By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Don’t mourn too much for Freddie Roach.
Not because a guy battling the issues he’s battling doesn’t deserve your concern. But simply because there’s still no place that the former fighter and veteran trainer – who just celebrated birthday No. 54 last month – would rather be than where he is every single day.
The boxing ring. Or, as he labels it, his “comfort zone.”
“I’m doing great. I’m still working as hard as I can and with no problems,” he said. “I still do what I do every day and it doesn’t slow me down at all. As long as I’m in the boxing ring. I have no problems.”
The “it” Roach refers to, of course, is Parkinson’s disease, a malady he’s been openly battling for years while maintaining a blistering workout pace with an array of fighters at his Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles – a labor, incidentally, that’s earned him nods as trainer of the year from the Boxing Writers Association of America in 2003, 2006, 2008-10 and 2013.
That’s all followed a high-profile fight career of his own, which stretched from 1978 to 1986, included 40 wins in 53 bouts and made him an ESPN staple who ultimately earned spotlight matches opposite future world champions Greg Haugen (TKO by 7) and Hector Camacho (L UD 10).
He’s been able to manage the disease medically thus far with drugs and injections, and he’s long said that he believes an active lifestyle has helped him maintain levels of coordination that others who’ve also been afflicted were far quicker to lose.
In fact, we spoke a day after a particularly prodigious day in the gym, during which he’d worked 12 rounds on the mitts with Manny Pacquiao in preparation for Timothy Bradley, eight rounds with Miguel Cotto while getting ready for Sergio Martinez, and six rounds apiece with two other world-class Wild Card clients: Antonio DeMarco, a former WBC champion at 135 pounds; and Denis Lebedev, an ex-WBA champion at cruiserweight.
As it turned out, though, Roach will remember the session for reasons other than extreme workload.
“Miguel and I were working and we both went the same way one time and I busted my nose, but we did six more rounds after that,” he said. “My girlfriend is a little mad at me because my nose is a little more crooked, but that’s part of the deal. I work very close on the drill as possible. Sometimes the punches hit me, sometimes I get head-butted. I really just try to become the opponent, so I was moving along with Cotto because Martinez is very fast and quite a mover.”
Roach overlaps gym time with Pacquiao and Cotto only slightly, usually finishing up with the former while the latter is warming up in preparation for a workout. The two fighters engaged in a memorable fight in 2009 – when Pacquiao stopped Cotto in the final round to win the welterweight title belt that he eventually gave up to Bradley in 2012 – but they are now good friends.
The friendship, in fact, is why both the fighters and Roach have said a rematch isn’t a possibility.
“It’s hard to get Miguel in the ring sometimes when Manny’s working, but I tell him ‘Use the ring, Manny can jump over into the corner,’” Roach said. “They’re really respectful of each other, and so forth, but sometimes I’ve got to say, ‘Come on, you guys, we’re all on the same team and we’re all doing the same things. Just work together,’ and it works out very well.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
I like looking at a list of all the fighters in a given weight class top to bottom – regardless of who holds what belts. So from here forward, along with the slot given contenders by the sanctioning bodies, the positioning provided by the British-based Independent World Boxing Rankings will also be included.
IBO junior welterweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Khabib Allakhverdiev (champion/No. 10 IWBR) vs. Jessie Vargas (No. 2 contender/No. 6 IWBR)
Allakhverdiev (19-0, 9 KO): Third title defense; Fighting in fifth U.S. state (Fla., Pa., N.J. and N.Y.)
Vargas (23-0, 9 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled for 12 rounds
Fitzbitz says: “I like Allakhverdiev a lot, but I was disappointed enough in his last fight – against M’baye – to make me think that a talented young kid can simply outwork him.” Vargas by decision
Vacant IBO junior middleweight title – Brovari, Ukraine
Zaurbek Baysangurov (No. 4 contender/No. 11 IWBR) vs. Guido Pitto (No. 36 contender/No. 40 IWBR)
Baysangurov (28-1, 20 KO): Fourth title fight (3-0); Held IBO and WBO titles at 154 (2010-12)
Pitto (18-2, 7 KO): First title fight; Third fight scheduled for 12 rounds (1-1)
Fitzbitz says: “The 26-year-old challenger will get himself a vacation to Ukraine and a night or two in a nice hotel, but the prospects of him leaving with the belt are a bit more iffy.” Baysangurov in 8
WBO welterweight title – Las Vegas, Nev.
Timothy Bradley (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Manny Pacquiao (No. 1 contender/No. 3 IWBR)
Bradley (31-0, 12 KO): Third title defense; Defeated Pacquiao (SD 12) in June 2012
Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KO): Nineteenth title fight (14-2-2); Held titles in seven weight classes
Fitzbitz says: “Like everyone else, I thought Pacquiao won the first one. But I think Bradley’s gotten better in the intervening two years and has the right tools to keep his belt here.” Bradley by decision
Last week's picks: 2-0
2014 picks record: 20-4 (83.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 567-198 (74.1 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder - no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.