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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Trainer Roach finds life is good with Pacquiao in his corner

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Pacquiao vs Clottey
By Bob Velin, USA TODAY
He turned 50 just last week. He's a workaholic who spends half his life on the job.

He lives alone in one of the loneliest cities, Los Angeles.

And, oh yes, he battles Parkinson's Disease, an ever-present reminder of his boxing past that went on too long.

So why does Freddie Roach seem so happy?

"I'm probably having more fun than I ever had in my life," he says without hesitation.

And why not? His gym, the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, is bustling. He has to turn away potential clients.

He trains the planet's best pound-for-pound fighter, Manny Pacquiao, a world champion in a record seven weight classes.

He is a full-blown celebrity in Pacquiao's home country of the Philippines, and is recognized everywhere in the U.S.

And he's considered the best cornerman in the business.

"I think I have the best fighters in the world, that's why I'm the best trainer," says Roach, whose mentor was legendary trainer Eddie Futch. "When the bell rings, I sit down and they fight. My key to success is hanging out with good fighters."

Roach will hang out with a great one in Pacquiao this weekend when the Filipino (50-3-2, 38 KOs) takes on always dangerous Ghanian Joshua Clottey (35-3, 20 KOs) for Pacquiao's WBO welterweight belt Saturday night (HBO pay-per-view, 9 ET) at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.

Roach has a full stable of fighters, with boxers fighting to get in — "I get about 10 calls a day, from up-and-coming guys to veterans trying to make comebacks to world champions. It's flattering." But clearly, Pacquiao is his pride and joy. And meal ticket.

Roach was struggling to make a go of it at the gym he opened up with actor Mickey Rourke, who Roach trained to be a professional fighter. He was frustrated. "I wasn't doing world champion stuff. So I decided to open my own gym to develop world-class talent," he says.

About nine years ago, a world-class talent walked in the door.

"When I got Manny, a lot of things changed," Roach says. "He walked in the gym looking for a new trainer and a new promoter. His manager asked me if I'd work the mitts with him. After one round, I went back to the corner and said, 'man, this kid can fight,' and he went to his manager and said, 'we got a new trainer.' We did eight more rounds that day, and it was like I'd known him my whole life.

"From winning the 122-pound title all the way up to welterweight, I never saw this coming. But it's great to be part of it."

What Roach loves most about Pacquiao is his work ethic and his ability to shrug off the many distractions in his life.

"(Manny) is one of the hardest-working people I've ever seen," says Roach. "He has a lot of distractions around him, but once he comes through the gym doors, all that goes away, and his work ethic is unbelievable. We did 16 rounds straight yesterday and at the end he asks for more. That's the type of person he is."

The strenuous mitt workouts also help Roach cope with his disease. "I go 40 rounds with all my fighters, and Pacquiao is the last 16. It keeps me healthy, and that's why I won't let the Parkinson's get to me. I have the hand-eye drills I do with the mitts and I think it helps me quite a bit.

"I have to take medication every day and that helps me function a little better. But overall, the boxing really keeps me healthy."

With Pacquiao running for congress in the Philippines (the election is in May), there have been rumblings that the Clottey fight could be his last.

Says Roach: "If the winner of the (Floyd) Mayweather-(Shane) Mosley fight (May 1) doesn't come around, where do we have to go? Without Mayweather, there's nothing else to prove. (But) let's face it. The people … want to see Mayweather and Pacquiao fight."

While Roach believes Mayweather will win that fight, he believes a Mosley-Pacquiao matchup would be a better fight.

"It's a great fight for the world of boxing," he says. "It's a much better fight than Mayweather because both guys will come to fight and that's a real battle, a very tough fight, but it's one I welcome. If (Mosley) wins, we will definitely fight him.

"I like Mayweather (to beat Mosley) because Shane does really well with guys who come at you. He's used to those Mexican-style fighters coming at him his whole life. But you see his fights with speed guys, movers, he has a little bit of trouble. So I do think Mayweather will win it in 12 rounds.

"Shane is my friend. I hope he wins, but I just don't think he will."

The proposed Pacquiao-Mayweather fight fell through after Mayweather insisted on Olympic-style drug testing, including taking blood. Some in Mayweather's camp accused Pacquiao of taking sperformance-enhancing drugs, and Pacquiao sued for defamation of character.

"These accusations are just absurd because Manny shows no signs of steroids," says Roach, "just because he got bigger, because we feed him five times a day and give him five protein shakes a day."

Roach says the accusations infuriated Pacquiao, who wants to get Mayweather in the ring "badly."

"I've never seen Manny make fun of a person, or emulate someone else in the ring, except Mayweather, because this guy tried to ruin his life by saying he's on steroids," says Roach. "He's not too happy about that.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to make that fight. The only thing we won't do is let Floyd call the shots and make the rules, because he's not that big. Any commission test, and sanctioning body test, we'll do. But we will not do private testing with a company that Floyd hires. It's not going to happen."

It was not so much the blood testing, which Pacquiao admittedly dislikes, Roach says, as it was giving Mayweather his way.

"Next thing you know we'll be fighting two-minute, or five-minute rounds," Roach says. "He thinks he's big enough to change the sport. … The Nevada Commission is one of the best in the world. Why do we need Floyd to call the shots? It's like giving the first round away. It's just giving him confidence. If he gets that, what other rule is he going to change?"

Mayweather says only that he wants to change the way boxers are tested, and since he doesn't cheat, he doesn't want anyone else cheating, either.

"Floyd doesn't realize that he's killing his own sport, and the thing is, (he's fought at) as high as 154 pounds, so should I accuse him of being on steroids?" Roach asks. "In his mind I should, but I won't because I just think he's a good fighter. I get pissed off that people can't accept that Manny's just a good fighter."

Despite such controversy, Roach's mind right now is on Clottey. He knows the African now living in New York is as tough and dangerous as they come. He's not worried for his fighter.

"I've studied (Clottey) quite a bit," says Roach. "I got the game plan down. I know his flaws. He makes too many mistakes and we will take advantage of them."


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