One of the great partnerships in boxing history officially came to an end last week. In the lore of the sport, few names have been more closely linked than Manny Pacquiao and Freddie Roach. At this point it’s hard to even imagine the Filipino legend without his long-time trainer. But as George Harrison famously sang: “All things must pass.” Willie Mays left the Giants. Michael Jordan left the Bulls. And now, after 15 years that will go down in boxing history, Manny Roach has left Freddie Roach.
Neither man would have become the star he is without the other. When Pacquiao first walked into Roach’s Wild Card Gym at the turn of the century, he was the former lineal World Champion at Flyweight. But in the United States, he was a figure of obscurity. The most hardcore fans were perhaps aware that he had an explosive left hand. But nobody had him tabbed as a future all-time great.
He could not have hoped for a better teacher. Roach was a former lightweight contender who was mentored to become a trainer but the immortal Eddie Futch–arguably the greatest boxing brain to ever live. He transformed Pacquiao from a dangerous southpaw into a complete, all-around fighter. I scoff with contempt at promotional claims that Pacquiao is an eight-division world champion. You can arrive at that calculation with alphabet-soup math. But Pacquiao was indeed a capital “W,” capital “C” World Champion at 112, 126, 130 and 140 pounds. He was an elite fighter at 147. That is an unprecedented climb through the weight classes and it would not have been possible without the guidance of Roach.
Roach was a well-respected trainer before he met Pacquiao and would be an all-time great trainer even if he and Pacman had never crossed paths. But his association with Pacquiao has transformed his life. Being the trainer of Manny Pacquiao made him a celebrity in his own right. It has put him at the center of many of the biggest fights of this century.
As an uninformed outsider, this does strike me as a strange moment for Pacuqiao to walk away from Roach. In July he will return to the ring against Argentinian gunslinger Lucas Matthysse–that’s a dangerous fight for Pacquaio as this point in his career. Roach trained Viktor Postol when the Ukranian handed Matthysse his most crushing defeat, a Round 10 stoppage. I can’t believe Manny wouldn’t be better prepared for this fight with Roach in his corner.