Friday March 12th, 2010

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- From the day he collected his first boxing paycheck, Manny Pacquiao has been surrounded by yes men. Dozens of would-be handlers, many with nebulous jobs and no real responsibilities to speak of, have surrounded Pacquiao. And for the last five years, as Pacquiao has risen to the top of the sport, they have been well-paid to live a life of leisure.

Freddie Roach is not one of them. It's true, Pacquiao's astute trainer has had to be accommodating toward his No. 1 fighter. He's had to rush to the Philippines just to track down his star pupil and has had to be tolerant of the human barnacles that attach themselves to Pacquiao and sponge his time, energy and, of course, money.

But Roach is keenly aware that one of his responsibilities as Pacquiao's boxing guide is to say no. No to the late-night karaoke sessions that sap Pacquiao's energy during training camp. No to the idea that the bulk of camp should be held in the Philippines, where Pacquiao is part Springsteen, part Obama and more popular than both. No to a fight with junior middleweight champion Yuri Foreman, because a 5-foot-11, 154-pound opponent is just a little too large for comfort.

But Roach's most important rejection is the one he has yet to give. No, Roach will soon say to Pacquiao. No, you should fight no more.

It seems ludicrous to even suggest that the clock on Pacquiao's career might be ticking toward termination. It was just four months ago that Pacquiao, 31, was in the ring brutalizing an overwhelmed Miguel Cotto. Before that it was a second-round knockout of Ricky Hatton, a fight that ended after Pacquiao scrambled Hatton's brains with a concussive left hand. For the past two years the Boxing Writers Association of America has named Pacquiao its Fighter of the Year, and other prestigious publications have followed suit. Why shouldn't Pacquiao continue for a long time?

Roach knows why. He only has to look in the mirror. The Parkinson's disease that eats away at his body is a direct result of Roach's decision to stay too long at the fair. Nearly a quarter century earlier his own trainer, Eddie Futch, pulled a 26-year-old Roach into his office and told him that it was time to quit. Too many punches, Futch said. Too many clean shots.

Roach's response: You retire, Eddie.

It's a challenge persuading a fighter to retire. When Roach told Bernard Hopkins to walk away, Hopkins sniffed that Roach had just lost his paycheck. A similar conversation with James Toney ended with a snarling Toney telling Roach to "go f--- himself." Last month Roach had the conversation with Gerry Penalosa, a lightning bug former champion who lost his second consecutive fight. For the moment Penalosa, 37, is heeding Roach's advice, but it would surprise no one -- Roach included -- if Penalosa makes a comeback sometime in the future.

"It's a hard thing when a coach tells you to quit," Roach said.

His talk with Pacquiao won't happen after Saturday night, when the Filipino defends his WBO welterweight title against Joshua Clottey at Cowboys Stadium (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV). Now is not the time. Clottey is not the fight with which you end your career. Both Roach and Pacquiao profess the utmost respect for Clottey, but neither wears any semblance of concern on his face.

"It's a tough fight, but I don't think it's a tougher fight than Cotto," Roach said. "I think Cotto is a more versatile fighter and has more tools. This guy does the same thing over and over again. He's not too versatile.

"I don't think this fight will take [Pacquiao] to a higher level because we all know [Clottey] is a good fighter but the general public doesn't know Clottey," Roach continued. "They know he lost to Cotto so they view him in a different light. People will say Manny is supposed to beat him. That's always going to happen in sports."

Roach knows there is only one fight out there that will elevate Pacquiao to a new level: Floyd Mayweather. Despite all the jawing, and even with both promoters exchanging heated words, Roach keeps Mayweather on the brain. He talks about how Pacquiao goes into "Mayweather mode" during training camp, where he breaks off his preparation for Clottey and shows Roach just how he would muscle through Mayweather's impregnable defense. He claims Mayweather is the one person in the world Manny Pacquiao just doesn't like. He pokes and prods at Mayweather's planet-sized ego, crediting Mayweather for achieving greatness at 130 and 135 pounds but calling him average at 147.

"I won't say it's an easy fight for Manny," Roach said. "But I think we can make it look easy."

He wants that fight for Pacquiao. For the challenge. For the prestige.

And then he wants him to retire.

"This fight and Mayweather and be done with it," Roach said. "There are no more challenges out there. I know there are some fights, but will the general public really want to buy that? I'd like to see him go out on top and not be one of those cases that stayed too long. Manny has things to fall back on that others don't. He's an actor, a singer, he's running for Congress. Why is Roy Jones still fighting? Because he doesn't know nothing else but boxing. Manny does."

These are the points Roach will lay out when the time comes. He knows it won't be an easy conversation, not with Pacquiao's leeches hardly eager for the gravy train to stop running. But he hopes Pacquiao will listen because he, like always, only has his best interests at heart.

"People ask me, 'Why would you want the guy you make the most money off to quit?' " Roach said. "We've done well with each other. I'd rather see him quit than go on after Mayweather. It's more important to me that he has a long and healthy life when this thing is over."

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