There is so much legacy-building going on around the April 9 boxing match between MANNY PACQUIAO and TIM BRADLEY that one of the more significant seems to be taking a back seat. Freddie Roach is getting lost in the shuffle.
This may be a first.
Roach has been named the trainer of the year by this country’s boxing writers seven times. He has been in the sport’s spotlight for at least the last ten years, or longer. Once he hooked up with Pacquiao 15 years ago, his name soon found its way onto the tongue of every boxing fan. Pacquiao has won eight division titles, an incredible feat, and Roach has been there, baton in hand, conducting one of the most-successful-ever orchestrations of a boxing symphony.
Fans love him because they love Pacquiao and Roach prepares him so well. The media loves him because he is direct, refreshing and stunningly without agenda in interviews. Ask a question, you get a straight answer. He has been labeled the last honest man in boxing, which, if you ponder more deeply, could be adjusted to the ONLY honest man in boxing.
He is, once again, training Pacquiao, for yet another fight that promoters hope will rise to the level of blockbuster. The ultimate measures of that are quality of fight and number of pay-per-views sold.
But this promotion is a tad different. Roach, who doesn’t push for this but always seems to be a major player in the image creation of any Pacquiao fight, is sharing a lot more of the spotlight this time around.
His counterpart is Bradley’s trainer, Teddy Atlas. Atlas, too, is glib, direct and highly accomplished. This will be his second fight with Bradley and the first, a knockout of Brandon Rios, was so well planned and executed that the kudos for Atlas have continued non-stop. That Atlas makes for great copy and a compelling story certainly helps, as does Bradley’s eagerness to find new ways to praise his trainer and describe what his presence has meant to him.
Pacquiao fights used to be about Freddie and some other guy in the other corner. Not this time.
Then, you have the headline dominating of Pacquiao, as he tells the world that this is his last fight, that he now needs to focus on the Philippine Senatorial election that takes place a month after this fight, and that, with a strong showing in this election, he may eventually become a prime presidential candidate. Manny Pacquiao as a Congressman was a pretty good story. Manny Pacquiao as a Senator and maybe President is even better.
And then, of course, we had Pacquiao’s anti-gay and lesbian statement a month ago that brought even more attention, as unwanted as it was, to the fighter. Roach’s thoughts on that are not needed, nor germane.
Bradley himself has stolen lots of this fight’s thunder.
He has grown by leaps as an interview subject and has seemed to acquire lots of Atlas’ pizzaz when it comes to being in public and dealing with the media. He remains offended by the universal dismissal of the decision he received in the first Pacquiao fight — this will be the third — and articulates that compellingly. His stature in the boxing world grew remarkably with his gutty victory over Ruslan Provodnikov in a brawl that got much fight-of-the-year attention. Even Roach, who is seldom prone to praising an upcoming opponent, said he was impressed by Bradley’s grit and guts against Provodnikov.
And then, there is even the fight’s promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, who is never a shrinking violet, but who has juiced up his game considerably for this one. Arum has parlayed his dislike of Donald Trump and his desire to see Hilary Clinton elected into a promotion element with a ring to it. He is calling his undercard, stacked with Hispanic boxers, the “NoTrump Undercard.” It is meant to be a comment on Trump’s anti-Hispanic stances. It is also meant to sell tickets.
Still, with all this buzzing around, the usual Roach spotlight has been dimmed. He probably doesn’t greatly care, nor has he thought a great deal about it, but it is a nuance that should be noted.
Roach fought his last of a 53-fight career at age 26. He lost five of his last six and says that he went a half a dozen or so more fights than he should have. He is 56 now, runs a profitable business at his Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles and has international stature in the sport. But he also limps badly from a bad back caused by a sciatic nerve and is battling Parkinson’s Disease, the existence of which was certainly enhanced by the number of times he was hit in the head.
He has a legacy of his own that is at a crossroads. He has been quoted as saying that, if Pacquiao retires, he will, too. But that is part of a current mixed message that includes the fact that he still has star fighter Miguel Cotto and talks about newcomer Frankie Gomez as if Gomez could carry him to another Pacquiao-like era. Yet, all this time, he has never wavered from his sentiments that there will never be another one like Pacquiao.
These major boxing matches get hyped to the point of foolishness. And then, they take place, whatever outcome is produced has a shelf life of a few days of discussion and buzz, and the sport is on to the next biggie. Leftover legacies get trampled in the rush to whatever is next.
What happens on April 9 in Las Vegas could turn out to be a huge turning point, positive or negative, in the career of one Freddie Roach.
Whatever that is, it needs to be more than merely noticed.