- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Freddie Roach liked what he saw of acclaimed former Cuban Olympic medalists Guillermo Rigondeaux and Yudel Johnson. He'll be seeing a lot more.
Roach, who will pick up his 2008 Boxing Writers Association of America award for trainer of the year at Friday night's annual banquet in New York, signed on to train the duo on Tuesday, a day after he spent part of the day meeting the fighters and working out with them.
"I trained the two of them [Monday] and we worked the mitts and did a full workout," Roach said. "Both of these guys have a lot of talent and I am looking forward to working with them."
Rigondeaux, 28, a junior featherweight as a professional, won bantamweight gold medals in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and is one of the most acclaimed amateurs of all time. Johnson, 27, is a professional junior middleweight who won the light welterweight silver medal in the 2004 Olympics.
"We are very, very excited about this," said Luis DeCubas, who promotes the fighters. "The chemistry was unbelievable with both guys. Freddie is a great trainer. He's great with southpaws. Just look at what he did with [southpaw and pound-for-pound king] Manny Pacquiao."
Rigondeaux and Johnson won their pro debuts on May 22 in Miami, with Rigondeaux scoring a third-round knockout of Juan Noriega and Johnson stopping Greg Weathers in 52 seconds.
Roach is particularly excited about Rigondeaux's potential.
"When we worked the mitts together, it was like when I worked with Manny for the first time," Roach said. "We just really clicked together. We understood each other right away even though we don't speak the same language. He said he learned a lot from me and that he wanted me as his coach. So I am his coach. We did the deal."
Roach is leaving for England this weekend to work with Amir Khan for the rest of his training heading into a June 27 challenge against junior welterweight titlist Andreas Kotelnik in London. When he returns to the United States, Roach will begin working with Rigondeaux and Johnson.
Rigondeaux and Johnson, who defected together from Cuba in February and have been living in Miami, will relocate to Los Angeles, where Roach runs his Wild Card Boxing Club.
Roach was the studio guest on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" on the night Rigondeaux turned pro in one of the televised bouts, so he was watching closely. He said he was impressed that night and is even more so now, having worked with him in person this week.
"The thing is, he is very clever," said Roach, who did eight rounds on the mitts with both fighters during their workout. "He's very elusive and he punches with both hands. He caught me on the tip of the nose with a right hook by accident. I could feel the power and he didn't even catch me that good. We have some things to work on, but he's a talented kid."
As for Johnson, Roach said, "He's a big puncher. He was having a little trouble coming to me with the jab, but he's a counter puncher. He needs a little more work. He didn't pick things up as quick as Rigondeaux but he's got heavy hands. I look forward to working with them. They worked really hard with me."
The fighters do not have their second bout scheduled yet, but DeCubas is in talks with ESPN about securing the July 17 date for a "Friday Night Fights" card, on which both would be featured in Las Vegas.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
3hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann