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Revered boxing guru Freddie Roach comes to Marcial’s rescue


PhilBoxing.com



Marcial (L) with Roach at Roach's Wildcard Gym.

Twenty eight years ago in 1992, when Freddie Roach was planning to put up his own gym, his training guru, Eddie Futch, the man the acknowledged as the greatest trainer of all time, advised him to forget his plan and concentrate on just training boxers as owning a gym was a money-losing proposition.

Had the then struggling Roach heeded his maestro’s advice, the now world famous Wild Card Boxing Club along Vine Street in the heart of Hollywood would not have been the cradle of world champions as it is today.

Futch's long-time understudy, himself a former fighter nicknamed "La Cucaracha" and "The Choir Boy," persisted, though, and soon the gym was up.

"I went ahead and built the gym saying to myself, you never know when the next Muhammad Ali is going to walk through that door," Roach told this writer pointing at the gym in one of the many interviews with the Hall of fame trainer a few years ago.

It took Roach nine long years before a man came into the door in 2001 when the gym had just been completed. The man told his would-be maestro he needed a trainer badly.

The frail-looking, skinny guy whom many thought could not be mistaken as a fighter was Filipino Manny Pacquiao.

The rest was history.

The years that followed saw the now Filipino ring legend emerging as the first and only man on planet earth to crown himself world champion a dozen times in eight weight divisions.

And Roach, well, he was accorded the “Trainer of the Year” seven times by the Boxing Writers Association of America.

After Pacquiao beat Timothy Bradley black and blue in the final chapter of their trilogy in 2016, he officially announced his what turned out a brief retirement. Rumors immediately flew that Roach would follow suit prompting this reporter to seek the man anew for another interview to verify the report.

"No!" was his emphatic answer when asked. "Why should I do that? I would be doing nothing for the rest of my life? Boxing is my life and I will live and die in boxing."

“Besides, remember, I told you once before, you never know when the next Manny Pacquiao is going to walk through that door," Roach said with his patented wide grin, pointing to the entrance of his gym.

On Wednesday, some four years following that talk, Filipino amateur middleweight and Olympic qualifier Eumir Felix Marcial, who is now a part of Pacquiao's MP Promotions' stable of fighters, entered through the same door to meet the now 60-year-old mentor.

Marcial, 24, a native of Zamboanga City in Zamboanga del Sur, sought Roach’s help in training him in his preparation for his professional debut as well as in his bid to hand the country its first Olympic gold medal in the postponed Games set next year.


Marcial and Roach pose with Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao's picture in the background.

"When Eumir walked through the door, I took him into the upstairs gym. I flashed it back to 2001 when Manny first walked through the same door looking for someone to do mitts with him," said Roach in a statement by Fred Sternburg, president of the Sternburg Communications, Inc.

"Eumir and I had a great time. I told him the story of how Manny and I met and showed him the original ring where we trained for so many fights. The dressing room Manny used in the original portion of the gym, and had a nice talk about what we expected from each other,” he recalled in a separate long distance telephone interview on Friday.

“There is one difference, though, between my first look at Manny and Eumir, Roach said. “Manny was fighting at 122 pounds then, while Eumir will be starting at 160. That's quite a difference!"

That very first day the two met, Roach and his would be new pupil worked the mitts for four rounds at the more private downstairs gym, which for years, has been Pacquiao’s reserve.

Both were impressed at each other with Roach himself expressing belief that Marcial, indeed, has the potential to be the first man to hand the Philippines its Olympic gold medal besides becoming, too, the only second Filipino to own the world middleweight belt.

"We did four rounds of mitts. Eumir worked on the heavy bag and the speed bag. “He’s got a lot of power and very talented!” Roach exclaimed. “But we have a lot of work to do.”

“Preparing for the Olympics after he turns professional is an unusual situation,” Roach noted. “But I really hope we can be the first to bring a world title (in his division) and Olympic gold to the Philippines. That would be very special."

Feeling abandoned by his own Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines, Marcial said meeting with the revered Roach was a memorable day as well.

"Freddie Roach is a boxing legend and to think I am now training with him… is a dream come true," Marcial quipped. "I felt like I was walking in Manny's footsteps when coach Freddie toured me at the Wild Card Gym.”

To see a big Philippines flag so prominently displayed inside made him very proud, he said. “Maisip ko lang na I’ll be working out with coach Freddie is already a great experience. I cannot wait to return for our next session."

Eight months after making it to the Tokyo Olympics last March and following the total lockdown on all sports activities imposed by the government, Marcial has been requesting ABAP to provide him a training venue and a training program to prepare him for his first Olympic stint to no avail.

All government-owned sports facilities inside tne New Clark City in Tarlac, the ULTRA in Pasig city and the Rkizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila have been transformed into quarantine facilities, prompting him to turn professional with the consent of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which took over supervision of all Olympic activities in boxing from AIBA.

Nowhere to go, Marcial quietly left the country for the U.S last weekend so, he said, he could prepare for the Tokyo Olympics sans those who are supposed to be providing him necessary support.

“Gusto ko sana makasama si Australian coaching consultant coach Don Abnett sa training ko sa US kaya nag-request ako sa ABAP kung pwede ko siya makasama pati ang aming head coach Ronald (Chavez),” Marcial told this reporter a few days before leaving. ”Sabi ng ABAP, ‘sige tignan natin’.

“Pero, two weeks, three weeks na nakalipas, wala pa silang desisyon kaya nag-decided na na ako na mag-isa bumiyahe sa US, kung saan may pag-asa akong makapag-ensayo, “ he related.

Marcial, along with lady boxer Irish Magno, pole vaulter EJ Obiena and gymnast Carlos Yulo are, so far, the country’s only qualifiers for the Olympics set July 23-August 8, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eddie Alinea of The Manila Times.


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