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Abel Sanchez and Alex Saucedo -- a perfect fit

Junior welterweight title contender Alex Saucedo, right, is the kind of fighter trainer Abel Sanchez likes at his gym. Photo provided by Stacey Verbeek/Top Rank

Abel Sanchez -- who leads Alex Saucedo into battle this Friday night as he challenges WBO junior welterweight champion Maurice Hooker (24-0-3, 16 KO) -- has a simple prerequisite for boxers who'd like for him to be their trainer.

You have to be the type of fighter that he'd pay money to see. If he's not a fan of your style, Sanchez simply won't be in your corner.

"Absolutely," he said last week at a media luncheon held in Los Angeles to promote the bout at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City that will air on ESPN (Friday night, midnight ET).

"The only reason I started training Alex is because I saw some of his fights and I thought I could do something for him," Sanchez said. "But I don't have any 'boxers' in the gym, per say, that's why they call me the 'KO Coach' because I want a knockout. I don't want no decisions. Sometimes we have to have decisions, but it seems they leave a bitter taste in your mouth, as some of them have for me."

The 24-year-old Saucedo (28-0, 18 KO) is the prototypical Sanchez client -- he's an aggressive, front-foot fighter who lets his hands go liberally. His fights often resemble a form of demolition derby inside the ring. There's nothing particularly sweet about his brand of science. That was certainly the case in his last outing on June 30 when he had to overcome a hellacious fourth-round onslaught from Lenny Zappavigna, before gradually beating the Australian into submission in Round 7. It was one of the more entertaining and bloody bouts of 2018.

It was the type of affair that leaves fans excited, but trainers and managers concerned about their boxers long-term future. But Sanchez says unabashedly that Saucedo-Zappavigna is the kind of fight he likes his fighters to put on for a lot of different reasons.

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Saucedo beats Zappavigna in incredible battle

In a bout that showed the heart and will of both fighters, Alex Saucedo defeats Lenny Zappavigna in the seventh round.

"We're in the entertainment business," Sanchez said. "We're supposed to give the fans something that they're going to come back for."

The veteran trainer says he believes there is a good deal of hypocrisy in the sport when it comes to all-action bangers and the bouts in which they participate. On one hand, the fans and media yearn for such violent fare but then they are overly critical of those who engage in it. He might have a point. After all, who goes to baseball games and complains when there are too many home runs?

But going back to that night when Saucedo was pushed to the brink by Zappavigna, Sanchez admits he was a little worried.

"From a trainer's standpoint, a couple of times we got a little wild, a little crazy in there," Sanchez said. "He got caught with a good shot in the fourth round, but I didn't see his legs really do anything funny. So I felt confident that he was going to be able to withstand it. But there were scary moments in that fight."

So what did Saucedo learn from that harrowing experience in the summer?

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Saucedo, Zappavigna battle in round-of-the-year candidate

In the fourth round, Lenny Zappavigna storms back with a flurry and Alex Saucedo withstands it in an amazing exchange.

"Not to take a round off, not to go to sleep, at all, because I threw a lazy jab in that fourth round and I just got caught," said the Oklahoma City native, who will again be competing in front of a partisan crowd at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Until that memorable fourth round, Saucedo was controlling the action with his consistent pressure, but as he got his bell rung, many of his core fundamentals went out the window as he took a shellacking for much of the round.

"I forgot about a lot of the things I can do in the ring," Saucedo said. "But every fight will show different things and I'll keep progressing."

When asked if defense was stressed more in this training camp, Sanchez made it clear. "We work on defense every day with all the fighters, but I don't want to get to the point where that's all we're concentrating on because if we're concentrating on defense, they'll say, 'What a great defensive fighter,' but who wants to see you? What good is that? It's not good for anybody."

Of course, it could be argued that playing a little defense would prolong the physical prime of Saucedo. Generally, fighters of his ilk don't have the longest careers. He could be described as "the Arturo Gatti of the Sooner state" but that's a bit of a double-edged sword. Yes, he'll be involved in some of memorable battles, but most likely he will not have the longest shelf life as a prizefighter.

"We're in the entertainment business. We're supposed to give the fans something that they're going to come back for." Boxing trainer Abel Sanchez

"Obviously I don't want him to get hit, but this is the boxing game," said Sanchez, who won the 2015 Eddie Futch Award from the Boxing Writers Association of America as the trainer of the year. "They're going to get hit, but if you go back and look at some of the numbers, they're not that much different than some of the other guys that are fighting. It just so happens that he's a face-forward fighter, just like Golovkin is. So the shots are going to come in but that's the only way that we can make the kind of fight I want him to make."

Sanchez has no qualms about his philosophy, he is an offense-minded trainer. One of his biggest influences to this day remains the late Emanuel Steward, who during his Hall of Fame training career was best known for producing hell-bent-for-leather fighters from the Kronk Gym in Detroit, led most notably by Thomas Hearns. Steward, who died in 2012, believed that knockouts were the most satisfying way to win a fight.

Sanchez has always been of the belief that fighters who mix it up and aren't afraid to take chances are the ones that are more marketable and therefore will have more lucrative careers. It's a big reason why former middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and his "Mexican style"' (which they coined to describe his forceful strategy) resonated with the fan base. The reality is that for guys like Saucedo, a relentless offensive attack is his best defense. Being passive in the ring would probably lead to him being a less effective -- and less entertaining -- fighter.

"I have good boxing skills, good legs, good movement. But like I said, once I go in the ring I feel like I've got to take my opponent out." Alex Saucedo

"That's absolutely true," Sanchez said. "He sits back and wants to box somebody, well, that's not how he grew up, that's not what his insides are. So if he waits for somebody then he's going to get out-boxed and he's going to get hit with more shots, more clean shots because he's waiting. He's got to be the one setting the pace and having the initiative."

The bottom line is that Saucedo will never be Pernell Whitaker or Vasyl Lomachenko.

And if he tried to be that with Hooker, he'd get thoroughly outclassed by the defending champion who is an athletic boxer with faster hands and quicker reflexes. They say that pressure busts pipes ("He can't take pressure," Saucedo says of Hooker) and that's exactly how Saucedo can take the title -- by being who he is.

Which is why Sanchez is the perfect fit for him.

"Abel's style works well with aggressive fighters like Alex, and if we put him in with Floyd Mayweather Sr. we may not see the Alex we saw in June and who we'll see on Friday," said Sam Katkovski, who's part of Churchill Management, the company that manages Saucedo's career.

"I have good boxing skills, good legs, good movement," Saucedo said. "But like I said, once I go in the ring, I feel like I've got to take my opponent out and there are things I just don't do."

Which suits his trainer, just fine.