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MADRID – At 84, Manolo del Rio is something of a legend in Spanish boxing, having spent more than 65 years training some of the country's best fighters and still pledging to keep on until he drops.
Del Rio spends 12-14 hours a day in the gym in Madrid's working class Vallecas neighborhood. At weekends, he accompanies boxers to their fights. He got a warning note to slow down last week when he was admitted to a Madrid hospital suffering from exhaustion.
His past pupils include Pedro Carrasco, European champion in 1967 and world lightweight champion in 1971, and Jose Manuel Urtain, European heavyweight champion in 1970 and 1971.
Most recently, he trained Gabriel Campillo, the 2009 world light heavyweight and European Union super middleweight champion.
Del Rio is surprisingly agile and swift with both his feet and fists as he teaches pupils that could be his grandchildren, or great grandchildren.
He laments the wane in popularity of boxing in Spain and attributes it to the unchallengeable attraction of soccer and the fact that boxing has almost vanished from the mainstream media.
"Nowadays in Spain there are no boxing idols who are able to move crowds," he says. "There are more distractions for young people nowadays."
But del Rio admits modern technology has helped boxing too.
"Every boxer can watch on the internet how their idols perform. ... They can see old and modern fights, study them, learn and copy techniques," he says. "In the old days, we sometimes only saw how our opponent was when we got inside the ring."
A one-time amateur boxer himself, he gave up competing after he had to face his brother in a regional tournament, choosing to become his coach instead.
These days, he believes technique more than punch strength is paramount.
"Although boxing is a violent sport it is also an art in itself," he says. "You have to learn how to move. ... A clever movement can avert you being punched, so you can strike and move away without being hurt. This is technique!"