‘Boxing geek’ Don Abnett behind PH’s best showing in Olympics
TOKYO—When Don Abnett tries to explain a strategy employed in the game, he starts with a few straightforward sentences. Then there is a perceptible increase in enthusiasm. And then, in the brief moment that it takes to comply with requisite interviews at the mixed zone, he begins gesturing his sentences—throwing air punches, stepping in and out of the pocket of a shadow opponent.
“He’s a boxing geek,” Ed Picson, the executive director of the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (Abap), said on Sunday via a phone call.
And like any regular geek, he doesn’t bathe in the spotlight that much.
After Eumir Marcial won his quarterfinal bout against Armenian Arman Darchinyan via knockout to be assured of a bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics here, the highly-rated power puncher was about to give credit to his blazing start at Kokugikan Arena, where both his fights have not lasted a round.
“[I was following] the instructions of my coach,” Marcial said in Fiilpino, “Don Abnett…” Marcial looked to the side for his coach. But Abnett had already walked off to the exit.
Down to earth
“He’s very down to earth,” Picson said.
Abnett prefers to keep to himself mostly. He sleeps in gym quarters even when offered hotel rooms. He is not a picky eater—“He’ll eat dinuguan. The only thing he doesn’t eat is balut.” Picson said. He rides jeepneys, losing his cellphone and wallet once to the notorious “laglag-barya gang.”
“He doesn’t mind [the simple lifestyle] because he loves boxing so much and he’s very passionate about it,” Picson said.
His achievements, however, are far from simple.
Abnett has led the Philippine boxing team to its best showing in the Olympics, regardless of what happens from hereon.
And he can guide the squad to even greater heights. Nesthy Petecio is assured of the women’s featherweight silver medal which she can upgrade to a gold when she fights Japanese bet Sena Irie on Tuesday. Marcial can also turn that assured bronze into gold by winning his next two bouts.
Rich boxing tradition
Carlo Paalam, plucked from the streets of Cagayan de Oro where he collected garbage for a living, is still in contention.
For a country with a rich boxing tradition, the Philippines has never won more than one medal in the sport in the past Olympiads. But Abnett has changed that; although if you ask him, the capability was always there.
“The Philippines has good boxers, a good structure,” Abnett said. “It just needed a different pair of eyes to take a look at things and coach the athletes to develop their own coaching brains. So they can make their own decisions.”
Abnett is big on developing that boxing brain.
“He uses short phrases and minimizes instructions during fights. He wants to develop a boxer’s brain that allows the boxer to decide what to do while on the ring. [Don] feels that when boxers are inside the ring, you don’t teach them how to box anymore. You teach them how to win,” Picson explained.
Indeed, the biggest change Abnett has brought to the squad is a cerebral approach to matches.
“He’s very studious and analytical,” Picson said. “When he breaks down the style of boxers, he’s very detailed. He measures even the work ethic of the boxer, the positioning of the feet, the lead hand. He also imposed viewing [of videos of opponents].”
And more importantly, Abnett has his boxers believing in themselves.
“Like when Carlo comes up the ring against an Uzbek fighter, or Cuba or Russia, they just have a lack of confidence,” the former Australia coach and head of its development program said. “They need the confidence to believe in themselves.”