In his latest column, Russ Anber reflects on his working relationship and friendship with Buddy McGirt, who he will join in the corner this weekend for Dereck Chisora’s showdown with Joseph Parker …
I’m pretty pumped and excited to be ‘back home’ in the UK working two fights in two different cities over two different nights this week – with a trip to Russia to follow straight afterwards!
Things kick off for me on Friday night when I’m with Mick Conlan at York Hall for his showdown with Ionut Baluta, then I’m off to Manchester to work the Dereck Chisora-Joseph Parker fight and then I’ll be flying to Russia to be with Liam ‘Beefy’ Smith for his contest against Magomed Kurbanov in Ekaterinburg.
Ironically enough, it was with Mick just over a year ago that the whole pandemic got real for me – and the boxing world. We were in New York preparing for his fight with Belmar Preciado and that’s when all hell broke loose.
The NBA were the first organisation to cancel games due to Covid-19. I remember hearing the news while I was playing pool at Steinways Pool Hall. Straight away I contacted the guys at Top Rank to see if they’d heard and that was the beginning of the end of Conlan’s show at MSG going ahead.
So the whole pandemic began with me and Mick together in New York and hopefully the fact we are reunited this week is some sort of signal that normal life is beginning to return. I haven’t seen Mick or Team Conlan – his dad, brother Jamie, trainer Adam Booth and so on – since that day in New York, so I’m really looking forward to seeing them all again. I’ve missed them!
Mick is fighting in a new weight class of course – he’s now operating at 122lbs rather than 126lbs – so it will be interesting to see how he’s managed to take that weight off and how strong he is at super-bantam.
Then on Saturday I’m being driven up to Manchester because trainer Buddy McGirt has asked me to be in the corner for Chisora against Parker. In another irony, the last time I worked a big heavyweight fight I was in Oleksandr Usyk’s corner on the opposing ‘team’ to Dereck!
After that fight, in which Dereck performed very creditably, he kindly brought all of us in Team Usyk some Five Guys burgers – so I made it a condition of signing up for this fight that I get a Five Guys afterwards! That was non-negotiable!
I’m also really looking forward to working with Buddy again. I’ve got to be honest, it was quite late in the day that I heard he was working with Chisora. I knew Buddy was over in England, but the news he had linked up with Dereck had passed me by.
I’m very proud Buddy asked me to be involved. He could have used someone who was already over here in the UK, but he said, ‘no, let’s get Russ Anber in’. It gives me a lot of satisfaction when someone with Buddy’s credentials turns around and says, ‘job well done, Russ!’
I first met Buddy many years ago when I was training Otis Grant to face his fighter James ‘Hard Rock’ Green for the NABF middleweight title in 1996. Buddy was the guy who came into the dressing room to watch me wrap Otis’ hands. With that great sense of humour of his, he was making fun of the way I was wrapping Otis’ hands – the way that I do the stacking of the gauze around the knuckles and so on. That was our first face-to-face meeting.
A few years later I bumped into him again in Atlantic City when Buddy was training Arturo Gatti. Now I’d known Arturo for years, from right back when he was a kid in Montreal. Around about this time I had started Rival Boxing and wanted to give Arturo a pair of my gloves. But I couldn’t get near him – he was moving around like a hurricane and surrounded by security and so on.
But Buddy I could get to. So I gave him the gloves and said, ‘make sure you get them to Arturo!’ As soon as he had the gloves, boom he stuck them under his arm and was gone and I remember thinking, ‘those gloves are never going to make it!’
Sure enough, years later Buddy told me he still has those gloves, they’re hanging in his garage and he’s still using them!
The first time I worked with Buddy was when they needed a cut man for Isaac Chilemba when he fought in the United States early on in his career and I was hired to work with Buddy that night. It’s also through Buddy that I landed a lot of work with Joe Gallagher and his fighters.
I was over with Buddy and Chilemba for a fight against Tony Bellew and Joe approached Buddy and asked if he would wrap Anthony Crolla’s hands for a fight on the same bill. Buddy told him: ‘Joe, I’m not even wrapping Chilemba’s hands, Russ is doing it’. Buddy introduced me to Joe and Crolla became the first UK fighter whose hands I ever wrapped.
So I’m very grateful to Buddy, but making those connections with people is no good if you don’t provide a service or a product that people are pleased with, and I think the fact I’ve made these connections and been rehired by these guys is a testament to the life I’ve spent in boxing working on my skills and proving myself, so that I can work among the best in the world.
And there‘s no doubt Buddy is among the best in the world. People rate him highly but he should rank even higher than that. He’s one of the best in the business, but he sometimes gets overlooked in some quarters because he’s such a humble guy. He’s funny, he’s a joke-a-minute guy to be around, but he also really listens.
I’ll give you an example. During one of the Chilemba fights I was working the corner with Buddy and said, ‘listen Buddy, Chilemba’s got to do this that or the other’. I wasn’t sure if he was paying attention or not but then we got up there in between rounds and he gave those exact instructions to Chilemba. And I thought: ‘wow, he was really listening!’
This is why he’s one of the very few guys who has successfully made the transition from world champion boxer to world-class trainer. Buddy realised from the beginning that as a trainer he was starting again from zero and as such he was willing to listen and he was willing to learn.
Training is another trade, another gift, another discipline to fighting. Some fighters become trainers and think they can show a boxer what to do, but you have to be able to explain it, too. That’s a discussion we’ve had many times over the years.
As a trainer, Buddy is always open to advice, instruction and ideas. That’s one of the reasons I knew he would be a great trainer, probably a greater trainer than he was a fighter. He finds ways to win for his fighters. He understands the science of boxing and everything he does is based on hard work, thought and listening, not on the reputation of his own fighting career.
Every day he’s in the gym, every day he’s training fighters. And he’s a smart guy – street smart, ring smart … He puts it all together. He understands the human psyche, he understands the sport of boxing, he knows what to say and what not to say.
He’s the full package.
Russ Anber was talking to Luke G. Williams.
Main image: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.