No denying Freddie Roach is the very best
Bum Phillips, the longtime former Houston Oilers coach and the father of Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, once in an interview was trying to express why he thought then-Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula was so great.
“He can take his’un and beat your’un and he can take your’un and beat his’un,” Phillips said in his own inimitable style.
Phillips’ logic came to mind when thinking about Freddie Roach, the Yahoo! Sports 2009 Trainer of the Year.
Roach has become so good these days that if he’s involved in a fight, the best way to pick a winner is to see which side he’s on.
Roach is clearly the best trainer in boxing today. That goes without question. But Roach at least has to be considered in the conversation with his mentor, the late great Eddie Futch, as the finest trainer ever.
Futch was so good that elite fighters were begging him to train them even when he was in his 80s.
“Look at the fighters who spent any amount of time with him and look at how much better they became and how much they accomplished,” Roach said of Futch, who did some of his finest work in his late 70s and early 80s harnessing Riddick Bowe’s talents and leading him to the undisputed heavyweight championship.
A trainer has four main responsibilities: He must get his fighters into shape, he must improve their technique, he must be able to motivate them and he must be able to create a game plan and adjust as necessary.
Manny Pacquiao, the pound-for-pound king of boxing who will meet Floyd Mayweather Jr. on March 13, likely at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, is Roach’s greatest work.
Pacquiao was a fast, fit athlete when he met Roach in 2001, but he was a one-handed fighter with Grade C technique and little defense. Roach’s work with Pacquiao is a blueprint for other trainers. He took the skills Pacquiao had and made him better through relentless work in the gym.
He realized Pacquiao couldn’t win at the elite level without having a right hand that was at least close to as good as his left. When Pacquiao lost to Erik Morales in 2005 in the first of what would turn out to be their three fights, Roach knew the lack of a quality right was going to keep Pacquiao from becoming a superstar.
Roach spent hours with Pacquiao in the gym, showing him the footwork, instructing him on how to shift his weight to put the maximum power behind his hook.
When Pacquiao met Morales for the third and final time, 20 months after their first meeting, Morales wisely attempted to step to his left, out of range of Pacquiao’s left.
This time, however, he was met with a lethal series of right hands. Roach’s countless hours of drilling had made Pacquiao a two-handed fighter and gave him the final tool he needed to be considered among the world’s elite.
Pacquiao stopped Morales in the third round that night, forcing the proud Mexican to quit, largely on the strength of his right.
Roach says that’s a defining moment in Pacquiao’s career, but defers any credit.
“I recognized he needed to add a right hand,” Roach said. “But anybody who has walked into a gym more than once would have been able to tell him that. It was up to Manny. Manny’s such a great athlete and he’s so dedicated, he listened to what I said and he went out and made the change on his own. That’s a Manny Pacquiao thing, not a me thing.”
Pacquiao, though, doesn’t refer to Roach as his “Master” for no reason. He’s well aware of Roach’s impact upon his career.
But Roach’s impact doesn’t just begin and end with Pacquiao. Like Futch, who trained Roach during his boxing career, Roach has trained a wide variety of fighters with different styles and abilities.
The vast majority of them made the most improvement and fought better when they worked with Roach than they did with anyone else.
One of the problems with boxing today is that there are not a large number of quality trainers who can teach the game and develop prospects.
Roach is among the few who can help a veteran world champion take the final steps toward greatness while also helping to develop a prospect into a championship contender.
He’s become the Don Shula of modern-day boxing. He’ll take his’un and beat your’un and he could take your’un and beat his’un.
He’s that great. He’s been named Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America three times (2003, 2006 and 2008) and is a cinch to win it again in 2009. The BWAA refers to its award as the Futch-Condon Award.
It might be time to rename it the Futch-Roach Award.
Roach’s evolution as the greatest trainer of his time is yet another example of Futch’s brilliance. He not only developed great fighters, but he also produced great trainers.
When Roach develops assistants, who accomplish as much or more than he has, he then might be regarded in the same conversation with Futch.
Clearly, though, he’s lapped the field of active trainers today.
He’s the best and there’s no one else close.