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Full Circle

Trainer Freddie Roach will go into ring with Pacquiao while surrounded by his brothers, who all endured father's bullying.

December 03, 2008|BILL DWYRE

Five members of the family of the late Paul Roach will be at ringside Saturday night in Las Vegas for the big fight.

Everybody else will be there to see Manny Pacquiao versus Oscar De La Hoya. The Roach family will be there to see their brother Freddie, who will be in the trainer's spot in Pacquiao's corner.

They might be hard to spot, unless you look for the people who have their chests puffed out the most. And oh, how they have earned that pride.

Much of their lives were spent in the projects of Dedham, Mass., a Boston suburb. "Lots of hard-working, poor white people," Roach says.

And their existence was dominated by a tough Irish father who was the New England featherweight champion in 1947. There were seven children, five of them boys. All five boxed at one time or another, two through the amateur ranks and three into the pros.

"Pepper was the best amateur," Freddie says. "He won five Golden Gloves titles and lots of people thought he was going to be the next Willie Pep.

"I fought him one time. He was older, and he beat me up so bad my dad had to beat him up."

If you were to pick a Roach family logo in those days, it might have been a fist surrounded by frightened faces.

"If we did something wrong, we got a beating. My dad was a physical guy. If it wasn't one of us, my mother would get it," Freddie says.

Roach is 48, one of the more famous people in his sport, as well as one of the more honest and direct. When he says his father beat his mother, he says it with the emotionless conviction of somebody who has long ago dealt with that and tucked it away somewhere safe.

Paul Roach dominated his family, bullied them. If you weren't tough, you were out. "My oldest brother, Al, quit boxing at age 16," Freddie says. "So he got tossed out of the house for good. We found out early that life was easier when we made Dad happy."

Still, there come moments of grudging props from the family's third-oldest son. "If he were around today," Freddie Roach says, "I hope he'd say he was proud of me."

Freddie Roach won the 1979 New England featherweight title. That was 32 years after his father.

He then had 53 professional fights, winning 39 of them. His best fighting weight was 122. The most he ever made for a fight was $13,000, a loss to Hector "Macho" Camacho. To train De La Hoya for his fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. last year, Roach was paid $1.3 million and probably will make something similar for training Pacquiao against De La Hoya.

He fought once for a title shot, taking on No. 6 Mario Chavez. "I hit him with a right in the second round," Roach says. "I knew as soon as I hit him I had broken my hand."

Roach went the full 10 rounds, won a decision and then gave up the title shot because his hand was broken and he would not have been able to acquit himself well. Others would have taken the title fight, hung on for a couple of rounds and made a nice trip to the bank. That wasn't Freddie Roach.

He had started his career 26-1, then went 13-12. The right hand never healed completely.

He lost his last pro fight in 1987 and his father came to the dressing room and asked how he had been so good at one time and now was so bad. "I threw him out," Roach says. "That was the last time I talked to him."

Well, almost.

Paul Roach died at age 62 in 1992 of Alzheimer's disease. About a year before that, Freddie called him at a nursing home.

"They got him on the phone and I told him it was Freddie, his son," Roach says. "He said he didn't remember any son and he hung up."

After his final pro fight, and his confrontation with his father, Freddie Roach wanted nothing to do with boxing. He worked in telemarketing for a while, but he was terrible at it and quickly quit. But not before he got his brother involved, and now Joey Roach is a wealthy man with a successful telemarketing business in Las Vegas.

Soon, Freddie Roach gravitated back into boxing, worked alongside legendary trainer Eddie Futch, learned the ropes and now owns his own gym, the Wild Card, in Hollywood where Pacquiao, the pride of the Philippines, has polished his craft and become one of boxing's current superstars.

The ravages of boxing have caused, or at least contributed to, Freddie Roach's Parkinson's disease. He battles it with diet and exercise and still spends hours in the ring with Pacquiao, well padded but taking some of Pacquiao's best shots as they drill for fights.

"It's getting harder," Roach says, "because I have arthritis in both elbows, but I'm not quite ready to give up being right there in the ring for the training."

So the success of Freddie Roach continues, but that's not the end of the story. There is another hero. Make that heroine.

Barbara Roach lives in Las Vegas now, in the house purchased for her by her son, Freddie. When her youngest son turned 18, Barbara moved out, got her driver's license, got her high school diploma and eventually her nursing degree. For years, she ran one of the toughest psychiatric wards in the Boston area.

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