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Freddie Roach is no yes man

BOXING

Trainer will tell Manny Pacquiao what he needs to hear. 'The strategy we share is nothing but the truth,' says boxing's biggest draw today.

November 12, 2009|Lance Pugmire

LAS VEGAS — Manny Pacquiao is surrounded by people who make his life easier: a personal chef, friends to entertain with karaoke, buddies who'll play darts and basketball and a business manager looking out for his financial interests.

Pacquiao asks a favor, wants something done, and the answer is yes.

Freddie Roach is the exception.

Roach, a former journeyman boxer who trained at the foot of Joe Frazier's Hall of Fame cornerman Eddie Futch, is the honest voice in the ear of the world's top pound-for-pound boxer.

"With all the people around me, it's hard to find a real friend, a die-hard person like Freddie," Pacquiao admitted recently after a workout at Roach's Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. "We're honest. We don't lie to each other. The strategy we share is nothing but the truth. And I'm lucky to have him in my corner."

As the 30-year-old Pacquiao (49-3-2) prepares for Saturday's fight against WBO welterweight champion Miguel Cotto at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, boxing historians place his partnership with Roach among the elite of the sport's all-time fighter-trainer connections, along with Muhammad Ali and Angelo Dundee, Joe Louis and Jack "Chappie" Blackburn, Frazier and Futch, Emile Griffith and Gil Clancy and Thomas Hearns and Emanuel Steward.

"It's gotten bigger than I thought it'd be," Roach said. "By far, he's the greatest fighter I've ever been associated with. For a kid who started at 122 pounds to be preparing for this welterweight title shot . . . People ask me, 'Who's the next Manny Pacquiao?' I say there's not one. He's once in a lifetime."

It started so humbly, more than eight years ago, when 22-year-old Pacquiao and his manager were vacationing in the U.S. and looking for a place where the hard-punching southpaw could stay sharp in anticipation of his super-bantamweight title shot against a South African fighter.

After they chatted a bit and Pacquiao pounded Roach's mitts, both men separated and told nearby associates they should work together full time. "He liked my style, the way I punched," Pacquiao recalled.

They won that title fight, and battled through some tough draws and Pacquiao's close 2005 loss by decision to Mexican champion Erik Morales.

"That one that we lost, that was the wake-up call," Roach said.

The trainer took his prodigy back into the gym and started working on developing Pacquiao's right-handed punching and defensive skills.

"It's not a teacher-student thing as much as I show him a move, and he shows me how he'd like to execute it, and then we agree," Roach said. "When I let him interact, he's comfortable. He shows me the way he can adjust. When we can't work out the move, he'll say, 'OK, let's erase that,' and we get rid of it. That way, there's no mistakes. With both of us working on the same goal together, he's become as smart as I am about boxing. It's scary how smart he is in there."

Pacquiao is 10-0 since the Morales loss with seven knockouts or technical knockouts in fights against gifted former champs including Morales (twice), Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Marco Antonio Barrera.

"Manny has the raw material I've never seen any fighter possess," his veteran promoter Bob Arum said. "The athleticism, the punching power, the elusiveness."

Pacquiao's fights during the last year against De La Hoya and Hatton have required a stricter cerebral approach.

Pacquiao brilliantly dissected the older, naturally bigger De La Hoya, by unleashing barrages, moving, and barraging again in a style that showcased his maturity beyond the rapid-punching dynamo of his youth. Against Hatton, Pacquiao saw an opening late in the second round, and he knocked out the Brit, leaving him briefly unconscious.

The added mental discipline has been pushed at a time when more people than ever are tugging at Pacquiao's attention, including for a political run in the Philippines, for his involvement in films and commercials, for interviews and for buddy time.

Arum knows boxing history, and knows how many maturing talents have been lessened by a weak supporting cast. "It happens more often than not," Arum said. "A yes man is useless as a trainer."

There have been moments that tested the Pacquiao-Roach partnership, like a run-in at training camp when Roach interrupted Pacquiao's talk with a political leader in the Philippines and told his fighter to start packing for their relocation to Hollywood's training center. Roach remains mostly patient, explaining as he did recently when Pacquiao slept through a scheduled workout because of jet lag that, "I need to get his head on tighter."

Futch taught that to Roach, to bypass the typical boxing nonsense that complicates the fight plan.

"If there's ever a problem with Freddie, we fix the problem," Pacquiao said. "We set aside the distractions, focus on the fight."

Pacquiao compares his sessions with Roach to homework. "Speed, power, be smart in the ring -- that's boxing," Pacquiao said.

As he prepares to collect a guaranteed purse of $7.5 million in a bout expected to become the most lucrative of the year, Pacquiao told a mass of reporters why it has come to this: "Freddie Roach is my master, my master of boxing."

--

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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