By Steve Kim: As 2012 U.S. Olympian Jose Ramirez was working the mitts with one of Freddie Roach’s assistant trainers at the Wild Card Boxing Club, the question asked to the noted trainer last Saturday afternoon (while he was leaning on the top rope near his famous corner perch near the window overlooking Vine Street in Hollywood) was: Did he suddenly forget how to train fighters?
“I must’ve,” he answered, laughing at the question.
Yeah, it was a tough 2012 campaign for Roach, which saw him in the losing corners in high-profile bouts involving Amir Khan, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and his most famous client, Manny Pacquiao. It seemed like Roach, who went for years without tasting defeat, couldn’t win a fight. “It was a tough year. The thing is we were in a lot of big fights but we came up short. The thing is, that’s a part of life, winning and losing, and I’ve still got a good stable and my passion is still there. So we’ll get some wins coming very soon; I hope,” said Roach, who won the “Trainer of the Year” award so often recently, you might almost think the trophy should’ve been named in his honor.
But last year, he saw Khan’s chinny-chin-chin get touched by Danny Garcia and Chavez outclassed for 11 of 12 rounds versus Sergio Martinez. Then, to cap things off, you had Pacquiao getting KO’ed in devastating fashion by Juan Manuel Marquez. However, much like quarterbacks in the NFL, trainers probably get too much credit in victory and far too much blame in defeat. Ultimately, the guy on your stool has to perform.
“The thing is, I get guys ready for fights. It’s up to them to win or lose the fight but, of course, it’s part of my job to take the blame and sometimes you’ll get fired,” said Roach, who won’t look back fondly on the past year. “Like with Chavez, I’m not sure what’s going to happen with him right now but the thing is, [Top Rank founder and CEO] Bob [Arum] told me he wants me to train [Chavez]. I told Bob the only way I’ll train him is if he shows up every day and then Amir Khan, he’s up there now in San Francisco. It won’t be the first or last time I get fired; that’s for sure.”
Khan is now training with Virgil Hunter. Like Pacquiao, Khan was in control of the proceedings before getting hit with one big shot. Such is the fickle nature of this sport. “That’s the thing about boxing; one punch can change everything,” Roach pointed out. “The thing is, we have winners and losers in life. Manny handles it well; he accepts defeat well. Doesn’t blame anybody but himself. Nobody gets fired. Amir Khan gets hit with one hook and it’s my fault.”
As for Chavez’s loss, well, it’s hard to really blame anybody given that, essentially, he trained himself in a kitchen prior to his September defeat.
“I actually trained him about five to 10 days for that fight and for 31 days, I waited in my hotel room. It was very frustrating and the only reason why I stood around is that his dad kept asking me to help the kid,” stated Roach. “So I did that for his dad. The thing is, Chavez was great when we had that four-fight win streak. It was really good and for some reason, he wanted to be the boss and I told him, ‘If you want me to train you again, I will,’ - because I do like the kid – ‘but the thing is, the first day you miss, I’m going home.’”
Even with the recent slump, Top Rank’s brass had no problem in putting Roach in charge of two-time Chinese gold medalist Zou Shiming, who is the key to their expansion in the Asian market. “Freddie’s a great trainer,” insisted Arum, who uses this analogy: “In horse racing, a jockey may lose a race but it’s not on the jockey most of the time; it’s on the horse. So the same thing with Freddie; Freddie is one of the top - if not the top - trainers in the world and he is certainly a master at teaching kids and communicating. And remember, you’re dealing with a foreign kid who doesn’t speak much English, if any. You want someone like Freddie, who has the ability to teach and be patient and all that sorta stuff.”
Shiming, who makes his pro debut in Macau on April 6th, seems to be acclimating well to his surroundings in Hollywood.
“You can talk to the kid and we’re delighted with the choice that we made,” said Arum.
This Saturday night, Roach will be shepherding Ruslan Provodnikov toward his match-up with WBO welterweight titleholder Timothy Bradley at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. The heavy-handed Russian is an underdog against the “Desert Storm.”
“[Provodnikov] has punching power. The thing is, we can land a big shot and we’re working on punching in exchanges and catching the guy in exchanges, the pressure and the feints, the head movement,” explained Roach, who went up against Bradley when Pacquiao dropped a highly controversial decision to him last June in Las Vegas. “He’s really ready for this fight and so forth but obviously, we’re fighting a world champion. It’s a very, very tough fight, of course, but I think we have a great shot to win the fight.”
Regardless of the Bradley vs. Provodnikov result, Roach won’t suddenly be any better or worse of a trainer. He still the same guy he was three or four years ago. It reminds you of what the legendary Dean Smith said upon winning his first national title at North Carolina years ago when asked if this validated him as a coach. He responded by saying he wasn’t any different of a coach than he was four hours prior to the championship contest. But that’s life in the spotlight. One minute you’re a combination of Ray Arcel and Eddie Futch; a few losses later, you’re deemed overrated by every fan with access to the internet. There really is no middle ground, unfortunately.
Roach hasn’t suddenly forgotten everything he knows about boxing and preparing boxers.
“The thing is, the fighters make me,” he admits. “They’re the ones who go out there and perform and win. During the fight, I sit down and I’ve always given the fighters credit for winning and sometimes you should get the credit for losing also. I’m getting my guys ready as always and they go in there in the best shape as possible and we’re doing the best we can.”
As for when Roach will begin working with Pacquiao again, the trainer says, “Well, I talked to Bob yesterday (March 8th) and Bob seems to think Manny’s going to fight Marquez in Singapore. So I love that fight; I love the rematch. If we go to Singapore, we’ll train in the Philippines and go right to Singapore. We won’t hit America.”
The fifth chapter of Marquez vs. Pacquiao is scheduled (at least for now) to take place on September 14th.