LAS VEGAS – Much of what he has done in boxing, Freddie Roach owes to Eddie Futch. Roach, regarded as the sport's best active trainer, learned at the side of Futch, the man most consider the greatest trainer of all time.
Ask Roach about Futch's impact on his career and life and then sit back and listen to him gush. But Roach didn't heed one piece of Futch's advice, and because of it, the course of boxing history changed.
When Roach was pondering the construction of his own gym, he sought Futch's counsel. Futch, who spent more than 60 years in boxing, told his protégé to pass.
Futch told him it was a money-losing proposition that would give him nothing but headaches. Train your fighters, Futch urged Roach, at somebody else's place.
But Roach ignored Futch's advice and went with his gut, believing a prodigy would arrive one day. In 1992, he poured pretty much all the money he had saved, about $10,000, into the construction of the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Calif.
When he was finished, Roach had only enough money left to print 50 fliers to distribute.
"That was my entire advertising budget," Roach said, chuckling. "If I didn't get some memberships right away, I wasn't going to last too long. The rent was due every month and they weren't going to wait [to be paid] to see if I got any clients."
The gym changed his life dramatically. Roach is perhaps the least materialistic person in California, but the gym has helped him become a wealthy man. "It's really a lot different, but I've been so fortunate," Roach said.
He'll be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday in Canastota, N.Y. To get there, he paid $20,000 to charter a private plane, more than twice the largest purse he made in 53 fights during an eight-year career.
That plane will carry him from Las Vegas, where on Saturday he'll work Manny Pacquiao's corner at the MGM Grand Garden when Pacquiao defends the World Boxing Organization welterweight bout against unbeaten Timothy Bradley Jr., to Canastota, where he'll be inducted in front of a crowd that will include his mother, Barbara.
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His greatest fortune came in early 2001, when Pacquiao, then a largely unknown Filipino fighter looking for a place to train while on vacation in the U.S., sauntered through his doors.
They made an immediate connection and both became among the greatest at their professions while working with each other.
"I went ahead and did the gym because I said to myself, 'You never know when the next Muhammad Ali is going to walk through the door,' " Roach said. "And then, sure enough, in came Manny Pacquiao."
Roach has been criticized for only taking on veteran fighters who knew the game. Joel Diaz, who trains Bradley, has made the point repeatedly that he has trained Bradley from the beginning while Pacquiao had 34 fights before hooking up with Roach.
Pacquiao was 32-2 when he began to train with Roach in 2001 and had held the World Boxing Council flyweight title.
He won the International Boxing Federation super bantamweight title in his first fight with Roach and has gone on to become a superstar. He's 22-1-2 in his 25 fights with Roach and has won world championships at 122, 126, 130, 135, 140, 147 and 154 pounds.
Roach's calm demeanor not only during training but in the corner during fights is a big part of his success.
"Freddie Roach is a good trainer," Pacquiao said. "He's a nice guy, very calm. We're very [compatible]. This man, he could get along with anybody. He's the best trainer."
Pacquiao isn't Roach's only notable fighter. He took former U.S. Olympian Virgil Hill from the start of his career to a 31-0 record, parting ways only after Hill lost to Thomas Hearns in his 32nd fight.
He did the same with flyweight champion Brian Viloria and had long, productive stints with the late Johnny Tapia and James Toney, among many others.
Roach, though, doesn't even try to pretend that any of that matters in the long run. He'll be tied to Pacquiao forever and he wouldn't be a Hall of Famer had they never met.
"Manny Pacquiao is the reason I'm going to the Hall of Fame," he said. "Manny Pacquiao is the reason for a lot of things and the day he walked into the gym was the best day of my life."
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