Tuesday December 15th, 2015

This year, 2015, felt like a pivot point in boxing, a shift away from two welterweights who defined an era and toward the next generation of stars.

About those welterweights: Floyd Mayweather Jr. is retired and traveling the world and posting pictures of himself with a pet tiger on his Instagram account. He calls such events “Saturday.” Manny Pacquiao is also near the end of his decorated career. The bet here is that both men fight again—Pacquiao will in April—although not often, or regularly, or for long.

Gennady Golovkin, a middleweight whose power recalls Mike Tyson in his prime, a boxer who scored knockouts over Martin Murray, Willie Monroe Jr., and David Lemieux in 2015, is poised to step into the pay-per-view void once Mayweather and Pacquiao retire (and for good). Golovkin is generally considered one of the top two pound-for-pound boxers in the world, along with Roman (Chocolatito) Gonzalez, who is, with apologies to the pun police, Lord of the Flyweights. And Golovkin is a better fighter than he was even two years ago. He’s as much a technician as a knockout artist and a better defensive boxer than he’s given credit for.

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For Golovkin’s continued development, for his steps into the mainstream sports consciousness, the man behind his rise, Abel Sanchez, is SI.com’s choice for Trainer of the Year. Sanchez beats out contenders such as Eddie Reynoso (Canelo Alvarez), Peter Fury (Tyson Fury), Floyd Mayweather Sr. (Mayweather Jr.) and Joe Gallagher (Scott Quigg).

Sanchez is not a clear-cut selection—Tyson Fury’s win over Wladimir Klitschko, for instance, makes Peter Fury a top contender—and that speaks to boxing’s changing climate. There’s always a next generation, and there’s usually a period of time between one era and another. What makes Sanchez the best trainer of 2015 is not the fact that Golovkin is positioned for stardom; but rather to how much of Triple G’s new stature is due to Sanchez’s influence.

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The story should sound a little bit familiar. A boxer arrives in the United States from another country and hooks up with an established trainer in California, and the trainer teaches the boxer to utilize the power in both his hands, and the fighter knocks opponent after opponent out. In 2001, that boxer was Pacquiao, and that trainer was Freddie Roach. Now, that boxer is Golovkin, and that trainer is Sanchez. Different circumstances, different countries (Golovkin is from Kazakhstan, Pacquiao from the Philippines), different weight class—but it’s the same story, more or less.

Golovkin, 33, is 34-0 with 31 knockouts. That’s the highest knockout percentage (91.2%) in the history of the middleweight division; seven years have passed since a GGG opponent finished a fight.

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The victory over Lemieux, a hard-puncher in his own right, was Golovkin’s most impressive win yet. He controlled the early rounds behind the most powerful jab in boxing, and then started to unload in the middle rounds, before the referee called a stop to the fight in the eighth.

Golovkin trains with Sanchez out of the Summit Gym in Big Bear Lake, Calif. They met in June 2010. Golovkin stood more straight up back then, and fought in a more economical style, all jabs and counters. Sanchez honed the power that was already there. He helped turn Golovkin into a knockout king, along with some aid from the gene pool.

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The gym’s remote location cuts down on some of the attention the duo would receive if they worked out in, say, Los Angeles, or Philadelphia, or New York. That’s even more of a testament to the work they’ve done together. Golovkin is now known throughout the United States and the world, and he hasn’t reached the full level of visibility that will come in the years ahead.

Sanchez has worked with other fighters. He helped Terry Norris make the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He led Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Lupe Aquino and Paul Vaden to world championships. But he has never had a boxer like Golovkin, a generational talent.

Next year, 2016, promises to be a big one, although talk of Golovkin-Mayweather is misguided. There’s simply too large of a difference in walk-around weight. More likely is a PPV bout between Golovkin and Alvarez, who topped Miguel Cotto in a lopsided decision win last month. The catch is that Alvarez, who fights at junior middleweight, wants to face Golovkin at a catch-weight in between divisions. While the parties iron out that contract, it’s possible that Golovkin takes on someone like Tureano Johnson, the IBF mandatory challenger, or Andy Lee, if he gets past Billy Joe Saunders on Dec. 19.

Still, for Golovkin, the biggest fights are coming, whether it’s against Alvarez, or a super middleweight like Andre Ward. The sports world is likely to take even more notice, and to that end, don’t be surprised if Sanchez is positioned to win this award again next year.

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