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Matt Korobov and Mike McCallum on the Verge

When stellar amateur Matt Korobov, 15-0 (9), turned pro in 2008 under the Top Rank banner, the hopes were very high for the southpaw middleweight. He had a pleasing style to go with 300-12 amateur record and power in both hands, seemingly translating to the pros. On top of that, he possessed a patience gleaned from years competing at the highest amateur levels that belied his youth and inexperience at the pro level. However, along the way, things seemed to stall. Though he went 11-0 under trainer Kenny Adams, something still seemed to be missing. Korobov appeared to level off early as a pro and was gassing as the fights progressed. As it turned out, Korobov had a nose injury that was preventing him from drawing healthy breaths, so he took a break to let it heal.
In late 2010, Korobov changed trainers from Adams (who is based in Las Vegas) to former WBA light middleweight, ‘BA middleweight and WBC light heavyweight champion Mike “The Body Snatcher” McCallum. Under his tutelage, Korobov has won four straight, including a brutal first round stoppage of Michael Walker back in March.

The two go for five in row together this Saturday night on the undercard of Top Rank’s Brandon Rios-Urbano Antillon card at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA.

While nothing was discussed regarding why he left Adams, Korobov told me that he and McCallum, who works out of Johnny Tocco’s Gym in Vegas, “have a good connection. I live in Florida but go to Vegas for camp. Everything is cool. We understand each other very well. No problem.”
“They saw me training my son and they liked the way I train my son and they like the way I train so…” said an understated McCallum, who attended the final press conference with his fighter.
McCallum, obviously known as a great champion who could kill you to the body, was also a very skilled technician. What he brings to the table isn’t limited to that championship experience but also an understanding of the technical aspects required to be a complete fighter.
“That’s what I am trying to learn from. We’re working on it,” said Korobov of McCallum’s vaunted body assault. “He was an amateur and champion. He had the style I needed to be a pro. It’s a good style and I understand it.”
McCallum was as slick as they come, luring fighters in and then punishing them to the head and body. It was seamless work that you could miss if you blinked. That very element was missing from Korobov’s Euro style.
“Yes, yes. That is what we are working on,” said Korobov. “We just want to make it happen with my style and pro style. I feel like I am comfortable with him.”
McCallum seems to love what he sees in Korobov. He has a fighter with a ton of amateur experience, a great work ethic with intelligence and power to throw into the mix. Now comes the seasoning and honing of the young fighter.
“Very skillful. Got mad skills. We’re working on the shots to the body. Make him rounded,” said McCallum as his hands went clockwise from head shots to body and back to head. “I was able to fight on the inside and outside. My main thing was the body but I boxed too. A lot of these guys don’t know to go to the body. So we’re trying to incorporate that and if he does, we’re going to be alright.”
Korobov faces 12-3-2 (6) Lester Gonzalez, a lanky 5’9” Cuban southpaw who, at 33, is not expected to win but is expected to give Korobov much needed seasoning.
“I saw him,” said Korobov. “Traditional Cuban. I used to fight a lot of Cubans. I know a lot about them. It’s going to be a good fight. He is smart. He is not a stupid fighter. He likes to box. He has good defense. I like that too.”
Should Korobov win, expect to see more of him soon. He is approaching the level where it will be time to step him up to the top 20 very soon. What Korobov feels he is missing now is the experience of going deep into a ten or 12-round fight.
“Beginning of next year or end of this year,” said Korobov of when he will be ready for a title shot or top contender. “We will see. I have to fight a couple ten-round, 12-round fights. We have to see how I handle that. I have to feel the distance. Feel it late, go 12. I train for it but I have to have the experience.”
As for McCallum, who quietly has been training fighters in Las Vegas for five or six years now, the step onto the big stage as a trainer is approaching. McCallum joked that his new journey is like getting back in line at the end, all the while with a smile on his face.
“You see, like everything else, I was fighting at one time and nobody knew me until I came on the scene,” explained McCallum. “Now I’ve been champion three times but I’ve been doing training so I’m nobody. Now that Matt is doing his thing, we’re doing our thing; they know us.
As he described the process of learning to train, McCallum looked around the room at Abel Sanchez, Ronnie Shields and Robert Garcia, men whose names have entered boxing fans’ lexicon of world-class trainers.
“‘Process of elimination,’ they call it,” joked McCallum. “We have to go through the same process. All of us. The trainers and the fighters. We start amateur and go from there. Sometimes you go to the Olympics and you come out with a name. Just like all of these guys started somewhere, I gotta start somewhere, so I am in the process of being one of the guys that do this.”  
Lucky for McCallum he has a student in Korobov, who loves to not only train but to learn. The two should make for an entertaining pair to follow in years to come.
“If I am not learning, then I have to cancel the boxing,” laughed Korobov. “I am learning every day. Everywhere. That’s the point; that’s the reason I am here.”
You can email Gabriel at, follow him on Twitter at and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show, Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.


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