The Ups and Downs of Boxing’s Mr. Fix It

After earning the 2011 Boxing Writers’ Association of America Trainer of the Year Award by training the 2011 Fighter of the Year Andre Ward, Virgil was in high demand.

In September 2012, after four years of training with Freddie Roach and coming off of a crushing left hook knockout defeat at the hands of Danny “Swift” Garcia, welteweight Amir Khan (31-4-0, 19 KOs) decided to leave Roach and begin training with Virgil Hunter. Just two days later, super middleweight Alfredo Angulo (24-6-0, 20 KOs) appeared at a press conference in Los Angeles with his new trainer – Virgil Hunter – after leaving long-time trainer Nacho Baristain who presided over Angulo’s TKO loss at the hands of James Kirkland (32-2-0, 28 KOs).

Both fighters were upbeat about their futures with Hunter in their corner:

“He has great methods,” Angulo said. “I’m very excited to work with him. He uses things that I haven’t done since my amateur days on the Olympic team, and the way he puts everything together shows great knowledge and skills. I’m excited.

Khan remarked:

“I’m really pleased that Virgil Hunter is to become my new trainer. Everyone in boxing knows about his skills and the success he has enjoyed over the last few years. I’m looking forward to the start of my training camp and working on some new things with him. With Virgil in my corner, I know that I can get back to the very top of the light welterweight division.”

With a stable that featured undefeated, WBA and WBC Super Middleweight titleholder – Andre “S.O.G” Ward (retired), Hunter had established a reputation for resurrecting the careers of once promising fighters and getting them to believe in themselves and their abilities. After all, both Khan and Angulo were coming off of KO and TKO losses, respectively.

In 2013, at the same time rising star and former 2008 Olympian, Demetrius ‘Boo Boo’ Andrade  (25-0-0, 16 KOs) parted ways with Virgil Hunter, Hunter took in another restoration project in welterweight Andre Berto (31-5-0, 24 KOs), who was coming off back-to-back defeats (one by unanimous decision and the other by TKO) against Jesus Soto Karass and Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero.

Most recently, in 2016, former WBO middleweight titleholder, Peter “Kid Chocolate’ Quillin, joined Hunter’s stable, after a devastating first round TKO loss to Daniel “The Miracle Man” Jacobs, in what was dubbed the “King of Brooklyn”.

Virgil Hunter watches Amir Khan shadow box in his gym.

However, despite Hunter being one of the most well-respected and sought after trainers, he has been unable to produce another world champion other than Ward. With Andre Ward’s retirement in 2017 and the inactivity of Berto, Quillin, and Khan, Hunter has seldom been seen in the corners for any top-ranked prize fights.

So who is Virgil Hunter and what happened to his great career as a trainer? Eightcount.tv chronicles the ups and downs of trainer and mentor – Virgil Hunter.

The Beginning

Virgil Hunter began training fighters while working with troubled youths as a probation officer. Despite never having been a fighter himself, Hunter felt confident that he could build a fighter. He worked as an apprentice for several years in Oakland, California with trainers including Bobby Warren, Jimmie Simmons, Charlie Smith, and Tiger Floyd. These trainers had a combined 40 to 50 years of experience that Hunter could observe and learn from.

Image result for us karate and boxing gym hayward

Hunter got his first fighters straight from juvenile hall, but always ran into complications due to the recitivism of the fighters he trained. It was mentally draining for him to deal with teenage fighters, so he vowed to find fighters that were ten years of age or younger.

“One time I had a kid really going but then he went to jail for having an affair with his own mother. When that happened, I said one promise. If I ever did it again it would be a young kid. I had little patience for older fighters. It had to be a young kid, around nine or ten years old.”

True to his word, in 1994 Hunter began training eventual Olympic gold medal winner Andre Ward when Ward was just 9 years old.

Godfather & Godson

Unbeknownst to many, first and foremost Virgil was Andrew Ward’s godfather. After Andre’s father passed away suddenly from a heart attack, Hunter became Ward’s temporary Guardian. Ward’s mother was rarely present, battling an addiction to crack cocaine and living on the streets of San Francisco for almost 20 years.

Just off Mission Boulevard in Hayward stands the U.S. Karate and Boxing Gym where Hunter was working at the time. At 9, Ward was hoisted on his daddy’s shoulders to peek in the window. One day later, Frank Ward signed both his sons – Jonathan and Andre – into the gym.

According to Virgil, Jonathan “had more talent than Andre”, but he lacked the desire to train. He won tournaments until he was 16 and racked up a 56-4 record as an amateur. However, what Andre lacked he skill, he made up for in focus and commitment.

A year after meeting Hunter in 1994, Ward began an illustrious amateur career. Like Joe Louis, he lost his first amateur contest. But he went on to fight 119 times in all as an amateur and lost only four more bouts. Past the age of 10, Ward has been routinely considered one of the best fighters in the world for his age. Indeed, he has not lost a fight since 1998, when he was 13. He lost that fight in a judge’s decision that –– like the other four –– he playfully questions the legitimacy of to this day.Image result for young andre ward

After winning gold as a light heavyweight in the 2004 Olympics, Ward turned professional. He rose to worldwide prominence upon entering the Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament in 2009, where he won the WBA (Super) super middleweight title from Mikkel Kessler in the opening group stage. In 2011, Ward defeated WBC champion Carl Froch in the tournament final to unify the titles, as well as winning the vacant Ring and lineal titles. That same year, Ward was named Fighter of the Year by The Ring and the Boxing Writers’ Association of America. Under Hunter’s tutelage, Andre Ward would go on to become one of the most decorated boxers of all time, all while maintaining an unblemished 32-0-0 record with 16 KOs:

  • WBA Super World Light Heavyweight Title
  • IBF World Light Heavyweight Title
  • WBO World Light Heavyweight Title

He later won The Ring’s Comeback of the Year award in 2016 following a long period of sporadic in-ring activity between 2012 and 2015.

After defeating the one time IBF, WBA and WBO Light Heavyweight champion, Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (Ward’s most formidable opponent) for a second straight time by TKO on November 19, 2016, many felt that Ward had conquered the division. Subsequently, on September 21, 2017, Ward announced his retirement  at the age of 33.

“I want to be clear – I am leaving because my body can no longer put up with the rigors of the sport and therefore my desire to fight is no longer there”, Ward remarked. “If I cannot give my family, my team, and the fans everything that I have, then I should no longer be fighting.”

Image result for andre ward as a child

King Khan and Hunter’s Stable

  • Amir Khan

In September 2012, Amir Khan fired then trainer Freddie Roach, with whom he had trained since 2008. During their time together, Khan won two world titles – the WBA Light Welterweight and the IBF Light Welterweight – in 2009 and 2011 respectively.

Khan had just come off of back-to-back losses against Lamont Peterson (35-3-1, 17 KOs) and then undefeated rising star Danny ‘Swift’ Garcia (33-1-0, 19 KOs) with the former being a controversial split decision and the latter coming via TKO after suffering a brutal left hook knockdown.

Khan_Garcia

Despite his successes with Roach and his widely recognized talent, many still felt that after winning an Olympic silver medal aged 17 in Athens 2004, he was still not considered among Britain’s greatest fighters.

Seeking a more defensive-oriented trainer, that could spend more one-on-one time with him, Khan hired Virgil Hunter to get him back to the top of the rankings in the super lightweight division. Khan saw improvement as he was surrounded in camp by other talented boxers including Andre Ward, Peter Quillen, Andre Berto, Danny Jacobs  (Virgil served as an advisor to Jacobs for his fight against Golovkin). Moreover, Virgil was able to effect Khan’s boxing psychology as he broke down fights and devised unique and effective game plans for his fights. Khan would go on to win his next five bouts against talented fighters including Devon Alexander, Chris Algieri and Luis Collazo.

Virgil Hunter_Amir Khan

Ironically, with Khan’s success under Virgil, Hunter could only blame many of Khan’s flaws on his previous trainers, including Roach and touted that had he been Khan’s trainer, his career up to that point would have gone differently.

“If I’d had him at nine, man, we wouldn’t be talking about Mayweather or nobody, we’d be talking about Amir Khan,” he said. “But that day is still possible… this fight has a lot to do with what goes on with the rest of his career.”

“My track record with fighters I’ve personally developed, they don’t lose much. I always said, ‘You give me the right type of athlete, with the right dedication, and the right athleticism, we’ll win’, and I’ve proven that.”

That was until Khan stepped into the ring in July 2016, against arguably the second best middleweight at the time – Saul Canelo Alvarez (49-1-2, 34KOs). What started out as a competitive fight, where Khan was able to move about the ring and land some shots, quickly descended into a one punch KO victory for Canelo Alvarez in the sixth round. With Amir Khan moving up in weight, Canelo was naturally the bigger fighter and admittedly, Hunter was concerned about taking the fight.

Amir hasn’t stepped foot into the ring since his bout with Canelo. One can speculate that after suffering the second knockout loss of his career, coupled with marital troubles, Amir mentally hasn’t been in a place to focus on training and fighting. Earlier this year, he and his wife, model Faryal Makhdoom, split. Khan later filed for divorce.

“Virgil just teaches on a different level, [and motivates with] certain sayings or Bible scriptures.”

  • Andre Berto

A year after Amir Khan arrived at the door step of Hunter’s Oakland based U.S. Karate and Boxing Gym, struggling former two-time welterweight titleholder, Andre Berto (35- 5-0, 24 KOs) did the same. Berto had just come off of losing two out of his last three fights by unanimous decision to both Victor Ortiz and Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero, with Guerrero having dropped Berto twice in a fairly dominant performance.

Image result for andre berto virgil hunter

While being known as a tough, hard-hitting fighter, Berto severely lacked defensive skills. Referred to as a ‘human punching bag’ by many fight fans, Berto’s fighting style had traditionally been to lead with his head and bulldog his way through the fight, with very little regard for head movement or defense. After having both eyes shut during his fight with Guerrero, Berto knew that he needed to sharpen up defensively if he had any hopes of maintaining his career.

“I know I have all the talent in world. Now it’s time to fine-tune the skill set,” Berto told ESPN.com. “Virg is someone I’ve known since I was a kid, along with a few other coaches I went to interview. I wanted to stick with familiar faces that I’ve had that relationship with and that have watched me from the amateur system [until] now. We’re testing things out with this fight and seeing where things go.”

Image result for andre berto eyes

In July 2013, Berto returned to the ring against the talented Jesus Soto Karass and loss by twelfth round TKO. Berto exhibited great heart, after suffering a shoulder injury early in the fight. Soto Karass landed more punches (390 of 1,324 punches) than Berto (223 of 608) begging the question if he could actually become a better defensive boxer under Hunter or if he would revert back to what he instinctively had always done as a fighter. Berto bounced back after the loss to Soto Karass, winning three of his next five fights, including a victory over Victor Ortiz by KO. His two losses came at the hands of Floyd Mayweather (UD) and Shawn Porter (TKO), where despite showing maturation as a fighter both offensively and defensively, he was outclassed by better boxers.

After securing his largest pay day against Floyd Mayweather in 2015, Berto has not fought once in each of the last two years, with his last fight taking place in April 2017.

“I still have the same style but with the difference in Virgil’s training as he doesn’t like his fighters to get hit.” – Alfredo Angulo

  • Peter Quillin

In June 2016, Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (33-1-1, 23 KOs), the former WBO Middleweight titleholder left his longtime trainer Eric Brown and headed to Oakland, California to train with Virgil Hunter. Under Brown, Quillin was undefeated, having racked up 31 wins and 23 knockouts.  But against his toughest competition, Quillin had mediocre performances.

Leaving Brown wasn’t easy, however it was a move Quillin thought was necessary to move his career forward under Hunter, who was offering his new fighter more than just physical guidance. “Virgil just teaches on a different level, [and motivates with] certain sayings or Bible scriptures.”

After a lackluster performance against Andy Lee, which ended in a split decision draw and the KO from Jacobs, Quillin realized that, I was high on my power, so my boxing ability was lacking against [Andy] Lee and [Daniel] Jacobs.” Despite having scored twelve knockdowns and two knockouts in his five fights prior to Andy Lee, Quillin needed to go back to the basics and sharpen his boxing skills. 

After nearly a two year layoff, Kid Chocolate re-entered the ring in September of this year to face Dashon “Flyboy” Johnson (22-22-3, 7 KOs) in a non-title, tune-up fight at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas.  The rust was evident early as Quillin got off to a slow start and Johnson took advantage. Dashon found success with the overhand right and applied pressure to test Kid Chocolate’s conditioning throughout. After a near disastrous third round, Virgil Hunter yelled for Quillin to get his head into the game, and Quillin finally responded in the fifth round with a a right hand that sent Johnson into the ropes. Quillin unloaded with hooks and body shots that nearly forced a stoppage from referee Kenny Bayless. From that point forward, Quillin controlled much of the fight, but it wasn’t without its rough patches as Quillin put himself in several unnecessary exchanges down the stretch.

Ultimately, the judges saw it in the Brooklyn fighter’s favor with scores of 78-74, 79-72 and 79-73.

  • Alfredo ‘El Perro’ Angulo

In 2012, Alfredo Angulo made his return to the ring after his sixth round TKO loss to James Kirkland for the WBC Continental Americas Super Welterweight Title, with new trainer Virgil Hunter. Known for coming straight forward against opponents, Angulo too lacked a decent defensive skill set to avoid sustaining tremendous punishment in many of previous fights.

Image result for alfredo angulo virgil hunter

Things got off to a good start with Hunter at the helm. Angulo followed up his fight against Kirkland with a knockout victory against Raul ‘El Tigre’ Casarez (19-2-0, 9 KOs) and Jorge Silva (19-2-2, 18 KOs). However, the tide quickly changed and Angulo lost four of his next six fights including two consecutive TKO losses to Erislandy Lara and Saul Canelo Alvarez. Angulo last fought in August of 2016 against Freddy Hernandez, going the distance, but ultimately losing by unanimous decision.

What’s Next for Virgil?

With Andre Ward’s retirement, Alfredo Angulo seemingly at the end of his career, the mediocre success of Andre Berto and Peter Quillin, and the long period of inactivity for Amir Khan, one has to wonder if Virgil Hunter has loss the touch that led him and world champion Andre Ward to be named trainer of the year and fighter of the year, respectively, in 2011.

Hunter has no definitive superstar on his roster at the moment. He is currently working with super heavyweight newcomer, Tony Yoka, from France as he looks to rebuild his stable with young, promising talent. There has also been chatter in the boxing-sphere that Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs), once the most feared light heavyweight in the division and a man defeated by Hunter’s protege Andre Ward back-to-back, may begin training with Hunter, after leaving longtime trainer John David Jackson over the summer. While only speculation and rumor at this point, we’ll keep a close eye on this as talks develop.

Virgil Hunter

Moreover, Hunter has also tried his hand at calling fights alongside Kevin Harlan and Pauli Malinaggi for Premier Boxing Champions on CBS. His exceptional boxing acumen and apparent knack for providing unique insights during a fight make Hunter a very good analyst. His assessments of a fighters will, skill and ability to compete are almost always accurate.

For now, one should expect Virgil to be searching for his next star fighter, while trying to help Amir Khan, who is nearing 31 years of age, to get back into the ring after what has now been a year and a half of inactivity. Perhaps, Peter Quillin and Andre Berto, also two fighters over the age of 30, will provide Hunter with a successful stretch of victories as their careers wind down. Otherwise, the man who was once seen as boxing’s Mr. Fix It, will have to settle for a trainer whose reputation was truly defined by one gifted fighter.

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