“If I die doing the mitts, I don’t want that fighter to be fuckin’ sad…”
Tonight, Freddie Roach takes the center stage spotlight via On Freddie Roach, a six-part HBO special on his life as one of boxing’s premier trainers. Enduring a childhood rife with domestic violence/abuse, a short 80s pro career that lead to Parkinson’s disease and rebirth today as a trainer, Roach’s story was seen as compelling enough by executive producer Jim Lampley and director Peter Berg to warrant a series which covers more ground that even seen in HBO’s 24/7. In his own words, Roach talks about the film’s process, possibly settling down, and the future of the sport he loves.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Being that this HBO special is going to focus on your personal life and battles with Parkinson’s disease, how much apprehension did you have about doing this? Did you expect it to be much different from HBO 24/7?
Freddie Roach: Yeah, I was definitely a little worried about it. But I did have some practice with 24/7 and those guys became our friends. We knew them really well and they were not too intrusive. When I talked to Peter Berg and Jim Lampley about it, they told when you get tired of it and you want to send them home, send them home. They gave me that freedom.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: What would you say is the biggest misconception the general public has about Parkinson’s?
Roach: Well, it’s a progressive disease that gets worse and worse. Some days are really tough to deal with. It’s embarrassing in public when people tend to look at you and can tell you’re not well or normal. They have that “what’s wrong with that kid” look. It’s people’s nature to stare and see odd things. Overall, all I can do with my Parkinson’s is take my medication three times a day and get on with life.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You’ve been able to build a nice stable of fighters around you. Normally trainers get hot for a little while then fizzle. What’s your regimen to keep the success going beyond Pacquiao?
Roach: I had a great teacher in Eddie Futch. I work hard; I come in the gym at 8 AM and leave at 8 PM. Unless if I’m on the road, I’m in the gym. Once I’m here it’s like home. This is where I belong.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Speaking of Eddie Futch, what do you think his opinion of Manny Pacquiao would be?
Roach: He’d be really proud of what we achieved. He was a very technical guy and he’d give me a few pointers on Pacquiao’s defense I’m sure. [chuckles
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You’re already well-known and respected in the sport, but HBO specials like this are aimed at further pushing your story mainstream. With this potential to be an even bigger ambassador to the sport, would you say we have better active fighters now compared to when you competed in the late 80s?
Roach: It’s really hard to say. We can argue all day about eras. Most guys back in the day were hungry and had to fight for a living. Most guys today don’t have to. Boxing is still a way to change your life like all sports are. A lot come from poor backgrounds and that’s why they choose boxing because it isn’t an expensive sport to pick. You don’t have a lot of well off people picking the sport that’s for sure.
The thing is, I watched a little league baseball game recently and I was like we were way better than that when I was little. But maybe that’s just a misconception on my part. [laughs] In every sport where you measure speed, strength and power they’ve gotten better so why not boxing? Yes, I think we’re better now.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: I’m sure the special will delve into how you dealt with losses from your own career and recently with fighters like Amir Khan and Jorge Linares. You normally take them in stride but I remember Mike Tyson’s loss to Danny Williams got to you. Does one loss stand out in particular as the toughest?
Roach: I hate to lose any fight of course. [Pauses] But sometimes losing is a good thing and a tool that can be used to improve your fighter. When Amir Khan lost that fight with Prescott it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He wasn’t so cocky anymore and he learned and got better. Some guys lay down and let it [mentally] take them over. But when you work hard it’s a great lesson.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Looking at your own career you fought a lot in 1985. In the second half of that year is when the downward spiral happened with the multiple losses. If you could do it all over, when would you have retired earlier?
Roach: Y’know, Eddie told me to retire five fights before I did. I just wasn’t ready at 26 years old. I had put a lot into the sport and I was mad at him for saying that. After taking four losses out of five fights [chuckles] I realized he was right and did retire finally. Should I have retired earlier? Yes, definitely.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Since we’ll be getting a look at your personal life, I’m sure one thing people will notice is that you don’t have any kids. Not that your schedule really allows it now, but has the desire increased any to settle down?
Roach: Um, not being married or having kids makes my job a lot easier. Whenever I get a call, I can be on a plane soon to get to a fight or training camp. Sometimes I do think about settling down and having a family but boxing always outweighs that.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: By the time one of your fighters hits a premium network they’re normally polished and on their way. What upcoming fighter that you’re working with now do you see eventually becoming a big star?
Roach: [I still think] Jorge Linares is going to be a big star someday. We lost that fight [against Antonio DeMarco]. He was cut really badly and the blood was just hard to handle. I think he’s just a super boxer that’s going to be a star in America because of his style. You know Vanes Martirosyan is 31-0 now. He’s a great prospect that’ll make some noise soon and get a big fight. We’re getting closer and closer. Chavez Jr. just won a title but he’s still growing and becoming better. We’re working a lot on his defense and improving his boxing game because he’s better boxer than he shows at times.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Considering what you said earlier about learning from losses, do you think we’ll get back to the point where a loss won’t be so devastating to your marketability?
Roach: I don’t think so because TV has changed that. Putting a guy that’s undefeated on TV looks really, really good. In today’s world a loss is unacceptable and takes you back further than it used to.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: To end on a light-hearted note, we have a mutual friend in Holly Lawson who told me to ask you about concubines. I was informed you’d know what that meant.
Roach: [Laughs] Yeah, being able to separate girls between concubines and prospects. [chuckles] Holly is quite the character.
On Freddie Roach premieres tonight (January 20) at 9:30 PM ET.