Freddie Roach Interview: On Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Drug Testing, Roberto Duran, UFC, and so Much More! By Ryan Maquiñana, MaxBoxing (April 1, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing
I recently sat down with four-time BWAA “Eddie Futch Trainer of the Year” Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood for a one-on-one Q&A. Neither age nor Parkinson's Disease can slow down the pugilistic professor, who takes off his trademark glasses when he works the mitts with more fighters in one day than I have fingers. Freddie was more than gracious in answering all of my questions (as well as ones submitted to me through e-mail by our loyal MaxBoxing.com readers) from James Toney joining the UFC to the best advice he ever received from his mentor, Futch, and even how Manny Pacquiao would fare in fantasy bouts at lightweight against fellow weight-jumping legends Roberto Duran and Pernell Whitaker. Enjoy!
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Ryan Maquiñana: Congratulations on celebrating your recent 50th birthday in style, with another dominant performance in Arlington against Joshua Clottey. Manny’s come a long way. I remember his first fight in Texas in 2003 when he went to San Antonio against [Marco Antonio] Barrera and everything was against him. The oddsmakers pegged Manny a huge underdog; the fans in the Alamodome were not on your side. Golden Boy had just signed Barrera; Laurence Cole mistakenly ruled a slip a knockdown, and there were even issues outside the ring at the time. Can you go down “Memory Lane” a little bit and compare that camp with this most recent one? It must have felt good to return to Texas seven years later with the tables turned in your favor this time around.
Freddie Roach: You know, we had good camps both times even though there was a little turmoil [in the Barrera camp]. In my opinion, [former promoter] Murad [Muhammad] was treating Manny wrong, but we got out of that situation eventually, no problem. About this fight though, the thing was that I was just as confident as I was the first time in Texas. You know, I actually bet on Manny that night against Barrera! (Laughs) In the Clottey camp, though, we had no turmoil. We didn’t have any distractions. In fact, I was worried a little bit because there was no turmoil. This time, there were no problems and Texas treated us great. They have great fight fans there. 51,000 people came to see a Filipino and an African fight. Texas has a lot of great Latino fans too. We had a lot of Latino fans support us. The atmosphere was terrific; I loved it.
RM: What were your expectations coming into the Clottey fight?
FR: With Clottey, I didn’t think we’d lose a round. I thought we might be able to get him out of there late in the fight with a body shot, but he was a lot more durable than I thought. The body shots did have some effect on him, but he was a very tough guy; his defense was good, and if Clottey had tried to win the fight, he would’ve gotten knocked out, I feel. But that’s the way it goes. I still give Manny an “A+” because he won every minute of every round.
RM: I thought Manny moving up to 126 pounds to fight Barrera was going to be tough seven years ago. Then, at 130, I wondered if the weight would be too much for him to carry. That was half a decade and 12 fights ago. Back in 2005, after the first loss against Erik Morales, if I told you Manny would avenge that loss with two knockouts, finish his time at 130 by winning the title in a rematch over Juan Manuel Marquez, then top that by moving up three more weight classes and winning world titles in each one, what would you have told me?
FR: I’d say you were crazy. Who would’ve thought this would ever happen? I was there for his second title with [Lehlohonolo] Ledwaba at 122. Nobody wanted to sign him back then. No one was interested because he was too small. Now he’s the king of the world.
RM: The two boxing greats who Manny’s been compared to as of late, due to his success in moving up multiple weight classes are Roberto Duran and Pernell Whitaker. How do you think Manny would match up with them at 135?
FR: It’s tough to compare eras, of course. Pernell was a great boxer, and Manny has trouble with the counter-punching style a little bit, but I don’t think Pernell could stand the pressure. With Duran, I think Manny could beat him. Duran was a ballsy guy; he liked to fight, but, you know, “No Más” made me wonder if he had any quit in him. In the past, at [lightweight], I picked Duran to win, but this time I think Manny would win by decision now.
RM: Promoters, cutmen, managers, even equipment deals have changed in Manny’s team over the years. It seems like only you and Buboy Fernandez have been the constant all these years.
FR: Buboy’s come on the last five years. He and I have a good relationship. We’re very straightforward with each other.
RM: Tell me about your father-son relationship with Manny and if there was ever a moment where you guys came close to having a falling out and breaking up, so to speak.
FR: Well, there’s been a couple times where I’ve had to yell at him for certain reasons. Reasons for his own good, of course, with all the distractions. But about Manny and me, it’s the greatest relationship in my life. The best day of my life is the day Manny Pacquiao walked through those doors.
RM: Speaking of Manny’s activities outside the ring, in light of his campaign for a congressional bid in the Filipino government, when and who would you like Manny to fight again this year, ideally?
FR: Within the year. October, November, December, no problem. Congressman Manny Pacquiao, I really don’t care what his title is; he’s still the pound-for-pound king, and I would love to get the winner of the Mayweather-Mosley fight. And if that doesn’t happen, Valero maybe. We’ll talk about Marquez. We’ll talk about Margarito. So we have some options, but Floyd’s our goal.
RM: I know you’d rather have your next camp with Manny here in Hollywood, but would you be against having it in Baguio City again? There were talks in the past about the Otomi Mountains in Mexico. Would you prefer holding camp somewhere other than the Philippines to avoid any potential distractions?
FR: I don’t really care. Wherever we go is fine by me. We just have to check the weather forecast to make sure there’s no typhoons next time.
RM: Of course, the topic on everyone’s tongues is the potential “Fight of the Century” between Manny and Floyd Mayweather. Right now, that’s on hold, since you took on Clottey and Floyd is fighting Shane Mosley. Stylistically, how would you see a fight between Manny and Mosley, and also Manny against Mayweather?
FR: Manny and Mosley, “Fight of the Year.” [In a fight between] Manny and Floyd, you’d have Manny chasing a guy all night long like Clottey. [Floyd] is a defensive-minded fighter. Obviously a little more offensive I think, but not much. Similar.
RM: In the midst of how negotiations with Floyd fell apart due to disagreements on the frequency of drug testing, how do you feel about him reportedly using Xylocaine right before fights in the past? The Nevada State Athletic Commission has stated that they tell fighters not to use Xylocaine after the weigh-in. According to a past interview, however, you stated you’ve seen [Floyd’s uncle and trainer] Roger Mayweather do it himself in the dressing room when he fought. If the same can be said about Floyd, would there be a hint of hypocrisy in his stipulations?
FR: Of course it would be hypocritical. The commission’s doctor should to come up to their dressing room. [The Mayweathers] use it all the time. Xylocaine is a pain-killer. It’s not a performance-enhancing drug, but I don’t care if he uses it. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s not going to win him the fight when he faces us.
RM: Do you think Floyd will back down from his demands? I’m guessing from the NSAC’s unwillingness to change their policies for him that he won’t get what he wants unless you guys give in.
FR: Neither are we. He doesn’t run this sport, and I think he just wanted more time to get ready for Manny. Unfortunately, he got backed into a fight he probably didn’t want to fight, a tougher one than he expected, but the thing is, he’ll have no excuse after the fight if he beats Shane. I don’t think one fight was enough to bring him back to 100%. I think he needed more time. You know, maybe he’ll make a deal with us. He drops the [demands for additional] tests, and we’ll drop the [defamation] lawsuit.
RM: Let’s talk about some of your other fighters. What's your take on James Toney signing with the UFC?
FR: They're just using him. They're going to say their sport's better than ours. Usually, if they fight an MMA fight, they're going to win, and if they fight a boxing fight, we're going to win. They're two totally different sports. It's something a 40-year-old guy just can't learn, and in James's case, it'll be hard to learn.
RM: There's been talk of you working with UFC star Georges St. Pierre on his stand-up game. Could you see yourself doing that in the near future?
FR: I work with all kinds of guys. I like MMA. I have no problem with it. I'm not into the wrestling part of it. I know there's a science to it, but I'm not into that. Two guys in a fight on the ground, not my thing.
RM: Tell me about working with Lateef “Power” Kayode. He’s already 27, but under your watch, he’s scored nine straight knockouts. Tell me about his progress.
FR: He’s got a great right hand. We need to work more on the defensive end, but he’s made some improvements. He’s still very young with only ten fights, but he’s one of my better prospects. I expect big things from him. I think to get on TV, you need to attract a good audience, and he’ll be a good attraction at cruiserweight. And, hopefully, maybe one day the answer to the heavyweight division.
RM: Speaking of fighters in their late 20s, Guillermo Rigondeaux is scheduled to fight in April. Based on the short time you’ve had him, what do you like about his style, and what’s something you would prefer that he adjust?
FR: Make him more offensive. He’s a great counter-puncher. Anyone that attacks him, he’ll kill. The thing is, since he was fighting in the amateurs for so long, it’s hard to get him to be more aggressive, but he was aggressive today, so I like that.
RM: Your brother Pepper says the only guy who could beat Guillermo at 122 pounds is Israel Vazquez. Do you agree?
FR: Guillermo would knock Israel out, and Israel’s one of my best friends. I’m sorry, Israel, but it’s true. (Laughs)
RM: Tell me about Jose Benavidez Jr. He’s 3-0 with three knockouts and he’s not even 18 yet. It’s not too often when fighters get what has come Jose’s way this early in his career: a deal with Top Rank, a televised pro debut, sparring with Manny. What has impressed you most about him so far?
FR: Yes, my 17-year-old. Best young prospect in the world today. His demeanor, the way he acts in the ring; he’s so relaxed. Only 17 years old and you can’t catch him on the ropes. His maturity is beyond his years.
RM: Speaking of Manny’s young sparring partners, how about Jamie Kavanagh and Dean Byrne? Jamie’s been pretty eager to make his debut, and Dean’s been compiling an undefeated record.
FR: Jamie’s doing very well. He’s a great prospect, a good Irish boy coming over, just like Dean Byrne. Dean’s also 11-0. They’re both good kids. I’ve got a good young stable, and they’ll keep me alive later on in life.
RM: My next question is about the state of amateur boxing in America. Do you think the lack of gold medalists at the last Olympics was a matter of a drop-off in talent compared with recent years, or is it more a result of the way USA Boxing handles their fighters and tournaments? Is there something you’d change if you were in charge of USA Boxing?
FR: I would bring them all here and make them train like real fighters. They baby those guys.
RM: How about if you were in charge of the amateur boxing as a whole, as head of the AIBA? Do you think the current scoring system hurts the development of professional boxing because fighters have to relearn or readjust to the way things work?
FR: The scoring system is terrible. It’s not conducive to pro boxing. Amateur boxing needs to get people ready for the pros. Nowadays, you have to completely change your style when you turn pro. The [amateur] system is designed for you to beat the computer.
RM: Again, you just celebrated your 50th birthday. After your fighting career, you bounced around jobs as a telemarketer and struggled to make ends meet. What do you think your mentor, the legendary Eddie Futch, would say about the way you turned your life around by following in his footsteps as the best trainer in the world today?
FR: He’d be proud of me, and he’d get rid of “Joe Davis.” That was my [alias] when I was selling keychains and pens over the phone as a telemarketer when I was down and out. He’d say that he’s glad I got rid of Joe Davis and brought back Freddie Roach.
RM: You’ve always said you were chasing Mr. Futch, who trained 22 world champions. You’ve surpassed him in that regard, with your 25th world champion and counting. Is there one fighter past or present that you wish you could’ve trained?
FR: No. Everyone’s great in their own way, so I’ve loved working with everybody I’ve trained over the years.
RM: When your career finally winds to a close, and you see these other trainers work with you here at Wild Card like Jose Benavidez Sr. or a guy like Shane Langford, it seems like you’re passing the torch in a way Mr. Futch did for you. What was the best advice Mr. Futch ever gave you in or out of the ring?
FR: Don’t change people. The biggest thing is you can’t change people. They are who they are. You improve on their weaknesses, but you can’t change them because when the bell rings, they’re going to revert back to their own personality. So people don’t understand that and try to turn them into somebody else. That’s why when other people try to be Marquez when they’re fighting Manny Pacquiao, they can’t. It’s impossible.