The Corner Man

by Fran on November 3, 2011

The corner man.   So often in the shadows when the boxer succeeds and is more likely to be front and center when the boxer fails. Many would consider being a corner man a pretty thankless task. I'm sure that many of the greats have had real bad days at the office where they wondered to themselves why they bothered at all.

A top corner man must possess a range of complementary attributes that many people may never attain. The corner man must have detachment from their boxer, but at the same time an unwavering devotion to that boxer's well-being. The corner man has a desire to watch every characteristic of his boxer's performance, but out of necessity must examine every detail of what the other guy brings to the party.

He must be a psychologist, able to assist the fighter through the emotional minefield that is the preparation for combat. A strategist, a General, able to see what it's going to take to secure victory and offering the kind of tactical advice that can be put into practice in the crucible of battle.

He's a nutritionist, a medic and a role model. The list goes on and on. In short, a good corner man needs to possess a range of qualities that are very unlikely to be pre-requisites in many other occupations or pastimes.

George Benton, Eddie Futch, Ray Arcel, Angelo Dundee, Cus D'Amato and up to the modern greats like Manny Steward and Freddie Roach. All of these apex-predator corner men brought with them to the ring an array of qualities that took them above and beyond their peers and as they amassed experience they grew better and better. These guys are true ring greats every bit as important to the game as the fighters that they mentored.

Whether it is Eddie Futch recognising with dread the signs of impending doom when his fighter Joe Frazier met Muhammad Ali in the ultimate war of attrition in Manila, and going against the will of his fighter by pulling him out before that one punch too many landed. By that time in his life, Eddie Futch had witnessed 7 deaths in the ring, he knew the signs. It took a long time for Frazier to 'forgive' Futch for an act of such reckless compassion.

Or whether it be Angelo Dundee speaking with functional honesty to Sugar Ray Leonard during his historic 1981 fight with Tommy Hearns, a fight in which up until the 14th round Leonard had been comprehensively outpointed, turning the tide of the fight with a phrase as simple as "You're blowin' it kid, you're blowin' it!" Leonard subsequently put in one of the greatest rounds in boxing history to leave the Motor City Cobra a battered and exhausted wreck.

In this article, I want to explore what I believe are some key considerations in the world of the corner man on fight night. I speak from my own experiences, both sitting on the stool and holding the water bottle. There's much to be said and I can't possibly expect to include every detail, but I hope that I've managed to distil what are to my mind the main factors.

My focus is on the work of the coaches in the amateur code. There are obvious differences to what goes on in the paid ranks, but in broadest terms we deal with the same issues and seek the same success, albeit the pro guys do this in a much more dark and dangerous world than do the amateurs.

Before the Opening Bell

A corner man must prepare his fighter for combat way ahead of the actual ring appointment, but as I've said I'd like in this article to focus on the evening of the fight as opposed to the work in the gym. If you want to know more about gym time, then the Boxing Training Foundation is what you need to check out!

Prepare the Mind

The hours and minutes before a fight are a real trial for a fighter. A conundrum of emotions hits you, ranging from serenity to agitation, from fear to anger, from confidence to self-doubt. Depending upon the capability and experience of the fighter, the corner man will need to help to a greater or lesser extent in the management of the fighter during this phase of the preparation. There is no 'silver bullet' on how to do this, it varies from boxer to boxer. Some little rules that I tend to follow:

  • Avoid confusion around the boxer. Keeping things calm and ensuring that the boxer is not troubled by unimportant matters will allow them to focus 100% on the fight.
  • Reinforce the boxer with positive statements. The boxer wants to focus on victory, so I'll say things like "Imagine that feeling of waking up tomorrow and thinking back on the fight. That instant of realizing that you won is one of the great feelings that an athlete experiences, up there with the moment of your hand being raised." I won't say things like "Whatever you do don't lose" or "My God, just saw your opponent, he's a monster", or even one that I've actually heard used "Don't worry, I can throw in the towel if it's going wrong."
  • Look for signs of over-confidence and temper this with one or two statements to make the boxer aware of the potential threat. After all, the opponent is more likely than not to be well trained and pretty capable, otherwise the match would not have been made in the first place.

Prepare the Body

A good warm up is of paramount importance. A good corner man will ensure that the boxer is not hit with the curse of a slow start. If a boxer is a self-confessed 'slow starter' then a thorough warm-up is non-negotiable. Why is the warm-up so important? Well, in an amateur boxing match there are 3 or 4 rounds. Losing the first round because of a sub-standard warm-up is a terrible waste and leaves ground to be made up and not a lot of time to do it in. A fast start, supported by a good warm up, allows authority to be stamped on the fight right from the outset.

Let's Pick a Fight

In many cases, little or nothing is known about the style of the opponent ahead of the fight. The name, age, weight and record are all that the fight is generally made on. So, when the two boxers climb into the ring, a good corner man will look for some basics that will allow an initial strategy to be built. This will be done in maybe 30 to 60 seconds whilst the introductions are being made.

What would the corner man look for to build that initial strategy? Height differential, stature/build, stance used and style employed (if the opponent shadow boxes in the corner). These aspects of the opponent are enough to give a corner man enough to go on to advise on the first round approach.

Let's Get it On

The bell goes and the fistic festivities commence. Firstly, a good corner man does not show blind support to a boxer. This should be left to the supporters in the crowd. A good corner man remains objective and does not become emotionally involved in the fight. The natural urge of the corner man is to focus 100% on their fighter. However, this urge should be ignored and it is the opponent who should be the real focus of his concentration.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent? What happens before, during and after they throw shots? Do they like to keep the fight up close or are they more comfortable at long range? How was their intensity and endurance during the round? Is there a big difference in the physical strength between the combatants? There really is a lot for a corner man to look out for, the trick is to filter all of the observations to two or three of the most important.

The Golden Minute

When the bell sounds to end a round the subsequent minute is where a good corner man can truly influence the direction of the fight, ideally in favour of his own fighter. In basic terms, there are 3 things to achieve within the one minute.

Aid Recovery

Maximize the intake of oxygen by the boxer. Correct, controlled breathing is a must and a good corner man will ensure that this is done. He will also ensure that the oxygenated blood will be given the best chance to circulate to the places that it needs to. So, the arms of the boxer are rested on the lap, they are not draped over the ropes.

Manage the fluid intake of the boxer. The objective is to get the right amount of water on-board without this getting in the way of effective breathing.

Deal with any bleeding. Usually in the amateur ring this amounts to nothing more than a bleeding nose or cut to the mouth. Any cuts to the eyebrows usually result in a swift stoppage. Again, this should be done without hampering, you guessed it, effective breathing.

Give the Right Tactical Advice

Following the work done by the corner man during the round, that two or three pieces of key information are relayed to the boxer. Why only two or three bits of information? Well, a corner man can bark a dozen instructions at a boxer. However, in the frenetic cauldron of a boxing match it's not entirely surprising that the ability to retain information is diminished.

I've seen many great feats of memory performed by people on TV, including one recently where a guy memorised the Periodic Table of Elements in a couple of hours. But, I've never seen a person perform a great feat of memory whilst somebody is trying to beat the crap out of them. Remembering a couple of pieces of advice is manageable, remembering more than this is wishful thinking.

Motivate, Motivate, Motivate

A good corner man finds the right words for the boxer and the situation. All boxers are different and some respond differently to advice and how that advice is given. Some respond to a stern rebuke, others respond to positive reinforcement and many will respond to a mix of both. The corner man finds the right words for the boxer and situation. The trick is to send the boxer back out there with the will and belief to win.

The Reckoning

The fight is over and the decision has been delivered. Whatever the result, a good corner man will have spotted some things to work on in the gym. This can be issues with the stance, punching or defensive work. Missed opportunities, tactical oversights and unnecessary risks, all can be identified and used back at the gym, the key words being "back at the gym".

In the immediate aftermath, I like to allow a boxer to bask in the glory of a win or savour the unpalatable truth of a defeat without interfering too much in either. Experiencing these feelings is a natural part of the process of fighting, and sport in general for that matter. The last thing that a boxer needs in the minutes following a fight is a tongue-lashing from a corner man...it'll keep!

The boxing ring can be as lonely a place as you'll find in the sporting world and beyond. There is however one thing that a boxer always knows, the corner man will be there to provide the brief snatches of support that can make a 'tough day at the office' that little bit more bearable.

Hats off to the corner man.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel March 28, 2017 at 4:44 pm

Dear Fran,
Just wanted to say thank you for writing this article. I found it both interesting and very insightful. I am 25 years old and have been a die hard boxing boxing fan my whole life and have partaked in boxing, karate, and wrestling. My dream is to become a cornerman/ coach/ trainer as I have found my true happiness and enjoyment in teaching others what I know and motivating them to be their best. I was wondering if you had any advice on how to get into the corner man game or what I should work on/ towards? Any advice will be greatly appreciated and out into action. Thank you for your time and devotion to the sport.

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Fran March 31, 2017 at 8:07 pm

Hello Dan

Brilliant, I love it when people want to get involved and help others.

My advice is to get involved in amateur boxing. If you are in the UK then find a local amateur boxing club and go and speak to the coaches. These places are always looking for help. You can do official coaching courses to become qualified (the clubs usually pay for such courses). Here is the club finder for Boxing England:

http://www.abae.co.uk/aba/index.cfm/clubs/club-finder/

If you are not in the UK then the country you are in will have something similar.

Hope this helps and thanks for your question.

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Iggy February 16, 2013 at 3:51 am

Hey Fran ,
I’m in the process of putting together a website dedicated to the corner man / cutman, the greats and not so greats of the past and present.
I loved this article and with your permission, would love to use it (linked to your site of course)
Please let me know if this is at all possible.
Iggy

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Fran February 16, 2013 at 9:15 am

Go right ahead Iggy, not a problem. Thanks.

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Jules March 17, 2017 at 9:28 am

Dear Iggy,
I am actually making research on cutmen history. I would have been realy interested in visiting your web site. Did you manage to achieve tis project? Can we visit it?
Would you have informations? references ? so I could learn about old techniques…?
regards,
J

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Terry March 24, 2012 at 8:44 am

Hello Fran,
Thanks for your very interesting reply to my little story mate. In answer to your query Fran,no I’m going to keep going with the coaching caper.There are usually only three or four in the gym these days who actually box.Most of the regulars are football (rugby league mostly)players just doing boxing training for fitness and a couple of others who just “poke about”doing a bit of boxing training and lift a few weights.The Pcyc gym where we train is 50 years old this year and I was there the day it opened and it looked like I might be there the day it closes as they are trying to relocate it next year.That might be the catalyst for me to call it a day as I will be turning 60 next year and I don’t agree with the politics involved with the move at all. It has become pretty tough to keep people interested in the boxing game especially in “bush”towns like ours.The club got a few of us to do a Boxing for Fitness course to see if we could build up some interest in that sort of thing but that hasn’t got off the ground so far. The club spent quite a bit of money bringing a bloke down from Sydney and he took us through some very basic punchwork and some work on the speedball and the floor to ceiling etc. After we finished doing all the fitness stuff and were winding down the trainer from Sydney did a couple of rounds on the speedball and asked if anyone had used one before,of course the boxing boys said “put the old fella on it”(me of course) so this is the clip of me on the speedball Fran.I”m aware that this is not the “proper”way to use the ball but we were just having some fun and the other non boxing people seem to like this sort of stuff more than the way that we usually use it.
http://www.facebook.com/v/2907744021861
Thanks again for your opinion mate as I know it is a very qualified one.The only thing I did do a bit differently is that I probably wasn’t quite so gracious as you suggested in your comments.But everyone knows exactly where they stand now.Too bad things aren’t going very well over your way for the brickies but it has been tough here as well for a couple of years and I think we have been a bit lucky on the workfront.It is still very tough in the housing industry though.Good luck Fran.Regards Terry

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Fran March 24, 2012 at 5:46 pm

That’s a real shame Terry. I suppose for boxing to flourish you need a highly competitive environment and that is obviously going to be a challenge simply given the scale of the Australia; everything is that much further away mate, particularly with the relative isolation of a smaller town. Liverpool as a city has the highest density of amateur boxing clubs in the UK (London included). Within 10 miles of our gym there are maybe 15 highly active boxing clubs. So, even for sparring we are spoiled for choice. In your situation you are really up against it.

By the way, top notch speed-ball work there Terry. Properly entertaining that mate and plenty for people to learn from if they want to invest in the King of noisy bits of gym equipment! You better put that birthday off, you don’t look like you’re ready to be 60 just yet! Maybe a few more years…

Take care mate, and thanks for the comments, they’re really great

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Terry March 21, 2012 at 7:15 am

G/day Fran,Just having a look about the site for the first time in a while (my son and I have been very busy in our bricklaying business)and re read the article about the importance of a good corner man.I found it very interesting as it relates to something that happened to me recently.I think I told you that I had a young fellow in the gym for approximately one year before his first bout as that was how long it took for him to satisfy me that he was “ready”.(even though his father said he was a “natural”) Well,after his first bout (a successful start in Sydney)his father decided that he is the next “big thing”and he will be taking him down to the city for fightnights in the future and if I can’t attend he can get someone on the night as “You can’t do it for him,and it shouldn’t matter who is in his corner”.Well,considering that I probably spent about 20 or so hours trying to sort out his left hook alone over the last couple of months and are at the Boy’s Club most week nights it was a little disappointing to say the least and I decided to withdraw my services and leave it up to them to find out for themselves.I should have printed out your article on cornermen and or coaches and showed it to the young fellow’s father but never mind life goes on and it does free up some more of my time I suppose.I will include a link to the young fellow’s Sydney bout for your interest Fran.(try to ignore his father’s pleas to “knock him out ” another thing that didn’t go down very well with me either on the night.Look after yourself and good luck Fran.Regards Terry

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wf0ctiIKyjU

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Fran March 22, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Great news that you’re busy Terry. When bricklayers are laying lots of brick then we can be assured that the economy is on the up. Not much brick getting laid in Europe at the moment mate.

Dear me Terry. The issue of over-bearing parents can be a real problem, in any sport I guess. I’ve seen too often over the years young athletes being put under so much unnecessary stress. It’s a tough business, even for youngsters,and of course they need the support of their parents and family. But you are the coach, and the young man has had 1 fight. All of a sudden he’s going to be in the corner with someone he does not know from Adam. Sure, later on in the career of the amateur boxer that boxer will have other coaches in his/her corner. But this is the result of the squad progression system and the boxer will have worked with that coach in the squad environment; they have built a relationship. He needs a coach he knows, not someone who just happens to be there on fight night. Strange course of action I must say.

You have done what you can in that instance. Wish them luck and move on. I take it you are still working with other boxers in the gym? Couldn’t work out whether you had packed up the coaching. If it’s business that is preventing it then that’s one thing, we have to earn money. But if it was this experience that would be a shame.

Watched the fight by the way, but had to turn the volume down. I like the Aussie accent as much as the next guy (been out there 3 times, love the place), it’s the ear-piercing ‘woo-woo’s’ that got me. He’s a tidy kid. You’ve done some good work there Terry. Funny isn’t it that some people think that these kids learn to box by smoke and mirrors. Almost like all those hours of instruction and guidance somehow hinder their progress. It’s a strange world sometimes.

Take care Terry, hope business keeps getting better

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Scott Hamilton November 7, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Excellent article Fran, as always..it seems!

I dont have nearly enough time to be able to sit & take in the excellent instruction & information you provide on this site Fran but when I do it always captures my attention!!

Now, regarding this article mate, you cover every aspect of the life of a cornerman including ‘PREPARE THE MIND’ which is a coincidence because I have been meaning to email you & ask you to do an article (from your experiences as an experienced Amatuer Boxer & Trainer) on The build up to a fight & the fight night itself & the strength of mind a Boxer needs to control ALL the many emotions in your mind.
What is it that makes a Boxer struggle to control their fear before a fight believing that his skills CANNOT match his opponents & in your experience can you give an insight into your methods as a coach & a ex-Boxer how you controlled yours?
Close to our hearts, certain Amatuer Boxers that graced Sefton ABC could have been good amatuers had they been able to control their fear…
Even on the bigger stage, Mike Tyson is well known to have struggled with insecurities before a contest even when he was going out & knocking opponents out in 8 seconds, & obviously with the way he looked, his skills, his power…how was it possible for him to feel the way he did?…
You hear people say things like ‘its one thing to do it in the gym but another to carry that into the ring’..

Best wishes mate…i’m off to bed, roadwork with Andy C in the morning!!

Scottie

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Fran November 7, 2011 at 9:46 pm

I’ll reply with a full article in the next few days Scottie. Enjoy that roadwork, and make sure that Mr C puts plenty in the tank for his upcoming victory 😉

Good night mate.

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Dave Waterman November 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Yes, interesting comment regarding wrapping/bandaging. I do my own in the gym and expect my young boxers to do their own in the gym too. But on fight night I like to have my boys seated while I do their hands; it’s all part of the preparation process, as you say above, but it’s a quiet moment when the intimate and close physical contact of trainer and boxer allows the trainer to get quietly inside the fighter’s head and calm his nerves.

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Dave Waterman November 4, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Good article, Fran.

The importance of a good corner can’t be overstated. I’ve had some fighters arrive at my events alone and have their corner allocated on the night. In fact I’ve seconded a couple myself. Even before the fight starts you’re at a disadvantage because you don’t know your fighter’s pre-event protocols or how he likes his hands wrapped. During the contest you don’t know what motivates him nor what he’s expecting from you.

I had a disappointing experience where a person who was supposed to be looking after me let me wrap my hands on my own and afforded me all of two minutes on the focus pads before going to the ring.

Despite the well publicised criticisms of the man I think Adam Booth is an outstanding corner man. His calmness and authority during that golden minute are exceptional in my opinion.

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Fran November 4, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Spot on Dave, it’s always tough to work in those circumstances. Relationships between boxers and coaches build over time in the gym, and even more importantly during fight nights. The level of experience of the fighter plays such a big role too. Even the bandaging thing is interesting. As a boxer I used to do my own, and many others do as well. It just felt like that was a part of my process of navigating my way through the pre-fight nerves. The warm up is a real big thing for me though, as well as the psychological preparation. There is a calmness and serenity, but the fighter should be so tuned in to the process inside the ring that even if they faced off against their nearest and dearest they would have no doubts about what needed to be done.

And I do like Adam Booth. He’s a young trainer and it will be interesting to see how he and his fighters develop over the coming years. Someone who applies brainpower to the world of boxing will always have advantages, and Booth seems to put a lot of thought into what he does.

Great comment Dave, nice to hear from you mate. I hope that you and yours and all good.

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ukrex234 November 4, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Fran,

It is your another exellent article. Congratulations.

Hat off for you, coach.

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Fran November 4, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Cheers Rex. I enjoyed putting it together and I’m glad you enjoyed reading it.

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