John A. MacDonald
First came the cynics, then the backslappers, but all that concerns trainer Shane McGuigan is getting the best out of the growing band of fighters in his stable. As Frampton vs Santa Cruz 2 approaches, John A. MacDonald spoke to the rising young trainer...
When Shane McGuigan took over as Carl Frampton’s head trainer, there was a belief amongst many that he had only obtained the position as a result of nepotism.
At the time, he was in his early 20’s, two years younger than the fighter he was training, and despite having won three national titles as an amateur he had never fought professionally. Scepticism was rife. The general consensus was that he was only coaching Frampton because his father, Barry McGuigan, was the boxer’s manager.
To his credit, McGuigan was undeterred by the negativity, and had a resolute belief in his own ability.
“The only person I needed to believe in me was Carl Frampton, and that was the person that was believing in me,” McGuigan told Boxing Monthly over the phone from his London flat as he recalled the cynicism he received. “I didn’t care about what anybody else had to think. They haven’t been in the gym for months, and months before when we were putting in all the hard work so all they can do is sit there and judge, and that’s what they did do.”
Fast-forward to the present day, and all but the most ardent of doubters have been silenced. The 27-year-old is one of the most highly regarded trainers in Britain. But in the same way he ignored the criticism at the beginning, he is refusing to buy in to the hype he now receives.
“Those same people [who used to criticise me] now are praising me, saying: ‘He’s the best trainer in the world,’ and all this crap,” McGuigan said nonchalantly. “It’s just opinions, everyone has got an opinion, and you just can’t listen to it.”
While McGuigan may not be paying much attention to the praise he is currently receiving, it is not unjustified as he has played a pivotal role in leading Carl Frampton to world titles at two weights.
This success has led to him becoming a trainer very much in demand. Amongst those who sought out his services was David Haye. McGuigan found himself surprised at first when he was asked to work with the former unified cruiserweight and WBA heavyweight champion. McGuigan wasn’t sure how receptive Haye would be to his methods, after such an illustrious career, and with being in his mid-30s.
“I was quite shocked [at being asked to train Haye], because he’s obviously been there, done it, got the t-shirt.” McGuigan recalled. “He’s done everything in boxing, why would he sit and listen to a 27-year-old trainer? I didn’t know if that was going to work at first, but David is always looking to better himself, and I think that’s the attitude you’ve got to have. You’ve to be prepared to try new things, do new things to get the best out of yourself.”
After three and a half years out of the ring, during which time he had undergone extensive shoulder surgery, there was much intrigue to see just what the “Hayemaker” had left.
Two fights later, those questions remain largely unanswered as Haye despatched of Mark De Mori, and Arnold Gjergjaj, in one and two rounds respectively. McGuigan acknowledges that those opponents “aren’t world beaters”, but believes that Haye possesses the power to do the same thing to any heavyweight in the world.
“He is a phenomenal puncher,” McGuigan said. “He can knock anybody out in 15 seconds, it’s not just Arnold Gjergjaj or Mark De Mori.”
McGuigan expects his fighter to face a much harder assignment when the current WBC cruiserweight champion, Tony Bellew, steps up to heavyweight to take on Haye at the O2 Arena on 4 March.
The fight has been maligned by many. Haye himself was somewhat dismissive of his rival during the heated press conference that formally announced the fight. However, McGuigan isn’t underestimating Bellew, and believes Haye must be at his best to prevail.
“I don’t think Tony Bellew is an easy fight,” McGuigan revealed. “He’s got speed, he’s quick. He’s a light heavyweight that moved up, that should never have been a light heavyweight. Tony Bellew took loads out of himself [making 175 lbs]. I don’t know how he ever got down to light heavyweight, he should never have been there. He’s gone up to cruiserweight, riding on confidence, believes in his power again. It’s an interesting fight from a spectators point of view, and I think it’s a tough fight for David.”
Haye isn’t the only established name to join the McGuigan camp, as George Groves teamed up with him at the end of 2015. The pair had previously held discussions when groves parted company with Adam Booth, but “Saint George” ultimately chose Paddy Fitzpatrick.
After a successful trial period, the pair opted to work together on a permanent basis. McGuigan is pleased with the progress Groves is making under his tutelage, and believes that he has improved in each of the four fights they’ve had together.
Some observers believed that Groves was mentally scarred from defeats to Carl Froch, and Badou Jack. However, McGuigan believes that his fighter had just lost enthusiasm for the sport, having been involved with it since his early childhood.
“I think he had fallen out of love – a little bit – with boxing,” McGuigan said. “He was always in the gym from a young age. You’ve only got so much willpower inside you. The negativity of the boxing community had got to him. Our approach is pretty simple: just blank it out, whatever anyone else’s opinion, you’ve got to do what’s best for you. You’ve got to better yourself, and be the best person you can be. George Groves has a lot more to offer. Since then, he’s enjoyed boxing again.”
Groves looked full of confidence as he defeated former world title challenger, Eduard Gutknecht, with all three judges scoring the contest 119-109. In the second half of the fight, Gutknecht took significant punishment, and collapsed in his dressing room afterwards. He was rushed to hospital, and underwent surgery to relieve swelling on the brain. At the time of writing, Gutknecht was still in a coma. Understandably, the incident has had an impact on both McGuigan and Groves.
“Our prayers are still with him, it’s terrible,” Shane said, before taking a pause to consider his words. “I don’t want to make much of a statement about that as I don’t feel it’s my place, but my thoughts are with his family and his friends. The fight should have been stopped, in my opinion. His corner should have pulled him out. If his corner weren’t responsible, then the referee should have taken responsibility. The fight went on three rounds too many.
“In terms of me and George as a coach and trainer, has it affected me? It has affected me, and it has affected George, but we don’t feel responsible because he was doing his job.
“If the shoe was on the other foot, Gutknecht would have done exactly the same. George is a dangerous puncher, and people need to understand that. Everyone looks at George Groves and thinks he’s fragile, his opponents are fragile [but] he’s punching extremely hard.
“I think the misconception of George Groves might have made that fight go on longer than it should have. George Groves has a reputation for being tired at the end of a fight, for gassing out, but he’s not, he’s getting better. He also has a reputation for being fragile, and he hasn’t looked fragile at all since he’s gone with me. There [are] misconceptions of him, and Gutknecht was in there far too long.”
Tough situations such as this are made somewhat easier by the strong bond that has been established between all the fighters in McGuigan’s gym. As well as travelling the length and breadth of the UK to support each other, they all headed out to Las Vegas for camp ahead of Carl Frampton’s rematch with Leo Santa Cruz.
“I try to keep it as much of a community as possible,” McGuigan said “I feel like it is such a lonely sport, you need friends that are doing the same thing. They are not competing with each other, everyone should be on board and supportive. I feel like everyone is supporting each other.”
If the gym is currently a community, in the recent past it was more a family, as McGuigan had several fighters, and a Mexican sparring partner, staying with him, and his wife – something she was less than pleased about.
“I had two in the room beside me, one in the other room, and I had one on the couch, so I had four,” McGuigan said before realising he had miscounted. “Oh, I had two on the couch, I had a sparring partner on the coach too! That lasted about a month, then the missus told me she’ll kick me out if she doesn’t kick the lads out! [laughs]”
Unsurprisingly, it was the fighters that had to go. Now only Carl Frampton stays with Mcguigan, but the gym still routinely go out for meals together. As well as the established stars, McGuigan also works with promising young fighters. Conrad Cummings – the second fighter he began training after Frampton – recently lost for the first time, dropping a controversial split decision to Ronnie Mittag, a fight McGuigan feels his boxer won by “at least two rounds”.
Perhaps the most exciting prospect McGuigan works with is the 2014 Commonwealth Games Gold medallist – Josh Taylor. The Edinburgh man stopped Dave Ryan in just his seventh contest, claiming the Commonwealth super lightweight title in the process. Taylor is a fighter many have earmarked for stardom, and even the usually composed McGuigan is running out of superlatives for him.
“I think he’s got a huge future, a massive, bright future ahead of him,” McGuigan said excitedly. “I really think he’s going to be one the best fighters of this next era of boxing. I think he’s going to do massive things.”
Although enthusiastic about Taylor’s potential, McGuigan is realistic and aims to ensure the fighter is progressed in a manner that will fully prepare him for the sterner tests.
“Dave Ryan is a tough man, but he’s domestic level,” McGuigan explained “Josh Taylor proved in his seventh fight he’s above that level. So now, it’s a very tricky situation because the likes of Terence Crawford, they are too good for him right now.
“I believe he can mix it with Ricky Burns, but once he gets up to that level, there’s no turning back so you’ve got to take your time, there is no rushing just for one fight. It’s about taking the time, picking the right opponents, and then when you are in the position to become world champion, you are in the position to stay there.”
When he first began working with Frampton, McGuigan envisaged that he would retire when Carl hangs up the gloves. He had no intention of training other fighters, believing he would never have the same bond with another boxer. However, Shane has had to revise those plans.
“My dad said to me when I first started training Carl: ‘You’ll never get another Carl Frampton,’ and what he meant was you’ll never get [another] guy that you guys can grow together like that, and you have that relationship. He’s right, to a certain extent, but I’ve got new guys coming in to the gym, and I love training them I’ve still got the buzz, I still love doing what I do.”