Ever wondered what it takes to train like Manny Pacquiao? The champion boxer’s coach of 15 years, Freddie Roach, is giving us the inside scoop and sharing his thoughts on the May 2 fight.
From Peter Quillin to Miguel Cotto, lifelong boxer and top-ranked coach Freddie Roach has worked with some of the sport’s biggest talents since entering the realm of professional training in 1997. Perhaps his most well-known student, though, is world champion Manny Pacquiao, whom he has trained inside Hollywood’s Wild Card Boxing Club since 2001. In anticipation of Pacquiao’s May 2 bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, we talked to Roach to get his takes on Pacquiao’s regimen and the fight’s place in boxing history.
You first started working with Pacquiao in 2001. In what major ways do you think he has evolved—physically and mentally—since then?
FREDDIE ROACH: He was a really good puncher when I first met him. He used to knock people out with his steam power, but to fight the higher-quality opponents—the heavier opponents—we had to teach him how to box a little bit more. I remember being criticized by people for taking his fire away, but to beat those bigger guys he had to become a smarter boxer and a better boxer. We did a lot of drills on footwork and keeping his hands up—not just looking for the home run. It’s been 15 years now and we still learn things and make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, but we’re always trying to improve.
Tell us a bit about Pacquiao’s training regimen. Does it vary by day?
FR: When he walks in the gym, I look at him and then I decide what kind of day we’re going to have. I can tell by the way he walks into the gym whether he’s in a good mood or a bad mood. Like one time last week, he walked into the gym and was in a good mood—he was hungry and really wanted to box, so we warmed up and did 16 rounds. That’s a really high number, and the next day he was a little bit sore. We probably made a bit of a mistake doing those 16 rounds—we’ll stop at 12 next time. But he spends about four hours a day in the gym and then he does an hour of cardio in the hills on non-sparring days and only 35 minutes on flat land on sparring days.
Are there any specific areas that you’re focusing on right now?
FR: I’m focusing a lot more on footwork and I think he can outbox [Mayweather] because he has faster feet. The footwork is the key to this fight, I feel. We don’t have to work on it a lot but angles are very important in this kind of fight.
Do you and Pacquiao spend a lot of time together when you’re not training?
FR: No. I never see Manny outside of the gym. We’ve had dinner a couple of times and I’ve been to his birthday parties but I do believe in separation. I believe that us being too close would affect our work ethic and I don’t socialize too closely with any of my fighters at all. Sometimes they ask why, and I really don’t tell them. I don’t want them to get upset over it or anything like that—“I’m busy doing other things” is what I tell them. I want to keep things professional and maintain that respect between us.
You’ve mentioned before that although Pacquiao doesn’t dislike a lot of people, you do think he dislikes Mayweather. Why do you think that is?
FR: Well, there aren’t too many people that Manny would make fun of or joke to me about. But when we’re in the gym sometimes, he’ll become Floyd and do his shoulder roll, and when I hit him with the counter-shot that I taught him, he’ll say, “It works every time.” For Manny to make fun of someone is very unusual and that’s why I think that he really doesn’t like [Mayweather]. Manny is a very good person—he’s a congressman and actually very against violence.
As Pacquiao’s trainer, a huge part of your role seems to be acting as a sort of mouthpiece for him and creating a narrative aspect of this fight for the press. Do you enjoy that part of your job?
FR: I think I’ve just learned how to sell a fight along the way. Manny is a very quiet person and sometimes I say things on his behalf and sometimes he tells me to be good. I try to be as good as possible but sometimes I have to throw something in there. He’ll get mad at me sometimes but I’m just selling the fight and trying to get under the skin of the opponents a little bit. It’s all part of my job.
Are you glad the fight is being held in Vegas or would you have preferred another location?
FR: Vegas is a great place for big fights. I lived there for 20 years and still have a house there. But I think the stadium is too small. Maybe we should’ve waited for the bigger one to be built. Dallas could’ve been a good venue—I think we would’ve sold out the 100,000 seats [at the AT&T Stadium]—but Vegas is still the place for big fights.
How much of an impact do you think this particular fight is going to have on the future of boxing?
FR: I think it’s sending a message to all of the promoters out there that boxing isn’t dead. We’re still the best sport in the world and I think the promoters need to communicate with each other more and not be such selfish babies.
If you had to compare this fight to a famous fight of the past, which one would you choose?
FR: Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The thing is, I’m a huge Frazier fan, and Ali was always the favorite, but it was a great, great trilogy. Frazier did knock him down something like 14 times to win the first fight and it was maybe one of the most exciting things in my life in boxing.
Anything else you’d like to add?
FR: I think that Manny is a really good person and a great role model—and I don’t think Floyd is a great role model at all. I think people want to see Manny win this fight, and I thank all of those fans for their support.
PHOTOGRAPHY VIA CHRIS FARINA – TOP RANK