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Articles of 2005

Boxing Trainer Freddie Roach



Freddie Roach is a great trainer. His base of operations is the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. He is 45 years old and was born in Brockton, Mass. in 1960. His father was a tree surgeon. His mother was a housewife. They lived in Dedham. There were many children.

“There’s seven kids in my family, so we fought a lot, against each other or anybody else in the projects,” Roach told me. “So growing up I was more physical than most. My dad was an ex-pro fighter and he wanted all his kids to be fighters also. My first fight I think I was six. My first tournament I was eight and I won the Junior Olympic 50-pound division. I had 50 amateur fights. I lost nine.”

Freddie Roach turned pro in 1978.

“My first four pro fights were under my dad, who was my trainer as a kid. But then we knew to get to the big league we moved west and I hooked up with Eddie Futch in Las Vegas. After Eddie saw me, he liked my work ethic, and he started training me at Johnny Tocco’s Ringside Gym. That was in 1978.”

Freddie Roach was fighting at 122, super bantamweight, at the time. “Probably that was my best division,” he said. “I think I was 27-1 there and I was [ranked number] seven in the world. I had a title shot to fight a guy in Argentina, but I broke my hand in the fight against Mario Chavez. I broke it in the second round, but I won a ten round decision. But I messed my hand up pretty good. I had surgery and so forth on that, and it really never came back, it was never the same.”

But he continued to fight?

“For a long time,” replied Roach. “The thing is, after the broken hand I get back down to 122 and I get knocked out by Lenny Valdez, a good puncher out of Mexico. I just couldn’t make that weight anymore, so I skipped 126 and went right to 130. I think a lot of it had to do with my living habits had changed and so forth. It was easy to blame that on my hand back then of course, but as a grownup now I know. I started going out, maybe having a few drinks, and before then I would never do that. But your lifestyle changes sometimes – especially living in Las Vegas.”

I wondered if Roach adapted his style to compensate for the hand.

“The thing was, I was a good boxer as a kid, not much of a puncher, and then being with Eddie, around my 10th, 11th, 12th pro fight, I started really setting down and I started hitting guys with one shot and knocking them out. And after I broke the hand, I just never had the confidence again. Every time I landed the right hand, it would blow up on me and then I had to resort to shooting it up before fights with xylocaine and cortisone, and almost every fight after that I just had a hand problem and couldn’t punch any more. I had a lotta good fights after that, but they were tough fights to do, a lotta hard fights, ‘cause I couldn’t knock the guy out pretty much. But I fought Camacho and Bobby Chacon and Tommy Cordova – tough guys – and I did the best I could, but I wasn’t as good as I once was.”

Freddie Roach laughed. “It’s funny,” he said. “I have a headline. It says, ‘Old Man Roach Makes Comeback.’ I was 24 … But I had a lotta fights, and then I retired when I was 27.”

For many ex-fighters, boxing is the only thing they know. Was Roach determined to stay in boxing after he hung up his gloves?

“I wanted nothing to do with it. I put kinda everything of my life into it, and I didn’t get anything out of it. I was broke when I retired. My biggest payday was $7000. I didn’t make any money and stuff like that. So I got a job as a telemarketer,” the boxing trainer said. “And then drinking a little too much and, just, stupid things.”

Telemarketing’s loss would become boxing’s gain, but no one knew it at the time.

“And then Virgil Hill – his first year pro was my last year pro – we were both trained by Eddie – ‘cause Eddie was so busy with Michael Spinks and Larry Holmes and those guys, Virgil asked me if I could help out in the camp. So I started making the gym my priority in life. Eddie needed as assistant and we just kinda grew into that. We spoke the same language, because I was trained by him for nine years, and he knew I was dependable, so it all worked out well.”

I asked Roach about his approach to training a fighter.

“You never want to change somebody,” he said. “People used to ask me, how can you train Virgil Hill when he’s the exact opposite of the way I fought? And I said, ‘I don’t want Virgil to be me. I want Virgil to be Virgil.’ Because when a guy gets out there after the first bell rings he’s always going to revert to what he is naturally. I mean, once he gets hit, if he’s a mover he’s going to move, if he’s a fighter he’s going to set down and fight you.

“Eddie told me this a long time ago: you never want to change a guy. You want to take their strengths and refine them, and you want to take their weaknesses and make them better also. Every fighter needs to be treated as an individual. I remember when I had Marlon Starling and Virgil Hill in the same camp. But they were so different, Virgil needed this, Marlon needed that, but they were just individuals, and unique individuals, as champions are, so you’ve got to really adapt to them a little bit and get inside their heads to get them to believe in you. So he’ll trust you. So he’ll listen to you between rounds.”

In addition to Starling and Hill, Roach has seconded “Stevie Collins, Frankie Liles, both middleweight champions, Johnny Tapia, James Toney, Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer. I got Pacquiao and Angel Vasquez and Brian Villoria. I think we now stand at like 17 world champions the last time I tried to count them all,” Roach said. “I do believe that champions are born and not made. I can guide them and point them in the right direction, but they’re the ones that have to perform. They have to pull it off. So I don’t like to take too much credit.”

From contender to telemarketer to trainer is a journey few men make. Freddie Roach is one of the lucky ones.

“As a trainer I found something that I did better than boxing. Of course I would have liked to have been champion myself – every fighter does – but this keeps me from making comebacks. It keeps me close to the game, and it’s a lot more fun on this side, because I don’t get hit that much.”

But it must still be a rush when one of his fighters goes all the way and wins a title.

“Definitely,” Roach said, while lowering his voice. “You know, the thing is, I think losing sucks … but I never dreamt that this would ever happen to me. I never – after being in boxing for such a long time and fighting a lotta fights – I never thought I would be a trainer at all.”

To be a trainer in the mold of Eddie Futch is no small feat.

“It’s the program,” Roach said. “A lot of Eddie has rubbed off on me. And thanks to Eddie I have some success with my fighters. I just agree with his style so much. I know it so well ‘cause I fought for him so long. I don’t really believe in the yelling and screaming at fighters. I believe if the fighter’s out there thinking, let him fight his fight. You trained him and prepared him for it, so let him think for himself. I remember being in fights where a cornerman would be screaming at me and I’m thinking about something else, trying to set something up. So my corner is very quiet and very direct. I don’t say a lot in the corner, but just one or two important issues that you need to change or adjust to, and then go from there. You can’t write a book in one minute, but some guys try to.”

I asked Freddie Roach, who seconded James Toney during the fight with John Ruiz, what he thought about the steroids scandal.

“It was very disappointing to me,” he said, “because this guy won the heavyweight championship of the world, and it gets taken away from him … But the thing is, after the surgeries and so forth, he says they gave him some steroids to heal. I don’t know that much about steroids. All my fighters know that I’m really against it. Because if you can’t do it on your own, I don’t think you should do it at all. But this is part of boxing and James is going to have to rebuild himself and if he’s taking drugs he’s going to have to get clean, because they’re going to test every time now. But I think James can make a comeback and beat Klitschko and become the best heavyweight in the world.”

After the ups, the downs, and the everythings in-between, Roach is still a fight game partisan.

“It’s opened a lotta doors for me. My friends who still live in the projects in Dedham, Massachusetts, which is where I’m from, they say I’m lucky I made it out. And I tell them, ‘It’s just a decision. You can make it too.’ If you want to make something for yourself in life, especially in the country we live in, there’s opportunity out there. If you work hard good things happen. I mean that’s what it’s all about. I get to the gym at nine o’clock and I come home at eight o’clock at night, and people say, ‘How can you spend so much time in the gym?’” Freddie Roach paused. “But it’s what I do,” he said. “Box is what I do.”

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More



A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights




Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06



Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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