Last week, Freddie Roach, Manny Pacquiao’s longtime trainer, reached his breaking point. For years the affable Roach has been politely parrying questions about a super fight between his top charge and Floyd Mayweather, the pound-for-pound king, the biggest star in boxing. In the last month, as negotiations between the two sides heated up, Roach was inundated with queries. Friends called. Family, too. An open workout for Zou Shiming quickly devolved into a fact-finding mission for reporters desperate to glean even the smallest piece of information from the Hall of Fame trainer.
“And the truth was,” Roach said, “I didn’t really know anything.”
So Roach, 54, retreated to his Hollywood home. Weakened by a painful back injury, Roach cut off most communication. Phone calls went unanswered. His assistant, Marie, declined media requests. The next time he talked about the fight, Roach reasoned, would be when it was determined if there would be one.
“I just backed off,” Roach said. “I didn’t want to talk to anyone anymore. I just waited like everyone else.”
Then, it happened: Sitting in front of his television on Friday, Feb. 20, Roach saw ESPN interrupt SportsCenter: A Mayweather-Pacquiao fight had been agreed to for May 2 in Las Vegas. A phone call from Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum, confirmed it and Roach let slip a wide smile to celebrate the moment.
“Everything became real,” Roach said. “We have been waiting five years for this. It’s finally here.”
Indeed. In agreeing to terms, Mayweather and Pacquiao set in motion what promises to be the biggest fight in boxing history. The all-time pay per view record (2.4 million buys) figures to be broken. The record for the most revenue ($150 million) is expected to be dwarfed. Not since Mayweather fought Oscar De La Hoya in 2007 has a fight generated this much mainstream interest. For good reason: Mayweather and Pacquiao are as close as boxing comes to providing widely recognized stars.
In Mayweather, Pacquiao faces his most difficult test. Undefeated, frequently untouched, Mayweather is one of the most elusive fighters in boxing history. His brilliant shoulder roll defense has frustrated the likes of Diego Corrales, Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto while his pinpoint accuracy has helped him pile up wide decision wins.
At 38, Mayweather is years past his prime, but Roach still sees a complicated opponent.
“The challenge [of Mayweather] was bigger five years ago,” Roach said. “I think Mayweather has slowed down a little bit. But he is still a great fighter. We’re going to need a great game plan to beat him.”
Roach ranks among boxing’s best tacticians. He’s a seven-time BWAA Trainer of the Year after being tabbed again by the boxing writers this week for a sterling 2014. His stable has included Mike Tyson, Virgil Hill and De La Hoya. Recently, Roach developed Amir Khan into a world champion, molded Ruslan Provodnikov into a devastating 140-pounder and helped Miguel Cotto revive a flagging career. Pacquiao, 36, who teamed with Roach in 2001, is religiously loyal to Roach, declaring recently that Roach “has meant everything to my boxing career, and to me personally.”
Pacquiao will again trust in Roach, who admits he will need to get creative against Mayweather. “Over the years, the game plan for Mayweather has changed a bit,” Roach said. Famous for laying out the blueprint for how Pacquiao plans to beat opponents weeks before the fight—Roach pointed out that Hatton was open for right hooks before Pacquiao dropped him with one en route to a devastating knockout of Ricky Hatton in 2009; he predicted Cotto would have no answer for Pacquiao’s speed in the days before Pacquiao blitzed Cotto later that year—Roach says he will keep this one to himself.
“For the first time in my life I think I’ll keep it kind of private,” Roach said. “I don’t want Mayweather to know what we are up to. But it’s a good style fight. Mayweather will move as much as he can before he starts settling down. He can’t move quite as well as he used to. I think Manny’s power will overwhelm him. He has never been against someone with the speed of Pacquiao. Seeing it is one thing, dealing with it is another thing.”
Among Roach’s concerns is keeping Pacquiao focused. As much attention as Mayweather’s entourage gets, Pacquiao’s is often significantly larger, and the magnitude of this fight will likely bring out everyone claiming a connection, from the U.S. and the Philippines alike. To that end, Roach says he plans to conduct the entire training camp in Los Angeles and has already hired extra security to keep attendance at workouts to a minimum.
“This is the biggest fight of Manny’s career,” Roach said. “We are going to put strict limits on who can be around. The focus has to be entirely on the fight.”
Roach says camp will begin in early March; he will work Shiming’s corner in Macau on March 7 and said he hopes Pacquiao will be ready to start training the following week. He said Pacquaio has been in light training in the Philippines under the eye of Justin Fortune, his strength and conditioning coach. More than two months from the bell and Roach admits the excitement of the event has already washed over him.
“This is going to be the biggest fight ever,” Roach said. “It’s going to break records on money and [pay per view buys]. My biggest fear is that Mayweather doesn’t stand and fight. That he tries to run and tries to survive. He can try, but against Manny he can’t run all night.”