Saturday, January 26, 2013

Wild Card Dealt a Bad Hand

Freddie Roach at the helm of his boxing gym in Los Angeles, California. 
For Freddie Roach and his Wild Card Boxing Club on Vine Street in Los Angeles, things are a little more subdued as 2013 gets underway.

The year 2012 was a tough one for Roach as his star pupils, Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., all suffered high-profile losses. There was a time that pairing up with Roach was considered a guaranteed ticket to winning and stardom - but that philosophy has now begun to be openly questioned.

For years, Roach was the most sought after trainer in the sport. Fighters practically tripped over themselves and each other to ascend the steps to the most hallowed training ground in the world to learn from the master. In the process, Roach became a celebrity, had his own reality show on HBO, landed a TV gig as a commentator and often times at press events the media crush that surrounded him pushed the very fighters he was training into the background. It looked like the party would never end.

But, like the old saying says: "What goes up, must come down."

Other trainers have begun to supplant Roach as the go-to guy in the sport. Robert Garcia and Virgil Hunter have begun to amass a stable of stars and champions and Roach's former proteges have openly criticized him after bolting from the Wild Card. A simmering feud with strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza, once Roach's right-hand man, proved a distraction as both openly derided one another in the press - while oddly continuing to work together.

The Khan and Chavez losses are understandable and Roach should not be blamed as both of those fighters were flawed long before they went to Freddie for help. Khan's chin is one of thin crystal whereas Chavez lives the life of a rock star during training camp. If anything, Roach should be commended with keeping those two on the winning track as long as he did.

Pupil and teacher: Pacquiao and Roach were once an unbeatable duo.
But it's the Pacquiao loss to Timothy Bradley and the shocking one punch knockout stunner to Juan Manuel Marquez that has pulled the rug out from underneath Vine Street. The perplexing fight versus Bradley was one that most in the industry and even the fans believed Pacquiao should have been granted the decision in. But when Manny was literally dumped on the floor and left unconscious by Marquez this past December, it put the exclamation point on a year of luck that was unbelievably bad for Roach.

Examined individually, each of the unfortunate events endured by Roach's fighters can be rationalized. But it's the Pacquiao loss against Marquez that leads many to the conclusion that King Midas has lost his golden touch. Much like a jockey needs a good thoroughbred underneath him, a boxing trainer, to some degree, is only as good as the fighters he stands behind. But ever the stand-up guy that he was when he was always winning, Roach isn't backing away from the mud that has been slung at him now that he's losing.

"I ran the camp for the Marquez fight," explains Roach, who appeared upbeat and rested now that he's had a chance to relax a little after a very busy year. "I took over the training, I came up with the strategy and if someone wants to blame me for Manny losing and so forth - then you can blame me. We were confident and maybe Manny was too anxious, but this is boxing. It was one mistake in a great fight."

Certainly when the biggest star that Roach has hitched his wagon to burns out, which many believe has happened with Pacquiao, there will be a reversal of fortune. Some wonder aloud whether there can be a Roach without Pacquiao. When Manny was the top ranked pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, Roach was universally hailed as the best trainer in the world. Now that Pacquiao's career has entered its twilight, can Freddie keep the sun from setting on himself?

Roach hopes to resurrect not only Pacquiao, but himself in 2013.
"Well, Manny will be back," says Roach, who spoke to Pacquiao just a couple weeks ago. "People, they think if you're not undefeated then you're not any good anymore. You know, guys with losses on their records, those losses make them better fighters sometimes because they learn from their mistakes. I honestly think that Manny was about a round or two from knocking Marquez out, but one punch can change things. We'd like to get the fifth fight and finally clear the air over who's the better fighter."

As for Chavez, Jr. it appears he is searching elsewhere for training advice. Rumors circulated several weeks ago that he had approached Nacho Beristain, a prolific producer of champions and the trainer of Juan Manuel Marquez, to do with him what Roach seemingly could not.  

"I don't know where we stand," says Roach who knows well that fighters come - and fighters go. "I haven't seen him or talked to him in three or four months. But I love Chavez, I think he's a great kid. In the beginning things were great with us. If we could go back to that, he listened, he did everything I said....we had a good run together. His manager tells me I'm still his trainer, but I don't know. I would love to work with him again."

In talking to Roach, there is an optimism in his voice as he explains that 2012 was not all gloom and doom. "It was a good year financially, but not such a good year as far as the record books say," he chuckles. "The thing is, winning and losing is a part of life and if you think you can't lose in boxing - then you're crazy."

January 2013