by Charles Jay
If the HBO interpreter was doing his job correctly (I don’t speak Spanish fluently), Nacho Beristain, the trainer of Juan Manuel Marquez, told his charge, between the tenth and eleventh rounds, that he was winning Saturday night’s fight. As anyone who has ever worked with fighters knows, if your man is paying attention to a statement like that, it’s quite possible he is going to proceed accordingly.
Photo: Chris Farina. Top Rank
And why wouldn’t this fighter do it, considering the experience of the wise man giving him the instructions?
That may have been what happened. And according to the judges, the result was that Marquez came out on the losing end against Manny Pacquiao.
No one should be accused of second-guessing Beristain; no one should be talking about “heat of the moment” or how “you weren’t there, you wouldn’t know.” The HBO announcing team jumped right on top of it as soon as they heard from the interpreter, and they had the right guy to address it too – Emanuel Steward, one of the greatest trainers to have yet lived.
But you did not have to be a great trainer to understand the lack of wisdom involved. As a cornerman, it would have been a stretch to put me in the category of “middling,” yet even I know that you never, ever, ever tell your guy that he is winning the fight, if there is even the slightest hint that the eventual outcome could be in doubt. That, in fact, is the kind of thing that gets passed on to you from one generation to the next, as you hang around a gym. You might say it’s a cardinal rule.
One of the reasons you don’t do it is because that it is a statement that comes with purpose. There is no reason to tell your fighter he is winning the fight, that late into the proceedings, unless you wanted him to fight a certain why, e.g., to coast to the finish and avoid getting knocked out (according to HBO, Beristain advised Marquez to avoid getting caught before the 12th round, and that “the fight’s yours.”). You certainly aren’t doing it to give him confidence; he’s already been in there taking the punches, landing the punches, and knows exactly how confident he should be.
Say what you want, in retrospect, about how off-base the judges may have been. You simply don’t ever take liberties like that.
And it’s not like this was a guy Marquez just picked up at the weigh-in to work his corner, as some four-round opponent might.
Nacho Beristain is a trainer/cornerman who has been inducted into the International Hall of Fame. He has worked, no doubt, with dozens and dozens of main event fighters. He knows the drill. He’s held championship belts over his head. He has been in that place where the outcome was uncertain and he had to push his fighter to give the final desperate efforts in pursuit of victory, in any way he possibly could.
Yet he is standing over his fighter, in a corner, during the biggest fight of his life, telling him that, in effect, he has a fight won going into the final rounds.
He is telling someone that he has a lead, in what was in the minds of many, I’m sure, a close fight, against someone who has quickly become an institution, and in Las Vegas no less, where there have been a number of strange decisions and where there was a lot of future money at stake. Not only is that fundamentally wrong. It doesn’t take into account the possibilities of the moment, the politics of this business, and the recent history of the sport.
Nor does it take into account the “cardinal rule” I was talking about a second ago.
For someone who has accepted a plaque in Canastota, that is absolutely unacceptable.
We could have gotten an answer to this mystery after the fight, but Marquez left the ring and had to be tracked down by HBO’s Max Kellerman. When Kellerman finally asked the question of Beristain, he didn’t get anything close to a direct reply. The same can be said of the reaction Marquez had about that situation. Kellerman may have felt awkward, given the circumstances, but he didn’t persist.
I wonder whether Marquez might have gotten just a little bit pissed with his trainer, and wanted to have a little talk about that back in the dressing room.
That’s all speculation, but I can tell you something for sure.
People in this business may bicker over fighters, and steal them from each other, but in the end the general feeling among managers, trainers, matchmakers, booking agents and promoters within this industry is that fighters are here today and gone tomorrow, but that they are going to be around AFTER tomorrow. It’s a principle that governs the normal course of business.
Nacho Beristain has worked with a lot of fighters who have come through Top Rank, and I’m sure there will be others.
I’m not casting aspersions, mind you, but absent anything in the way of an explanation, it’s not altogether unjustified for one’s imagination to wander.