Capetillo offense: Why are fighters staying with the scandalous trainer?
For all the right reasons, Giovanni Segura created quite a stir on Saturday night. He became the first fighter to defeat Ivan Calderon, claiming the 108-pound championship of the world in arguably the best fight of the year.
But for all the wrong reasons, he created just as much of a stir the week leading up to the fight. That was when word spread that Javier Capetillo had accompanied Segura to Puerto Rico for the bout.
To many fans and media members, it was unthinkable. The biggest current heel in boxing (which is saying something, as the fight game isn’t exactly a puritan’s paradise), Capetillo attempted to load a plaster-like substance into Antonio Margarito’s hand wraps in January of 2009 and subsequently had his license to work the corner revoked by the California State Athletic Commission. Whether you believe Margarito’s pleas of ignorance and innocence, you must acknowledge that he did the smart thing by eventually severing ties with Capetillo. So, the boxing world wondered, what in the name of Panama Lewis is Segura doing continuing to employ the preeminent pugilistic public enemy?
And Segura isn’t the only one; lightweight beltholder Miguel Vazquez also still uses Capetillo to prepare him for his fights. Capetillo isn’t allowed to work the corner in the U.S. and wasn’t permitted to for Segura in Guaynabo, either, but that’s besides the point. The fact is, Capetillo committed as vile an act as there is in boxing, and two championship-caliber fighters ÔÇö along with some lower-level boxers ÔÇö haven’t cut the cord.
It forces us to ask: Is the fighter-trainer bond that tight that we shouldn’t be surprised a boxer would remain loyal to someone who attempted to do (and might have, in other fights, succeeded in doing) something so heinous? RingTV.com asked two high-profile trainers and got two opposite opinions.
“A fighter-trainer relationship is like a family relationship and you overlook each other’s faults,” said 2004 and 2005 Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year Dan Birmingham. “It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that they stick together. As a trainer, I have to overlook a lot of the fighters’ flaws ÔÇö not only the way that they box, but the way that they live their lives. I mean, there’s no such thing as a perfect fighter and no such thing as a perfect trainer. But it’s like a family bond. It’s hard to break.”
“I’m surprised that anyone is sticking with him. I really am,” said Ronnie Shields, currently a top trainer and formerly a junior welterweight contender. “I can only speak for myself, but as a fighter, if I was aware that my trainer put something in my gloves that was going to give me an advantage, there’s no way that I would ever use him again. You have to have some kind of moral sensibility to yourself, to feel that you don’t have to cheat to win.
“If someone keeps working with Capetillo, all I can think is that maybe they want a cheater in their corner. I’m sorry, but you have to suspect the worst. You have to go back and look at these guys, see how long he was working with them, maybe he was helping these guys to cheat and to win. You have to look at these guys and ask, 'Do they have morals?'”
It’s quite possible that they don’t have any moral integrity. But it’s also possible that we, as outside observers, are failing to see the world through their eyes.
The Mexican-born Capetillo began training fighters in the States back in the mid-’90s and is currently based out of the Azteca Boxing Club in Bell, Calif., a gym owned by Segura’s management team of father and son Arturo and Richard Mota. The elder Mota, Arturo, has long been known as one of the best hand wrappers in the business, and Segura is quick to point out that it’s Mota, and not Capetillo, who has always wrapped his fists.
Almost the entire boxing community is outraged by what Capetillo was found guilty of attempting prior to Margarito’s loss to Shane Mosley. But RingTV.com Co-Editor Doug Fischer, who spent time at the Azteca Boxing Club with Segura and his team as they prepared for the Calderon fight, says the Mexican faction appears to have a different perspective.
“There’s a bit of defiance among some Mexicans ÔÇö like they feel people are coming down too hard on one of their own, and they’re going to support Capetillo,” Fischer said. “None of this has been on the record, but when I’ve spoken to people at the gym casually, it’s like they feel the media is never going to forgive Capetillo and that there’s no proof that he’s done it more than once.
“I get that feeling that there’s a nationalistic sort of pride that’s there, and they feel they need to stand up for him.”
In the case of Segura and Vazquez, there’s also a reluctance to part with a guy who has produced the results you’re looking for. After the lone loss of his career, against Cesar Canchila in July ’08, Segura brought in Capetillo to be the disciplinarian he needed. He has since gone on to score six straight knockouts, including a rematch KO over Canchila and the career-defining win over Calderon.
Capetillo forces his fighters to work hard in training camp, and the ones who employ him long-term are fighters who follow his commands without questioning him or crossing him. Fischer related a story about what he witnessed a couple of weeks ago, when he was at the gym interviewing Segura while Margarito’s California re-licensing hearing was going on and was being broadcast over the internet.
“Capetillo was walking in and out of the room during the hearing, and ÔÇö this was translated by Richard Mota ÔÇö he said something to the effect that Margarito broke his heart, that he thought Margarito and his management were real Mexicans, but they’re not because they threw him under the bus. He basically was saying, ‘Real Mexicans stick together.’ So Capetillo has that code, that mentality.”
So maybe Capetillo has the psychological mastery to make his fighters remain blindly loyal to him. That’s the excuse Margarito has used in claiming he trusted Capetillo to wrap his hands and never questioned him.
But another key element is that these fighters might not be aware of the backlash they’re facing for remaining loyal to Capetillo. Whether in Mexico or the L.A. area, they’re surrounded by fellow Mexicans, many of whom feel compelled to defend Capetillo. And these fighters are reading only Spanish-language articles. In other words, they might have no idea that a high percentage of the English-speaking press has spent keystrokes condemning Capetillo or, last week, spitting on the state of Texas for allowing Margarito to fight there. Fighters like Segura and Vazquez haven’t necessarily been asked point blank by a reporter, “Do you realize how bad it looks to continue to associate with Capetillo?”
“I don’t believe it enters their mind at all,” Birmingham said. “There’s a lot of writing about a lot of different topics, and I think they overlook most of it. As long as they’re winning fights and progressing financially and everything’s going well, they don’t want to change trainers.”
To many of us, it seems incomprehensible that a fighter would risk his reputation by remaining aligned with someone as notorious as Capetillo. But apparently record means more to these fighters than reputation. You can criticize their loyalty to Capetillo, but you can’t be totally shocked by their loyalty to themselves and to winning.
ÔÇó I noted at the top of the column that Segura-Calderon was “arguably the best fight of the year.” In most years, it wouldn’t be. But in 2010, I think it’s the leading Fight of the Year contender right now. It wasn’t the most-action-packed fight we’ve seen, but the action was solid ÔÇö probably an “A-minus.” Add an “A” for drama, an “A-plus” for significance in the division and bonus points for an upset ending, and this bout gets my vote ÔÇö for now.
ÔÇó Speaking of Segura-Calderon and votes, it’s a good thing Puerto Rican judge Carlos Colon’s didn’t count. I don’t see any possible way to justify having Calderon leading that fight through seven rounds.
ÔÇó Last week’s column about 2010 Fighter of the Year candidates generated a lot of reaction, both via email and in the comments section at the bottom of the page, and there are two fighters worth addressing: First, I received an email from Jorge Perez suggesting that Rafael Marquez should be in the discussion if he defeats Juan Manuel Lopez, and he’s absolutely right. Not mentioning Marquez was an oversight on my part. I happen to think he’s a big underdog against “JuanMa,” but if he pulls it off, he’s absolutely an FOTY candidate. And second, several people asked why Andre Ward isn’t a contender if he beats Andre Dirrell. I’m guessing those people don’t realize Ward’s win over Mikkel Kessler came in 2009. This year, all he’s done so far is beat Allen Green. Add a victory over Dirrell and maybe Ward is in the “Honorable Mention” group, but that’s as far as it goes.
ÔÇó First Lucian Bute, now Troy Ross; why can’t Canadian-based fighters get any respect from “Super Six” tournament organizers? Obviously, the cruiserweight tourney currently being discussed is a positive for boxing, but it’s not as positive as it could be should they end up including someone like Yoan Pablo Hernandez and excluding Ross.
ÔÇó I was all set to comment on James Toney’s MMA debut ÔÇª and then I remembered that I don’t care. And it’s not because of an anti-MMA bias; I don’t care what Toney does as a boxer anymore, either.
You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin.