By Chris Robinson
Renowned trainer Freddie Roach has delivered some memorable sound bites during the last two installments of HBO’s 24/7 Pacquiao-Bradley series, taking direct aim at strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza.
Ariza was brought into Manny Pacquiao’s camp on a hands-on basis following his March 2008 split-decision victory over Juan Manuel Marquez and while his methods have seemed to work wonders, so too have his antics apparently worn thin on Roach. During last Saturday’s 24/7, Roach insisted that he won’t be including Ariza as part of Pacquiao’s corner when he sets foot inside of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to defend his belt against Timothy Bradley in another high-profile affair.
The news was a bit surprising and when asked about Freddie’s remarks, HBO color analyst Larry Merchant feels that due to Roach having to spend so much time with a myriad of pugilists, that perhaps Ariza was able to grow closer to Pacquiao along the way and eventually cross some kind of boundary to Roach's dislike.
“Freddie’s a very busy guy,” Merchant would state during our conversation on Sunday evening. “He’s got Pacquiao coming up this weekend; he’s got [Lateef Kayode] yesterday. He’s got Chavez Jr. the week after this. He could have had Amir Khan two weeks ago and it’s a lot of fighters who want and need individual attention and the same thing goes for the trainer. I don’t know how it all works and whether conflicts come or one fighter needs one more than the other. It seems like a potential conflict of self-interest and time.”
For Merchant, he still seems confused as to why Ariza’s presence would even be needed come fight night.
“I’m not sure why he would be in the corner during the fight,” Merchant said bluntly. “I can’t understand that. It doesn’t mean there may not be a good reason but why would he be in the corner if he’s the strength guy? And there has been a fight or two where he has been vocal and I just don’t understand the relationship. I don’t know him as a boxing guy and I don’t understand what his role would be during the fight.”
During Pacquiao’s split-decision over Marquez in the third bout of their trilogy this past November, it was alarming to see Ariza serving as a cut man at times in the corner when the very capable veteran Miguel Diaz, who has worked with as many world-class boxers as any coach, was also ringside.
According to Merchant, it’s a lack of communication that may have resulted in Ariza growing emboldened and taking on more responsibility.
“There’s got to be somebody, especially fight night, who is laying out who is in charge,” stated Merchant. “And I don’t know if Freddie is still busy with so many fighters and I don’t know how this guy suddenly became a boxing trainer. There seems to be some crossing of the lines of authority or somebody not taking authority.”
But at the end of the day, it’s up to Pacquiao to balance all of the drama going on as he steps into the ring for the 60th time as a professional. And who knows, just maybe the Filipino marvel has his own way of blocking everything out and keeping his eye on the prize.
“The fighter may feel ok. He’s a star; everybody is catering to him. He may now be fully aware of any differences. He’s not trying to create drama for him or problems for him in camp. I don’t know if he’s fully aware of what’s going on,” stated Merchant.