- Brian Doogan
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To Manny Pacquiao, whose father, Rosalio, abandoned his family when the fighter was 12, Freddie Roach is more than just a trainer.
"He is a friend, almost a father figure, and I listen to Freddie, whatever he tells me," Pacquiao told ESPN.com. "He teaches me not just about boxing but about life. I am fortunate to have Freddie Roach in my life."
A student of the late Eddie Futch, one of boxing's most venerable trainers, Roach engaged in his first amateur bout at the age of 6. He had 53 fights as a pro, six more than Futch advised him.
"Eddie told me to retire; he said I didn't have it anymore. But I didn't listen," Roach said. "I had six more fights and I lost five of them Eddie was right."
Roach suffers from trauma-induced Parkinson's syndrome, which he attributes to too many fights. Yet his life would feel empty if he were unable to breathe in the atmosphere of the gym, which he does daily at the Wild Card Gym that he owns and runs on Vine Street in Hollywood, or the more rarefied air of a big fight such as Saturday's "Dream Match" between Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya.
Having prepared America's Golden Boy for his abortive bid to knock Floyd Mayweather off boxing's pound-for-pound pedestal last year, Roach is well-placed to know the limitations as well as the potential of the 35-year-old "part-time fighter who has only fought four times in the last four years" -- Roach's pointed characterization of his former charge.
Roach is convinced that De La Hoya is vulnerable to the kind of ferocity which has been Pacquiao's hallmark in his 47 wins, 35 by stoppage, against three defeats and two draws.
"When I trained Oscar for his fight against Floyd Jr., we only had two good days on the mitts but, with Manny Pacquiao, we have good mitts sessions every day," Roach said.
"I've said it over and over and I know it's a fact: Oscar can't pull the trigger anymore. He doesn't have the explosion of Manny Pacquiao. He doesn't have that pop. Pacquiao will inflict a lot of damage on Oscar. If Steve Forbes [against whom De La Hoya went the distance in a warm-up fight in May] can hit him as easily as he did, Manny can do a lot more damage, believe me."
For the first half of the fight against Mayweather, Roach was convinced that De La Hoya was following his blueprint to victory and he is just as sure now that a fundamental flaw in De La Hoya's makeup caused him to become increasingly disheveled the longer the fight went on.
"It's a mistake Oscar made in the fight and we're going to take advantage of it in our fight," Roach said. "I'm not going to tell you what it was but it was something that he started doing -- it wasn't something Mayweather did. It was a mistake Oscar made and I know the mistake and I know it well. And we will take advantage of it. I'm going to take his jab away from him."
Roach also believes De La Hoya's limitations extend beyond just his physical deterioration.
"With Oscar, it's 100 percent mental. He trains really, really hard. He runs well, he has a great work ethic but he gets tired and it's a mental issue. What it is specifically, I don't know. I've had sports psychologists call me and offer to help Oscar with that problem and I told Oscar and he just laughed at me."
He may have laughed then but Roach, the surprising antagonist in this melodrama, has ostensibly got under De La Hoya's skin. But will his inside knowledge of the De La Hoya camp be a vital factor when the bell rings?
In the opposite corner will be Nacho Beristain, who has worked with legendary Mexican fighters Ricardo Lopez, Daniel Zaragoza, Juan Manuel Marquez and his brother, Rafael -- just to name a few.
De La Hoya refers to Beristain as "my Yoda" and he says that he can generate more power in his left hook because of the methods employed by Beristain.
Angelo Dundee, who built his reputation on the brilliant careers of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, has a quasi-consultancy role, though he will not work the corner on Saturday night, an arrangement with which Beristain is happy.
Beristain is also confident that Roach's prior association with De La Hoya will have no relevance.
"I don't see it as any kind of advantage," he said. "He trained Oscar for one fight but Oscar is the type of fighter who can adjust himself to different opponents or different fight styles.
"Freddie Roach hasn't seen anything about Oscar because there is no way that you can get to know a fighter just for one fight."
Maybe not, but that has been Beristain's task for this fight. Meanwhile, Roach can reflect with satisfaction on what he and "a raw, fast, hard-punching kid when he came in" have achieved over the past several years.
Out of the all the fighters he has trained, Pacquiao is his best work and this will be his biggest stage, but Roach has no apprehensions about the former light flyweight being overwhelmed.
"Oscar has a good left hand but he doesn't have a lot of confidence in his right hand, so we know we have to get past that jabbing and that's going to be our toughest opposition, I believe," Roach said. "We've been working on that and we're going to put pressure on this guy because I know Oscar tends to get tired late in rounds in slow-paced fights. We're going to fight the whole time and just burn him out."
The view from the other corner is different, of course.
"Oscar De La Hoya has fought tough guys his whole life," Dundee said. "The weight will have nothing to do with it, the height will have nothing to do with it. What will determine the fight is that Oscar's a better fighter."
Brian Doogan is a sportswriter for The (London) Sunday Times and is a longtime European correspondent for The Ring magazine.
35mMichael C. Wright