Freddie Roach Has Fight of His Life

Freddie Roach,left, the trainer for Oscar De La Hoya, started feeling the symptoms of Parkinson’s syndrome in 1988.

Freddie Roach,left, the trainer for Oscar De La Hoya, started feeling the symptoms of Parkinson’s syndrome in 1988.

Freddie Roach had an eight-year career as a boxer, mostly as a lightweight, but it was not until two years after he retired, in 1988, that he started feeling the symptoms of Parkinson’s syndrome.

“I sprained my leg running, and it just triggered it,” said Roach, who was hired to train Oscar De La Hoya to defend his superwelterweight title against Floyd Mayweather Jr.

“All of a sudden, I was having tremors,” Roach added.

As Roach spoke, his left hand shook. He steadied it by placing his right hand over it. Roach’s speech sounds slightly slurred, and his gait is visibly impaired “because I can’t strike my left heel.”

Roach, 47, said that doctors could not say with certainty that boxing caused his Parkinson’s — which also affects, to a much more dramatic degree, Muhammad Ali — but he describes himself as a “trauma case.”

He said that his neurologist told him the damage had been done and that he would not get worse. “But I’ve talked to another neurologist who said there’s no way I can’t get worse,” Roach said.

Roach said he was not sure if the punches he absorbed late in his career made any more of an impact on his condition than those from earlier bouts. His trainer, Eddie Futch, a renowned corner man, “called me into his office and told me to retire,” he said, “He told me to retire, but I said no. I was 27, I thought I could still fight, so I fought five more times and lost four.”

Two decades later, Roach is one of boxing’s most respected trainers, a short, shy man who looks more like De La Hoya’s bookkeeper.

“In the gym, the guy’s an animal,” said De La Hoya, who hired Roach after choosing not to keep Mayweather’s father, Floyd Sr. Roach said that the time he spent training De La Hoya in Puerto Rico kept him from training five of his fighters for title fights.

“I have to keep up with him,” De La Hoya said. “We don’t feel sorry for him, but obviously you have to feel for him a bit.”

Roach said that exercise and medication had made him feel better than at any time since the symptoms began. “If I know I’m shaking, I can stop it,” he said. “But if I’m concentrated on something else, I can’t control it.”

In the ring, Roach said that he did not shake or feel any other manifestations of Parkinson’s. “That’s home for me,” he said. “It all goes away. I have 14 fighters in my gym at home, and my record is going 44 rounds in a row, nonstop. I’m in good shape. I don’t drink or smoke. I have no bad habits.”

The HBO reality series, “De La Hoya-Mayweather 24/7,” amply demonstrated Roach’s vigor in the ring with De La Hoya; it also showed the remaining physical prowess of Mayweather’s trainer, his uncle, Roger Mayweather.

At a news conference Wednesday, Roger Mayweather meandered through a monologue in which he scorned Futch as a hack (he trained six heavyweight champions, including Larry Holmes, Joe Frazier and Riddick Bowe) and Roach as nothing but a punching bag who “couldn’t whip me in a million years. I know, because I sparred with him.”

Roach, a few feet away on the dais, did not respond, but he said that the attack on Futch was “despicable.” The relevance of Mayweather’s spoken jabs were lost on Roach, who said: “O.K., maybe he would have knocked me out. He was a world champion. But who cares? I just considered the source.”

To train De La Hoya, Roach used Futch’s lessons in controlling a speedier opponent by cutting off the ring. “But if Oscar follows Mayweather, with his speed, it’ll be a long night for us,” he said.

Roach said that when he watched his boxers — De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao or anyone else — he looked for signs of impairment, which might be a symptom of Parkinson’s.

“I’ve had it so long, I can see if something’s not right, if someone’s missing a step,” he said. “If I see the signs, I talk to them and I’ve asked a few to retire. Some follow my advice, some don’t.”

He said that he did not blame boxing for his Parkinson’s. “I believe in freedom of choice,” he said. “I deal with it. Nobody else has to. I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me because I’m happy.”


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