Top trainer Roach talks Pacquiao-Cotto, Mayweather and more
Freddie Roach has been working with Manny Pacquiao for nearly a decade
The multi-divisional champion is preparing for his WBO title bout with Miguel Cotto
Roach still believes a mega-fight with Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will happen
Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach is one of boxing's most respected minds. The three-time BWAA Trainer of the Year owns and operates the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif., where he's passed down fistic wisdom to more than 20 world titlists, including sitting pound-for-pound champion Manny Pacquiao.
Over the past eight years, Roach has overseen Pacquiao's historic ascent up the sport's weight hierarchy, helping the charismatic Filipino become the first boxer to win the lineal championship in four different divisions. Currently, Roach is preparing Pacquiao for his stiffest challenge yet: a showdown with WBO welterweight champion Miguel Cotto on Nov. 14 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He recently spoke with SI.com about the unique challenges Cotto presents, Pacquiao's worldwide popularity and newfound role as favorite, and why a 2010 fight with Floyd Mayweather is inevitable.
SI.com: What is the state of Team Pacquiao right now?
Freddie Roach: At this point, everything's right on the money. Yesterday we boxed 11 rounds. He looked great. The jet lag is gone. Everyone's on board and we're ready.
SI.com: Why did you begin training in the Philippines before moving to Hollywood?
Roach: We were supposed to be in Baguio the whole time. But the third typhoon was coming and I was afraid the storm would close the roads again. Then we couldn't get out of Baguio, we'd be stuck there and we'd miss our flight home. So before the third one hit, I broke camp and went to Manila for five days before we went to L.A.
SI.com: How did the training go in the Philippines?
Roach: The first four weeks, Pacquiao looked great. The last five days in Manila really sucked because too many people were trying to get a piece of Manny, of course, and Manila's such a busy place. We worked through it, we had good workouts and stuff like that, but I wasn't really satisfied with where his mind was. He was thinking about something else rather than fighting -- politics and meeting with all the politicians and so forth. But since I got him back in L.A., we're back on track.
SI.com: You've talked about his ability to block things out. Did you ever worry about distractions [in the Philippines]?
Roach: There's just so many of them there. It's just kind of overwhelming to be honest with you. The American Embassy, the Consul, all these meetings -- it was just ... I said, "You guys, he's getting ready for a fight!" I limited it as much as I could. I couldn't control everything though. Getting that close to a fight, I wanted to be in control, of course. We had a little disagreement when we left Baguio because I told Manny I wanted to leave. I had a lot of responsibility for the safety of the sparring partners, the 24/7 [crew], stuff like that. We kind of had the attitude that it's not going to hit us. But I said you know what, I've got be realistic, there are over 2,000 people that have died already in the first two typhoons. So I just had to make that decision and I told Manny, "Well, I'll see you in Manila." He didn't want to go right away but then at 12 o'clock that night he called me up and said, "OK, let's go" and I said "OK" and we left at midnight.
SI.com: How do you see the upcoming fight?
Roach: I think we're well-prepared for what Cotto brings. I truly think Cotto's going to run around us a little bit 'cause he's going to try to be more of a counter-puncher in this fight I feel. I've got sparring partners that are coming forward, I've got sparring partners that are countering, so I'm covering all my bases, because I know Cotto can make adjustments and he can box pretty well when he wants to. I'm not exactly sure if he's going to try and use his strength early or use is boxing ability early. We're just ready for whatever he brings.
SI.com: With Cotto being a natural welterweight, do you believe he's the physically stronger of the two?
Roach: I would say physically stronger on the inside with the shoulders. I won't say he's a better puncher. But physically, inside, he's a little stronger, yes.
SI.com: If Cotto does come out aggressive, moving forward, do you see fireworks early? Do you see Manny standing and trading early in the fight?
Roach: One hundred percent. We will trade with him if he wants to, yes.
SI.com: You've said before you love being the underdog before a fight, and as he's moved up in weight a lot of people have doubted Manny against bigger opponents like Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton. But The Ring magazine polled 20 experts and 14 of them took Manny for this fight. Does that change anything in your preparation from your point of view?
Roach: That's the first time I heard that. I don't really listen to stuff like that. People have opinions. People tell me Cotto's going to beat us with body work and I say, "Yeah, Ricky Hatton was too." I've been studying this guy for a long time now. I know his weaknesses, I know his strengths and I know his habits. And he has bad habits, which we all do.
We're not reinventing the wheel here. But Manny is getting better and better all the time because I'll show him the habits that the opponent has, and he knows the counter-punch to use to take advantage of that habit -- because there are certain moves that Cotto makes. Every time you do this, he does that. We're just coming up with a better strategy and Manny, at this point in his career, can fight the fight I want him to fight. At one time, he'd get hit and he'd get a little reckless and so forth, but he's mature enough now to follow the game plan.
SI.com: A lot of people have said Antonio Margarito took something out of Cotto in their 2008 fight that Cotto might not be able to ever get back. Do you believe in that?
Roach: The thing is, Cotto getting knocked out by Margarito -- with or without [an illegal plaster-like substance on his hand wraps], if it was legal or not -- that doesn't matter to me. The first time you lose a fight, you get stopped like that and take a beating like he did, it just really affects your confidence. I know that as a fighter when it happened to me. His first comeback fight, he looked so-so against a mediocre opponent.
The [Joshua] Clottey fight, he fought a better opponent and you could see he was growing a little bit and getting his confidence back. But it does take a while to get back that confidence fully. I never got mine back fully though. It's really on the individual and how they take it. Regardless of what the glove issue was and what the padding issue is, he took a bad beating that night and it's going to take time to get over that. I think he's stepping in the right direction of course because he looked better in the second fight than he did in the first fight, but we can't give him any confidence in this fight whatsoever, because if we give him confidence in the early rounds, he'll get stronger and stronger. That's why we're going to have a fast start and I'm going to try to remind [Cotto] of that Margarito fight in the first round.
SI.com: Manny told the AP that he doesn't think a fight with Floyd Mayweather will ever happen. Do you agree with that?
Roach: No. I honestly think it has to happen because boxing needs that fight. Negotiations are going to be tough of course, but I think it can be done at 50-50. The best need to fight the best. That's definitely a fight that I look forward to, but obviously I've got Cotto on my mind right now. I would love for Manny to fight Mayweather next and retire after the fight.
SI.com: You think Manny should retire after that fight?
Roach: Yeah, after he beats Mayweather, what more does he have to prove?
SI.com: Did you watch the Mayweather-Marquez fight?
Roach: No. No, I was on a plane going to the Philippines.
SI.com: You mentioned Manny's political aspirations. What do you know about that? Is there any kind of timetable that he has in mind?
Roach: To be honest with you, I don't pay any attention to it. I'm not into politics. I hear things here and there. I think the next election is in April. So if we do another fight in March, possibly, [it would be] before he runs for office.
SI.com: Manny has won titles at so many different weights since turning pro at 108. He's looked so good and he's brought his punch up with him at every weight. Do we even know what his natural fighting weight is?
Roach: I know. His best fighting weight is 138 pounds. One-forty is his best division, but the competition is at 147. So we're going up in weight a little bit. He's a lot stronger than he used to be, he's getting used to the weight, he's more mature, he knows how to use the weight to his advantage now. He's always been a small guy, but he hasn't lost the punch at all. He can punch better with the weight. He's physically much stronger than people give him credit for. You'll see in the fight.
SI.com: Is Michael Moorer playing any role in the training this time around?
Roach: No, Manny and Michael didn't see eye to eye, so I had to let Michael go.
SI.com: Is he involved at the Wild Card Gym at all, just not with Manny?
Roach: No, he's back in Florida.
SI.com: Oct. 30 marked the 35th anniversary of Rumble in the Jungle. You were 14 when that fight happened. Do you remember watching it?
Roach: Yeah, I do. I know the fight so well from TV, I'm not sure if I remember it from a couple years ago or from when I was a kid. Ali pulled off the biggest upset of that time because Foreman crushed Frazier and all that and Ali was [thought to be] too old. But he came up with that strategy -- the rope-a-dope -- it was brilliant. But it might have been costly, him getting hit so much and just taking those big blows. He knew he could outlast George and he came up with a great strategy to win the fight.
SI.com: Did seeing that kind of great strategy in action leave an impression on you as a future fighter and trainer, because you've been known for devising some brilliant strategies for some of your fighters.
Roach: My trainer Eddie Futch, that was his forte: strategy. He taught me quite a bit. The thing is, I don't really watch a guy's style so much, because styles dictate changes in fights. Just because he fought that way against this guy, doesn't mean he's going to fight that way against you.
What I mainly look for is habits. I look for habits: things that he cannot stop doing. There are good habits and bad habits. The good habits, I get Manny to work on staying away from; his bad habits, we take advantage of. That's pretty much my outlook. You never know what you're really going to get because styles make fights. But you get people like Ricky Hatton, who had so many bad habits, we just took advantage of them right away. Cotto has a couple that we're going to take advantage of also I feel. I'm sure they're doing the same thing also on their side.