FRISCO, Texas — On Feb. 29, a talent-rich card at the Ford Center at The Star — the training facility of the Dallas Cowboys — was headlined by a welterweight contest between Mikey Garcia and Jessie Vargas. It also featured a pair of title fights, pitting Julio Cesar Martinez against Jay Harris for the WBC flyweight belt and future Hall of Famer Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez challenging Khalid Yafai for the WBA junior bantamweight title.
While much of the focus was on the three fights at the top of the marquee, a few top prospects featured prominently on the undercard. One of them — a 25-year-old junior middleweight on the rise named Israil Madrimov — was set to take on veteran Charlie Navarro in a WBA title eliminator.
Viewed as one of the best young prospects in the world, Madrimov is trained by Joel Diaz — who has worked with Timothy Bradley, Jr., Lucas Matthysse, Ruslan Provodnikov and his brothers, Antonio and Julio. Diaz calls Madrimov the best pure natural talent he has ever come across.
Going into his fight with Navarro, Madrimov, who hails from Uzbekistan, was undefeated at 4-0. A victory versus Navarro would put Madrimov closer to a world title shot against IBF and WBA “super” titlist Jeison Rosario or Erislandy Lara, who is the WBA “regular” belt holder.
During fight week in Frisco, Diaz and Madrimov granted ESPN exclusive access as they prepared for this fight — team meals, evening workouts to shed the last pounds, the weigh-in and then fight day at the Ford Center.
This is what fight week looks like for a fighter and his trainer.
Fight week festivities kick off with the final prefight media event, as Madrimov, second from left, receives compliments on his “outstanding outfit” from Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn for his suit. Melina Pizano/Matchroom Boxing USA
Diaz and Madrimov meet at the fitness center to get in a workout. Making weight hasn’t been particularly strenuous for Madrimov this time around, as Diaz says his boxer is waking up this week already under the junior middleweight limit. These evening sessions are intended to keep his body moving and to cut excess water weight.
Diaz wraps Madrimov’s hands while he sits on a Cybex leg-extension machine, while Alik Frolov, one of Madrimov’s co-managers, works out on the treadmill and runs a few miles.
Diaz applies SkullTec gel pads to the hands of Madrimov. He explains that the original concept was to use the material on fighters’ heads for added protection during sparring, but Diaz suggested that it would be more realistic to use the gel to protect the fighters’ hands.
Israil Madrimov’s strength and conditioning coach, Ben Hernandez, helps Madrimov with a deep stretch. Steve Kim/ESPN
After a 25-minute jog on the treadmill, Madrimov gloves up for a session on the pads with Diaz. The trainer sticks in Madrimov’s mouthpiece to replicate how he will breathe during the fight.
“Navarro’s wide, he drops his left a lot,” Diaz says. They practice a certain combination over and over again that will try to take advantage of this opening.
play0:36Madrimov gets in some pad work with Diaz
Junior middleweight prospect Israil Madrimov hits the mitts with trainer Joel Diaz.
As Madrimov works, there is a dazzling display of pivots, turns and spins, with punches coming from all sorts of angles. Diaz has likened his fighter to a combination of Gennadiy Golovkin and Vasiliy Lomachenko. He says that the way Madrimov comes forward fatigues him like no other fighter he has ever held the mitts for.
Madrimov continues the workout by shadowboxing a few rounds while dancing at the same time. The mood is so loose that Madrimov does a full backflip, which has become his trademark postfight celebration. “He did gymnastics,” Diaz points out.
The session wraps up with a half-hour of stretching and finally a calisthenics workout under the supervision of Hernandez, who then uses a muscle roller on Madrimov’s body.
For Team Madrimov, Day 1 is in the books.
Madrimov gets in an early workout with a 30-minute run on the treadmill.
The team shows a competitive familial bond in a conversation that centers around an impromptu race that took place after dinner Wednesday night between Frolov and strength and conditioning coach Ben Hernandez on the replica football field in front of the Ford Center.
Hernandez gets ribbed by the crew because he had boasted he would easily defeat Frolov — even in sandals. But in their first run, Frolov was victorious in this 25-yard sprint.
“Ben was talking so much s—, and then Alik beats him,” Diaz says with a laugh.
Hernandez’s pride would not let him leave without a shot at revenge, and he demanded a rematch. He pulls out his phone to show everyone that he did indeed even the score in what was a photo finish. There’s talk of a rubber match later in the week.
Fernandez eventually gets back to the task at hand as he stretches Madrimov to end this morning training session.
Each team member returns to his hotel room and is left to his own designs. Diaz takes the opportunity to show off his unique fight-night attire.
When you see Diaz work a corner, no matter the fighter, there’s one constant that’s always on him — his vest, which is full of pockets and reads “Joel Diaz Training Camp” on the back. It’s actually designed for miners.
play1:16Diaz shows off trademark trainer vest
Renowned boxing trainer Joel Diaz shows off the many compartments in his trademark trainer’s vest.
“By now, I know where I have everything,” says Diaz, who carries everything from cut medicine to cotton swabs. Diaz is so familiar with this vest that he can just reflexively grab whatever he needs during a fight. For him, these are the most essential tools of his trade.
“Before I leave my room to an event, I’ve got to make sure I have everything,” says Diaz, who uses an old Mentos container to store swabs and cotton balls.
There’s one piece of equipment that is particularly special to him: an old Frito Lay bean dip can, given to him by the legendary cutman Chuck Bodak. While Diaz still has the traditional endswell — a frozen piece of metal used to combat swelling on a boxer’s face during a fight — he points out that because this can is aluminum, it stays colder longer, which is essential.
Bodak taught Diaz that all that was needed was to use the butt end of a screwdriver to round out the bottom part of the can so that it can be applied smoothly onto the fighter. When Diaz travels to a fight, his boxing gear goes on with him as carry-on. He simply can’t have his tools get lost in transit.
After spending most of the day flying solo, Madrimov & Co. walk into the Cobalt Room at the Omni hotel, where they meet with a DAZN broadcast team. The DAZN team spends its day interviewing the fighters to find a few morsels of personal information that could be useful during the telecast.
Madrimov tells them he wants to keep moving up the ranks. “I’m happy that we’re moving in the direction of a title fight.” Of titlist Rosario, Madrimov says, “I would love to fight him,” and that he would “definitely” be ready for such a stern test.
The interview wraps up in a matter of minutes. It’s a sign of Madrimov being at the early stage of his career and not the highest priority for the broadcast team. But as the stakes and his profile get bigger, these meetings will last longer.
Back at the fitness center, Madrimov arrives before Diaz. On the treadmill next to Madrimov is “Chocolatito,” who has gone through this process 50 times in his pro career.
“I don’t even need to be here,” Diaz says to fellow trainer Marcos Caballero, who has prepared Gonzalez for his bout. Lee Espinoza trained Diaz and his brothers when they started off in the sport.
“I’m just here,” Diaz says, “because I feel I have to be, because I’m the trainer. But with Israil, there isn’t much to worry about like other guys.”
The Thursday night workout wraps up as Madrimov lies on the floor with Hernandez applying a Theragun massager to various parts of his bod as Frolov simultaneously works on other areas of the boxer.
The team disperses for the night. It’s clear Madrimov is already locked in for what’s ahead.
On weigh-in day, Team Madrimov starts the morning by putting on matching jumpsuits and packing into Madrimov’s hotel room. Steve Kim/ESPN
Team Madrimov gathers in the fighter’s room at the hotel. The regional WBA championship belt he won in his previous fight lies on his bed.
The group, dressed in bright red sweatsuits, heads downstairs. They debate the value of day-before weigh-ins, and Diaz, who boxed as a lightweight from 1991 to 1997, tells the team about the extreme measures he’d take, such as taking water pills, to make the weight limit.
“I used to piss so much, I felt like s—-,” says Diaz, who believes it’s much safer for boxers to have more time to rehydrate and get nutrients back into their system.
play0:44Team Madrimov heads to weigh-in
Israil Madrimov and his team are all smiles as they head to the scales for the weigh-in.
Madrimov weighs in at 153.2 pounds. ”After a good breakfast,” Frolov points out.
Madrimov could make 147, but his team understands the political challenges in that division and feels the quickest and best opportunities for Madrimov to win a world title are at junior middleweight.
While Diaz heads back to the Star Ballroom for the rules meeting, Madrimov is given a packaged salad that Frolov had brought with him. Madrimov, sitting on some nearby stairs, sips from a bottle of Pedialyte to put some electrolytes into his body.
A couple of fans come over to ask for autographs and take pictures with Madrimov. He is happy to oblige.
After laying low for most of the afternoon, walking around Saturday night’s venue and the rest of the complex surrounding the Ford Center, Madrimov stands idle. While all the boxers have been checked in for the ceremonial weigh-in for over an hour, they are sequestered away inside the Ford Center as DAZN completes its preshow.
Finally, Madrimov hits the scales and then faces off with Navarro.
The mood is light and everyone is relaxed as the team enjoys dinner.
After dinner, Madrimov and crew take another walk around The Star. While some believe that boxers should be off their feet, resting as much as they can, it’s obvious that Madrimov prefers to be active and upright to keep the blood flowing through his body.
Madrimov is back in his room and is given a fruit salad to eat before he calls it a night. Since the real weigh-in took place in the morning, the boxers on this card have eaten strategically all day.
“It just helps him with digestion with all the food that he had that day,” Frolov explains. “Fighters sometimes eat too much after not really having a full diet for weeks, so they overload their system. We want them to be able to get rid of it easily in the morning.”
All that’s left now is the fight.
Team Madrimov settles into Locker Room A before action picks up on fight night. Steve Kim/ESPN
After a quiet morning, Madrimov and his team make their way into the Ford Center. They arrive at the loading dock where all fighters must sign in and get wristbands that allow them access to the arena.
Diaz and Madrimov are assigned Locker Room A with Diego Pacheco, who has also just arrived. Eventually, Yafai and Harris join them. Diaz makes the decision to take the training room portion of the divided space, instead of the locker area, because it’s where the refrigerator is, and that allows them to have it all to themselves.
Diaz fills a bucket with ice and grabs several bottles of water.
“We aren’t allowed to bring our own ice or water,” Diaz explains.
The trainer keeps certain bottles at different temperatures, but one will specifically be kept ice cold: “Because if my guy gets hurt, that’s the one I’m using to pour over my fighter’s head and neck to wake them up.”
Madrimov is a devout Muslim and prays several times a day. He settles into his routine, lays down a rug and begins to pray.
A few minutes later, an official comes in with two empty vials and asks Madrimov to step into the restroom and give a urine sample for his drug test.
As tape and gauze are being laid out, Diaz puts down what he needs to wrap Madrimov’s hands. In the background you can hear Pacheco, a hard-punching super middleweight from Los Angeles, getting ready. The mood is much quieter for Team Madrimov.
A member of the Texas State Athletic Commission walks in with a clear plastic bag containing a pair of Grant gloves that Madrimov will be using later Saturday night. “The weapons,” as Diaz describes them. As the trainer is informed that the opponent has already wrapped his hands, Diaz goes over to Navarro’s locker room to inspect them.
Madrimov does an interview with DAZN reporter Claudia Trejos. Diaz returns after seeing Navarro’s hand wraps and tells Frolov, “The wrap that they did … he’s going to break his hand the first time he hits Israil.”
Frolov responds, “He’s not going to hit Israil.”
play0:32Diaz wraps Madrimov’s hands prior to fight time
Israil Madrimov gets his hands wrapped by trainer Joel Diaz ahead of his fight against Charlie Navarro.
Diaz is in deep concentration as he wraps Madrimov’s hands with precise layers of tape and gauze. It’s an art form that is mastered only after years of practice. The only thing Diaz says during this period of time is ”Good?” to inspector Arturo Martinez, who is overseeing the wrap; Navarro’s representative is also on hand to watch the process.
A hand that is wrapped by a seasoned trainer like Diaz looks like a weapon, but every step is simply about protecting the hand.
“Start stretching him,” Diaz says to Hernandez. “We have exactly 30 minutes to walk-out.”
play0:57Madrimov receives prefight instructions from referee
Israil Madrimov receives prefight instructions from the referee as he gets ready to face Charlie Navarro.
Referee Rafael Ramos goes over the rules with Madrimov.
“We’ve got 20 minutes,” Diaz alerts the room. Madrimov starts to warm up, shadowboxing and bouncing around the room as he slowly builds his tempo and speed.
Diaz summons Frolov and Hernandez and gives them corner assignments for the night. He tells each which side of the ring corner he wants them to be on between rounds, and if there’s excess water in the corner, “Alik, you get the mop.” Hernandez is in charge of bringing out the stool as the bell sounds, and Diaz will enter from the fighter’s left side.
Frolov rubs Madrimov down with a light layer of Vaseline all over his body. Diaz points to a particular water bottle in whose cap he has cut a hole — this would be the specific bottle Frolov will use after he takes out the boxer’s mouthpiece to wash it off. Diaz looks like a third base coach giving out signs as he starts to check all the pockets in his trademark vest, checking one last time that all of his supplies are in place.
The protector — which is used to guard against the force of low blows — goes on Madrimov, followed soon by his gloves, which the inspectors signs off on in the tape area after they are fastened in.
“We’re up next,” Frolov says. The nervous energy begins to pick up in the room as they know they could be called into the ring at any time.
Diaz moves around with Madrimov, who quickly builds steam on his rapid-fire combinations. The booming sound of the punches hitting the mitts echoes off the walls.
Madrimov strikes the pads for a round in southpaw position. “When you’re lefty,” Diaz says, ”watch the hook.”
play1:15Madrimov makes his way to the ring
Israil Madrimov and his team make their way to the ring ahead of his fight against Charlie Navarro.
”In about two minutes we walk,” a DAZN producer informs the camp. “Let’s go do this s—,” Diaz says as he walks out of the dressing room.
The caravan starts snaking through the bowels of the arena to the holding area, where a group of cameras and security detail await them. Madrimov is held in his own area, as he will walk out to the ring by himself before the rest of the corner is allowed to follow him onto the field of the Ford Center.
The first round begins with Madrimov boxing from the orthodox stance. Madrimov is perpetually feinting, twitching all parts of his body in order to disguise his attack. Madrimov is very adept at jabbing to the body of his opponents, as Navarro finds out early.
After about a minute, Madrimov switches to southpaw, and late in the round he amps up his attack and starts to strafe Navarro with a dizzying array of punches from all angles.
“Good work,” Diaz says as his fighter comes back to the corner after the initial stanza. “Remember — feint, feint, but use your jab.”
Madrimov imposes his will early in the fight and doesn’t let up on Charlie Navarro. Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA
Over the next few rounds, Madrimov continues to alternate between right- and left-handed stances, and it looks like his approach is more feel than any prefight plan. In the second round, Navarro turns his back on the action as he is struck by a left hand by Madrimov, who could have pounced but decides to pull up.
Slowly but surely, Madrimov wears down Navarro with a consistent body attack, which is laced with shots over the top as Navarro drops his hands. The body language is clear: He’s wilting.
Before the sixth, Diaz asks Madrimov as he gets on his stool, “How do you feel? You feel good?” Then he tells Frolov to deliver this message: “OK, this guy doesn’t want any more.”
“Let go of your punches — and that’s it,” Diaz says. “The guy doesn’t want to fight no more. C’mon, let’s go, Israil. Finish this guy, let’s go!!”
Diaz gives Madrimov one last swig of water and shouts, “Let’s get to work!”
After six rounds of action, Israil Madrimov secures his fifth pro victory and celebrates in the ring. Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA
Madrimov starts the sixth round as a left-hander and goes downstairs, throwing straight lefts at Navarro. Finally, a crunching body shot puts Navarro down with 55 seconds left in the bout. The pain is written all over Navarro’s face, but he gamely rises to his feet. Another set of punches puts Navarro on the deck again seconds later, and Ramos waves off the fight.
Madrimov goes to the center of the ring and does his customary backflip celebration. While Navarro was never really in the fight, he provides enough professional resistance to allow Madrimov to gain some experience.
While Diaz has said Madrimov is a combination of Golovkin and Lomachenko, there also looks to be a lot of Terence Crawford and former junior welterweight world titlist Emanuel Augustus, known as “The Drunken Master” for his entertaining style and movements, in there, too.
Back in the locker room, Diaz begins to take off Madrimov’s wraps.
Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn walks in and congratulates Madrimov on his performance. He talks of an early summer return for Madrimov in Uzbekistan, on a card that would include the first title defense for Murodjon Akhmadaliev in his homeland.
Madrimov is now in position for a title shot.