30 Seconds With Freddie Roach
With Freddie Roach
By JOE BRESCIA
Published: January 7, 2012
Tyson, De La Hoya, Pacquiao. Freddie Roach has worked with the best.
Roach was a successful lightweight, with a 40-13 record before he retired at 26; he later developed Parkinson’s disease. Roach, who was tutored by Eddie Futch, has guided 28 boxers to become world champions. He was inducted to the World Boxing Hall of Fame and was recently elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. The United States Olympic Committee has partnered with Roach, 51, to train the leading amateurs at Roach’s Wild Card gym in Hollywood for the 2012 Games in London.
His life will be chronicled by the filmmaker Peter Berg in the HBO series “On Freddie Roach” beginning Jan. 20.
Q. You still do some light sparring and padded glove work when you work with the boxers. Are you concerned about exacerbating your Parkinson’s?
A. I’ve found that the hand and eye coordination is the best thing in the world for me. It’s funny, but once I get into the ring, the tremors go away and everything is O.K. And I don’t get hit in the head too often. Maybe once in a while.
Q. Has boxing done enough for the safety of the fighters?
A. I think so. It’s really hard to pinpoint where the problems are. Some of the tests can show progression where the symptoms are getting worse, and that’s the biggest thing out there. They do a brain stimulation test in England where they pull your license if you test poorly. There are steps in the right direction.
Q. Have you connected with Muhammad Ali, who also developed Parkinson’s?
A. Yes. I was invited to his fund-raiser. And he came out to my gym one day. The funny thing about it was, once he started to hit the heavy bag, his tremors went away and he was fine. But as soon as he stopped, the tremors came back. We both have that muscle memory to box. Just like when I’m in the ring working out, everything goes away.
Q. Your fighter Manny Pacquiao won a controversial decision against Juan Manuel Marquez in November to retain his welterweight title. What do you think about those who contend that Marquez won the bout?
A. It was very close and very competitive, and every time they fight it will be the same way. They know each other very well. Manny has trouble with that counterpunching style. That’s something that we’ve been working on for a long time. That gives him more trouble than a guy that will come to him.
Q. Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather has been put on hold again. After negotiations about blood testing seemed to be settled, last month Mayweather was sentenced to prison on charges of domestic violence and harassment. Will the fight ever happen?
A. Sometimes I think it will be forever up in the air. Everywhere I go, they want that fight to happen. And I want it as badly as anyone. Hopefully it will get made soon. Manny probably has four or five fights left in him and I’m sure Mayweather will be one of them.
Q. If Pacquiao and Mayweather do meet, what will your strategy be?
A. We do have trouble with the counterpunching style, and Floyd is a great counterpuncher. We have to go in with a good game plan. If one guy averages 85 punches a round and one guy averages 15 punches a round, I think the 85 will beat the 15. The thing is, Mayweather is very precise and very conservative with his punches. But he’s very accurate and he lands good shots. There’s no doubt it’s a tough fight. It’s a challenge and that’s why I like it. I like getting ready for challenges. And Mayweather is the biggest challenge for me and Manny.
Q. Whom will Pacquiao fight next?
A. I talked to Bob Arum (the Top Rank promoter) the other day, and the three names we’re looking at now are (Lamont) Peterson, (Timothy) Bradley and (Miguel) Cotto. I told Bob it doesn’t matter to me. We’ll fight anyone of those guys.
Q. In 2010, Pacquiao was elected to the Philippines Congress representing the province of Sarangani. He’s talked about running for governor in 2013. Do you think his political career can be a distraction to his training?
A. Being a congressman is one thing. But being the governor brings a lot more responsibility. I don’t think he could do both. He gets time off as a congressman, but a governor has to be more hands on. And he really wants to be good at politics. And for him to be good at politics, he’s going to have to put his whole life into it. I would say he would be close to retirement for him to be governor.
Q. How many fights do you think he has left?
A. The way our training camp went before the Marquez fight, I would say he had a long career ahead of him. We had a great training camp. But something was distracting him in that fight. I haven’t put my finger on it yet. We had a great camp, but we did not have a great performance in the fight. I have to give some credit to Marquez about that. But his focus was not there. It was the first time in 10 years we had a bad night. It was bad timing on our part.
Q. You trained Mike Tyson late in his career. What do you think happened to a fighter many experts thought would be the best heavyweight in history?
A. If you do something for a long enough time, anything can get old. I think he got tired of it. Inside of four rounds, he would knock you out. Outside of that, he would bow out.
Q. What has been the key to your success as a trainer?
A. The relationship and the trust I have with my fighters. They know I’m there for them 1,000 percent.
Q. What’s the most important aspect of training that Eddie Futch passed along to you?
A. You can’t change a fighter. You can’t make them something that they’re not. Once they get hit in the ring, they’re going to revert back to what they are. A boxer, a puncher — take what they have. Improve on the weak points. The strong points, they have down pretty much already.
Q. You’re a student of boxing history. Who are your top boxers, regardless of weight class?
A. I like Joe Louis. He was the best textbook fighter in the world. Then there’s Ali, who wasn’t a textbook fighter but probably would have beaten Joe Louis because of his natural ability. Julio César Chávez. And Ruben Olivares who I consider the best Mexican boxer in history. Salvador Sanchez who died tragically and shortened a great career. And Sugar Ray Robinson may have been better than anyone. There are no films of him fighting as a welterweight. But you can guess how good he was at that weight.
Q. You also work with Ultimate Fighting Championship competitors. How is the training different?
A. I’m training Georges St. Pierre, who is recovering from knee surgery now. I train these guys to use their hands because that’s all I know. If I can make them better fighters, I will. It’s not more complicated than that. A good fight’s a good fight.
Q. Who would win a fight between champions from both sports?
A. How long would Randy Couture last with James Toney in a boxing match? About the same as Toney would last in a mixed martial arts match. Boxers don’t know ground games and M.M.A. guys don’t know how to box.
Q. You’ve also trained actors and other athletes, including Mickey Rourke, who tried boxing as a career; Shaquille O’Neal; and Mark Wahlberg, for movie and television roles. Which celebrity had the most potential to succeed in boxing?
A. I’ve been making some noise about Wahlberg and Mario Lopez fighting each other. They both train in my gym. They’re both very good. Mario has fought six exhibition fights in my gym. He’s 6-0 with six knockouts. He trains everyday, just like a fighter. Wahlberg has his own gym. I would like to get them together for a charity bout. That would be fun.