Regardless of the uncertainty of Freddie Roach’s status as Manny Pacquiao’s chief cornerman, one thing is certain: their years-long partnership — one of the best and most enduring in boxing history — has never been on the brink of destruction until now.
Pacquiao wouldn’t be where he is right now — a first-ballot Hall of Famer and, more importantly, revered as perhaps the greatest Filipino sportsman of all time — without Roach.
Likewise, the bespectacled Roach wouldn’t have won multiple Trainer of the Year accolades and, at one point, become among the most sought after trainers if he didn’t have Pacquiao in his stable.
Now it’s worth rekindling the notable parts of Roach’s work on Pacquiao since the cornerman started polishing the boxer from a skinny, free-swinging diamond in the rough into a relentless punching dynamo — one who ended up becoming the only eight-division champion in the sport’s history.
Here are Freddie Roach’s finest moments with Pacquiao ever since the latter walked in at the former’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood and sealed their partnership 17 years ago:
2001: Pacquiao vs Lehlo Ledwaba
After impressing Roach in the mitts during their first workout at Wild Card, Pacquiao had Roach in his corner when he stepped in as a last-minute substitute to challenge IBF super bantamweight champion Lehlo Ledwaba.
Pacquiao, the underdog, battered the experienced Ledwaba through six rounds en route to a TKO victory in a rousing US debut — winning his second world title in the process.
During a round break of another one of Pacquiao’s early US fights (against Jorge Julio), Roach can be heard instructing Pacquiao to throw a double-jab followed by his money punch — the left straight. Pacquiao followed Roach’s instruction to the letter and brutally stopped Julio, leading a TV commentator to quip, “The kid listens.”
2003: Pacquiao vs Marco Antonio Barrera 1
No doubt, this is the fight that opened the door to stardom for Pacquiao. Barrera, at that time among the world’s top pound-for-pound fighters, was expected to breeze past the heavy underdog.
But Pacquiao, with Roach in his corner, was a man on mission and out to shock the world. He pummeled Barrera in a stunningly lopsided bout in front of a highly pro-Barrera crowd in San Antonio, Texas, which culminated in the Mexican’s corner climbing the ring in the 11th round to have the fight stopped.
A star was definitely born that night, but for Roach, lots of work still needs to be done on his prized ward.
2006: Pacquiao vs Erik Morales 2
Years removed from his massive, career-defining upset of Barrera, Pacquiao has had a roller-coaster ride. It included a controversial draw with featherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez; his third career loss, that time in the hands of a tough and savvy Erik Morales; and a bitter dispute with his then promoter Murad Muhammad — which resulted in a lawsuit that was eventually settled.
Roach earlier realized that Pacquiao lacked some tools in his offensive arsenal, particularly a right hook. He had noticed that Pacquiao had been dependent solely on his lethal left straight, and critics had even claimed that Pacquiao was a one-trick pony. This led the master trainer to further sharpen Pacquiao’s right hook.
In training Pacquiao for the first Morales fight, Roach had christened the punch as “Manila Ice” — a quick but powerful right hook. And Pacquiao had already implemented it effectively in his comeback TKO win over Hector Velasquez prior to the rematch with Morales.
When Pacquiao had his second crack at Morales, he was already a two-fisted fighter who can target both the body and the head. He broke Morales down with body shots in the first half of the fight and, in the 10th round, knocked the Mexican legend down for the first time in his career. He lured Morales into eating — guess what — a right hook to the face, sent him down with a left hand for the first knockdown, then finished him off afterwards for a TKO victory.
At the break prior to that fateful round, Roach can be heard telling Pacquiao that Morales is “all done.” Indeed, Morales was.
It was Pacquiao and Roach’s biggest win together since the first Barrera fight.
2008: Pacquiao vs David Diaz
Pacquiao made his lightweight entry in emphatic fashion, pulverizing WBC lightweight titlist David Diaz in a one-sided affair before knocking him face down in the ninth round. Pacquiao, on his toes and proudly showcasing his speed and power throughout the bout, fought like a well-oiled machine on his way to clinching his fourth world championship.
By then, Roach has been heavily credited for turning Pacquiao into a complete fighter who possessed a deadly combination of speed and power and can move in and out of danger as he pleased.
The Diaz fight — Pacquiao’s lone bout as a 135-pounder — can be considered as the catalyst of the Filipino icon’s journey to the heavier weight classes. It was in this fight that he proved he can compete with heavier — albeit slower and less technically inclined — opponents.
2008: Pacquiao vs Oscar Dela Hoya
If Pacquiao was already a superstar before he stepped in the ring with Oscar Dela Hoya, he would become a household name right after. What had previously been a fantasy fight actually turned into reality (the promotion was eventually called “Dream Match”) when a significantly bigger Dela Hoya met a smaller Pacquiao in a 12-round welterweight bout.
Roach had fueled talks about pitting Pacquiao against Dela Hoya when he saw signs of decline after training Dela Hoya for his farewell fight with Steve Forbes. At one point, he stirred things up when he declared that Dela Hoya “can’t pull the trigger” anymore.
It indeed turned out that Dela Hoya can’t, as Pacquiao — again the heavy underdog — dominated him from pillar to post with his blinding speed. Dela Hoya ended up quitting on his stool after eight one-sided rounds and later acknowledged Roach that he’s correct in his trigger comment.
2009: Pacquiao vs Ricky Hatton
Pacquiao followed up on his huge win over Dela Hoya with a destruction of Ricky Hatton, further adding to his legend. Roach, for his part, hogged a significant portion of the spotlight.
Never one to shy away from the media, Roach continued trading barbs with Floyd Mayweather Sr., the father of pound-for-pound king and Hatton’s trainer. The elder Mayweather even called Roach a “joke.”
Roach though had the last laugh when Pacquiao annihilated Hatton in just two rounds. What made it much sweeter was that Roach, who by then had a reputation of correctly predicting the outcome of Pacquiao’s fights, again called it right.
Pacquiao vs Cotto (2009), Pacquiao vs Margarito (2010)
Pacquiao would continue to flirt with danger with fights against relatively bigger and powerful foes, albeit at catchweights. He stopped Miguel Cotto in the 12th round to annex the WBO welterweight title — his fifth in as many divisions — and pummeled Antonio Margarito (breaking his eye socket in the process) for his record sixth world title (WBC super welterweight).
Throughout the course of his career, Roach has been named Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers’ Association of America for a record seven times (2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014). Mostly, it was due to his amazing work on Pacquiao.
Roach had been with Pacquiao every step of the way as the latter charted his path to boxing immortality. Now, he might not be there the moment Pacquiao finishes it.
Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that Roach is a maestro, and Pacquiao was his masterpiece.