to take each fighter on a case-by-case basis.
Chemistry between fighter and trainer is a key component to success. A trainer
can have all the knowledge, the fighter all the talent, but if they cannot see
eye-to eye or are not open to learn and grow together, it just won’t work.
Personal character is everything in a relationship of this or any other kind.
“[Former bantam and super bantamweight
champion] Rafael Marquez is a boxer with a different character than his
brother, [Juan Manuel], rude with people. I told him many times, ‘Look, both
you and I live off those people that pay their tickets. Because of them, we can
support our families. Respect them.’ His brother is different. His brother has
become an idol. People love him because he's very humble. He hugs people; he
helps them. He has another different character. It surprises me.
“One day we traveled from Los Angeles to Mexico and there was a lady with
arthritis,” Beristain continued. “Juan helped her get her luggage inside the
plane. In the airport in Mexico, he helped her carrying her luggage in a cart.
It was a beautiful gesture. That is why people love him so much. He is an idol
in Mexico. In the United States, he now gathers the crowds that Oscar De
La Hoya used to gather.”
I asked Beristain if perhaps a trainers’ union is the way to
“In Mexico, there are [unions
to protect trainers] but they are always fighting,” said Beristain. “They do
not help each other. Because of that, [Adolfo] ‘El Negro’ Perez always had a
gym rented only for him. Me, after the first world champions I had, in 1992 I
bought some land and built a gym. It is called Romanza. It is the name of the
boxer that was born here in Mexicali, Roman, and the two letters of Zaragoza.
It is in Colonia Granjas de Mexico.”
For his fight with Manny Pacquiao,
Oscar De La Hoya hired Beristain to work his corner. One of the sparring
partners for the fight was the late Edwin Valero, who did not last long in
camp. Beristain offered his thoughts on the late lightweight titleholder who
reportedly killed himself in a jail in Venezuela in April 2010 after killing
his wife the night before.
“He was a bit crazy,” said Beristain. “As a fighter, he was bad but when
he hit, he hit very...[hard]. But look at the story of that fighter. Since he
was a kid, he was a thief. When he was young, he would go, for example, on a
motorcycle with someone on the back and they would find somebody else with a
motorcycle, get him off and steal it. One day, the cops [gave chase] and he hit
a post. A metal plate had to be implanted on him. That's why here in the US,
they didn't allow him to fight. He was somewhat crazy. He married a very
beautiful woman and used to beat her quite frequently. She shot him in the
[inaudible]. The last thing he did, he beat his mother.”
should be noted while Valero did have a motorcycle accident that caused
bleeding on the brain, a condition that cost his license to box in the US, no
mention of a metal plate had ever been heard by this writer until this
“I chucked [Valero] out of Oscar's
camp,” said Beristain. “I asked them to give him his money and get him out. He
was there in camp until 1 AM playing pool and drinking.”
On the media day for that fight, held
in Big Bear, CA where Oscar was training, De La Hoya was sporting a black eye.
While some reports claimed it was from a sparring session with Golden Boy Promotions
fighter Victor Ortiz, I had heard that Valero, who bet a large amount of cash
on Pacquiao to knock out Oscar, was in fact the culprit. Beristain confirmed this.
“Yes. He threw a punch after time
was over,” said Beristain. ‘Time was over’ meaning after the bell had rung in a
sparring session. “The next day, I chucked him out. That's why he disliked me.
Whenever he would see me, he would not say hello. Oscar's brother said, ‘No,
he's not leaving.’ I told him, ‘Yes, he is leaving; he is leaving now.’ So Joel
went to complain to Oscar. Oscar told Joel, ‘You have to obey. If Don Nacho
said he goes, he goes.’”
Beristain explained that it was his decision
to stop the Pacquiao-De La Hoya fight. Many have claimed Oscar quit on his
stool in between the eighth and ninth rounds. On the HBO tape, Oscar is asked
if he wants to continue and he shakes his head ‘No’ but to hear Beristain tell
it, the decision was already made and it was actually Oscar’s brother, Joel,
who wanted to make sure.
“In the corner, when he was
hitting him, I told Oscar, ‘If you don't throw punches, I'm gonna stop the
fight because this guy is not going to be gloating over you.’ His brother said,
‘No you're not gonna stop the fight.’ I said, ‘Yes, I will stop it and I am the
one in charge here.’”
We asked if that was the problem with Oscar going into that fight, too
many voices in camp.
“No,” said Beristain. “No, the
problem was the drop in weight. His legs were not working well.”
explained that De La Hoya’s plan to drop down to 147 well before the fight in
order to become strong at that weight vs. the smaller Pacquiao completely
backfired. De La Hoya’s strength coach, Rob Garcia, simply dropped Oscar too low
in weight too soon and that ultimately left Oscar listless and flat in the
Changing trainers was a major theme
in De La Hoya’s career. He worked with Robert Alcazar, Gil Clancy, Beristain,
Jesus Rivera, Freddie Roach, Floyd Mayweather Sr. and Emanuel Steward. I might
be missing a few. I asked Beristain if that constant change stunted his growth
as a fighter and possibly kept him from finding his true identity in the ring.
Beristain answered and then offered a glimpse into what might have been.
“No,” he answered simply. “I will tell you
something for history. Four or five years ago, they called me and took me to
the office of Oscar's manager, who had a car [inaudible]. They wanted me to
train him before Jesus Rivera and Emmanuel Steward but I had two jewels in my
gym and their names were Rafael Marquez and Juan Manuel Marquez. They were
fighting six-rounders and I always bet they were going to be world champions.
They were training with me since they were 12 years old. I told [Oscar's people
] I was not going to abandon [Rafael and Juan Manuel]. If I could take those
two fighters to training camp, I would accept, if not, no. They told me that
was not possible, that I had to be trainer of Oscar De La Hoya exclusively, so
I said no. Oscar's father and manager were surprised when I said no. It would
have been a stupidity on my part to leave my job to go earn $200,000 or
“Money is important but when
journalists write a note of eight columns, they love their work and I love
mine,” continued Beristain. “You don't know what I feel when one of my boxers
is amateur and wins the Golden Gloves, wins the district. I get him to the pros
and he wins the world championship. I cannot describe the emotion. It's an
indescribable emotion. There is no money in the world that can repay you that
joy. Juan Manuel Marquez fights on November 12 and the idea doesn't exist in my
head that I'm going to make a million dollars. My mind is occupied with the
thought that we have to beat Manny Pacquiao again, even if I come back saying,
‘You were robbed.’
into the conversation, Lucy told us that we could ask anything. She explained
that Nacho would prefer to discuss his philosophies on fighting, boxing itself,
and the past. He did not want it to be a typical media day where we just ask
about the fight at hand. But since we got there, naturally, it made sense to
press forward in regard to the third fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan
Manuel Marquez. If you live on a planet with no boxing, I’ll fill you in.
met at featherweight on May 8, 2004. Marquez was dropped three times in the
first round, got up and fought his way back into the fight. The decision, much
debated by fans of both and boxing in general ever since, was a draw.
again four years later at junior lightweight on March 15, 2008. This time,
Marquez was dropped in the third round. That knockdown was the difference in
the split decision loss to Pacquiao. In each fight, Marquez has appeared to outbox
Pacquiao only to have the knockdowns keep him from victory.
three years later, on November 12, the two men will face each other again. This
time, they will fight at a catchweight of 144 pounds for Pacquiao’s WBO
welterweight title. At present, Marquez is the lineal lightweight champion.
started by telling us how negotiations for the fight began.
“[Top Rank promoter] Bob Arum went and sat in front of me in the Hall of
Fame to have breakfast. He extended his hand to me and told me, ‘The past is
past. Now to work on this fight.’ I wasn't too pleased but manners do not allow
you to tell a man, [‘No, I will not shake your hand].”
We asked why Pacquiao is so difficult for Marquez who, at 126 and 130,
was able to stay with Pacquiao where fighters at 140 (Ricky Hatton) or at 147
and above (De La Hoya, Antonio Margarito, Joshua Clottey and Miguel Cotto) have
either been stopped brutally or shutout by the Filipino fighter who started his
own career at 106 pounds.
“I think it's the opposite,” said Beristain. “Juan Manuel is very
difficult for Manny because they were in 24 rounds in which [Manny] knocked [Juan
Manuel] down in the two fights - three times in one - and he got up because the
referee was in favor of [Manny]. Who was the champion? Double champion? That's
why we don't want Joe Cortez. He told Juan Manuel, ‘You are the champion but if
you hit him and knock him down and he is down in the canvas and you punch him,
you will irremediably lose your title.’ And it was the opposite. In the third
knockdown, when Juan was with his glove in the canvas, Pacquiao went and
punched him and Cortez ignored it. He wasn't going to disqualify him.”
show Marquez clearly down and getting hit well past that time by Pacquiao.
Still, it was what happened after that round that gives Beristain and Pacquiao
got up, came to the corner with blood and hurt by the three knockdowns but he
started to figure [Manny] out in the second round,” said Beristain.
There are many who feel this third fight with Pacquiao will not be
competitive as Marquez seems to have topped out at 135 pounds while Pacquiao
has moved up past 140 and had much success. Marquez has already fought
once at welterweight against Floyd Mayweather and was shutout over 12 rounds
back in September of 2009. At the weight, he looked flat, old and slow. We
asked Beristain if he feels that Top Rank, who waited four years for a rematch
and now another three years for this rubber match, are getting Juan at the
right time and at the wrong weight.
“Yes, they got a little bit of
advantage but look, there is a detail that people have not understood,” said
Beristain, setting up his cigar holder as Marquez and a sugar shaker as
Pacquiao. “Here is Pacquiao, who is a southpaw, and here is Juan Manuel
Marquez, who is an orthodox. And here, this little space [between them], us
trainers call it 'The Combat Zone.' If Juan Manuel dominates that combat zone,
he will take Pacquiao to round 12 again. If Juan Manuel gets careless in
technique, Pacquiao can knock him out because of his punching power, which is
superior. But if we manage to make Juan understand that if he dominates that
little space called combat zone, he will beat him. He will beat him again.”
offered a third scenario.
President-for-Life Jose] Sulaiman and Bob Arum already came to an agreement to
block [Marquez] because Pacquiao generates millions and millions of dollars...”
be noted that this fight is not for a WBC belt. However, WBC champ Victor Ortiz
is fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. later this month and perhaps Beristain was
referring to that instance. As I stated before, I will share Beristain’s
thoughts on Sulaiman in a later installment.
While some define Pacquiao as a pound-for-pound
entrant or a fighter who has won titles in eight weight classes, it would seem
to Beristain that this rivalry is what defines both men. While other fighters
have fallen to Pacquiao and Marquez, when they fight, it is always a classic
encounter decided by the smallest of margins. That
kind of definition is what all fighters and trainers hope for. No one is ever
great on his own. It takes a fighter of equal skill or ability to bring it out
“I believe we have to be grateful to Pacquiao because he showed up on
Juan's career and with those two fights they robbed from Juan, instead of
setting him back, the Filipinos themselves welcome Juan like crazy. The second
idol of Philippine boxing is called Juan Manuel Marquez.
“One day, when I was gonna train Oscar, I was very early at the airport
in Mexico and about 15 Filipinos came,” Beristain continued. “I believe they
were in some convention. I was wearing a Juan Manuel Marquez jacket. Some
people were laughing. I was seeing them laughing. When I turned back, the
Filipinos were there with cameras taking photos of the Juan Manuel Marquez
jacket. Then you know what the Filipinos themselves told me? The Filipinos told
me Juan Manuel Marquez won.”
“In many ways, Juan has defined Manny,” one of
“[Marquez] dominated that little
space, that which is super important for a southpaw and an orthodox fighter,”
said Beristain. “[Juan Manuel] walked and threw. Manny threw or attempted to
throw a punch and Juan Manuel responded with three, walked there and wouldn't
let him...in that fight, the last one, Juan Manuel had cut him seven times in
the right eye.
“I define Pacquiao as a great
athlete, a pleasant person, humble,” said Beristain. “He is a great fighter. I
have had big arguments with the people that say he uses anabolic [steroids]. I
do not believe that.”
Finally on the subject, we asked if the size of Pacquiao will be too much
for Marquez at this stage of their careers. Beristain pointed out that while
Manny has taken the weight well, the difference is that he has been facing
bigger, slower fighters. In Marquez, he will be facing someone his own size.
“It's not his natural weight though. Pacquiao
has never gone above 140,” said Beristain. In truth, Pacquiao has weighed 145 twice,
144 twice and 142 once but it would appear he does not gain much weight on the fight
nights in question. The point being, Manny is not your typical welterweight who
walks around as a middleweight and then boils down to 147 only to gain ten or
more pounds back the night of the fight. “What happens is that all the bigger
fighters, heavier fighters, are afraid of him because of the speed. They see
him and they cover themselves and do not throw at him. Juan Manuel Marquez