By Jake Donovan
‘If you want something done, give it to a busy person.’
The phrase made popular many moons ago by Lucille Ball is perhaps the perfect way to describe the work ethic of Freddie Roach, the former TV-friendly fighter now best known as among the game’s very best cornermen.
The five-time Trainer of the Year has endured a hectic schedule over the past few months. Training camps for – in order – Jorge Linares, Peter Quillin, Manny Pacquiao, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Amir Khan – overlapped one another, keeping the busiest man in boxing even more active.
Yet through it all, the Hollywood-based chief second finds time to sneak away from the Wild Card Gym long enough to take on a different role.
Saturday will mark Roach’s commentator debut, as he will fly into New York to call the action via monitor for a heavyweight doubleheader airing live on premium network Epix, along with its affiliated website EpixHD.com (3:30PM ET/12:30PM).
The main event features Alexander Povetkin putting his undefeated record and alphabet belt on the line against resurging 42-year old fringe American contender Cedric Boswell. The chief support plays a little closer to home for the anticipated sold-out crowd that will be on hand in Helsinki, Finland, as all-action heavyweight Robert Helenius – born in Sweden, but of Finnish descent - takes on Dereck Chisora of the UK.
Roach doesn’t presently have a dog in the heavyweight hunt – the closest he presently comes is unbeaten cruiserweight Lateef Kayode having sparred with Seth Mitchell, and having previously worked with James Toney and an advanced version Mike Tyson. Though an avid student of the game, he admits to having his work cut out for him, familiarizing himself with the fighters and his new role.
“It’s definitely going to be a bit of a challenge for me, but I’m looking forward to it,” Roach said on Tuesday morning while taking a brief break from his active day in the gym. “I’ll call the fights like I see it. I’m a little nervous, but I’ve had a lot of practice and (HBO blow-by-blow commentator) Jim Lampley has given me pointers. Everything should be OK.”
The plan for Roach is to catch a red-eye out of California late Friday evening, to land in New York by Saturday morning, then sit down long enough for final preparations before going on air. The travel is the easy part. It’s the process leading up to it that he finds more of a nuisance.
“I have to read more than I want to. I’ve got to read and test my memory so I sound like I know what I’m talking about,” Roach jokes. “It’s difficult for me to find time to read, but I’ve been taking it in every night. Tonight and the next few nights, I’ll watch more footage of all of the fighters to prepare for my ‘Keys to victory’ segment and what kind of game plan to expect from each fighter.”
The one fighter on the show who piques his interest the most is Povetkin, viewed by many as the top contender to a heavyweight division largely dominated by Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. More so than Povetkin’s status is the man who guides the ship in his corner.
“This will be the first time where the roles will be reversed for me and Teddy,” Roach says of the outspoken Teddy Atlas, who for the past decade has served as the color commentator for ESPN2 Friday Night Fights.
Atlas has only recently rejoined the training ranks after being approached by Povetkin and his handlers. He has since guided him to an alphabet title, when the unbeaten Russian scooped up a vacant title with a win over former champ Ruslan Chagaev this past August.
Povetkin has twice been in position to challenge Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight championship. The first time they signed, the fight was derailed after Povetkin – a Gold medalist in the 2004 Summer Olympics – suffered an injury doing roadwork during training camp.
The second attempt was derailed by Atlas himself, who had just begun training Povetkin and wanted more time to work with him. The move was criticized by many in the industry, though more so after watching the Russian feast on soft competition, with none of the opponents remotely simulating what it would be like against either of the Klitschko brothers.
With that knowledge along with the fact that Atlas hasn’t hesitated to take his shots at Roach, there exists the temptation to return fire. Roach won’t bite, though, as he promises to be on his best behavior and act like a professional.
“This is the first time we can speak to each other where I have the mic and he doesn’t,” Roach comments. “But to be honest, I don’t care about stuff like that. Teddy is a good trainer. He has different methods but he knows what it takes. His guy is the best guy out there besides the Klitschkos, and he deserves credit for it.”
Once the fights are over, the plan for Roach is to reunite with unified super lightweight champ Amir Khan, who fights in Washington D.C. the following weekend. The brief road trip to New York doesn’t at all affect their present routine while preparing for next Saturday’s fight with Lamont Peterson, which airs live on HBO.
“My program with Amir actually fits in perfectly to this. He finishes his sparring on Friday and then no gym session after that since he’s just doing road work on Saturday. With the time of night I leave on Friday and when I return after the fight, he won’t even notice that I’m gone.”
Had a conflict presented itself, Roach’s debut behind the microphone wouldn’t be taking place this weekend. Once again – act like a professional.
"I would never do that to a fighter. If it meant breaking camp – with Amir, Manny, anyone I train – I’d have turned the job down cold.”
Luckily for Roach, all of the camps he’s endured have overlapped one another, catching a rare break between fights for Chavez Jr. and Khan to take in a night of heavyweight boxing.
What he expects of the future will largely depend on what the present reveals.
“Povetkin is definitely the best story of the bunch,” Roach believes. “He’s undefeated and is closer than anyone else decent enough to challenge for the title. Is he good enough to challenge the Klitschkos? We’ll see on Saturday.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at [email protected]