Last June standing in the lobby of a New York City hotel, a few days prior to the Miguel Cotto vs Sergio Martinez fight at Madison Square Garden, Freddie Roach stared me in the eyes and said, “We’re going to knock this guy out.” He continued with, “Have you ever been in the ring? What the fuck do you know about boxing?” His aggressive retort came after I had given my personal opinion on the fight – Martinez by wide unanimous decision.
Cotto was immaculate that night at Madison Square Garden. Capturing the lineal middleweight championship, dominating Martinez, knocking him down four times and leaving Martinez sitting on his stool powerless to make it out for the 10th round.
Freddie was right. Damn right.
As we approach Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and arguably the most anticipated fight since Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier I, Roach has a very similar tone, in a very similar role: the underdog. “We have the plan to beat this guy.” Roach told the Queensberry Rules. “Combinations in and out. We can’t stay in the pocket for too long but we can stay for, like, a five punch combination because Mayweather doesn’t counterpunch until you’re through. He’ll throw back at you, we have to get out of the pocket quickly and make him miss and make him pay. I think we’re better than this guy. We’re in and out all night long we’re way too fast for this guy.”
This week leading up, the trash talk has been faint and virtually absent. Roach has his own perceptive on that. “I really don’t think he (Mayweather) wants to be here because he’s been real quiet and really polite.”
May weather’s pay-per-view numbers – that we know of – since signing a six fight deal with Showtime have been lackluster by his standards, at best, save the Canelo Alvarez fight. “He’s pick and chose his opponents his entire life and this is one fight he didn’t get to pick.” Roach said with a beaming smile.
That smile changed in seconds to a composed, confident stare, “I do feel he (Pacquiao) has a chance to knock him (Mayweather) out.” Roach added, “We have to break the legs down first. I mean, his legs are starting to go on him a little bit. You can see in the last two fights so we have to go to the body early in this fight I feel. And then in the late rounds I think we have a good chance of stopping him.”
The third man in the ring is best when he goes unnoticed. This Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Kenny Bayless will be in his accustomed role, refereeing the mega-fight of the year. But lately criticism has fallen on his shoulders. Bayless has a growing tendency to not let fighters fight out of clinches. Or, as Al Bernstein described in the second Mayweather-Marcos Maidana fight, Bayless was looking to break the fighters before they even clinched. But Roach doesn’t seem at all uneasy with Bayless, whom Roach described as a good friend.
“Kenny learned how to be a referee in the same gym I was teaching my fighters. I used to let him practice when Richard Steele was his coach and taught him how to be a referee.” Roach said, “All I’m asking is for a fair fight and I think I’ll get it. It’s too big a stage no one can mess up on this one.”
Roach is once again confidently embracing the underdog role, as he did last June in New York City. But this is a much different fight — a fight for which Roach has been long formulating.