By Jake Donovan
If you ask around at Caicedo Sports Gym in Miami, most of the athletes there will tell you the moment they most dread is when Juan Carlos Payano feels like they’re not pushing themselves to the limit. Unofficially dubbed “The General” by his gym mates, Payano has no problem taking charge in the absence of on-site leadership.
He does so because the values instilled him by the gym founder, head trainer German (Herman) Caicedo.
A slew of world champions and talented prospects have bred at the hands of the South Florida-based cornerman. Yet in an era where trainers and fathers command as much of the spotlight as the athletes they are supposed to represent, Caicedo for years has been almost as mysterious as Payano’s high-powered, low key adviser Al Haymon.
“Honestly, I hate the cameras, I don’t like doing interviews unless I have to translate for one of my fighters,” Caicedo told BoxingScene.com while preparing Payano (17-0, 8KOs) for his rematch with Rau’Shee Warren, which airs live this weekend in primetime on free-to-air NBC from UIC Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois.
The irony in Caicedo disliking the spotlight is how much his mentors have commented when he was first coming up that he was billboard material.
One of the last true disciples of the late, great Angelo Dundee, it was another legendary trainer who was responsible for his introduction to big time boxing – sort of.
“I started martial arts at age six. I ran and owned a martial arts studio from 1986-2000,” Caicedo explains of his evolution to boxing. “Somewhere around 1993, I began searching for a boxing gym to better my hands for kickboxing. I never intended to be a boxing coach. I went to West Palm Beach and just cleaned the place. All I wanted to do was learn and watch.
“Lou Duva came to town for a camp with some gifted amateurs at the time, like Fernando Vargas. He didn’t understand what I was doing there (without) a purpose. He didn’t understand that all I was doing there was cleaning the place. He felt like, this guy has to be a spy. So he politely threw me out. On the way out, he told me to go visit Angelo (Dundee). I did that, he told me, ‘Great be here by 12pm,’ which of course I listened and did.”
Caicedo’s intention was to just show up with a pen and paper, soak in as much knowledge as possible and take notes until he felt like he was ready to train his own stable of fighters.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
“I showed up and he made me start working the heavy bag, hitting the mitts, everything a boxer does. I did it for two weeks then asked “Mr Dundee why am I doing all this when all I want to be is a coach?” He told me, ‘You got some skills. Plus look at you – green eyes, blonde hair, you’re a good looking white boy, we can make some money! I told him I didn’t want to be a fighter. So he replied, “Well in addition to the best looking kid I’ve seen, you also must be the dumbest I’ve ever seen.”
Lesson learned, the very hard way for Caicedo, who remained under Dundee’s tutelage until 2000, at which point he opened the original Warriors Boxing Gym. His one fighter at the time was unbeaten heavyweight prospect Andre Purlette, who went from 13-0 to 32-0 before running into Elieser Castillo in 2002.
By then, Caicedo had met his next fighter that would officially baptize him in the sport. The union led to his opening the facility that he runs to this day, converting an old warehouse in Miami into an eight-bedroom boxing complex.
“After that I met Shannon Briggs. We were together from 2001 to 2010 and I’ve done what you see here. I opened a facility like this. The only loss we had together was when he was beaten by
(then-heavyweight titlist) Vitali Klitschko. Shannon will tell you himself, if he was as driven to succeed then as he is now, who knows, he could still be the heavyweight champ of the world.”
Caicedo is known as a fighter’s trainer – a straightforward disciplinarian who also acts as a big brother or father figure to the majority of athletes under his wing. His one demand is full commitment from anyone who walks through the door seeking his guidance.
That means leaving everything behind, and literally living at the gym. The rooms at the facility are fully furnished, although “not exactly the Hilton here. You have your own space, but at the end of the day it’s a gym. But it’s also your home. This is not a place where I want fighters treating it like a part-time job, where you drop your kid off at school, come here to train and then just go home.
“You have to give your full commitment that you’re all the way in. That’s the only way I’ll do it because when we’re walking to the ring on fight night I want to know we’re going into the ring leaving absolutely nothing to chance. If someone beats us, they were the better fighter that night. I don’t want to come back here knowing there was something we could’ve done different.”
Sundays are spent by Caicedo preparing for the week ahead. Everyone is given a full itinerary of what to expect from Monday through Saturday. Cardio session days begin at 5:30am; otherwise “I get to sleep in a bit for days where we start with strength and conditioning.”
From there, the gym sessions are staggered into shifts beginning at 11:00 am and running throughout the day. Many of his 13 boxers train in clusters, but Payano and “the yin to his yang” unbeaten heavyweight titlist Luis Ortiz will have their own shifts.
Among others on the roster is super bantamweight titlist Moises ‘Chucky’ Flores, featherweight contender Claudio ‘The Matrix’ Marrero and – in split time with trainer Eric Castanos – recently crowned cruiserweight titlist Yunier Dorticos.
In fact, it was barely 72 hours after surviving a brutal Fight of the Year-level slugfest with Youri Kalenga – in which he scored a 10th round knockout in a career-best win in France – when Dorticos was already back home in Miami and the first one in the gym that Monday morning.
“This is my zen, it’s where I feel at peace,” Dorticos says of the center. “Even if it’s not an assigned training day for me, I just like coming here, even if it’s to sit and watch my teammates.”
One teammate he will always find there is Payano, who long ago bought into, and lives by Caicedo’s way. Leaving behind a wife and three kids in Dominican Republic in search of a better way of life for his family, the unbeaten bantamweight maintains his quarters at the facility even after seeing his career soar to new heights.
A replica of his bantamweight championship belt is proudly displayed on a wall that showcases the high points of the gym’s residents. He reached that high point in his career after scoring a technical decision win over long-reigning champion Anselmo Moreno in Sept. ’14. Just one defense has followed, a split decision nod over Warren last August. A rematch was months in the work, but delayed first due to an injury suffered by Payano late last year, and then the two camps just left waiting around as adviser Al Haymon sought a TV date best fit to showcase such a bout.
Meanwhile, Payano has emerged as a gym leader – in part due to his own success, but also just as an outlet to keep his mind off other things.
“It was a hard decision to leave behind my family and only get to see them on Christmas and maybe 1-2 times more per year, if even that,” Payano told BoxingScene.com of the sacrifices he’s made and continues to make. “It’s something you never want to get used to, but they know I’m doing this to provide a better life for them.”
Payano came to Caicedo and manager Henry Rivalta of ProBox Management as a two-time Olympian for Dominican Republic, but remains one of the trainer’s better success stories.
“Herman is the best coach I’ve ever seen and worked with,” Rivalta told BoxingScene.com. “He is the most dedicated person I know in boxing and I’ve learned so much from him in the gym. He does not get the credit he deserves. He should’ve been Trainer of the Year in 2015 hands down.
“Over the years, he’s beaten Freddie Roach with Ortiz over Lateef Kayode; he heat Ruben Guerrero with Chucky Flores over Oscar Escandon; Nonito Donaire Sr. with Payano over Jundy Maraon and then last year – and once again come (Saturday) the great Barry Hunter and Mike Stafford with Payano over Rau’Shee Warren, and finally beating John David Jackson when Ortiz knocked out Bryant Jennings. He’s delivered the goods and with his fighters he delivers results.
The one he never saw coming is the man regarded as the most feared heavyweight in the world today.
“I would pick Luis Ortiz,” Caicedo admits. “Payano was all over the road when he got here. He was a jumping bean, but he was a two-time Olympian. You don’t reach that point by accident. Luis had a great amateur career, but – whether political or whatever while dealing with the Cuba amateur program – was never able to make it to the Olympics.”
The unbeaten southpaw – who now lives in Miami – wasn’t built from scratch by Caicedo, but came to him at a point where he was able to molded into the boxer he is today. Like his mini-me Payano, Ortiz was prepared to go all in the moment he entered the complex.
“He was rough around the edges when he first got here. He came here 15-0, and said to me,
‘Whatever you want me to do, whether it’s stand on my head for three hours before we begin, I promise you, I’m all yours,’” Caicedo recalls. “He kept some things from the Cuban amateur ways but dropped a lot of bad habits. We made two different styles worked as he went back and forth.
“He’s a fight night guy. He looks great in the gym but is a happy go lucky guy here, then transforms into King Kong on fight night. It’s something I didn’t expect in a million years, to have the most dominant, the most feared heavyweight in the world. He’s a little bit (late Muhammad) Ali, he’s a little George Foreman, a little Riddick Bowe with the body attack. He loves to emulate Larry Holmes’ jab, he loves Pernell Whitaker. He watches a lot of film and then implements those techniques into his own style. Also, he gives me his absolute 100% every time.”
Ortiz enjoyed a breakout moment last December, receiving his first HBO headliner and making the most of the opportunity. In the final televised premium cable boxing telecast of 2015, Ortiz annihilated perennial Top 10 contender Bryant Jennings in seven rounds. He followed up with a 6th round stoppage of Tony Thompson this past March and now awaits an open network date for his yet-to-be scheduled mandatory title defense versus Alexander Ustinov.
Of course there aren’t all success stories at the gym. Caicedo had a massive year in 2015, having also served as co-trainer for prospects Erickson Lubin, Dennis Galarza and Samuel Figueroa, all of whom went unbeaten on the year. Adding to the big wins registered by Payano and Ortiz was Flores winning and maintaining a super bantamweight title, and Yenifel Vicente registering a frightening Knockout of the Year contender last December.
Adding to the pile was Claudio Marrero continuing his rebuild following his Aug. ’13 vacant title fight loss to current featherweight titlist Jesus Cuellar. Still, that one defeat was one of the memories that to this day haunts the gym.
“The absolute worst time in the gym is the first day back after a loss,” Caicedo notes. “I hate to lose more than I even like to win. For me it ruins the rest of my week. I’ve been in positions where I had to take a few days off and regroup.
“I take it harder than the fighters sometimes, especially if it’s because of something we could’ve done different. We go all in here at the gym. We want to be fully prepared to where if we lose, we just lost to the better fighter that night.”
Marrero notes that he wasn’t at his best the night he faced Cuellar, at least not mentally.
“I fell in love with my own press clippings and bought too much in my own hype,” Marrero told BoxingScene.com. “I’ve always been disciplined but now I’m even more focused knowing what went wrong that night.
“One thing that has changed is my mindset. I underestimated my opponent and what Cuellar brought to the table. Now I‘m to the point where you have to drag me off you to get me to step back. I’m not holding back or taking anything for granted.”
It didn’t take a loss for Payano to learn that lesson, but rather observing what his gym mates do right and…what doesn’t quite look right. As a result, he leaves nothing to chance and goes into the ring as prepared as he can possibly be.
“Herman is not the guy I want to get in a bad mood at the start of a long gym day,” admits Payano, quite a statement considering the rest of his teammates will say the same about him. “If you’re not doing your job and he’s there to see it, it’s a long day.
“I put my faith and trust in him because I know it’s best for my career. It’s driven me to become the successful fighter I am today. I know as a result that I will be fully ready for Rau’Shee Warren and I will have (Caicedo) to thank for it.”
That organic level of praise is enough for the camera-shy trainer to know he’s doing right by his fighters.
“I’d rather my fighter appreciate me enough to praise me. I don’t want to have to tell them that,” Caicedo notes. “I want them to feel that. If they don’t mention me, it’s because I didn’t give them the tools they needed for that fight and it means I have more work to do.
“It’s nothing I take personal or demand of my fighters. I want to leave it to where they appreciate my effort.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Follow his shiny new Twitter account: @JakeNDaBox_v2