Searching for fulfilment in the sport he’d grown to love had dragged Angel Fernandez from Galicia, North West Spain, to Surrey. Studying the work of fabled trainers Jorge Rubio and Ismael Salas first-hand, the young Fernandez revealed his journey from Spanish kickboxing to training some of the sport’s most exciting talents, when speaking exclusively to Boxing Social.
“Are you ready? Take a cup of tea… Sit down”
For those unfamiliar; the smiling, passionate gentleman holding pads for Matchroom cruiserweight star, Isaac Chamberlain or working extensively on drills with World Amateur Championship silver medalist, Sultan Zaurbek, is new to this. Growing up in Spain, Fernandez had initially embarked on a career which focused on his feet, as much as his hands. Now, living in South West London and fully dedicated to his life as a head trainer, it wasn’t always a career outside of the ropes that had interested Angel.
“I was in Spain doing kickboxing. I was gonna fight for the country with one coach who was there. I was doing sparring at the same time with the super-middleweight champion [of Spain] who was a professional boxer. That’s how I ended up falling in love with the boxing side. I started doing more boxing than kickboxing.
“The reason I ended up here [in the UK] is that my girlfriend is English. We were living in Spain for a year or so, then she said I’d be better off coming to England and I said, ‘Let’s go!’ I went with Epsom [amateur boxing club], had two fights with them… Then, I went to Crawley and had three fights with them. I won the Sussex and Surrey Southern Area [amateur title]. I have two kids, so, between work and my kids, then training, it wasn’t working. I was doing events work, so, sometimes I worked overnight, I worked in the day… It was crazy. I never lost as an amateur.”
Balancing life as a young father, model employee and aspiring fighter became nigh-on-impossible. Despite real life interfering in his blossoming career as a boxer, Angel was determined to remain involved in the sport. After seeking advice from friends and associates, he was put in touch with storied Cuban coach, Ismael Salas, a man who has coached nineteen world champions, to date.
“I was put in touch first with [Ismael] Salas. He invited me to come to his gym. Then, I went on holiday to Spain and when I got back I got in touch with Jorge [Rubio] and went up to Hull to meet him. I started telling him my dreams, my views about boxing, blah-blah-blah. He started helping me with boxing, a lot. I had all-access to his cameras in the gym. I watch what he does [with his fighters]. He’s always been a mentor to me in boxing.
“I went to meet Salas and [Jorge] Linares, at the time. Oh my God, he really knows this thing inside-out. To me, I couldn’t say anything bad about Jorge, but him and Jorge are at the very top. He is unbelievable. I watch the people who I think are the best. I’m just fascinated by boxing and I’m quite new. A lot of people don’t know me, but I’ve got dreams like everyone has.”
His introduction to Salas and Rubio had paid dividends, however it was clear that a number of domestic fight-figures had also played their part in assisting the promising coach. Well-travelled boxer, Danny ‘Cassius’ Connor, was the man who had taken Fernandez to West Ham boxing gym, with their visit doubling as his introduction to his first professional fighter.
The Spanish coach explained, “I started working in West Ham and I was working with [unbeaten light-heavyweight] Markus Williams. It was taking me two hours to get there… I was like, ‘Wow’. The reward wasn’t there. I’ve never been involved for money, but I was actually losing a lot of money with the travelling. I knew I’d have to do something close to where I lived. He said to me, ‘Wherever you go, I’ll go, you’re my coach!’
“A month after that, Isaac [Chamberlain] had just moved to Sutton. Markus and Isaac had known each other for a long time. He invited Isaac to come to the gym, Isaac messaged me on Instagram and he wanted to see how things were going. He came in, he loved it and I loved him, really.”
Angel had taken on Chamberlain after the untidy end to the fighter’s relationship with former trainer and Uncle, Ted Bami. The two had been locked in a dispute over money, with unsavoury accusations being hastily thrown in either direction.
Chamberlain had been last seen in his disappointing, headline contest with domestic rival, Lawrence Okolie, a fight he struggled to influence. Angel’s relationship with the young Brixton talent has been described as a ‘breath of fresh air’, with the pair seemingly bonding instantly and displaying a mutual respect for one another.
The pairing of Fernandez and Chamberlain was as much a risk, as it was a leap of faith from both parties. The raw, musclebound cruiserweight had topped a bill at the 02 and had previously captured the Southern Area title, famously with one fully-functioning arm. He was relatively established within British boxing, yet had decided to work with his unproven head coach for his return to the ring. There was something magnetic about Fernandez, it seemed.
“I think it just worked, straight away [between me and Isaac]. It was very bizarre. It was like when a kid comes to you, if you give him a sweet, he loves you straight away. We had a very, very amazing relationship. Since day one, he loved everything. He always wants more, he wants another round or another run. Me and him, we clicked like nail and finger, straight away. It was bizarre, not being a known coach and being with someone like Isaac who has a name for himself… It’s [re-assuring], big-time. I never mentioned money. I never mentioned taking any percentage. I wanted to take that [stress] away from them.”
He continued, “I do talk a lot to my guys. It’s a lot of mental work. You need to get to know the person. I read a lot of books, myself. How to read the mind, how to talk to people. With Isaac, it worked. We don’t even speak the same language. My relationship with them goes beyond just ‘coach’ and ‘boxer’. I don’t like to just have that boxer/coach… I go beyond that. It goes past coaching [for me].”
The pair had celebrated Chamberlain’s win over the durable ‘Duke’, Luke Watkins, in an exciting clash at the Copper Box in October. Isaac felt vindicated, boxing wonderfully for periods of the fight. Whilst the winning fighter looked relieved, his coach was ecstatic, celebrating the fight as though it had been their first world title.
It seems apparent that Fernandez throws himself into the lives of his fighters, emotionally experiencing their hardships, from a slightly safer distance. He even told me of Isaac changing his WhatsApp status, to conceal the last time he was online – Angel countered this by almost immediately moving into his fighter’s flat, because he is ‘taking no chances with this’.
Also in the ‘Angel Boxeo’ stable at present is MTK-managed, Sultan Zaurbek. Trained by Angel and expected to progress at a rapid pace, this was another sign of faith in the rookie, this time from the enormous management company, trusting Angel with one of its hottest prospects. Zaurbek had taken silver at the World Amateur Championships as one of boxing’s newest Kazakh-born destroyers. As a professional, he had impressed with relentless work to the body, taught specifically by the always-energetic man in his corner.
“With Sultan, I’m training a guy that has 340 amateur fights. He won the silver medal at the World Amateur Championships. I’m not a guy who says, ‘You have to do this’. I talk to them all the time. Sometimes I might have planned something else, but if that guy isn’t feeling what we had planned, I’ll listen to the body. If I see the guy is feeling tired and we planned ten or twelve rounds [then we change the plan].
“We manage how tired they are, their sleeping and all of those things. I speak to my nutritionist, my strength and conditioning guys and we all work as a team. Sultan, he knows where he’s hit his peak. A happy fighter is going to be a dangerous fighter. It’s not always about the coach. You have to put any ego to one side! I have to adapt to each individual, you know?”
There was no trace of ego as he spoke of his philosophy and his determination to focus on creativity – something instilled in him by Jorge Rubio, the man he called his father-figure. Adapting to his fighters and their opponents, he was keen to think outside of the box and work with new ideas. He studied the sport, telling me he watched Luke Watkins every single night in bed, devising Chamberlain’s game-plan. Boxing was his life, despite still balancing work as a personal trainer and raising two children.
Fernandez knew he was at an early stage on an impossibly long road to the top. Sure, having some big names in the gym had bolstered his profile in the UK, but the work truly started now. With a new year underway, Angel was determined to make his own sacrifices count for something. Whether it was Isaac fighting for the Commonwealth title or Sultan climbing the rankings, his fighters are a reflection of his work and that means everything to him.
“It’s very draining, mentally. The fighters are putting their 100%, but I’m putting in my 100% [for each of them]. I’m not a lazy guy. I’m giving my all. It’s mentally draining. It would never make me walk out of boxing, but it’s just draining. The rest, I don’t think I’ll have any struggles [with]. I know what I want and whatever it takes, I have to keep moving forward. If I had a fighter who didn’t listen to instructions, I wouldn’t go in their corner. I’m not interested in the money, that’s just the way it is.
“I know what we went through, I’ve done a lot of things outside of my comfort zone. I moved to his [Isaac’s] house, I woke up a lot earlier, I wasn’t seeing my kids, I was training him three-times-per-day… Plus working [my day job]. Everything was different. I’m very dedicated to this. I’m not here for the money. I want to build my own legacy. I’m aiming to be the best UK boxing coach – I will be. From there, I will go to the world [scene].”
Article by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209