LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 23: Trainer Freddie Roach and Amir Khan pose after Khan's fifth round knockout of Zab Judah in their super lightweight world championship unification bout at Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 23, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
In this interview with SB Nation, legendary boxing coach and trainer Freddie Roach talks about his new HBO show 'On Freddie Roach', his feelings of vulnerability showing the world his struggles with Parkinson's disease, his love for his craft, a deeper look into his Wild Card Gym and even his bad temper.
What do you really know about Freddie Roach?
You know he's the highly successful boxing coach and trainer to the game's biggest stars: fighters like Manny Pacquiao or Amir Khan. You probably know he's the proprietor of the famous Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles, California. You may also know he was once a boxer himself and that the toll of the game he loves and lives for today has left him perpetually grappling with Parkinson's disease.
All of that, though, is merely what the cameras and endless media reports can glean peering into his lie from the outside. There is another world, another life Roach leads. It's a story more comprehensive and more intimate. It's one, up to this point, that's never been told. It's also the true story of Freddie Roach.
This Friday, January 20th, HBO will premiere it's latest offering, an offering dubbed 'On Freddie Roach'. From the minds of boxing commentator Jim Lampley and executive producer Peter Berg comes this six-part series that offers a window into Roach's life, past and present. Be it training his fighters, treating his disease or having a tantrum, 'On Freddie Roach' is Roach as he nakedly presents himself to the world.
Unlike HBO's '24/7', there is no narrator or even a narrative. Roach insists there are no stunts, props or scripts. It's his life (one he argues is 'boring'), unencumbered or manipulated for television purposes.
In this interview with SB Nation (www.sbnation.com), Roach talks about the genesis of the show, why he agreed to do it, his embarrassment in dealing with and presenting his Parkinson's struggles to the world and why improving his boxers is the most fulfilling part of his life.
Luke Thomas: Freddie, how are you doing, sir?
Freddie Roach: I'm doing fine and you?
Luke Thomas: I'm doing quite well, Freddie. Honored to be talking to you. Talk to me about this show. How did it come about? Where did it come from?
Freddie Roach: You know, Jim Lampley had an idea and he ran it past my agent Nick Khan and Peter Berg got on board. It sounded interesting and I always wanted to be a little famous, but be careful what you wish for. I had some practice with 24/7 and so forth, getting used to cameras being around. So, I accepted to owe my life to them. They really did a good job, I think. I saw the first two shows and I'm going to watch the last four like fans do, so I'm not going to see it first. They really put a nice show together. You get to see an inside look at what we go through everyday at the Wild Card Gym, at my house and everywhere I go.
Luke Thomas: It's kind of interesting you mention that. When you watch yourself on camera - of course you've been doing a thousand interviews, you've been talking about boxing and the guys you've been coaching in a wide variety of media organs - but this is the first time it's ever been just you and just you in many ways outside of boxing. When you saw yourself, did you see something you maybe didn't realize about yourself or maybe that you noticed that was kind of surprising to you?
Freddie Roach: Yeah, I get a little mean at Marie, my assistant, at times. I should be nicer (laughs). The thing is I was really surprised that the tremors are as bad as they are. I thought I had better control of my tremors, but when I'm concentrating somewhere else they just do what they want. It was maybe a little embarrassing at first to watch.
I thought I was a pretty boring person, but Peter Berg and Lampley thought I was wise and saw something. They really brought it out. You get a really true look at my life. There's nothing scripted. There's nothing they've asked me to do or told me to do. It's just me. When I get in a bad mood, I'm in a bad mood. When I'm in a good mood, I am. They've captured a lot of both.
Luke Thomas: Do you feel a sense of vulnerability being on this show? It's a good show for you and your brand and your business and everything else, but you're showing people your Parkinson's treatment. Do you feel vulnerable?
Freddie Roach: Yeah, a little bit. I do, but the thing is I'm a very open person. I talk about it freely if someone has a question to ask me about it. I have no problem ever just giving them the truth. That's one thing I like about the show. Everything is truth. It's just my life and it gives people a look at what we go through every day. Sometimes it's a struggle, but when we win big fights it brings a lot of happiness. That's what makes me tick: winning fights.
Luke Thomas: Part of the show traces your history. You talk very openly about your father, how he was abusive towards your mother. Now you take care of your mother. Basically you said whatever she wants she gets. I'm guess what I'm curious about is your father and how he treated your family. Did that impact your decision to not only get into boxing, but to become a coach? What about that coaching aspect? To what extent is guiding the careers of young men in a positive way is that directed from your experience as a child under your father?
Freddie Roach: Possibly subconsciously that could be. My mother runs a psych ward and she tells me that's why I'm not married and that's why I do what I do. It's because of the way I was brought up.
My dad was a very physical guy, but he was my trainer also. I liked him and I didn't like her as much growing up and so forth. When we were kids, that's the way it goes. Even though he was maybe a little abusive and a little mean he was still the guy that taught me how to fight and he was my teacher. He was an ex-fighter also. Our answer sometimes is our fists. The thing is somewhere along the line we gotta learn how to put them down.
Luke Thomas: On balance, is a father being a coach or a cornerman or a trainer: is that good for a boxer or bad for a boxer?
Freddie Roach: I think it's ok as youngsters and so forth, but my dad realized that I needed to take a step up. He did take me to Las Vegas and we did find Eddie Futch. He spent a week with me in Vegas, so I got settled. He introduced me to Mr. Futch and turned my career over to him because he knew I had to get more experience and a bigger guy in the sport. My dad did have the guts to give his son away.
I think he regretted it later in life. He wished he hadn't done that, but the thing is knew it was best for my career at the time. It's a good thing he did. Not many dads will do that.
Luke Thomas: When you watch this show and you think about the impact it's going to have on your business, obviously it'll be pretty good. I guess what I'm curious about is, how do you want to be viewed? Everyone wants to be viewed positively. I don't mean in that very overarching sense. I mean specifically: if you could write your own script, how would you like to be viewed by others?
Freddie Roach: Ah, I'm a fair person and I treat people with respect. I want respect back. The thing is, some people think the show is going to change me and change my life, but that's not gonna happen. I'm going to be the same Freddie Roach I was yesterday. I'm courteous to people. When fans come in the gym and want to take pictures, I take pictures and break all the rules that the gym has about not taking pictures.
I'm just a regular person like everyone else in the world just going through some struggles and working through it the best we can.
Luke Thomas: I want to talk more about your Parkinson's treatment. When they proposed the show to you, were you apprehensive at all about ‘Ok, I'll show people this, I'll show people this, I will not show people that'. Was there any moment related to the Parkinson's treatment where you said, ‘You know what? That's just a private time for me.'
Freddie Roach: No, because I'm very open and the thing is, Parkinson's is part of my life. I didn't want to just give them [HBO] the good parts or the parts I wanted them to see. In the show you get everything. You've got me being mean, you've got me being happy, you've got me telling off my assistant. I'm embarrassed about that a little bit. I don't mean to be a mean person, but when people get mad those things happen. We're not always that nice. Having cameras around you so long you just kind of forget about that and just do what comes natural. The show really does the natural way I live my life.
Luke Thomas: Does the show get into the different dynamic relationships you have with your boxers: Amir Khan, Manny Pacquiao, whoever you train? Do they show how your relationships with them are similar and different across the different fighters you train and corner?
Freddie Roach: Yeah, it does. Again, I'm closer with Pacquiao than I am with anybody because I've been with him for such a long time now. He's been a very good friend and loyal student for ten years. It does show that.
I haven't seen those episodes yet to be honest with you. I'm like you. I'm kind of waiting to see them come out on TV. I really don't like watching myself on TV. I can't say, ‘Oh, that show's great! They did a good job!' It's just not me. Again, I thought I was a pretty boring person and living a pretty boring life because all I do is one thing, but Jim Lampley and Peter Berg really brought out me outside the gym as well as inside.
Luke Thomas: Will this be the biggest look into your gym? Obviously with all the 24/7 specials and all the media you've done outside of those there's been a lot of pictures taken of Wild Card, maybe even videos of fighters training and maybe even the gym itself. Is this going to be the first look into the gym as it operates on a day-to-day basis?
Freddie Roach: The thing is, they get a look at the gym as it is, but they get the gym closed also with Shane Langford who I took off the streets, gave him a place to live and gave him a place to work and try to change his life. They capture that, how he keeps the gym clean every night. So there's a lot of different aspects about the show people haven't seen before.
The thing is, we truly let them come into our lives and gave them what they needed, what they wanted. Again, everything is natural. You can really see on the screen there's nothing fake about that show.
Luke Thomas: I saw some clips of you getting ready for the [Amir] Khan vs. [Zab] Judah fight in the show and I was here covering the Khan vs. [Lamont] Peterson fight. I guess what I noticed is there's a real sense of routine about your life at least as it relates to training your boxers. Let me ask you about that routine: is that routine you need, is it routine that you put in place or is it routine that just happens in the process of properly training a boxer?
Freddie Roach: I think it just happens. One of my friends says I'm O.C.D. because I have a place for everything and if it's not in the right place I have to move it in the right place. And just like fighting, my routine is very similar. It does very a little with the character of the fighter I'm with of course, but the routine is very similar.
Yes, that's how I live my life. I'm very predictable people. If you were looking for me, I'm not a hard person to find.
Luke Thomas: I'm sure the show will reflect this, does that mean you're unhappiest when the routine or order is rearranged or messed up or played with?
Freddie Roach: Yes, definitely. That's when my temper comes into play and I'm not the nicest person in the world at times. I know that. The thing is, I don't like things out of place. This is very important to me. This is a must-situation, not a maybe-situation. Because fighters and I, we have a routine and we know what we're used to. If you throw something else in there and it throws that routine off, it's going to fuck things up and I can't have that happen.
Luke Thomas: Is the high point in your life just the wins your boxers get or do you feel a general sense about the life you're able to live?
Freddie Roach: Making them better at what they do is what I see. When I see them making those moves that I taught them, that's the happiest point of my life. When they're making those moves, it usually ends up with good results.