It didn’t take Manny Robles long to figure out how he could help Sultan Zaurbek.

Zaurbek, 17-0 (12 KOs), arrived in California earlier in 2024 and the experienced trainer quickly realised that although the unbeaten Kazakh has the ability needed to rule the super-featherweight division, he needed taking out of his comfort zone. 

Robles won’t be in Zaurbek’s corner when he boxes Argentina’s Roman Reynoso, 22-4-2 (10 KOs), on the Wasserman promotion in Bolton this weekend, because he is in Las Vegas where his WBO featherweight champion, Rafael Espinoza, defends his title against Sergio Sanchez on Friday night. However his son Manny Jnr has crossed the Atlantic, and Robles wants Zaurbek to display some of the aggression and intensity they have started to demand from him. 

“He’s a good, technical fighter,” Robles told BoxingScene. “We’ve gotta bring that dog out of Sultan.

“He’s got a lot of potential but he’s got some things to learn – especially at the highest level in boxing. It doesn’t get easier – it gets harder. With that, you need to step up and that’s exactly what I’ve been getting from Sultan as of late. It’s been a six-or-seven week camp and things have been going well. Now it’s time to perform.”

The skilful Zaurbek has sailed through his first 17 fights, but he has also shown an inclination to cruise. His approach has worked perfectly so far – he has broken down and stopped five of his past six opponents and is ranked highly by the IBF and the WBA – but Robles knows that eventually Zaurbek will share the ring with fighters who will be capable of forcing him out of his rhythm and to fight at their pace.

Robles has started instilling increased urgency into the 28 year-old southpaw’s arsenal so that when he suddenly does find himself having to dig deep and wrest back control of a fight, the experience doesn’t come as a shock. 

“We have to push him,” Robles said. “We have to take him to uncomfortable places and put him in uncomfortable situations. Not just in the gym and in the ring but everywhere else. Everything that goes into getting a fighter ready for a big fight.

“I think you can teach anybody everything. The only thing you can’t teach is heart. You either have it or you don’t. Everything else you can work with. You can teach a fighter how to box; how to jab; how to get out of situations. You can teach anything but heart. Sultan has got heart but we’ve got to push him. You can’t let him get too comfortable.”

The 130lbs division is home to some talented fighters but it is primed for somebody to truly establish themselves as the fighter to beat. Robles believes that once Zaurbek has learned when and how to truly impose himself on his opponents he has the potential to be that fighter. 

“That’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “It’s one fight at a time and you can’t change a fighter from one day to the next. My job is to make him better. My job isn’t to change his style – he already has a set style – but if I can bring something to the table and add to it to make him better then I guess I’m doing my job.”

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