A few weeks ago, Freddie Roach, the most high-profile trainer in the recent history of boxing, sat on a table at the Hollywood gym he owns and talked about his own checkered history with the Mayweather family. He spoke of the uncle named Roger, who was once a welterweight champion, and the father, former welterweight contender Floyd Sr., who now serves as his son’s trainer, and about the bad blood that’s built between himself and the Mayweathers for decades now and will soon culminate in one of the biggest fights of the 21st century.
Years ago, Roach told me, he sparred with Roger Mayweather in the gym. The way he tells it, he chased Roger around the ring for four rounds and never hit him; when Roger asked to spar again the next day, Roach told him, I already did my roadwork this morning. This, Roach says, was the beginning of a contentious relationship that will peak on Saturday night, when Roach’s premier fighter, Manny Pacquiao, faces Roger’s nephew Floyd Jr. in a long-awaited fight that will set pay-per-view records.
“To be honest, the kid was self-made,” Roach says of Floyd Jr. “We had a lot of talents in the gym, and the kid grew up watching these people, but his uncle Roger’s probably his favorite. [Roger’s] not a nice guy. He’ll knock you out and spit on you and stuff. If me and him were in the same room right now, we might fight.”
Like any boxing personality, Roach is prone to a certain amount of exaggeration and overhype in service of his cause; given that he’s 55 years old and suffering from the effects of Parkinson’s disease, I don’t think he meant that last sentence literally. But I also don’t think Roach was tacitly lying to me about any of it. If anything, this is a man who tends to embrace honesty to the point of uncomfortability. I think this is part of his job, to sell the public on the idea that Mayweather is a villain and Pacquiao is almost angelically innocent, to advance the notion that the whole Mayweather clan comes from a place of animosity and distrust, that this whole show can work as a battle between good and evil. (The fact that Mayweather’s disturbing history of domestic violence has become a key part of the pre-fight storyline only plays further into Roach’s narrative.)
And so Roach has found a selling point that works for both himself and the recently reformed Pacquiao (who embraced religion a few years back after a period of womanizing and gambling), a storyline that he can pass along to Pacquiao as they both train for what is the biggest fight of each of their careers, an evening that will shape both of their legacies. Because Roach dislikes Mayweather, he can sell Pacquiao on hating Mayweather, too; because Pacquiao is a devout Christian, almost deferentially shy in certain public situations, Roach can use that hatred to motivate Pacquiao to new levels while also shaping how the media portrays his own camp. It is a dark twist on the Jedi mind trick, but when I spoke to Roach, he seemed to imply that it was working.
“They’re not polite people,” Roach says of the Mayweathers. “And I’m not either.”
It’s not too difficult to get Roach to admit to the holes in his own storyline. When he tried to sell me on the idea that Mayweather-Pacquiao would actually be a better fight than it was five years ago, I asked him if he really believed that, and he eventually admitted that five years ago, this fight would have been better. “Age is something we can’t prevent,” he says.
I imagine this is a lot of what’s on Roach’s mind in the days leading up to the fight, given his own health issues. He’s frankly not sure how much time he has left, either. The Parkinson’s has made it more difficult for him to be in the ring with Pacquiao, catching punches. He’s taken to observing from outside the ring, in part because it allows him to observe Pacquiao in new ways, and in part because his doctors have told him that taking too many inadvertent punches might kill him.
It’s obvious he recognizes the gravity of this bout. It’s obvious he sees his own legacy is on the line, as well. And so he’s willing to embrace the angle that gives his fighter an edge, and the angle that gives him the edge, as well. In this case, the narratives converge; in this case, Freddie Roach’s hatred of the Mayweathers and Manny Pacquiao’s hatred of the Mayweathers are one and the same. It’s a good story that, at least in Roach’s case, he happens to fully believe in.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb