With Freddie Roach back in his corner, Manny Pacquiao displaying renewed boxing-first mentality

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS — A few hours after Manny Pacquiao lost a decision to Jeff Horn in Brisbane, Australia, that many believe he should have gotten, Freddie Roach approached him to have the talk that Roach had said for years he wouldn’t hesitate to have with his superstar client.

In the 18-year arc of their partnership, the relationship between Roach and Pacquiao has most often been described in familial terms. For years, Roach, the sage trainer was regarded as the father figure to Pacquiao, the one-time street urchin who became one of the most iconic and successful fighters in history under Roach’s stewardship. More recently, Roach himself said he’s been more like a big brother than a father to Pacquiao.

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Roach felt Pacquiao had deserved the decision against Horn in that July 1, 2017, fight, but he also knew it was harder than it should have been. A younger version of Pacquiao would have overwhelmed Horn with his speed and quickness. It’s what Pacquiao did to Antonio Margarito, a large, physical but plodding fighter who was no match for the blazing hand and foot speed Pacquiao brought to their 2010 bout.

Horn was much the same in that regard, strong and physical but not very quick. Pacquiao had Horn hurt in the ninth, but couldn’t finish the job.

In a July 3, 2017, interview with Yahoo Sports, Roach said he’d told Pacquiao to retire, and pointed to his failure to finish Horn in the 10th round as one of the reasons.

“I told Manny, ‘If you give me another one of those, this fight is over,’ ” Roach said in 2017. “I said, ‘If you give me one more round like that, you’ll finish him,’ but he just couldn’t do it. Getting older sucks, and it happens to everyone sooner or later.”

Boxer Manny Pacquiao trains with Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Boxing Club on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP)
Boxer Manny Pacquiao trains with Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Boxing Club on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP)

Roach is one of the rare trainers who is always honest with his fighters. He’s proven he will walk away if he thinks a boxer is endangering his health by continuing to compete. He’s told countless boxers the time had come to hang up the gloves; most often he was correct, but occasionally, he was not. He once told Bernard Hopkins to retire, and he was dramatically off-base on that one.

The affection that Roach had for Pacquiao — and vice versa — was very real. It was hard for Roach to see Pacquiao taking punches he hadn’t been hit by previously, and he felt that given the demands on Pacquiao not only in boxing but also as a member of the senate in the Philippines, he was endangering himself by continuing to compete.

He told Pacquiao it was time to walk away. For the last half of their tenure, Roach would say Pacquiao had promised to retire when he told him it was time. But when Roach delivered the message after the Horn fight, Pacquiao balked.

When Pacquiao returned to the ring a year later to challenge Lucas Matthysse for the WBA welterweight title in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Roach was not in the corner for the first time since April 28, 2001, when Pacquiao knocked out Foijan Prawet. Roach took over as lead trainer shortly after that, and they debuted together on June 23, 2001, with a sixth-round stoppage win over Lehlo Ledwaba.

Buboy Fernandez, Pacquiao’s long-time friend, was his lead trainer for the Matthysse bout. Roach was in the U.S., watching on television, and uncharacteristically declining interview requests.

When talk of the Matthysse fight began, Pacquiao adviser Michael Koncz spoke to Roach and told him he’d get back to him about Pacquiao’s plans. They never spoke again before that fight and Roach never heard from Pacquiao that he was out, even though as he began camp with Fernandez in the Philippines, it was apparent Roach had been fired.

Joe Ramos, the CEO of Pacquiao’s MP Promotions, didn’t characterize it as a firing, but the result was the same.

“When he’s ready to get back to training, Manny will tell me, he’ll tell Mike Koncz, different people, to call everyone and let them know [he’s ready to begin camp],” Ramos said. “That’s just how he is. He’s not one to really pick up the phone. He’ll tell somebody else to do it, but not to fire somebody. It’s one of those where, ‘Let’s try something different.’ ”

Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao clinched his 60th victory on July 15, 2018 with a seventh-round knockout of Lucas Matthysse, his first stoppage in nine years. (AP)
Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao clinched his 60th victory on July 15, 2018 with a seventh-round knockout of Lucas Matthysse, his first stoppage in nine years. (AP)

Pacquiao, 40, is back on Saturday and will try something different again when he defends the belt he won from Matthysse against Adrien Broner in the main event of a Showtime pay-per-view card at the MGM Grand Garden.

Roach will be back in Pacquiao’s corner, reuniting one of the most successful fighter-trainer combinations in boxing history.

Roach said he’s back as the lead trainer. Fernandez has been doing many of the actions of the lead trainer in camp and may be the one in the ring on Saturday delivering instructions. Ramos says Pacquiao is averse to titles and simply wants everyone to pitch in as a team to help.

Asked how things are different than they were in the past, Roach said they’re not.

“There is no difference,” Roach said. “I do mitts every day. I get Manny ready. I’m going over the strategy with Manny. Buboy’s been catching [mitts] a couple of days a week [because Manny] wanted him to get a little more action. But it’s no big deal. I’m still the team leader. I’m still the guy who makes the game plan, and nothing’s really different.”

Roach’s view of where Pacquiao is in his career has changed, though. In 2017, he thought retirement was the wisest course Pacquiao could take. Now, 18 months later, he’s reversed himself.

After a clear-the-air meeting at the Waldorf Astoria in Los Angeles late last year, they resolved their issues and Pacquiao told Roach he wants him to do what he’s always done.

“Freddie has been great and it has been good to get back to work with him and train at Wild Card,” said Pacquiao, never one to utter two words when one will do. “I’m happy; we’re all happy.”

Roach said it was like they’d never split when they were in the room together.

“I hadn’t spoken to Manny in two years and after 15 minutes of talking, it was like old times,” Roach said. “I know my job and he knows his, and so I told him I was ready to help him do whatever to get him ready for the fight and he told me it was great to have me back and he was ready to work as hard as he ever did. And you know what? He’s been true to his word. Every day, he’s given me a great effort and you’ll see that on fight night.”

Pacquiao is punching harder than he has in years, according to Roach. He attributes that to the fact that for the first time in a long while, Pacquiao has put boxing first and his political career in the background.

He is optimistic that not only will Pacquiao perform against Broner, but that he can continue to keep fighting at a high level, if he chooses to do so. But the focus in on getting past Broner first.

“He doesn’t throw nearly enough volume of punches and he’s not in the greatest shape,” Roach said of Broner. “Honestly, I see Manny stopping him, maybe in the ninth. But Manny is going to be looking for a KO and I think he’ll get it.”

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