LAS VEGAS — A small, airless gym smelling of sweat and urine. An old, shuffling fighter-turned-trainer whose study of strength and nutrition stopped in junior high health class.
Think Burgess Meredith in "Rocky" or Clint Eastwood in "Million Dollar Baby."
That was Phil Landman's image of boxing gyms and the men who worked there when he was recruited out of a West Los Angeles fitness club to work with world champion Miguel Cotto three years ago. And he hasn't seen too much since then that has changed his mind.
"Boxing is just very much back as it was maybe 10, 15, 20, even 50 years ago," Landman says. "With the same training and the same techniques. And hopefully what I'm doing with Miguel so far, I've been able to kind of influence the sport in some way."
He's certainly influenced Cotto, 29, who will put Landman's methods to their most severe test Saturday when he meets six-time world champion Manny Pacquiao in a WBO welterweight title fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
"I feel more strength, more power. And I know now what things I can eat," Cotto says. "It's different. He puts more science into my training."
Landman was hired as Cotto's strength and conditioning coach in the summer of 2006 after being introduced to the Puerto Rican fighter by his promoter, Bob Arum.
"The stuff that they're doing becomes, at some point, just redundant," Landman says of old-school boxing trainers. "The body just will stop responding at some stage to some of the stuff that they just continue over and over. So I've been introducing other things."
Such as a strict diet for Cotto, a focused running program and an ever-changing series of weightlifting and flexibility exercises that, in addition to improving his strength and conditioning, also limits the time he spends in the boxing gym.
"Every time I come into camp I always change his program," says Landman, whose five-hour daily workouts with Cotto begin about two to three months before each fight. "He's never done the same conditioning work in any [two] camps. I always take bits and pieces and work on areas that I feel like maybe he needs to improve a little bit. We work well together to kind of figure out what will be the best for him."
That wasn't the case when Arum introduced Cotto, and his uncle-trainer Evangelista Cotto, to the staff at Jon Jon Park's fitness facility in West Los Angeles. The Cotto team was initially suspicious. But Arum had seen this training program work with another of his fighters, Oscar De La Hoya, and offered to pay Landman's salary if Cotto would give his methods a chance.
"Conditioning is conditioning," Arum says. "We knew they weren't boxing people. But we knew it worked."
And in Cotto's case, it worked immediately. In his first fight under Landman's tutelage, Cotto knocked out previously unbeaten Carlos Quintana in five rounds to win the WBA welterweight title. It was Cotto's quickest win in nearly two years. Landman didn't know much about boxing when he began working with Cotto.
Landman, 37, grew up in South Africa, and he played soccer and competed at an elite level in cycling, cricket, rugby and motor sports. "I've always enjoyed being involved in the different sports and trying to understand what it requires to become good at those sports," he says.
Boxing presented its own challenges, in part, because much of what passed for training had been passed down from previous generations with little change. "Boxing is one of the sports that is taking a little bit longer to progress. They are way behind. But I think they will catch up," Landman says. "I do get a lot of people wondering why I do things and how I do them. Once the questions have been answered and explained, people are interested."
Despite Cotto's record of 34-1, with 27 KOs, he is a 3-1 underdog to Pacquiao.
So an upset of Pacquiao on Saturday would certainly increase the interest in Landman's conditioning program.
And a win would perhaps put to rest rumors that Cotto was irreparably damaged in his only loss as a professional, a bloody, 11th-round TKO to Antonio Margarito 16 months ago.
Margarito was caught with illegal plaster in his hand wraps before his next fight and there are suspicions his gloves may have been loaded in the Cotto fight as well. (Margarito's co-manager said the boxer denies any wrongdoing in the Cotto fight.)
"What Miguel went through was pretty horrific," Landman said. "And I think he's done an amazing job coming out of that."
In Cotto's last fight with Joshua Clottey, in June, Landman says Cotto did "an amazing job" overcoming a third-round cut above his left eye to win a 12-round split decision. That was also Cotto's first fight under new trainer Joe Santiago, who replaced Evangelista as his trainer seven months ago.
"People should look at that a lot more," Landman says of Cotto's performance against Clottey. "He showed courage in that fight."
Cotto returned the compliment on Wednesday, crediting Landman with giving him the strength to persevere.
"Since Phil came to our camp, to our gym, he's always come with a lot of things to make me work better," Cotto said. "Like everybody saw in my last fight, he made me work better. With more energy, with more power.
"And that's the kinds of the things you're going to see the night of the [Pacquiao] fight."