When Andy Ruiz shocked the world on June 1st 2019, with his knockout win over the heavily favored champion, Anthony Joshua, it was clear that he didn’t do it on his own. Any time an upset of that magnitude takes place, there’s a team of unsung heroes behind the boxer. When Andy got decked in the third round by AJ, I can’t help but think that it was the voice of his chief unsung hero, his trainer and muse, Manuel Robles – “Manny” – that he heard urging him to get up. And get up he did! Ruiz went on to knock Joshua down 4 times before referee Michael Griffin called a halt to the proceedings in the 7th round. Against all odds, this unimposing Mexican fighter, was the heavyweight champion of the world.
After the fight, Manny and Andy went their separate ways although both continue to toil away in the world of boxing. With that as the backdrop, I had a chance to interview Manny Robles the other day and ask him a few questions about what he’s been up to and where he’s going in the future.
David Auger-Villanueva: Manny, so tell me how a boxing trainer manages in the days of Covid-19? Are you doing virtual classes?
Manny Robles: Actually, Dave, no. We are still conducting in person training down at my gym, “Legends Boxing Academy” here in L.A. We are following all the safety protocols and the guys are getting tested. But boxing just isn’t something you can learn remotely; not at a high level, anyways
Me: But what about the risks?
Manny: Yes, we’re all aware that there are some risks but there’s also the risks that come from not being able to work, to eat. I mostly train professional boxers. My guys have to fight to eat. This is how they earn a living. True for all boxers.
Me: The Ruiz upset of Joshua really put you on the radar as a top trainer. Did you in your heart of hearts believe that Andy had a chance going into the fight?
Manny: Definitely! Andy had, and has, a lot more talent than people understand. He’s smart and has very fast hands. He has a big heart too. I thought Joshua might look past him – and that’s exactly what happened. I wasn’t surprised at all. We prepared very well for that fight.
Me: Now the elephant in the room: You and Andy have parted ways. What, if any, are your thoughts about that?
Manny: I kind of saw it coming. Sometimes Andy wasn’t the best listener or better put, listened to too many people. But I have nothing bad to say about him. He’s a good boxer and I wish him well. (I can sense that this isn’t a road Manny wants to go down so I move away from the topic)
Me: What are your thoughts about the division now? How do you see Joshua and Fury turning out?
Manny: Well, there’s a little bit of confusion in the division but (he laughs) there’s always a bit of chaos in boxing. Look, in boxing, you’re only as good as your last fight. Joshua didn’t look great beating Andy in the re-match and looked worse when he lost to him. But, I do think Joshua will win. I’m not discounting Fury or anything but I believe AJ is better.
Me: Really? I see it different but you’re the expert. (Manny chuckles) Let me ask you this; how do you think today’s era of heavyweights stacks up against the boys from years ago?
Manny: I actually think that today’s guys would more than hold their own against some of the guys from the past. They are bigger and more athletic. They’re more skilled than they get credit for too.
Me: So against say, Muhammad Ali?
Manny: Well, maybe not against Ali. But Ali would have been a problem for any heavyweight from any generation. He was special.
Me: Speaking of special, who are your top-5 heavyweights of all time?
Manny: That’s not really something I think about. You’ve got Ali, Mike Tyson, and Anthony Joshua as well as some other top guys. But It’s so hard to say; so hard to judge eras against each other.
Me: How about on a pound for pound basis?
Manny: Now I have thought about that. You’ve got guys like Duran, Hearns, Hagler, Leonard from the 80’s. Then there’s Ray Robinson, Ali, and others.
But my personal favorite was Salvador Sanchez. This man was a boxing genius. His skills were sublime. If he had lived longer, he would probably have been the closest thing to Sugar Ray Robinson.
Me: Yes, I remember his fights with Azumah Nelson. Nelson was amazing but Sanchez made him look almost ordinary. Do you remember Danny “Little Red” Lopez? Do you recall his fight with Mike Ayala?
Manny: Do I! Oh Dave, he was a terrific fighter. He gave Sanchez ALL he could handle before Salvador stopped him late in both of their fights. Lopez was the real thing. A true, old-time fighter!
Me: How do you feel about Floyd Mayweather Jr.?
Manny: How do I put this? Mayweather is an excellent fighter. His defensive skills especially are out of this world. But he seemed to know when to fight fighters; always when they were a little bit old or just past their prime. Little bit of the same criticism people made about Holmes.
Me: Yes, that’s a criticism that’s been leveled at Mayweather before.
Manny: But the fact is that he did beat everyone they put in front of him. Can’t take that away from him.
Me: What are your thoughts about the Jones/Tyson exhibition or whatever it is?
Manny: I kind of wish they wouldn’t do it. I’m afraid one of them might get hurt. There’s a reason why there aren’t any 50-something year old champions. Boxing is a young man’s game
Me: So now you’re training a group of young pro’s again. Any up and comers? Anyone looking really special to you?
Manny: I’ve got a few real good guys. There’s one who’s undefeated as a pro. He’s looking real good and he may do something. We’ll see. Only time and results will tell.
Me: (laughing) Spoken like a true professional boxing man; where do you see yourself in a few years down the road? Any plans to get bigger?
Manny: Actually, yes. I’m hoping to open up another gym in the not too distant future. There’s a lot of talent out there but the guys need guidance and proper training. We offer them that at Legends.
With that, the interview comes to an end. Manny Robles is a definite throwback to an older generation of boxers and boxing. He reminds me of the old trainer you’d see with the towel around his neck, urging his fighter on between rounds. But don’t be fooled by that image; Robles is as sophisticated and up-to-date as a boxing trainer can be. He’s well versed in the modern game but his ethics and love for the sport – and for his fighters – come from the “Golden Age” of boxing.