As Ali gloved up and Roach danced around the ring with him, the sublime choreography so familiar two decades after their retirements returned. Roach’s symptoms were gone too.
Such a bizarre juxtaposition, no? The cruel sport responsible for their awful afflictions gave both men this moment of peace.
Even now, once Roach puts the mitts on and begins catching punches, it becomes almost oddly meditative for him — calming, often removing the tremors until he leaves the ring.
“I can’t explain it, but it’s such a natural thing — I don’t know what else I’d do,” Roach said.
Today, he works with 14 fighters between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Wild Card, and has gone as many as 67 rounds during one non-stop session — essentially more than three hours of catching punches from some of the most physically dangerous fighters in the world. “Including the last 15 rounds with Manny,” he said.
As he finishes his coffee, the little tank, more jacked in the biceps now than at his fighting weight, smiles. He fidgets for a moment, his hand momentarily shakes, and he again thanks Eddie Futch, the late legendary trainer, for his start. Roach also recounts his last fight and the man who won’t be at his induction ceremony.
Paul Roach, the violent man who raised three fighters and was once himself a former New England featherweight champ, trained Freddie at the end of his career.
“What happened?” he asked his son in the dressing room after losing a 10-round decision in his last fight.
“What do you mean?” Freddie replied.
“How could you have been so good and end up like this?”
“Go [expletive] yourself,” Freddie shot back.
That was 25 years ago. He only saw his father once after that — when he was suffering from Alzheimer’s and didn’t know who Freddie was.
“When me and my brothers retired from boxing, he kind of gave up on life after that,” Roach said. “I wish I didn’t say that to him. But I know he would be proud of me now. He loved boxing. He’d be here with me; I know it.”
Wherever Paul Roach is now, he should know: His kid made more of himself than almost anyone in this unforgiving business. Freddie Roach turned the end into the beginning.
What happened? He didn’t merely become good; he became the best. That’s what happened.