If Freddie Roach isn’t the greatest boxing trainer who ever lived, he’s at least in the conversation. He’s repeatedly been able to turn poor fighters into good ones, good ones into great ones and great ones into icons.
He’s guided numerous fighters to world titles and resurrected the careers of dozens of others who’d hit a rough stretch.
Roach’s success, though, comes with a price for some of his fighters: He’s more in demand and it’s not always possible for him to spend the kind of time with a fighter that a specific fighter might demand.
Such was the case with Jose Ramirez, who signed with Roach after competing for the U.S. at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and reeled off 22 consecutive wins, along with 16 knockouts, that culminated in a WBC super lightweight championship the last time out.
But on Saturday, when Ramirez makes the first defense of his title in an ESPN-televised bout in Fresno, Calif., against Danny O’Connor, he’ll have an ex-Trainer of the Year in his corner, though it won’t be Roach.
Ramirez hired Robert Garcia, himself one of boxing’s elite trainers, after deciding to part ways with Roach following his victory over Amir Imam that landed him the WBC belt.
He felt he needed more personal time and attention than Roach could deliver and so he made the switch to Garcia. It wasn’t just a shot-in-the-dark move, either. Coming up through the amateurs, Ramirez fought a number of Garcia’s boxers and was impressed with how well-prepared they routinely were and how fundamentally sound they were.
And so far, things have gone exactly as he expected.
“The chemistry between me and Robert has been very, very smooth and we connected right away,” Ramirez said. “A good trainer is able to add to your style and adapt to you and that’s what he’s done.”
Garcia has 30 professional fighters of his own he trains, including his brother, Mikey Garcia. Ramirez has assimilated quickly, Garcia said, but there haven’t been dramatic changes yet.
Garcia said the plan is to take things slowly and that he expects more definitive changes in Ramirez’s approach down the road.
“I knew about Jose for a long time, and I’ve known he was a good fighter just watching him on TV and whatnot, but what I didn’t know until I started to work with him is how dedicated he is to being great and what a hard worker he is,” Garcia said. “He trains incredibly hard. You can see why he’s a champion, because he works harder than just about anyone else. He’s a guy who can finish the 12th round stronger than he did the first.
“I’ve been happy with that, but I told him, we weren’t going to make a lot of dramatic changes right away. You’ll see a bigger difference the next time. For this fight, we’re just making a few little adjustments and adding a bit to the way he fights.”
Had things gone according to the way the WBC had planned, Ramirez would be in a unification bout with hard-hitting interim champion Regis Prograis this week. Top Rank, Ramirez’s promoter, never was interested in that bout as Ramirez’s first defense.
Ramirez is one of boxing’s biggest draws and routinely sells out in Fresno. Rather than fight Prograis in a neutral setting, Top Rank preferred to have Ramirez draw a big crowd in Fresno for his first defense.
As a result, Prograis will defend his interim belt next week in what should be a lead-in to Manny Pacquiao’s bout with Lucas Matthysse and then will compete in Season 2 of the World Boxing Super Series.
It’s unlikely that Ramirez will face Prograis in the next 18 months given that.
But Ramirez insisted he’s never chosen his opponents.
“I would fight anyone, and anyone who has watched me knows that,” Ramirez said. “My job is to fight, not to pick opponents. I’m disappointed that there are some fans who think it was me who made that decision. I want to fight the best, obviously. I want to give the people a show and give them the fights they want. I would have loved to have fought him, but I never said no to that fight. I hope I can make a statement on Saturday and then move on to bigger and better things.”
If he does go on to bigger and better things, the unusual move of jettisoning a highly successful trainer will be a big part of it. Roach did wonders for Ramirez, but Ramirez believes the future with Garcia will be just as successful.
“We have a good chemistry and I think it’s going to develop as we work together,” Ramirez said of Garcia. “I feel comfortable with Robert and the whole team and I think this is going to be the start of a good relationship.”
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