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The quiet man in Katie Taylor's corner

Ross Enamait used to work for an investment management company. Now, he trains one of his biggest fans: the undisputed lightweight champion.

Ross Enamait speaks with Katie Taylor ahead of her undisputed title fight with Delfine Persoon.
Ross Enamait speaks with Katie Taylor ahead of her undisputed title fight with Delfine Persoon.
Image: Matchroom Boxing/Mark Robinson/INPHO

“SEPTEMBER 29TH 2001,” recalls Ross Enamait. “That was the day.”

The day it all changed.

Bernard Hopkins and Felix Trinidad, two of the greatest-ever purveyors of their craft, squared off in a grieving New York just 18 days and six kilometres removed from the terrorist attack which went on to shape modern American history.

If the planes had struck the World Trade Center an hour later, Hopkins, Trinidad and dozens of people associated with their middleweight-title unification fight may have been among the casualties. The Wall Street gym in which the protagonists had been scheduled to put on a media workout was crushed beneath the collapsed towers.

Hopkins.Trinidad.Prog

Their Madison Square Garden showdown was at first postponed indefinitely before being rescheduled for 29 September, promoter Don King receiving sufficient assurances from both MSG top brass and the City of New York.

“I actually had free tickets because I went with the company I was working for,” says Enamait, who at the time had a high-paying job with a large investment management company.

“I was sitting ringside. And it was during that fight I realised, ‘You know what? I’m leaving the company. I’m not going to work for anybody else — I’m going to do my own thing.’

It was an emotional time for everybody, you know, coming off 9/11. You kind of realised tomorrow is never promised. But being at that fight was kind of the last straw for me as far it made me think, ‘You only live once. I’ve got one chance here. I’m going to do it my way.’ I think I resigned maybe two or three weeks later. And that was it.

ross-enamait Ross Enamait. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Enamait first fell in love with boxing while watching Roy Jones Jr dazzle at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

A native and lifelong inhabitant of the state of Connecticut, he was a natural athlete in his youth. He played baseball and still coaches a local kids’ team. He laced up a second mitt in his teens, boxing as an amateur out of the San Juan Center in Hartford. There, he trained under and alongside heroes of both the local and international variety, including ‘The Godfather of New England boxing’ Rollie Pier, former world-ranked light-heavyweight and ESPN pundit ‘Iceman’ John Scully, and former unified and lineal welterweight world champion Marlon Starling.

Boxing was his true calling but despite his undeniable talent, his chances of emulating the in-ring success of Scully and Starling fell foul of mistakes made outside of the squared circle.

“When I was younger, I didn’t know how to walk away from things,” Enamait says. “I wasn’t one to start trouble, but I didn’t know how to walk away from it. And that was my downfall. I ended up in trouble because of it — because if you win the fight, you’re the one who’s in trouble,” he laughs.

“I, at one point, had three broken hands in the span of 10 or 11 months. It was around that time where I kind of had to make a decision as far as, like, if I was going to stay involved in boxing if my hands were to keep failing me.

“I was young and ignorant and I didn’t know any better. Not to, kind of, you know, hype myself up, but I often wish I had someone like myself around me at the time. I had older trainers who didn’t really know what was going on out on the streets outside the gym.

“Whereas as a coach now, when I have young guys, I know what they’re doing. They can’t fool me! It’s like, ‘I’ve done everything you can do — there’s nothing you’re getting past me.’

I kind of took it for granted when I was younger that I was a good athlete, so I know what it feels like to throw your potential out the door and waste it. I always tell young guys that I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. So if you have talent, if you have a gift, I want to make sure you’re using it to the best of your ability. Because there’s nothing worse than that regret, looking back like, ‘Man, if I’d only known, if I’d only done this, if I’d only known better…’

“I’ve dealt with that. And listen, I’ve moved on, I’m happy with where I’m at, but there was a time where it was like, ‘Man, I was such an idiot when I was younger.’ I always say I was young, dumb and ignorant. But it was years ago. I’ve definitely learned from the mistakes I’ve made and I don’t wish them on anybody, that’s for sure.

“I think, looking back, the troubles that I had when I was younger — there’s no doubt that made me a better coach.”

pjimage - 2020-01-11T030451.194 Enamait with boxing icons Bernard Hopkins (L) and Sugar Ray Leonard (R).

But becoming a professional boxing trainer is in itself something of a departure from Enamait’s life script.

“A lot of people don’t know this but I have a degree in Economics and Finance from the University of Connecticut,” he says. “Like, I went to school, so coaching boxing wasn’t the career path that I had in mind.

“When I finished boxing myself, I had my own business as well that I had started, so boxing was never a career path — I wouldn’t even necessarily say that it is now.

“But when I left the sport as a fighter… I remember walking out of the gym, my hand in a cast again. My love for the sport was still there — I didn’t want to leave it entirely. I just thought that when I had free time, I’d go down, maybe help out the kids and stay involved in the gym.

“It kind of snowballed from there.”

***

“In essence, the concept of trying was created to rationalize failure. Society preaches that it is acceptable to fail as long as you have tried. Let’s flush this mindset down the toilet. No one becomes great by living a life where failure is both accepted and expected. Those who achieve greatness refuse to accept failure. It is not an option. Forget the critics. Critics run rampant in today’s world. Those who achieve greatness do not.”

- Ross Enamait, Infinite Intensity, 2005

Amid the heartbreak of Katie Taylor’s shock exit from the 2016 Olympics at the quarter-final stage, one of the things that became apparent not only to Taylor herself, but to her family watching on through their fingers, was that her physical condition had deteriorated in the absence of her then-estranged father and long-term trainer, Pete Taylor. Only marginally so, but such margins tend to determine the winners and losers in elite-level sport.

At her lowest ebb, Taylor in her own time sought to revamp her training regime before seeking post-Rio redemption in boxing’s unpaid ranks. A no-holds-barred approach to strength and conditioning would be paramount if she was to reinvigorate her career, which to the naked eye appeared to be on the precipice of its natural conclusion.

katie-taylor-dejected-after-losing-her-fight An emotional Katie Taylor exits the Rio Games. Source: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Enamait had set up his training business across the Atlantic not long after he departed Madison Square Garden on 29 September 2001. Over the next decade and a half, his books, online articles, video tutorials and training programmes garnered significant traction around the world, while he continued to also earn a living providing in-person training to a multitude of athletes.

Taylor had grown up with Enamait’s books, reading every one of them during the formative stages of her amateur career in the mid-2000s. A couple of weeks after Rio 2016, she dug them out and decided to chance her arm as a longtime reader, first-time writer.

“Katie messaged me on Twitter and she was kind of just asking if she could come over for a camp,” Enamait recalls.

And the Irish people will probably think this is crazy, but I didn’t really know who she was. So I kind of initially just gave her some generic tips like, ‘Well, you know, you can go try this. Good luck!’ But she was persistent — she kind of was like, ‘Well, no, what I want to know is could I actually come over’. So I’m like, ‘Ah, aiite, this one — she’s actually pretty serious, here’. So that’s when I started looking into who she actually was and what she was all about.

“I think we initially agreed that she would come over for three weeks — that was in September 2016,” he continues. “And initially, when she got here, I think she was preparing for the European Championships in November.

But as soon as she got here and started training and sparred a few of the pros — and I actually took her to spar with a female pro just so she could see what that was all about — she kind of forgot about that tournament in November. We started talking like, ‘Hey, maybe you go pro’.
And it’s funny, years ago, I used to put up kind of inspiring stories on my blog about people from different walks of life, and I think someone had actually sent me something about ‘this female boxer from Ireland’. But I never really pursued it or looked into it. I think it actually was Katie — I just wasn’t aware of that at the time when she contacted me.

enamait1 Enamait in the present day with two of his books.

Three and a half years in tandem with Enamait have seen Taylor make smithereens of another glass ceiling, and in women’s professional boxing, it was double-glazed.

She is the third-ever female undisputed world champion and the third-ever Irish two-weight world champion, male or female, but it is her innumerable firsts which will ultimately count for more than her plethora of titles: headline fights, record-breaking purses for a woman, and the cultivation of a significant fanbase to either side of Ireland have already come to fruition. Taylor is once more the flag-bearer for her craft, the posterwoman for change.

Superfights — including a first-ever women’s pay-per-view headliner on Sky Sports Box Office — and an unprecedented million-dollar purse will accelerate that process and could be ticked off before end of business in 2020.

There are doubtless plenty in Ireland who believe Taylor, with her generational talent and belligerent disregard for gender-defined boundaries, would have achieved similar in boxing’s punch-for-pay ranks irrespective of who was standing in her corner. But she isn’t one of them. At every opportunity, the 33-year-old makes a point of stressing her belief that she ‘wouldn’t have been able to do it without Ross’. She swears by her coach.

And while Enamait is reticent to indulge in Taylor’s tributes, it’s clear that his star pupil’s words are more than a box-ticking courtesy. She was scarcely tailormade for her own career switch when she landed into the gym in Vernon, Connecticut. There was more work to be done than would meet the eye of the casual observer, and she’s still not the finished article as a pro.

“Well, Katie will readily admit it herself,” Enamait says. “When she first came here, she kind of was under the impression that boxing is boxing — ‘I’m a good amateur so I’m a good pro’. She didn’t really understand the difference between professional and amateur boxing.

“There are great pros — James Toney’s probably the best example — who had very little amateur experience. They are different sports. In a pro fight, three or four rounds go by and the fight’s just getting started, whereas in the amateurs, the fight’s over.

“From that perspective, Katie was a kind of touch-and-go fighter; she was a master of the points system having been there for so long. There was really never an effort to fight inside, because why would you? It doesn’t favour the points system of the amateurs.

“Or why would you go to the body if you’re not really getting points for it? Whereas professionally, Katie’s had some fights where she went to the body extremely well — the [Anahi] Sanchez fight, obviously, where she dropped her with the hook. Then, with [Christina] Linardatou, we didn’t go to the body a ton because I didn’t want to give Linardatou a chance inside — like, why sit inside with her when that’s her only chance to engage?

“And that’s one of the areas where the amateur background is useful: Katie has seen every style on earth so there are options: do we box outside? Or, with the [Rose] Volante fight on the flipside, we kind of stayed inside with her because sometimes getting close to a strong fighter is the safest place to be; you don’t want to be on the end of Volante’s big right hand on the outside, for example, because in the professional ranks, you take a big shot — ‘boom!’ — and you’ve lost the round.

“Katie is the first to admit, like, ‘Wow, it’s night and day’. But at first, she really wasn’t aware of that — and how could she be? It’s not something you’re going to know until you’re doing it.

“She didn’t get to where she got by not listening. She understands the importance of studying the game.

In addition to that, I had guys in the gym who were a lot more seasoned than her in professional terms, where she was kind of like, ‘Okay, I have to learn here’. She worked a lot early on with Matt Remillard and Matt is as crafty and as clever as they come. And when he would work with Katie he was doing it to help her. It was like with every session, she was going to school, learning on the job. So you’re kind of forced to learn when it’s happening right in front of you, and happening to you. And that’s not to say that’s the only reason why she did learn — she was already open to it, always — but when you’re being taught certain things and you start to apply them, and they work, then it’s like, ‘Yeah, okay, this does make sense’.

boxing-manchester-arena Taylor lands a jab on Christina Linardatou. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Enamait explains how he and Taylor worked to polish one of her more seldom-used weapons — the jab — ahead of her Manchester Arena fight in November: he knew it would constantly force Christina Linardatou to reset her feet and reload her own shooting iron on each occasion it was flicked in her direction. The idea was to diffuse the Greek, which Taylor did for the most part.

He rarely seems more at ease than when he’s talking tactics, about which he’ll riff at length, frequently plucking examples from the annals of pugilistic history to colour his points.

But little is known about him away from boxing — not only in Ireland, but in America, where he keeps to himself despite being followed online by a ballpark 600,000 people.

Enamait is somewhere in his 40s. He’s married. He has a teenage son and a teenage daughter. Both of them are sports-mad, a byproduct of his passion for children being active. Enamait’s son was exposed to his father’s profession from such a young age that as a toddler, he was stunned when he first saw a car in a garage; he had presumed every garage was a gym, and was puzzled as to why someone would park their car in a space where it would greatly obstruct people’s training.

And such anecdotes are about the extent to which Enamait will ever publicise his personal life. He doesn’t crave attention. He doesn’t waste words. He likes his work to speak for itself.

In that regard, he’s similar to his prized champion who has permanently relocated to the back-arse of Connecticut to sharpen her tools under his gaze, and away from everybody else’s.

katie-taylor-with-ross-enamait Taylor and Enamait prepare for battle. Source: Matchroom Boxing/Mark Robinson/INPHO

Like Taylor, one gets the impression Enamait has a strong aversion to ‘the media’ — primarily because, like Taylor, he doesn’t hide it.

Three days before her fight with Linardatou in November, as the acquiescent Irish icon was chaperoned from interview to interview following her open workout, I turned and asked him how allergic he was to such rigmarole on a scale of one to 10. “11,” he replied, albeit he graciously donated a laugh to the fact that I was interviewing her next.

Weeks later, with Enamait freed from the onslaught of inconveniences that make up a fight week, I messaged him asking if he’d be game to be interviewed himself. Initially, he seemed more disposed to the idea. “I can’t promise how much you’ll get out of me”, he replied, “but we won’t know until we try!”

He subsequently sent me a YouTube compilation video of Bill Belichick shutting down journalists in remorseless fashion. “My favourite coach ever,” he added.

eddie-hearn-brian-peters-katie-taylor-and-ross-enamait-celebrate-after-the-fight Eddie Hearn, Brian Peters, Katie Taylor and Ross Enamait. Source: Tom Hogan/INPHO

The gravitation towards Belichick, an all-time great sports instructor, makes sense particularly for Enamait, a lifelong fan of the nearby New England Patriots.

That he might harbour a similar contempt for the press seems more curious considering it tends to be more so Taylor, promoter Eddie Hearn and manager Brian Peters who constitute the front office of their joint operation.

“I understand the role of the media, okay?”, Enamait explains. “But on the flipside, the media can also be — at times — fickle: they’re for you one minute, and they’re against you the next.

Bill Belichick is the greatest American football coach in history, and he never gives much to the media because he doesn’t need to. The media is forced to cover the Patriots because of their success — not because of what they say before or after a game. It’s the same in boxing: if you keep winning, your profile grows. It doesn’t matter what people say, what people write — if you keep winning, you keep getting belts, you’re forcing the media to cover you.

“So, I understand the media’s role, but we don’t feed it more than we have to. There’s a time and a place. One of the problems is, like, you’re getting ready for a world-title fight, and you’ve got people asking you, ‘What’s next?’ Well, you know what? What’s next is the fight in front of us.

“And I know it sounds cliché, like, ‘Oh, we’ve gotta worry about what’s in front of us’“, Enamait adds in performative monotone, “but no, it’s actually true.

There’s this assumption that you’re going to just show up and win, that you’re just going to tick off the box: ‘Okay, won tonight’. And then in the event that it is a close fight, you get, ‘What the fuck happened?!?’ And you’re like, ‘Well, it was a fuckin’ world-title fight — that’s what we’ve been saying all along, that’s why we’ve been focused on it!’

“Nothing is guaranteed. You can get a cut and lose a fight on a technical knockout. So let’s ask questions about this fight, and then when the fight’s over, you can say, ‘Okay, what’s next?’

A lot of journalists who just kind of slide in and become their newspaper’s boxing expert — they don’t know the sport. They actually do assume you just show up and win. But I’ve seen guys expected to blow away an opponent get destroyed in the first round. And that’s it — it’s over. The storybook ending is gone. You have to respect every opponent. And especially when you get to the level that Katie is at. She’s not two fights into her career — she’s an undisputed champion fighting other champions or world-level challengers. You take your eye off the prize and you get knocked on your ass.

“The flipside is I understand that if the media don’t cover the event, during fight week, they’re going to get blasted. You’re going to hear: ‘What the hell’s going on? You’re not even covering your own Katie Taylor!’

I get both sides of this. It’s just that some journalists don’t respect what might be going through a fighter’s head, which could be, ‘Hey, I’ve got a tough fight in front of me — I need to be focused’. Everyone is nervous going into a fight, where sometimes I think journalists can be oblivious to that.

katie-taylor-is-interviewed Taylor is interviewed before her fight with Delfine Persoon in New York. Source: Tom Hogan/INPHO

It’s a fair summation.

Less so, Enamait feels, are the “baseless” columns written by those who have ascended to boxing-expert status within the Irish media, who after each Taylor fight will explain how — actually — her professional career is basically meaningless on account of her gross superiority to each of her opponents. Invariably, these women’s day jobs will be used as the stick with which this particular drum is beaten senseless.

The fact that Belgian policewoman Delfine Persoon came within a whisker of dethroning Taylor, whose full-time occupation is boxing, means either Taylor is bad at her job or — actually — those same columns consist largely of horse product. Who knows?

“Someone says, ‘Oh, it’s a shallow pool of talent’”, Enamait scoffs.

And it’s like, how long have you spent studying the women’s talent pool, though? Do you know the fighters from South America? Do you know the other fighters? It’s an easy thing to just throw out there as a by-the-way, but how much do you know about, say, Rose Volante, who beat Chantelle Cameron in the amateurs?

“But at the same time, we can’t worry about any of that, either. Katie is the one in the ring actually getting punched while these guys are sat at their keyboards.

“And there are fights out there that will change opinions, whether it’s fighting [Amanda] Serrano or fighting [Delfine] Persoon again, [Cecilia] Braekhus — there are names out there that you can’t deny are legitimate challenges. And if you overcome those challenges you’re setting new records and creating your own legacy. No one can dispute that.”

katie-taylor Enamait gives Taylor instructions in her corner. Source: Tom Hogan/INPHO

April has been tentatively earmarked for the first outing of what could be a career-defining year for Taylor, who hopes to add at least two of the three aforementioned names to her record over the next 12 months. So too does her trainer.

“Personally, I’d love the Serrano fight”, Enamait says, “but I also definitely, 110%, want to fight Persoon again.

“I think those are both important fights, just from a legacy standpoint — they need to happen and I’m pretty confident that they will.”

Typically, there are roadblocks in the way of both fights coming to fruition. Puerto Rican seven-weight world champion Serrano, for starters, has thus far proved impossible to lure into the ring.

‘The Real Deal’ has for well over a year talked a big game in relation to a showdown with Taylor, which would be the biggest and most lucrative in women’s boxing history. But she regularly pivots between boxing and MMA, citing contractual and financial gripes like clockwork, and frankly tends to find a way to distance herself from the prospective fight whenever it comes within an ass’s roar of becoming a reality.

“She can be a wildcard,” Enamait says matter-of-factly, putting it mildly to begin with. “When someone talks and shifts directions so often, you can’t really take much of what they’re saying seriously. One day it’s one thing, another day it’s another.

What does she actually believe? Does she even know herself? From that standpoint, I really could care less what she’s saying. Boxing is one of those great sports where all of the talk is over when you get inside the ring. Hopefully, we get the chance where Katie and Amanda can settle it themselves with their hands and not their mouths.

boxing-2019-amanda-serrano-defeats-heather-hardy-by-unanimous-decision Serrano lands a left hand on Heather Hardy. Source: Joel Plummer

Persoon, too, has taken a spanner to plans for a summer rematch which had been tentatively pencilled in by Sky as a landmark women’s pay-per-view headliner, the first of its kind on Sky Sports Box Office.

The Belgian former WBC lightweight champion is now closer to fighting Kellie Harrington than she is Taylor after reverting to amateur status in a bid to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, qualification for which begins in London in March.

Persoon’s left-field venture doesn’t rule out a Taylor sequel forever, though. Depending on her progress in the spring and, potentially, summer, they could still reconvene in late 2020 or early 2021 — perhaps even in a clash of two lightweight Olympic champions.

“I want that fight probably more than anybody,” Enamait stresses.

“It was a close fight, obviously — one.

There were people who disagreed with the result — I think you yourself said it was a draw. Some people maybe had us by a round, some had her by a round — no one’s denying that it was a tough fight. But I know as well as anybody that we weren’t 100% going into that fight, and it’s a fight that just because of the controversy regarding it, you just want to silence everybody. You want to make a clear victory.

“That’s something I want. Because I know that’s what we can and will do if that fight happens again.

“We’ll go out and show the world what we’re all about.”

boxing-madison-square-garden Taylor-Persoon was chosen as Ring Magazine's Women's Fight of the Year for 2019. Source: Nick Potts

And victory, in essence, is what Ross Enamait is all about.

It’s why he used to fight in the ring and why, to his initial detriment and ultimate benefit, he threw a few digs outside of it. It’s why he’s as content coaching youth-level baseball players as he is training world-champion professional boxers. It’s why he gets up in the morning.

It’s why he’s the man in Katie Taylor’s corner.

“I don’t really have ‘goals’, per se, as a trainer,” Enamait says.

“Whether I’m doing something business-wise, whether I’m training a fighter, whether I’m coaching youth baseball, whether I’m playing tic-tac-toe — I don’t know if you guys have that in Ireland — it doesn’t matter what it is; I’m driven by the competition. I’m driven by the fact that I just want to win.

“And I think that’s one of the reasons why Katie and I do so well together, because she’s also extremely competitive. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing — she wants to win.

“Whoever we fight next, it doesn’t matter. I want to win just as bad no matter who it’s against,” he explains.

katie-taylor-celebrates-after-beating-jessica-mccaskill Taylor and Enamait enjoy victory over Jessica McCaskill in York Hall, London. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Look at Belichick again. He’s got six Super Bowl championships. He’s not trying to say, ‘You know, I really need eight.’ No — he wants to win the game in front of him. He’s driven every week because he’s highly competitive. That’s kind of what fuels greatness, no matter what you do. You’ve got to want it more than everybody else.

That’s what drives me, and that’s what drives Katie. We’re not sitting here saying, ‘Oh, what’s the purse for this fight going to be, what’s the…’ — Nah, nah, nah…

“Line ‘em up. Put them in front of us. We just want to win.”

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