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FREDDIE ROACH AND HIS WILD CARD GYM


PhilBoxing.com




Much has been said about Freddie Roach as a person and as a Coach/Trainer. They say he is kind and always humble, unaffected by his success and the many accolades heaped upon him as a boxing tactician par excellance. Some say he is honest to a fault, no secrets are kept, that when he tells you his boxer will score a knockout, you can be sure the statement comes from his heart, it is no double talk. I had my own personal glimpse of Freddie's personality in our short visit this hot afternoon at his Wild Card Gym, and I can say, those comments are all true.

I had long wanted to see for myself this famed Wild Card Gym ever since I arrived here in California, especially during the times that Manny Pacquiao would train for his fights, but got dissuaded with the maddening crowd, and the restrictions that the Gym had to impose to regulate and manage the flow of fans wanting to come inside.

Intrigued to find out what a typical summer and uneventful day would be (without Manny Pacaquiao) at the Wild Card Gym, I decided the time is right to make my first visit. From the map quest, the Gym at Vine Street, L.A. would be an hour's trip from Anaheim, sans traffic.

Arriving at the parking lot and looking up at the facade of the building, the Wild Card Gym really looks imposing with the different flags draping their windows on the second floor. Upon reaching the top stairs, on the door, one is greeted by Freddie's amiable brother and former boxer himself, Pepper Roach. The room is full of a motley group of boxers, prospects, trainers, managers and fans. My daughter, a long time Freddie Roach fan was the first to see the famous coach, who was at the side of the ring, intently watching the spirited sparring of two heavyweights. Excited to meet Freddie, and the constant prodding of my daughter to shake hands with him, I forgot the protocol that the Secretary/Receptionist said, that she would just call Freddie Roach to come to the counter to sign autographs and greet fans, I went directly to where he was standing at the right side of the ring and introduced myself, remembering what Dr. Ed dela Vega told me that Freddie Roach was a very accommodating person.

Without any hint of irritation or offense, the coach greeted me warmly as if I was an old friend, and even, motioned for my daughter to come to him. His friendliness was so natural. I remember him being quoted once, during the training of Manny Pacquiao in Cebu City, Philippines for his second meeting with Marco Antonio Barrera, that he was irked that Manny Pacquiao would break rules at the Rex Wakee Salud Gym and allow himself to be interrupted by uninvited guests. Little does Freddie know now, that, in some ways, he has become more like his ward, that their natural goodness would surface beyond the barriers of well meant training etiquettes and rules.

My original plan was to interview Donnie Nietes on his upcoming fight with Manuel Chango Vargas and the other ALA mainstay, AJ Banal and their trainer, Edmund Villamor, but it was not the right time. Donnie was all business when the group arrived from lunch break. He gave me a friendly nod, and immediately plunged into sparring after getting instructions from his trainer. AJ, who has now bulked into a bantamweight did the same thing after a few pleasantries, and finally, Edmund excused himself to supervise the boys' training. Pepper Roach gave us a tour of the facility, including the room where Freddie Roach and his top assistants exclusively trains Manny Pacquiao away from all distractions.

For newcomers like us, one can feel the happy environment and culture of professionalism, from Pepper Roach to all the staff. It's true, the attitude of the boss is also mirrored by the attitude of the underlings. By all accounts, Freddie Roach and his Wild Card Gym is a winning combination.

After an hour, we decided to go home, but not before breaking protocol again. My daughter would not go without getting
Freddie's signature on the Wild Card Gym souvenir t-shirt she bought. I could sense the concern on the beautiful Receptionist"s face as we approached Freddie who this time was really in deep concentration on the sparring. A lesser Coach would have taken slight already at our intrusion, and show it, but not Freddie.

There was only one question I managed to ask Freddie before leaving, "do you believe, we can still knock out Cotto"? Without batting an eye, the Coach said, "yes". It was the shortest interview I have ever had, but it summed up everything.

Top photo: The author (R) and daughter with Roach at the Wildcard Gym in Los Angeles.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Jonathan Davis.


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