- Freddie Roach wasn’t sure Manny Pacquiao would ever talk to him again. Sixteen months passed—and then the call came, leading to an unlikely reunion and one final chapter.
HOLLYWOOD — Freddie Roach stood on the ring apron, Manny Pacquiao tugged at his headgear a few feet away, and if you have been hibernating for the last two years you are probably wondering why this visual is the least bit interesting. This is, after all, Pacquiao and Roach, one of the most successful fighter–trainer combinations in boxing history, a relationship that began in 2001 and elevated both into Hall of Fame class.
But it is an interesting scene because for most of last year it was uncertain if Pacquiao and Roach would ever interact again. In July 2017, Roach worked Pacquiao’s corner against Jeff Horn in Australia. Pacquiao lost by a close decision—and it was 16 months before the two spoke again. From his couch, Roach watched Pacquiao knock out a badly faded Lucas Matthysse last summer—Pacquiao’s first stoppage win in a decade.
Getting fired didn’t bother Roach. “Been fired before, be fired again,” Roach told SI.com. It was how Pacquiao just vanished that bugged him. He thought back to the training camp for the Horn fight. “It was so sporadic,” said Roach. “There was no real schedule.” He thought back to a conversation he had with Pacquiao immediately after the Horn fight, when he advised Pacquiao that he needed to choose between being a senator and being a boxer. Said Roach, “I found out later he didn’t like that comment.”
In November, during the press tour to promote Saturday night’s fight against Adrien Broner (9 PM, Showtime PPV), Pacquiao stunned reporters when he announced that Roach would be returning. It shocked Roach, too, who had no idea it was coming. Later that day, Joe Ramos, a member of Pacquiao’s inner circle, called Roach to talk to him about working with Pacquiao again. Roach was clear—he would talk about it, but only with Pacquiao.
When the Pacquiao–Broner press tour came to L.A., Roach got a call. It was Pacquiao, asking Roach to meet him at his suite in the Waldorf-Astoria. A little after 9 PM, Roach hopped in his car and drove over. A dozen or so of Pacquiao’s friends crammed into couches in front of a TV. Roach and Pacquiao ducked into a side room—and talked it out.
Immediately, Pacquiao apologized. Just as quickly, Roach forgave him. “I said, ‘Manny, that’s water under the bridge,’” Roach said. "We’re fine—let’s talk about what you want me to do for this fight.” Pacquiao said he wanted his longtime friend and assistant trainer, Buboy Fernandez, who took the lead for Pacquiao’s fight with Matthysse, to be more involved. Roach agreed. “I think he wants Buboy to have a future in boxing after he retires,” Roach said. “I’m fine with that.”
Money came up. Pacquiao, Roach says, made him a generous offer. Roach offered to have a contract drawn up. Pacquiao suggested they just shake hands, as they had done countless times before.
They did. The whole thing lasted 20 minutes.
For more than a year, the Pacquiao–Roach dynamic was a big story in boxing. Last week, while wrapping his hands in a familiar corner of Roach’s Wild Card gym, Pacquiao shrugged at all the fuss. He said Roach was never out of Team Pacquiao. He said Fernandez taking the lead in his last fight was to give his friend experience. He said he always planned to be back at Wild Card.
As for why he didn’t speak to Roach for more than a year?
“I was busy in the Philippines,” Pacquiao told SI.com. “I was working in the office. I didn’t have time to talk to Freddie.”
So—who exactly is in charge, Roach or Fernandez?
“Both of them,” Pacquiao said. “Both of them can give advice. It’s better to have more than one.”
Roach admits—the dynamic has changed. It’s more of a partnership with Fernandez now. In training, Fernandez often takes the lead. He communicates with Pacquiao in his native language, Tagalog, and then relays to Roach what was said. Roach then offers his opinions. They split the mitt work evenly. There has been no decision as to who will work the middle on fight night—the in-ring spot usually reserved for the lead trainer to communicate with the fighter between rounds—but Roach says he isn’t worried about it.
“Buboy has been talking in his corner for years,” Roach said. “And I don’t understand anything he is saying anyway. At first, Buboy used to [translate] to Manny what I said. But after a while I would say a short line and Buboy would go on forever. And I’d say to him, ‘You know, I don’t think I said all that.’ It’s fine. I just need the few seconds before the bell rings to tell Manny what he needs to do.”
Roach smiles when he speaks. He is reinvigorated. He’s had countless fighters and built strong relationships. But none stronger than Pacquiao. While there was some initial pushback to a Roach return—Pacquiao’s conditioning coach, Justin Fortune, who has a combative history with Roach, told the Filipino press that a reunion would be “toxic”—camp has gone smoothly. Pacquiao, 40, is in the twilight of his career, but Roach says he has seen no sign of slippage and is punching him harder than he ever has before.
“He hit me once in the chest protector,” Roach said. “And I’m telling you, it’s the hardest I have ever been hit.”
For Roach, the Broner fight represents a new beginning. Pacquiao says he has no plans to retire and that Roach is back for good.
“I’m back,” Roach said. “I feel so good with these guys. Every day, everyone is good. There are no problems whatsoever. I think Manny has some more fights in him. At 40, who knows how many. Right now, in the gym, he is on his toes for four hours a session and his work ethic is the greatest I’ve seen in my life.”