Freddie Roach said when he spoke to his mentor, the late Hall of Fame trainer Eddie Futch, about the possibility of opening his own gym, Futch always quickly dismissed the idea. It was way too much trouble and something always seemed to come up, Futch would say.
But Roach liked the idea, particularly because it was a way to attract new talent.
"You never know when you're going to see the next Muhammad Ali or the next Mike Tyson walk through the door, and if you're the guy running the place, you get first crack at the fighters who come in," Roach said.
As has been well documented, Manny Pacquiao walked through the doors of Roach's Wild Card Gym only a short while after it opened. Pacquiao was on vacation and asked around about a place he could hit the mitts to get a workout in.
Roach got in the ring and held the mitts for Pacquiao and after one round, he knew that a special fighter had just walked through the door. Pacquiao felt an immediate connection with Roach, and didn't take long to ask Roach if he'd train him.
Roach quickly agreed, but was surprised by what Pacquiao did before they ever really got rolling. Pacquiao was 31-2 with 23 knockouts and was a former flyweight champion.
He handed Roach three tapes of himself. Two of them were of his losses, a third-round knockout at the hands of Rusty Torrecampo in 1996 and a third-round stoppage by Medgoen Singsurat in 1999. The other was an uneven performance in a victory over Nedal "Skinny" Hussein in 2000.
Roach began watching the footage and was stunned.
"It was very strange," Roach said, laughing, after a recent training session in preparation for Pacquiao's May 2 bout in Las Vegas against Floyd Mayweather Jr. "Guys usually want to show you their best ones first. Sometimes, they never let you see the losses. I have a lot of tape of me, but I never let anyone see the one where I got knocked out."
Roach was puzzled by why Pacquiao would have given him those losses, and so when he saw Pacquiao again, he quickly confronted him about it.
Pacquiao, though, had a reason.
"I said, 'Manny, why the hell would you show me these fights where you got knocked out?' " Roach said. "And he said, 'You know, Freddie. Losing is a part of life and I lost.' He said, 'You'll see me at my best and I wanted you to see me at my worst.' "
Roach said Pacquiao didn't show much technique in the Hussein fight, which he won by 10th-round stoppage. He was getting hit flushed because of the way he recklessly attacked, and was dropped by Hussein in the fourth round of that bout.
He was far from the polished, poised fighter he'd be just a year later while working with Roach.
But when Roach asked Pacquiao why he so quickly threw caution to the wind against Hussein and was winging wide, wild punches from every angle, he could only laugh at Pacquiao's response.
"He told me his uncle had a bet on the under, and was trying to help his uncle win the bet by getting the fight over quick," Roach said.
Bookmakers often pick a point in the fight and then bettors can guess whether it will go longer (over) or shorter (under) that distance.
Pacquiao's loss to Singsurat came after he missed weight the day before and lost the title on the scale. He had clearly outgrown the flyweight division and Roach said it was obvious to him looking at Pacquiao in that bout that he had no business trying to make 112 pounds. He was stopped by a body shot and said he has never missed doing his sit-up routine since then as a result of that.
Pacquiao beamed when he was asked about giving Roach the tapes of his less-than-flattering fights. He did, however, have a good explanation.
"It was a part of my life and I wanted him to know everything about me [if we were going to work together]," Pacquiao said.
That kind of thinking is what separates the great ones from the rest of the field. They're always looking to find a way to improve and are willing to do whatever it takes to make it to the top.