Even the most casual boxing fan knows Freddie Roach. You've covered him in the ring as he's trained Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and others - and now as exec-producer on this project, you've captured him in more detail than we've ever seen. How would you describe Freddie to someone who's not familiar with his work in the sport?
Defining Freddie is a challenge. In some ways, I think you would see him as the archetypal, blue collar, working class Irish boxer. He comes straight out of the culture that you saw portrayed in 'The Fighter,' because Freddie's background is not terribly different from that of Mickey Ward's. And as a fighter - and as a human being - Freddie is scrappy and tough and extremely resilient. He's had to be because it's been a hard life from the beginning. It was a hard career in boxing, and he was diagnosed with Parkinson's at age 29. Just imagine that.
And now he's risen to become a monumental trainer in the boxing world.
Absolutely. To see where he is now, and how clearly he's dragged himself up from the rubble of his post-boxing life, when he was on the streets, addled by alcohol, fading fast, trying to earn money as a telemarketer in Las Vegas ... and then somehow stumbled into boxing training. It was salvation for him, and in a small way, salvation for the sport. In a lot of ways, he's quite aware of what he's accomplished. But on the other hand he's somewhat oblivious to larger questions, because he's so focused on the constant routine of work and dealing with his amazingly tumultuous 24-hour-a-day life.
You and filmmaker Peter Berg have become extremely familiar with that cycle, capturing his life in a stark verité fashion - what do those moments of Freddie's day look like?
From the moment he's up in the morning, you begin to see the meticulousness of his routine. You see the repetition of the steps that he goes through: His medication. His daily diet. His contact with his mother and his brother. Running the gym. Dealing with the fighters. Accepting all of the other things that have come into his life at this point. It's a nonstop process. And through it all, what becomes visible is his constant quest for order in his world. When we're in his apartment, and just following him with the camera while he's alone, you see him constantly wiping things, putting things in order. Folding and putting things away - he can't stop. He's as obsessive-compulsive as anyone I've ever seen in that way. I interpret it as his overwhelming, constant need to apply control to his world. Because ultimately he knows that he doesn't control his life. Parkinson's does.
His struggle with Parkinson's is an aspect you get very close to.
In the last four or five years, I think I was one of the few boxing journalists who would specifically ask him about his Parkinson's. "What are your symptoms like? How have they changed since last year? What's the medication regimen? How do you feel about it?" I was never bashful about asking him those questions. And I think maybe some people would've been surprised to find how open and accessible he was on that subject.
Why do you think that is?
That's a hell of a question, because there're so many things about his life that a lot of people would try to keep secret. He had a brother who drank himself to death. He had a horrible ending with his daughter. He's been through a lot of small, personal hells. But he doesn't really hide anything. And I think that would have to have come from his mother, maybe. She's frank; she's open, in that she doesn't hide much from the world.
As a boxing expert, is there anything from a professional level that you learned from watching Freddie?
I think I sort of knew it, but now I've seen it - and that is how intimate and intense his communication with the fighters is. There are moments when you're watching him and Pacquiao together, and you realize they don't need words. They see and understand each other so completely, and their communication is so internalized, they can spend two hours together and barely a word passes between them. And there's never a moment when they're not fully understanding what the other is thinking, or what the other one's doing. And to see that developing with Amir - or even Jorge Linares, who is relatively new to the gym - it's just amazing to watch how intense and largely unspoken his communication with the fighters is.
Do you think that level of understanding is the key to being a great trainer?
I think it's the key to being his kind of great trainer. I think there are other great trainers who probably are more about applying a constructed vision that they have, and an approach to the sport that they have. And making the fighter bend to and accommodate that. I would describe Emanuel Steward that way. He has very strong ideas about how you're supposed to fight, and to a certain degree, he's going to mold his fighters into doing that. Freddie's the opposite: If a guy walks into a gym and fights like an orangutan, Freddie is going to say, "OK. What's the best possible way to fight like an orangutan?" I think the fighters are dazzled by the freedom he gives them to be themselves, while still demanding that they do what they have to do to win the fights.
It's obvious people feel comfortable around Freddie, especially his fans. Why do you think that is?
I think people appreciate Freddie because there's nothing artificial, nothing hidden about his personality. You know, anybody who's ever tried to work through a challenge, whether it's a professional challenge or a personal challenge or anybody who's ever been slapped down and told they're not going to make it in life, they can identify with Freddie. He's been there.