SAN DIEGO -- Abel Sanchez trained world champs out of his San Diego boxing gym. He was in Terry Norris’ corner when Norris knocked down and beat Sugar Ray Leonard at Madison Square Garden.
But none of Sanchez’ 30-plus-years in and around the ring have been like his last six with undefeated Kazakhstan knockout artist Gennady “GGG” Golovkin.
With Sanchez in his corner at a sold-out Forum Saturday in Inglewood, Golovkin destroyed his latest challenger, previously undefeated Dominic Wade, flooring the overmatched D.C. fighter three times before the bout was stopped with 23 seconds to go in the second round.
It was Golovkin’s 21st consecutive knockout in defense of his middleweight championships, bringing his record to 35-0 with 32 stops. He hasn’t allowed a title fight to go the distance in seven years. And Sanchez, 60, born in Tijuana and a local fighting fixture from 1986 to 1993, is getting his fair share of credit.
“Everything I ask Gennady to do in the gym, he does it,” said Sanchez, named 2015 Boxing Trainer of the Year by both Sports Illustrated and USA Today. “He was 18-0 when I first started working with him. I saw some things I thought we could do a little better. Now, I wake up every morning and thank the Lord for the love of my wife and children, and for the chance I’ve had to work with GGG.”
That “chance” fell into Sanchez’ lap in March, 2010.
“I got a call from a manager who wanted to see my gym,” Sanchez said, recalling the life-changing conversation and referring to his Summit High Altitude Training Center in Big Bear, which had been open barely two years at the time. “The guy said his name, and I didn’t know who he was.”
Golovkin and his management team, all based in Germany at the time, came to the gym on a Saturday, Sanchez said.
“They looked around, and Gennady and I watched a little video. We all went to dinner that night, and after dinner, I went home and looked him up. ‘Whoa!’ I thought. I was obviously a much different guy the next morning when we met for breakfast. I was interested. Very interested.”
Still, when the Golovkin group left, Sanchez figured it was the last he’d see them.
“They said, ‘We’ll see you in a couple months.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, sure, and the check’s in the mail.’
“But then I get a call on a Saturday,” Sanchez recalled. “Could I pick Gennady up at LAX at 2 p.m. on Sunday? So I picked him up at the airport the next day, all by himself, one piece of luggage.”
Much has changed since that austere airport pickup. Golovkin made a reported $2 million for his nearly 6 minutes of work Saturday. His wife and 7-year-old son have moved from Germany to Santa Monica. In other regards, nothing has changed.
“This is the same guy today that I picked up at the airport,” said the affable Sanchez. “He’s still humble, I’m still the boss in the gym. But there’s a serenity about him now, with his wife and son here. Before, he’d be on the phone with them in Germany. Now, when he’s in camp, he knows he can still see them any time. He can just drive to Santa Monica. He doesn’t do that, but he knows now that he could.”
Whether his serenity has elevated his ring skills is unknown. What’s certain is Golovkin’s place atop boxing’s current champions. After Saturday’s knockout, Sanchez didn’t hesitate to call Golovkin the best fighter in the world, pound-for-pound, any division. Most boxing observers concur.
So what’s next for GGG, Sanchez, and the growing legion of fans who packed the Forum and were chanting “Triple G” two minutes into the fight? (The middle G is for Genadyevich, his middle name).
Fellow middleweight champ Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is the preference among boxing fans. Alvarez fights Amir Khan in Las Vegas May 7, and should he win, an Alvarez-Golovkin unification bout, perhaps in Las Vegas or Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys stadium, would likely add a zero to Golovkin’s Saturday paycheck.
At 34, Golovkin knows his time is now, that boxing, more than any sport, is cruel to those who linger. “Gennady’s different from a lot of fighters because he knows it’s a short career,” Sanchez said. “He knows this is going to come to an end.”
“People have to understand that this is a shy guy,” Sanchez said of his fighter. “He has a hard time talking about himself, or saying anything good about himself. To see him now, doing interviews, working with younger fighters. He’s so proud. I’m happy for him.”