By Thomas Gerbasi
It’s the second time around for Gennadiy Golovkin and Johnathan Banks, yet as fighter and trainer prepare for GGG’s October 5 date with Sergiy Derevyanchenko, nothing has changed in Big Bear, California.
“It’s the same,” said Banks. “Same energetic GGG, same work ethic, same everything. We got along great when we first got together and it’s great now and it’s just gonna get greater later. The longer it goes, the greater it’s gonna get.”
Many were shocked when Golovkin split from longtime coach Abel Sanchez in April, but it was a credit to the reputation Banks now has that it wasn’t very surprising when the Michigan native stepped in to man the corner beginning with the former middleweight champion’s June bout against Steve Rolls. And the protégé of the late, great Emanuel Steward appreciates that respect.
“I’m still knocked off my feet, honestly,” said Banks when talking about getting the call from Golvkin. “You gotta understand that I admire all these trainers that I’ve seen throughout the years and I take my hat off to them. So for my name to be mentioned, I’m super happy. But for him to call me and want to work with me, it’s crazy.”
For Golovkin, it was a necessary choice.
"I need a smart style and new ideas,” said GGG. “I need to be different because everyone knows my style now. Johnathon is hungry. He wants me to try new things. It is an exciting time for Johnathon and for me."
Maybe that’s what it took for Golovkin to get his mojo back after he suffered the first loss of his pro career in his September 2018 rematch with Canelo Alvarez. A year later, Golovkin is back in the win column, having knocked out Rolls in four rounds, and he’s got a fresh perspective and a new set of eyes on him in Banks.
“I talked to him and asked him what he wanted going forward,” Banks said of his early talks with Golovkin. “‘What do you want? This is your career, you’re fighting, what do you want?’ And once he told me what he wanted, I put in what he wanted with what I feel he needs, and I put it together so we can come up with the right recipe.”
There were no complaints with the performance against Rolls, but then again, that was expected. Ukraine’s Derevyanchenko, whose lone loss was via split decision to Daniel Jacobs in October 2018, is expected to be a tougher test, thus a more telling read on where the Golovkin-Banks relationship is at. That begs the question, given Golovkin’s track record as one of the best fighters in the sport for years, is Banks’ job more one of motivation and game planning, or are there technical aspects of his charge’s game to tweak?
“It’s not motivation because he’s already motivated,” he said. “But game planning and technical things, these are the high stakes levels, so one bad move can cost you everything. That means every I has to be dotted and every T has gotta be crossed. That’s why we go over the little technical things and make sure everything is how it’s supposed to be.”
It’s a high pressure gig, for sure, but Banks – who has seen some high pressure of his own, not just as a fighter but as a coach with the likes of Wladimir Klitschko and Cecilia Braekhus – enjoys that part of it because he practically knows nothing else.
“When I first started my career in training, I started on the high stakes level, so why not stay here?” he laughs. “I don’t see why not. But I do love the lower levels because I have an amateur program at my gym back in Detroit that’s awesome, and I love every aspect of boxing – the beginner levels, the mid level and the high stakes level.”
If that love of the game wasn’t already in the 37-year-old Banks, he certainly had it instilled in him by Steward, whose lessons were eagerly absorbed by the former cruiserweight and heavyweight contender.
“I was fortunate enough to hear, to talk about and to see the mistakes he (Steward) made so I don’t have to make those same mistakes,” said Banks. “He was able to tell me about what you take with you and what you leave and all this other stuff. For him to be able to go through the fire first and I get to go through a little warm weather, it’s nothing compared to what he went through.”
Steward, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 68, was complimentary of Golovkin when he spoke with Banks about him, but he also foresaw some issues with the Kazakhstan native.
“Manny always thought he was a good kid and a good fighter, and he said he just hoped that he doesn’t go away from his talent and just goes with his punching power,” said Banks, whose job is to make sure Golovkin uses all his tools in the ring, not just the obvious ones.
And somewhere, his mentor will be smiling.
“He (Steward) set the stage for me,” said Banks. “All I’ve got to do is perform on the stage he set. He gave me a system and he said this is the system I win with. And that’s what I’m taking with me.”