2006 Trainer of the Year
by Ron Borges
When the end came for Freddie Roach, he didn't listen. That was just one of the lessons he learned from his trainer and mentor, Eddie Futch.
"Eddie told me it was time to retire, but I didn't listen to him and left him,'' said Roach, the 2006 winner of the Futch-Condon Award for trainer of the year. "I had five more fights and lost four of them. Eddie was right."
Eddie was right about a lot of things, and these days so is Freddie, who won his second Trainer of the Year award for not only directing Manny Pacquiao to three victories in 2006, including two over Mexican legend Erik Morales, but for also deftly handling the likes of veteran James Toney, young talent Israel Vasquez and former Olympians Vanes Martirosyan and Vicente Escobedo. They are only a small part of an enclave Roach runs from his Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Calif., that has continued to grow since he went out on his own after working for many years as Futch's chief assistant.
Roach's first world champion was Marlon Starling, and he has gone on to take 17 other fighters to world titles. He has taken many more fighters farther than they would have gone on their own, which is the mark of the truly skillful trainer. Roach was so highly respected by his peers in boxing that Oscar De La Hoya chose him to replace Floyd Mayweather Sr. for the biggest fight in the sport in years, his May 5 showdown against Mayweather's son, Floyd Jr. No one disputed the choice.
"He's brought blood and aggression,'' De La Hoya said when asked why he chose Roach over the other top trainers eager to work with him. "Freddie makes you work, and he doesn't let you breathe. He makes sure that every punch you throw has to be with force. The strategies he comes up with are great. He's a master at dissecting a fighter and figuring styles out. He's a man of few words, but those words have a lot of meaning behind them, that's for sure.''
A journeyman during his own career but one so exciting he held the record for most appearances on ESPN's weekly Top Rank show, Roach (39-13, 15 KO) has always approached the sport from a purist's perspective but with a warrior's heart. To him, boxing is about love and lashing out, sometimes both at the same moment.
"My first main event, I got hit with a good shot,'' Roach recalled once. "I broke my nose. Then I knocked the guy out. My nose was broke for six months straight because I kept fighting. I probably got hit more in one fight than Oscar has in his entire career.''
Roach demands the same steely steadfastness from his fighters, who have included a list as varied as De La Hoya, Pacquiao, Toney, Wayne McCullough and, briefly, Mike Tyson. Despite battling Parkinson's, which he concedes is likely a result of his many ring wars, Roach refuses to give in to the illness in the same way he refused to give in to the likes of Bobby Chacon, Greg Haugen and Hector Camacho. To him, the disease is simply another opponent to face head on and overcome.
"It's definitely there,'' Roach concedes of the symptoms of Parkinson's he daily ignores while working the mitts and moving in the ring with his fighters. "I look at fighters a lot because you see it in older fighters. I have Parkinson's and it's trauma-related and so forth and I can see symptoms in fighters when they're starting to get a little shot, when their legs aren't there all the time. I could see it when Ray Mancini came back and he was doing his step drills and he was always missing his step. It's the first thing to go. I look out for it in (other) fighters.''
He looks for it because he looks out for his fighters. Roach prepares them to face the harshest task in sports -- another man in hand-to-hand combat -- but he does it the way he learned from Eddie Futch. With compassion and with love.
Roach wasn't named trainer of the year for those latter attributes. He was named for his skill in turning a man into a world-class fighter. But he never has forgotten the latter is also the former.
1989 -- George Benton
1990 -- George Benton
1991 -- Eddie Futch
1992 -- Eddie Futch
1993 -- Emanuel Steward
1994 -- Teddy Atlas
1995 -- Felix Trinidad Sr.
1996 -- Don Turner
1997 -- Emanuel Steward
1998 -- Jack Mosley
1999 -- Miguel Diaz
2000 -- Felix Trinidad Sr.
2001 -- Bouie Fisher
2002 -- Buddy McGirt
2003 -- Freddie Roach
2004 -- Dan Birmingham
2005 -- Dan Birmingham
2006 -- Freddie Roach