By Lyle Fitzsimmons
There are a few more wrinkles and grey hairs, perhaps, but some things don’t change.
When Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao are preparing for a fight, the trainer rarely misses an opportunity to accentuate his longtime colleague’s many positives.
Boxing’s prolific Batman and Robin will join forces again on Jan. 19 in Las Vegas, where the perpetually villainous Adrien Broner will try to wrest away Pacquiao’s dubious claim at championship supremacy and simultaneously recast himself as a relevant force in the sport’s talent-sopped welterweight division.
The dynamic duo appeared kaput after Roach was not part of the training team for Pacquiao’s defeat of shopworn Lucas Matthysse last summer, but the relationship was rekindled after the Filipino announced that he’d be fighting Broner in defense of the second-rate WBA bauble he lifted from Matthysse.
Pacquiao, who turned 40 in December, had been with Roach for 34 fights across 16 years.
But the brief absence, it seems, has only made Roach’s heart grow fonder.
“He’s 100 percent ready for this fight. He’s really fresh. He looks really good,” he told Boxing Scene. “I’ve always told Manny, ‘When you start slowing down and I ask you to quit, you will quit.’ We have an agreement. He’s not showing any signs of slowing down, that’s for sure. His work ethic is really great.”
Just two months short of his own 59th birthday, Roach sat down for a one-on-one post-workout chat that included insight on the preparations for Broner, how the fight might have looked differently – or not – had it occurred when Broner was a title-holder at 147, and what matchups Team Pacquiao will be looking for assuming all goes well at the MGM Grand.
Boxing Scene: What exactly is your role in camp this time around? Head trainer, adviser, something else?
Freddie Roach: (Manny) wanted me to do less mitts and he wanted Buboy (Fernandez) to get more mitt work and so forth. Buboy is a little heavy and (Manny) picked me because he knew he wanted to work. Twelve rounds on the mitts is difficult for me even. He even asked me, “How old are you now?” and I said, “Well, I’m getting too old to go 12 rounds.”
But I made it through it. He knocked the wind out of me about two or three times. But that’s common when we’re on mitts together and I’m wearing my chest protector. It was really good. I saw a lot of the old Manny there and I was very happy with what I saw. I told him, “Attack mode, I want you to stay on me, don’t let me of the hook.” Once he starts attacking Broner, Broner will never go after him. He’s not that type of fighter. He wants to be the counterpuncher. So I urged him, “Stay with me, stay with me, keep punching,” and he let the combinations fly. He was really good.
Boxing Scene: Will this fight look different now than it would have five years ago?
Roach: I knew Broner. I saw him in his fourth pro fight. I had a fight in his hometown of Cincinnati. He actually was a real nice person, nice guy, “Hi, Mr. Roach, how are you? Nice to meet you.” He was a lot different than he is now. He was a promising prospect at one time. But I don’t think he’s at this level. I don’t think he’s at Manny Pacquiao’s level right now. Manny’s work ethic is really, really great and he hasn’t lost a step yet. He showed that in his last fight and I think he’s gonna carry it over and show it in this fight.
Boxing Scene: Would that have been the same scenario no matter when it occurred?
Roach: I think it will be pretty much a similar fight because Manny still has the advantages whatever way you look at it. He’s just too much a fighter. He’s too offensive. I told him, “To win this fight you have to let your hands go.” And he knows that.
Boxing Scene: Did Broner waste potential, or is this the level he’d have reached regardless?
Roach: I kinda thought he had the potential to go to a higher level. But once the Mayweather stuff started and he was trying to emulate him, trying to be him, actually, I think that ruined his career. I really do. Then he started getting in trouble. At one moment, when I saw him when he was younger, he was a very good prospect. But I don’t think he’s that anymore.
He’s too small for this weight. He’s one of the few opponents Manny’s going to have a reach advantage against. I think 30, 35 would be a great weight for Broner. He blows up between fights and he struggles to get down to weight. Those are the mistakes people make when they emulate somebody and they’re trying to be someone else. In this sport you’ve just got to be yourself, let’s face it.
Boxing Scene: What can he do that you will have to pay attention to?
Roach: He does have a good counter right hand. He has power with it and he throws it off the back foot and he leans back a little bit and he’ll suck you in a little bit and he’ll drop that right hand. That’s the biggest issue that we have to be careful with. Not being suckered into that spot. Manny knows exactly what to do with that move. We practiced it over and over again. Every day there’s always a reminder of that.
Boxing Scene: If it goes well, how will it look?
Roach: Manny had a beautiful knockout in his last fight. First time in six years. It was a long time coming. He had it in his brain that he didn’t want to hurt anybody, all he had to do was beat them. And I said the close fight he lost with the Australian guy was because he didn’t take advantage of his knockout power. He does have knockout power and we will show it in this fight I feel. It feels like it’s carrying over from the last fight into this one. He won’t look for one, but if it comes he will take it.
Boxing Scene: Ideally, then, what comes next?
Roach: After seeing Floyd beat up that little kid I’d like to teach him a lesson. That fight I would like a lot, the Floyd fight, because I was disappointed in the first one. It wasn’t handled correctly. But there are a lot of good guys out there at 47. Errol Spence, Crawford. There are a lot of good names, there are a lot of good opponents for us out there. I would like Floyd next, but that might be a little bit hard to get to the table because his negotiation team isn’t that great.
Boxing Scene: Is it realistic, or just something you’re hoping for?
Roach: I believe it’s realistic. I do. A lot of people thought Manny won that fight. A lot of people thought Floyd (had advantages), but they wouldn’t let Manny do anything with his shoulder. Why? I don’t know. But the thing is I would like to get that fight one more time. Manny did the best he could for four rounds, but then the shoulder blew out and it was over. I was very disappointed in that fight and I would love to get that one back one more time.
Boxing Scene: But if not, there’s no hesitation with anyone else at 147? Spence, Crawford, Thurman?
Roach: Those are all the best guys out there. If he’s gonna continue in boxing, I want him to fight the best guys he can. We’re not looking for any stiffs or any easy fights or anything like that. We will fight anybody out there. If Floyd doesn’t come, Errol Spence, all of them. Line them up.
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This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
IBF super middleweight title – Los Angeles, California
Jose Uzcategui (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Caleb Plant (No. 2 IBF/No. 25 IWBR)
Uzcategui (28-2, 23 KO): First title defense; Sixth fight in the United States (3-2, 2 KO)
Plant (17-0, 10 KO): First title fight; Three KO/TKO wins in three California fights (10 total rounds)
Fitzbitz says: The champ can fight, but he beat Dirrell because of what Andre wasn’t anymore – not because of what he was. Plant is inexperienced, but may have the right skills here. Plant by decision
Last week's picks: None
2018 picks record: 93-39 (70.4 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,013-343 (74.7 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.