When boxing trainer Patrick Burns speaks to you, you listen. Maybe it's because he brings a certain intensity and excitement to what he has to say. Maybe it is because as he speaks he makes it seem at that moment that you are the most important thing in his world. Perhaps, and maybe most importantly, he projects an urgency that what he has to say to you will be incredibly and personally important. Living a disciplined life as, first a decorated US Marine in Vietnam and then spending 23 years on the Miami Police Force has shaped Coach Burns's approach to training and to life. This energy, this focus has served the former US Olympic Boxing coach and current professional boxing trainer quite well. Burns describes himself as a teacher and to get to know who his students have been one needs only to to look at at the top of the current boxing ratings. Along the way, fighters like Oscar DeLahoya, or Fernando Vargas and David Reid have all been influenced and guided by Burns. Today, with the same intensity he focused on shaping and guiding fighters learning the craft, Patrick Burns has taken over all aspects of boxing's original bad boy, Hector Camacho's training camp. Cleaning out the entourage, bringing focus and discipline, perhaps for the first time to the 37 year old Camacho's training, one can only guess where the Macho Man would be if he allied himself with Burns 15 years ago. I spoke with Burns from his Miami home. He shared quite a bit about his training methods from physical conditioning, psychological preparation and all important mental focus. Something Burns call "The Refuse To Lose" mindset.
Cornerman: What got you into the game? Burns: Around 1980, when I was a police officer in Miami and we started to have some serious problems, we had riots and all this type of stuff. The chief of Police remembered me from coaching High School wrestling, and he said we needed to do some things to get these kids off the street and asked me to run the boxing program. He had known that I boxed as an amateur. I am very competitive by nature and developed and developed the program, developing a lot of champions, Junior Olympic champions, Silver Glove Champions and as they got older they started to compete in the senior division. From there we won Golden Glove Championships, Amateur National Championships, the PALS and then I was asked to coach in international competition and we just kept winning and winning. One thing led to another and in '92, I was an alternate coach for the Olympics all the way up to Barcelona working with DeLaHoya, Raul Marquez and Eric Griffen. Eventually I became Olympic coach in '96. With a lot of those kids after the amateur ranks the natural progression is to the professional ranks and they wanted me to handle them there, as well. Cornerman: Do you think it is the case that ex-fighters make good trainers? Burns: Generally speaking, I haven't found it to be that way. I think a lot of guys that have a boxing background but who have the ability to realize that everyone has their own style and then is able to improve upon their style is the guy who makes a good boxing trainer. There are some boxers who can make the transition and do well. A lot of them don't seem to venture that way. It can be said for any sport that the guy who was a hell of a player just can't make the transition. Sometimes the guys who sat on the bench make the best coaches. You have to have the ability to make someone better than they are. Cornerman: If you were going to design your ideal fighter, what psychological makeup would you want him to have? Burns: First of all I want him to refuse to lose, simply refuse to lose. Under no circumstances will he allow himself to lose. He just has to have a burning desire to win and when he experiences a loss it has to bother him intensely. It has to eat at him and he must analyze himself to the point that he makes sure that it doesn't happen again. The best way to sum it up is just a person who has the mentality to refuse to lose. Cornerman: What do you look for in a physical package? Burns: Physical strength is probably one of the most important things and of course, speed. There are a few fighters out there who have speed and power. You can be quick but if your opponent doesn't respect you than he is just going to keep walking you down. A guy who can who can punch and has a lot of power, even the best boxers out there give him respect. They'll be very hesitant to get in close because when this guy hits you, he's going to hurt you. Cornerman: Can you teach power? Burns: I don't think so. I think you can take the strength and the power that the person has and you can teach the technique to make it get there quicker. You can teach that person how to set it up and take advantage of the power that he has. I think you can do some weight training that will help muscle endurance and strength. Overall, I think the guys with the knockout power are born with it. Cornerman: How do you explain the power in a skinny guy like DelaHoya? Burns: One, I've known Oscar since he was ten years old and been with him through many, many tournaments. Yea, he's wiry but he has tremendous tendon strength. It is the tendon strength and snap in your punches. Having the punch come from your legs and your shoulders is key. Some of the strongest guys in the world are skinny, some of the guys who look like Hercules are not strong at all. A lot of it has to do with being born with naturally strong tendons. Cornerman: Did you anticipate Oscar DeLaHoya being as good a pro as he was an amateur? Burns: Oh absolutely! The first and foremost is that no one works as hard as Oscar. Oscar DeLaHoya is one of the hardest working fighters I've ever seen in my life. Cornerman: Has he remained that way? Burns: Oscar works so hard…I remember in camp the fighters would run this six mile course and I'd hold Oscar back. We'd sit there and talk for ten minutes and he'd say "Coach, Let me go!." I'd say "Nope, not yet". Finally I'd let him go but I'd say "You better bring your butt in here first!." Then, he would. He is such a tremendous runner that if he didn't take up boxing he could have been a competitive marathoner or long distance runner. He would win those six mile runs by fifty or sixty yards after holding him back. Cornerman: Was it tough to train Hector against Oscar? Burns: Not really, I told Hector this would be the best fighter that he would ever face and the strongest fighter he would ever face. The most determined fighter he would ever face. I took Oscar in the gym once and I told him that the average gold medalist was throwing over 300 punches per round. Oscar would throw seven hundred punches on the bag in 3 minutes. In '96 David Reid was the same way. Cornerman: Hold it, Coach 700 per round? Burns: My thumb would cramp on the little counter I held in my hand. Cornerman: No one's ever mistaken me for world class, but when I push it in the gym I can get about 200-220 on the bag in a round. Burns: Well, if I had your butt you'd be doing 400! Cornerman: Back to Oscar v Hector.... Burns: I would tell all of this to Hector. When all is said and done and you look at Hector's career his age etc, Hector Camacho, who was 35 years old, was in tremendous condition and ready to fight. Cornerman: I've never seen him in that shape before. I heard him say he had never done a sit up before he met you. Is that possible? Burns: I busted his butt! He was up to six hundred sit-ups per day!He was in tremendous shape. For a 35 year old to go in and survive for 12 rounds you had to be ready to fight. Oscar has knocked just about everyone else out. It would have taken quite a few breaks here and there to beat Oscar, particularly with the age difference. Cornerman: How do you train a 36 year old man compared to a 23 year old man? Burns: A lot of it is psychological. The thing about an older guy he can get in real good shape. It just takes him a lot longer, and he can get out of shape a lot faster. It is like getting a stalled car to run. You have to get behind the car and start it rolling and then pop the clutch once you got the speed going. That's what it is like with Hector, you got to get behind him and get your hands behind his back and push him. As you push him through the week, you push a little faster, then, he's going full speed. Cornerman: Can you push an older guy too fast and overtrain him? Burns: I don't believe you can overtrain him, I don't believe in that stuff, but I do believe you can push him too fast. They get tired mentally and physically when they've been doing it for so many years. You've got to find a way to motivate them. I guess that's one of my strong points. Ask me how I do that, I couldn't tell you. I look for a trigger to pull and I seem to get a little more out of him. He's 37 year old now and I've been with him since he beat Sugar Ray Leonard and he keeps winning. We didn't beat Oscar, but we're winning. He'll get another big payday, I'm sure, and then probably retire. Now, compared to the young guys, I spend more time teaching. I consider myself a teacher. I spend more time working on defense. Back in the old days when there were very few weight divisions, fighters would need to have so many fights to get a title shot. To last that long in this business you had to have boxing skills and good defensive skills. I really spend a lot of time on defensive skills. The young trainers, 27-30 years old don't remember that or never learned that and don't teach defense. There's not a lot of teachers. The new trainers never had it themselves. I watched Lou Duva and I've worked with Emmanuel Stewart and worked with real old timers you wouldn't even know there names because they never got an opportunity to get a title fight. I picked their brains and added to it. Cornerman: Run down your training camp for me, if you would. Burns: It depends on the athlete. I want them to come into camp in pretty good shape. Not necessarily ready to fight but in good shape. I don't want to have to get a guy in shape to start to get him in shape. A lot of it has to do with the type of discipline an athlete has and the lifestyle they are living. If I guy comes in, in condition, you can do a five week camp and be ready to go. Otherwise you might need an eight week camp. At that point we'll do three-a-days. We 'll do running in the mornings, incorporated in that will be a lot of interval work, a lot of quarter mile, half mile sprints. I'll have a guy do 3 miles one day, 5 miles, then 6, give him a day off, then come back and do another 6 mile run. Then we'll do an interval day. I'll have him warm up a mile, then do 4 half mile sprints, 6 quarter mile sprints, and maybe 6 two, two- twenties, After that they get, maybe, two days off and comeback and run a good 6 miles. Give them another two days off and then, have them do 3 miles on the clock and then back to the sprint work. I have to feel it out. I believe in pushing them hard and then giving them a couple of days to recover. Cornerman: I bet on those interval days you're not the most popular guy in the gym! Burns: No,no,no. I tell you though, there's nothing like documentation. From the first day I'm recording what they are doing. Tom Coulter, who trained the Olympic team in 1988 taught me that. What you do is you show these guys what they are doing in the beginning of the week and then again in two weeks and then in the fourth week. They begin to see themselves taking the time off and it challenges them. I try to keep the running a totally separate thing psychologically from the fighters. I want them to feel like they are preparing for a race. A totally separate experience, you get their heads into it and you challenge their mile times. See if they can get under 6 minute for the mile, see if they can get a 5:15 mile. There are guys who can do that. DeLaHoya could do a mile in under five minutes. Hector is a slow runner with a lot of distance, then he'll surprise you when you are getting frustrated with him and he'll take off and run three miles, all under a six minute mile pace. Cornerman: What is the rest of training like? Burns: After the running, I'll have them eat breakfast, maybe lie down and rest. At about 1:00pm they come to the gym for a two- hour workout. Later, after they shower and eat we'll meet at around 7:00pm and watch film. Maybe we'll watch film of their opponent or an old film of them or maybe just a film of any fight. Then at about 9:30 I want them in bed. Cornerman: Do you spar everyday? Burns: No, I treat it like my interval running, sometimes I'll spar two or three days right in a row and then give them a couple of days off. It depends on the sparring partners, it depends on what I'm trying to accomplish. There will be times when I spar five days in a row and there will be times I spar every other day. Cornerman: With an older guy, do you spar any less? Burns: Actually, with Hector right now, I spar him longer rounds and then I'll give a couple of days to recover. Another thing I do, anyone who has ever trained with me knows, they never, never, never spar a three minute round. The minimum they will ever do is three and a half, if I'm in a good mood. Most of the time it is four, four and a half minute rounds with 30 seconds in between rounds. I want them to be able to think when they are fatigued. They don't know how long the round is going to be. The last round, at minimum is five minutes. I also let the guy I'm training get off the last combination, then I'll call the round. My guy always walks away getting the best. I do every thing I can to get this guy to feel good about what he is trying to do. Cornerman: What about the science of weight. Are some fighters just blessed with having a frame that enables them to optimally fight at certain weights? Burns: Yes, but there's something else that needs to be said. Diet is so key and one of the best things about the Olympic program is it teaches a lot about diet. You can't go out and drink a lot of beer and eat pizza. I see guys like Roberto Duran and Caesar Chavez out and they just don't have a clue on how to maintain some kind of weight control. Cornerman: How can that be in this day and age? Burns: A lot of trainers don't believe in learning anything new or picking someone else's brain. They don't believe in any kind of weight lifting. A lot of guys still want their guy eating a steak on the day of the fight even though the truth of the matter is it takes 15 hours to digest. They don't understand carbohydrates and carbo loading and the timing that is involved. They don't understand how to take weight off. Cornerman: Let's switch gears. Who would you pick for your best pound for pound in the game today? Burns: Right now, I have to give you two, if that's fair. Roy Jones, absolutely positively a tremondous fighter. He's got speed, he's got power and he's very cunning. He really understands the sport. Oscar DeLahoya, his work ethic, his power, speed and the way he handles the publicity and the pressure. I just think that those two guys depict boxing at its best. After that I see Shane Moseley as a tremendous talent, David Reid, is still fairly green, but EVERY fight he gets better and better. Floyd Mayweather is a tremendous talent and last but not least, I'd say Fernando Vargas. Those are my top guys. Cornerman: Where do you hope your career will go? Burns: I'm as capable as any. You also need the opportunity to get in there with a guy like Lennox Lewis. I'm right there knocking on the door and I've become a student of the game and I believe it is just a matter of time as guys like Lou Duva and others retire that I'll have my chance.