Sunday, April 02, 2023  |



Best I’ve faced: Abel Sanchez

Veteran trainer Abel Sanchez ties the gloves of his prize pupil Gennady Golovkin. Photo / @GGGBoxing
Fighters Network

Abel Sanchez is a familiar face in the corner of one of the best fighters in the world, Gennady Golovkin, but he has also trained 16 world titleholder during more than 30 years in boxing.

Sanchez was born in Tijuana in 1955, he is the eldest of eight children. When he was 6 years old his mother moved the family to California.

His mother married a man who later adopted Sanchez and helped him learn the ropes in construction when he was just 9 years old.

“We struggled, we went hungry,” Sanchez told “We lived in a rough neighborhood and had a rough upbringing. We ate meat once a week, we ate a lot of rice, beans and potatoes.

“We went to school from 7:00 a.m to 2:00 p.m., came home did our chores, my father picked us up and we’d go to work. In the summer we never knew what summer vacation was, we were always at work.”

When Sanchez was 18 he put the years of construction experience to good use and started his own company. One of the contracts he had was to build the houses on the set of the 1980s blockbuster movie E.T.

At the same time along with one of his friends he took a Tae Kwando class in Pasadena before moving to El Monte where he began to work with Ben Lira, who is now Sanchez’s assistant. Despite winning all 15 kickboxing fights, Lira persuaded him to try boxing where he went a less impressive 3-3. However, when boxing interfered with his construction business he decided to hang up his gloves and instead sponsor Lira’s gym while working the corner for several of Lira’s fighters before stepping away from the sport in ‘82.

In ’85 a chance phone call to Lupe Aquino’s father – a fighter Sanchez and Lira worked with – revealed more than he’d expected. Aquino had retired due to differences with his manager but Sanchez was able to iron those out and the two were soon back in tandem. Seven wins later they found themselves in France facing Emmanuel Steward trained Dwayne Thomas for the WBC junior middleweight title. Aquino outboxed Thomas en route to a wide decision and became Sanchez first world champion.

When Sanchez returned to the U.S, he was summoned to the offices of Aquino’s manager Joe Sayatovich. Two fledgling pros were also in attendance, the Norris brothers, Terry and Orlin, both amateur standouts from Texas.

“Terry [Norris] was the one who spoke the most, Orlin [Norris] didn’t say much,” explained Sanchez. “Terry said, ‘We’d like for you to train us.’ I said ‘As long as I have the same deal as I do with Lupe, I’m OK with it.’ I trained both of them. Terry became my second and Orlin became my third world champion.”

He worked with Paul Vaden but a difference of opinion meant the two parted ways before Vaden became a world champion.

In ’94 he started to work for Don King. Their alliance lasted until late ’96. During that time he got to know Miguel Angel Gonzalez and worked with him for a period of time but was disappointed with his fellow Mexican’s work ethic and they went their separate ways.

Sanchez also worked with popular South African heavyweight Frans Botha at that time and into the late ’90s.

“He was in a position where he was getting big fights so I trained him for about nine fights but he was at the point where he didn’t want to train. He wanted to play golf all the time. It was difficult for me because I don’t like to lose, so in late 2000 I retired. I didn’t want to do this anymore, so I packed it in and went back to my construction.”

In October 2001, Sanchez, suffered a heart attack. While he was recuperating he decided he wanted to build his own state of the art gym and let his friends use it, though didn’t intend to get back into boxing. His construction company was doing a lot of work in Big Bear, California, and he felt it was the right place for his gym project. It was originally designed for Emanuel Steward and Lennox Lewis but due to Steward’s commitments to other fighters he didn’t stay there.

“The house was being used as a resort house by my children,” he said. “It was only being used two, three times a year. It didn’t seem right to have this monstrosity with no use. I was paying the electric, gas, everything to keep it up.”

So finally after several years in the fall of 2008 when it was completed, Oscar De La Hoya rented the facility for his camp for his bout with Manny Pacquiao.

Word got out and other boxers soon followed. None more famously than Golovkin.

As well as Golovkin who faces Kell Brook this weekend on SKY Sports Pay-Per-View and HBO, Sanchez currently works with three other world-rated fighters all from the former Soviet Union, Murat Gassiev, Konstantin Ponovarev and Denis Shafikov.

Sanchez, 60, has been married for 17 years, he has three children from a previous relationship. He lives in Big Bear and although he plays golf from time to time says boxing consumes much of his time.

Sanchez took time out of his busy schedule to speak to about the best he’s trained in 10 key categories.

Gennady Golovkin: I would say Golovkin. His timing and his preparation for the jab because of the use of his legs is better than anybody I’ve ever had. When you throw it as hard and pin-point as he does, if you miss you’re in danger, he’s got to be in perfect position the way he throws it. I’ve had faster jabs like Terry Norris. Paul Vaden had a very good jab but Golovkin sets up the jab so beautifully with his legs that I don’t think anybody in the past I’ve trained has had such a good jab.

Orlin Norris: I would say Orlin Norris was the best defensive fighter I’ve ever had. Like Golovkin and Miguel Angel Gonzalez, he’s very cerebral, very intelligent, he would make you do the things he wanted you to do. Make himself available, make you miss and then make you pay. Orlin Norris was exceptional at that, bigger guys couldn’t handle him, the bigger the guy the better it was for him because he had an easier time, he out-jabbed Tony Tucker, Tony Tubbs, Greg Page, Oliver McCall. He was smart at setting it up.

Jesus Salud: I’d have to say I’d have to see Golovkin in with some tougher opposition to test that. Of the other guys, I would say Jesus Salud had a great chin, Lupe Aquino had a great chin but of the two I would say Jesus Salud had the best chin.

Miguel Angel Gonzalez had a sturdy chin, his biggest issue was that he always killed himself to make the weight. So when he got touched on the chin I could see more of an effect on him than I would Jesus Salud.

Yori Boy Campas is an honorable mention. I was with him for about 25 fights. The last fight I was with him was against Felix Trinidad. If you recall he dropped Trinidad in the second and then Trinidad would hit him with everything except the stool and couldn’t put him down, he was fine, he was just getting hit too much and the referee stopped it.

Paul Vaden: He wasn’t fast, he was quick, from the start of the punch to the delivery of the punch. The uppercut I taught him (and he credits me for why he was the success he was in boxing) was probably the fastest uppercut of any of the guys I’ve had. Terry Norris would take a second to that. What made the difference between the two of them was Terry was very athletic, Terry was fast because he was athletic, he just threw it out there, he didn’t really sit down to do the things that Paul did, he was fast from point-to-point.

Terry Norris: Terry Norris just had unbelievable feet. He was just like a cat on a hot tin roof. He would move from point-to-point. Not necessarily in balance, but moved a lot, positioned himself a lot, sometimes more movement than I wanted but he did have the fastest feet.

Golovkin: Golovkin and Orlin Norris. Golovkin, I think because of his extensive amateur experience, he’s [Golovkin] seen everything. There’s not a style he hasn’t seen, there’s not a set up he hasn’t seen, there’s not a trap he hasn’t seen. He’s fought the best in the amateurs and so far he’s doing very well in the pros because of that, because of his intelligence, because of his anticipation.

Orlin Norris, who also had about 300 amateur fights, was the same way. He was a small heavyweight, he was only 5-foot-10-and-a-half. But he beat all these guys that were 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 and Orlin Norris was able to out-jab them and beat them because of his intelligence and seeing what was coming and anticipating what was coming because of his past experiences not only in the amateurs but as a pro.

I would say Golovkin is first and Orlin Norris is second only because Golovkin is still active and doing very well but Orlin was exceptional as well.

Golovkin: Golovkin by far. I wouldn’t say at the beginning when I started working with him but now he’s just so physically imposing. His body is just a piece of rock, he keeps himself in such good shape that I don’t think I’ve ever felt him out-of-shape. His arms, you can knock on them like you do steel, he’s just a guy who has genetics maybe that we were able to bring out with strength work and now his body is chiselled, not only chiselled but hard chisel.

Golovkin: I would say there’s Golovkin and Lupe Aquino. Aquino had a tremendous right hand, a left hook to the body. I’m not going to say as hard as Golovkin because Golovkin is on a level by himself in that category but Lupe Aquino hits very hard also. God gave him [Golovkin] not only heavy-hands but the intelligence to know how to place his shots. If you talk to his opponents they all say, “He hits you where he wants to hit you.” He places a punch where he wants to place it and he places it with such force and such accuracy it’s even harder. It’s not a random punch, it’s always predictable in that if he tells you he’s going to put it on the shoulder he puts it on the shoulder, he just has that knack of doing that first and second he lands it with force.

Kovalev’s power was like George Foreman, thudding, in other words not a sharp power. It’s heavy hands. He’s extremely heavy-handed. It’s not the sharp piercing power like Golovkin but he hits very hard. If you were to have Kovalev and Golovkin spar with the same guy, say a heavyweight, Golovkin’s power would be more of a sharp power, Kovalev would be more a thudding power.

Golovkin: Golovkin by far. Again I think it goes back to intelligence. All the way around, he has the best jab, footwork as far as positioning, not fastest, but he can get to where he wants to be in the shortest amount of time in steps, a great right hand that I think we only saw once against [Geale], obviously a great left hook. His only minus to me right now, sometimes he tends to lose focus because it’s so easy for him. For a coach that is frustrating because we’re getting paid the same if we take one punch or 10 punches, anything can happen in a fight. He is so in command physically and mentally he feels he can do that.

Other than, punching power, Orlin Norris, in his heyday, when he was cruiserweight champion and we were beating the heavyweights, Orlin Norris was a difficult to fight. I couldn’t get him a heavyweight title fight after he beat all those guys, I had to drop him down to cruiserweight, which at the time was 190, it was killing him to make cruiserweight, he was so defensive, so intelligent in the ring that he did what he wanted to do. He didn’t have the punching power, his technique in the right hand wasn’t the best but very good skills.

Golovkin: Golovkin, hands down. If I could take a piece out of everybody, I would say Golovkin’s intelligence, Lupe Aquino’s left hook to the body, Jesus Salud sereneness in the ring along with Golovkin, but Golovkin is a little bit different from Jesus. Uppercut, I would say Paul Vaden combined with Golovkin’s power would be unbelievable. Terry Norris’ feet as far as speed, not necessarily positioning. If I had to build the perfect specimen it would be Kovalev’s height, arm length and Golovkin’s right hand and chin. Intelligence, a piece of Orlin Norris and Golovkin. I think that would make me a guy that was unbeatable. Sugar Ray 2.0 [laughs].


Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him at