For part two of our preview of the Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather fight we will focus on the one thing every boxing match seems to have, a great story. Stories in which the protagonist overcomes tremendous odds to accomplish something great seem to litter the boxing landscape. This bout’s story of triumph will be in De La Hoya’s corner, his new trainer, Freddie Roach.
De La Hoya’s former trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr. refused to have anything to do with a fight between his star pupil and his son. So Oscar began a search for a new trainer, and found his man in Freddie Roach. De La Hoya has said several times publicly that this has been his best training camp by far and he’s never felt more prepared for a fight.
Roach was a crowd-pleasing journeyman fighter in the lightweight and super lightweight divisions from 1978 to 1986. He compiled a lifetime 39-13-0 record with 15 KO’s, but was known for his great chin, brawler mentality and a ferocious competitive streak. Unfortunately that competitive streak may have cost him dearly. After losing a fight to Greg Haugen in 1985, Roach’s trainer, Eddie Futch, begged him to retire. He refused. Roach instead took five more fights, losing four. Looking back on his career, Roach now believes that those last five fights are the root of an affliction he now suffers from. You see despite having trained 11 champions including some of boxing’s greatest fighters (Manny Pacquiao, James Toney, Mike Tyson, Israel Vasquez and De La Hoya) and being voted two-time Trainer of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, Freddie Roach has Pugilistic Parkinson’s syndrome.
The condition, which occurs in people who have suffered multiple concussions, often manifests itself as dementia, declining mental ability, and tremors or lack of coordination. It can also cause a slurring of speech, unsteady gait and inappropriate behavior. Despite those limitations, most fighters, including De La Hoya, claim they struggle to keep up with the 47-year-old Roach.
If you’ve watched any of “De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7″ you know that Roach is not embarrassed by his symptoms and he addresses them head on. He openly talks about how he is an example to younger fighters, who might be in danger, to listen to those around them and quit while they can. He says boxing has been good to him and it was his choice. He doesn’t blame anyone else for his problems, not the sport, not the doctors who treated him or the boxing commissions who let him fight. Oh yeah, and on top of it all, he is regarded by everyone who meets him as one of the nicest, most gentle and decent men you’ll ever meet.
It’s tough listening to a guy, who’s not even 50, struggling to force out a slurred sentence. It really is sad to think what might have been. But Roach doesn’t want pity, he doesn’t want you to feel sad for what years of boxing have done to him. Through it all, he’s gotten more from the sport than it could possibly take away from him. After all, with his fighting spirit, it would take more than a speech impediment or hand tremors to slow him down.