Tuesday, May 30, 2023  |



Joe Gallagher talks training setup and Canelo-Smith

Photo: Tom Gray
Fighters Network

Have you ever thought about how difficult it must be to build a successful professional fighter?

More often than not boxing basics are instilled from the embryonic stages of a prolonged amateur career, but nurturing and developing a pro is complex on myriad levels. The successful teacher must have a cerebral understanding of the game, juxtaposed alongside the ability to communicate and stay calm during pressure-packed situations.

As the saying goes, ‘If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

On a mild Friday morning, Joe Gallagher has a full house at Amir Khan’s gym in Bolton, England. Reigning world titleholders Liam Smith and Anthony Crolla, former world titleholders Scott Quigg and Paul Butler, THE RING’s No. 6-rated super middleweight Callum Smith, former world title challenger Paul Smith and an assortment of top prospects are at the end of a hard week of training.

Joe Gallagher, THE RING Trainer of the Year for 2015, is attentiveness personified as he monitors a group of elite-level athletes who are all preparing for fights at a variety of different levels. What follows is ample proof that the Manchester-based trainer has worked extremely hard to reach the top of the tree in his field.

“In the gym, you need to know what’s going on all around you,” said Gallagher. “I need to monitor the sparring and I need to offer instructions and shout encouragement to all the other fighters in the gym.

“There’s no gap from when the training starts to when it ends. A fighter must work at the same intensity that you come across in a fight. The gym is full of mirrors, so I don’t miss much. I can hear the bags being hit and I can always judge if someone is being sloppy. If they are, I’m on it. I always make sure the fighters are working hard and it’s vital that the technique is right. As soon as one lot of sparring is finished, the next lot is in. It’s very similar to what goes on in Freddie Roach’s gym in L.A.”

An old laptop sits in one corner of the ring. There are eight YouTube tabs on the screen, with four Gallagher fighters in action in their most recent contests and four upcoming opponents for those fighters. I ask Gallagher why he’s watching his own fighters. “Because I want to detect the flaws that other trainers find and iron them out,” he said.

The gym is downstairs and huge industrial heaters create a climate that makes one feel as though they are inside a boiling teapot. This reporter, attired in jeans and a t-shirt, is sweating buckets and becomes the object of ridicule from most of those wearing headgear, gloves, jockstrap and boots or shorts, vest and flip flops.

When Gallagher accompanies me next door into another infinitely cooler training area for a chat, the relief is almost indescribable. The subject matter is Liam Smith’s WBO junior middleweight title defense against Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez, which takes place this Saturday at the AT&T Arena in Arlington, Texas.

“This fight reminds me of Donald Curry versus Lloyd Honeyghan,” said Gallagher in reference to Britain’s Honeyghan upsetting the American pound-for-pound star in an undisputed welterweight title fight, which took place 30 years ago this month in Atlantic City.

“We’ll just walk quietly and carry a big stick. We’ll let everyone write us off but when we win, don’t start saying Canelo was weight-drained and everything else. Give credit where it’s due. I’m actually a little bit worried that (Canelo) doesn’t make weight, but he had best make weight because we’re not scared of picking up our check and going home without fighting.”

The unbeaten Smith (23-0-1, 13 knockouts) has never fought anyone even remotely close to Canelo Alvarez’s caliber. While the majority of fans and media feel that this is a recipe for disaster, both fighter and trainer insist that they are primed for this level of competition and Gallagher is also convinced that Smith has the required mental strength to deal with the big occasion.

“Liam will thrive on it and if he smells blood and can get to Alvarez early on and make him take chances then he will,” revealed Gallagher. “Canelo likes to have a fight under control by the mid-way point and then take his foot off the pedal and glide through. (Miguel) Cotto almost took advantage of that late and I think Liam can force the fight hard between six and 10 and those are key rounds.

“(Canelo) does slow down late. You saw that against (Floyd) Mayweather when he was being pinned against the ropes and (Austin) Trout hurt him to the body in the seventh. Canelo likes to rest, work off the back foot or play possum off the ropes. Then, when it suits, he’ll fire back and put you back in the box. We can’t let him do that and we must keep the pace high.”

Despite Gallagher being confident in his charge, there is clear, and obvious, respect for the Canelo arsenal. This is more of a pole vault than a step up in class for Smith but, still, the entire camp was oozing confidence. There is also the very real possibility that Canelo completely underestimates the quality of the opposition and is weight-drained at 154 pounds.

Could we have a memorable encounter? Could we have an upset?

“Alvarez will be licking his lips because he has a fighter who will come in and have a fight,” said Gallagher with a smile. “I think it’s going to be a cracking fight, but for anyone who thinks that Liam just walks in and gets taken out – I don’t see that being the case. He will surprise everybody with his boxing brain and boxing ability.

“We’re prepared to box at mid-ring, but there will be a time when Alvarez is going to want to test Liam’s power and there will also be times when Liam has to test Alvarez’s power. I think that if Canelo feels he can take it, then he’ll fight in the pocket and if Liam feels that he can handle Alvarez’s power, then he’ll say, ’Okay, let’s have it.’ I think it’s that type if fight.”

Tom Gray is a UK Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing