- DOB: March 5, 1960, Dedham, MA
- Gym: Wild Card Boxing Club
- Location: Los Angeles, California
- Boxing Background: Compiled a 40-13 (15 KO’s) pro record before becoming a top trainer
- Notable Fighters: Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya, Virgil Hill, Amir Khan, Miguel Cotto, Mike Tyson
Freddie Roach’s Boxing Background
While Freddie Roach is arguably the most high-profile, well-respected and beloved trainer of recent times, he originally made his name in the sport of boxing as first a prospect and then a journeyman in the featherweight, junior light and lightweight divisions.
One of seven children born to Paul Roach – himself a former New England featherweight champion – and his wife Barb (who would become the first female pro-boxing judge in the state of Massachusetts), Freddie and his brothers Joey and Pepper began boxing as kids.
Roach would go on to have a decorated amateur career, competing is some 150 bouts. He turned professional in August 1978, winning a six round decision over one Roberto Vasquez. Nicknamed “Choir Boy” because of his youthful appearance, the teenager won his first ten fights, displaying an aggressive, all-action style that made him an instant crowd favorite.
However, Freddie lacked power and was easy to hit – two shortcomings that were never going to lead to a long career. Nevertheless, he lost just once in his first 27 fights, but when he stepped up in class and took on boxers hovering around the world’s top-20, like Rafael Lopez (L SD 10) and Lenny Valdez (L TKO 2), his shortcomings were exposed. Probably the highlights of Freddie Roach’s boxing career all came in 1985 when he shared the ring with then fading ring legend Bobby Chacon and future world champions Greg Haugen and Hector Camacho – and lost to all three.
Roach was trained by arguably the greatest coach of all time – Eddie Futch – but when Freddie began showing signs of Parkinson’s disease, Futch asked him to retire. Instead Roach fought on, coached by his father, losing five of his final six fights. In 1986 Freddie Roach retired aged just 26 with a record of 40-13 with 15 KOs. He was stopped only three times. His highest purse was just $7,500.
Freddie Roach Becomes a Trainer
Still in his mid-20s and with his professional boxing career already behind him, the future wasn’t looking too bright for Freddie Roach. By his own admission, he had been involved in around 300 street fights as a kid, and he was living in a neighborhood dominated by the Irish Mob, led at that time by the notorious Whitey Bulger. In fact, as a 14-year old Roach had helped his father landscape Whitey Bulger’s garden. Bulger was the main sponsor of the amateur boxing team Roach fought for, and one of his teammates – Kevin Weeks – would become one of Bulger’s top enforcers, even writing a book about his experiences.
Roach moved to Las Vegas and found employment as a telemarketer, a job he hated. However, while boxing seemed through with Freddie Roach – it turned out Freddie Roach wasn’t quite through with boxing. To kill time he began to help out at Eddie Futch’s gym in an unpaid capacity. He began coaching the youngsters, then helping Futch with his pro stable. Eventually he became Eddie Futch’s chief assistant, working alongside the great man for five years.
In 1991 Hollywood star Mickey Rourke was going through a personal crisis. While he had achieved both critical and commercial success with films such as Year of the Dragon, 9½ Weeks and Angel Heart, Rourke felt he had unfinished business in the ring, having competed as an amateur in his youth. Rourke approached Freddie Roach to train him, and Roach declined, but changed his mind when the actor offered to help fund Roach his own boxing gym to train him in.
Roach and Rourke became partners in the gym, which they used to prepare the actor for seven fights between 1992 and 1994. Rourke retired with a record of six wins and two draws, with 5 KO’s.
The Wild Card Boxing Club
In 1995 Freddie Roach parted company with Mickey Rourke amicably, and with his $10,000 life savings he built his own gym – the Wild Card Boxing Club, in Hollywood, California. Rourke promptly donated all of the equipment he’d purchased to his friends new venture, and much of it remains in full working order at the Wild Card today.
Possibly due to a combination of Freddie Roach’s engaging personality and his connection with Mickey Rourke, the gym proved popular from the start. However what really set Roach apart from other trainers was his deep, “old-school” boxing knowledge that he’d acquired first-hand from his years spent with Eddie Futch, both as a fighter and as an assistant.
Roach soon earned a reputation as a great boxing coach, and as a result attracted the attention of Irishman Steve Collins, then the WBO middleweight champion, and Frankie Liles, the WBA super middleweight titlist. Collins and Liles were the first of more than 50 boxing world champions that Roach would train.
In 2001 Manny Pacquiao had reached a crossroads in his young life. He was 22-years old, had been WBC world flyweight champion aged 19, but had lost that title in 1999 on a third round KO to Boonsai Sangsurat – Pacquiao’s second knockout defeat. Pacquiao had scored six straight KO’s since, and signed a promotional deal with Bob Arum, and was set to make his US debut. An impressive showing would take his career to the next level. Another loss would be an almost insurmountable setback.
The Filipino wanted an American coach to prepare him for his upcoming crack at IBF super bantamweight champion Lehlo Ledwaba in Las Vegas. Arum gave him Roach’s address, and the rest is history. The two hit it off immediately. In June 2001 Pacquiao looked sensational as he demolished Lehlo Ledwaba in six rounds to win his second world title. A superstar was born.
Roach said he had never before seen such talent in a small fighter, but at that time Pacquiao was far from perfect. The Filipino was essentially a one-armed fighter, but because he had such devastating power in his left hand, he got away with it. Roach brought his right hand in to play, improved his defense and footwork, and turned him into one of the greatest fighters of all time, up there with Ali, Robinson, Duran and Leonard.
Freddie Roach will always be synonymous with Manny Pacquiao, and for good reason. Under his tutelage Pacquiao won nine world titles in five weight classes, and defeated the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera (twice), Erik Morales (twice), Juan Manuel Marquez (twice), Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley, Timothy Bradley (twice), Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman.
His success with Pacquiao meant that Roach became the most in-demand trainer in boxing, with every big name in the sport eager to have him in their corner, often just for one major fight. This led to Roach training such legends as Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson and Bernard Hopkins, and most successfully, Miguel Cotto. Cotto came to Roach late in his career, and together they captured the WBC middleweight title and WBO super welterweight belt.
Here are just some of the dozens of fighters Roach has trained in his career, many in world title winning fights:
Raymundo Beltran, Jose Benavidez, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. , Virgil Hill, Amir Khan, Wladimir Klitschko, Jorge Linares, Vanes Martirosyan, Wayne McCullough, Jean Pascal, Gerry Penalosa, Viktor Postol, Ruslan Provodnikov, Scott Quigg, Peter Quillin, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Lucia Rijker, Andy Ruiz Jr., Zou Shiming, Johnny Tapia, James Toney, Israel Vazquez and Brian Viloria.
Few trainers in boxing history have received as many accolades as Freddie Roach. Here are just some of the many honors and awards he has received in his long, storied career:
- 2006 California Boxing Hall of Fame
- 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013 & 2014 Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year
- 2008 World Boxing Council (WBC) “Lifetime Achievement Award”
- 2012 International Boxing Hall of Fame, Canastota, New York
- 2013 Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame