Freddie Roach says that he has had to hold back “amazing” Manny Pacquiao during preparations for this month’s welterweight title fight against Errol Spence Jr, although he acknowledges the Filipino must put in a flawless performance if he is to come through potentially the toughest challenge of his celebrated career.
Pacquiao, 42, takes on the undefeated Spence at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on August 21, marking his return to competitive boxing for the first time in more than two years. At 31, and boasting an advantage in both height and reach, Spence is viewed as the distinct favourite as he defends his WBC and IBF belts.
However, Pacquiao has impressed Roach significantly since beginning his final training camp at Wild Card Boxing Club early last month, so much so that the World Boxing Hall of Fame coach has been forced to rein in the boxer.
“After his first day of training at Wild Card, [Manny] lifted up his shirt, so proud of his six-pack, and told me, ‘I’m still here, Freddie!’,” Roach tells The National from his Hollywood base. “That told me everything. Even at 42, he worked hard on his conditioning before coming to Wild Card to train.
“He is working so hard. I have forced him to take days off from training because he is so far ahead of schedule. There are days I worry about him peaking too soon.
“He has given me everything I have asked of him. No one works harder than Manny. Mentally? He is so focused on this fight. We talk strategy every day. Manny has looked tremendous in training camp and he is improving daily. I’m with him every day. He is amazing.”
Pacquiao, boxing’s only eight-division world champion, has conceded that Spence forms perhaps the most formidable foe of a professional career that will soon stretch to 72 fights. The American, who recovered from a near-fatal car crash in late 2019 to return in December and dominated Danny Garcia on points, has won all 27 pro bouts, with 21 coming via knockout. Pacquiao’s record stands at 62-7-2 (39 KOs).
“I do agree with Manny,” Roach says. “There is the age difference, the height difference, and the reach difference. Spence has the advantage in all three categories. Spence is also undefeated and has the title belts to prove it.
“Ten years ago, I look at this as just another fight, but at 42, that’s a different story. Manny has an extra burden on him and will need to accommodate those factors. Manny will need to fight the perfect fight to pull out the victory. That is what we have focused on in training camp.”
Still, Roach believes the level of the challenge provided by Spence is exactly why Pacquiao took the fight – and because of that, makes it a favourable opponent for his star pupil.
“Anyone who is young, undefeated, and wears a championship belt automatically becomes a good match-up for Manny because Manny is a competitor,” Roach says. “He loves going after elite fighters. It’s what invigorates him.
“At this stage of Manny’s career, he is only looking for untested mountains to conquer. He loves to keep testing himself. In Errol Spence, he has found himself a big test.
“Manny needs to fight the perfect fight. There is no getting around that. Everything he does well he will have to execute to perfection that night. Speed, movement, angles, and stamina. He needs to come into the ring with all of it. It is a tough fight.”
Roach dismissed suggestions Pacquiao could encounter a problem going up against a fellow southpaw in Spence – the first time he has done so competitively in 13 years – saying he has never had an issue either in the ring or during the current camp.
The famed trainer, who has worked with Pacquiao since 2002, rejected Keith Thurman’s claims that his former rival has looked a little slower inside the Wild Card ring than he did when they met in July 2019. Pacquiao prevailed then via a split decision to hand Thurman his first pro defeat.
Concerns, therefore, regarding the lengthy spell in competitive inactivity between that encounter and Spence do not worry Roach.
“Based on what I have seen in training camp, no impact at all,” he says. “Didn’t Keith Thurman also say he would retire Manny before they fought two years ago? By the way, has Thurman fought since losing to Manny?”
Whatever happens on August 21, Pacquiao appears close to calling an end to his guaranteed Hall-of-Fame career. With a prominent role in Philippines’ politics – a sitting senator since 2016, he is tipped to run for president later this year – Pacquiao has remained non-committal whenever quizzed if Spence would represent his final fight in the sport.
Roach, though, does see the finish line in sight, even if the competitive fire within Pacquiao still burns bright.
“Manny loves boxing. Boxing is his passion,” the American says. “He enjoys every challenge it brings to him. At some point, he will have to make some important life choices.
“I think that’s why this fight is so important to him. He wants to win it badly because it could be his last one and he wants to put an exclamation point on the legacy he leaves behind.
“Every baseball player dreams of hitting a home run in his last at-bat. I’m from New England and Ted Williams, who played for the Boston Red Sox, did that. I think Manny wants to make Errol Spence his last at-bat home run. Coincidentally, Ted Williams was also 42 when he hit that last home run.”