SAN DIEGO, Jan 30, 2012 – Boxing fans respect and admire trainer Freddie Roach in the same way baseball fans admire Joe Torre, football fans worship Don Shula, and basketball fans marvel at Phil Jackson. Roach’s reputation would be sealed for all time simply from being known as the trainer who guided Manny Pacquaio to greatness, if not a dozen other current and rising stars of boxing. He is a five-time winner as Trainer of the Year. His Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles is a place of worship for athletes and fans alike.
The fact that Roach has accomplished this while waging his own battle against Parkinson’s disease has won him due respect in his field. But outside boxing, Roach’s story is not known to many people in the way that Torre, Shula, and Jackson are known outside their sports.
HBO boxing announcer and sports journalist Jim Lampley has gotten to know Roach well in the 23 years he’s been covering the sport, and wanted to tell Roach’s story to a broader audience in a way that hadn’t been done before. He approached director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights,” “Battleship”), a longtime boxing fan who follows the sport and has trained with Roach in the ring. Berg immediately agreed. The two envisioned a cinema verite style with no narration, something new for HBO.
Roach was used to the presence of HBO’s cameras while shooting its “24/7” boxing series, and while he thought his life was “too boring” to make the documentary, he agreed. Berg and his cameras followed Roach for nearly a year, 16 to 18 hours every day.
The result is “On Freddie Roach,” an intense, unflinching six-part documentary series now airing Friday nights on HBO (also on HBOGo.com).
During a panel discussion at HBO in New York about the project, Lampley said, “I knew there was the heart of a lion inside Freddie. I didn’t know what I’d see. Other than ringside situations and fighter meetings all I knew is that he was open to talk about his Parkinson’s. A few years ago I started asking him questions. He was unguarded and told me everything. I knew Pete (Berg) could get to those elements of his personality that are revealing.”
“Freddie has been amazing. He gave us his life. He gave us everything we could possibly shoot. We couldn’t have asked for more,” said Lampley.
The results are revealing to such a raw degree that some people may find it uncomfortable to watch Roach going about his daily life, which is imbued with much more drama that he lets on. Running a busy gym full of strong personalities and moving among celebrities and high rollers in the world of big-ticket fights out of Las Vegas and New York is to move between blue collar grit and high flying luxury, but Roach understands the rituals of both worlds and how to control and work them.
It is when you watch him trying to create order out of a life slowly slipping out of his control due to the effects of Parkinson’s disease that you realize he is a man obsessed with rituals, with the belief that training and routine will overcome any obstacle. It is in quiet, private moments where you witness the struggle, ironically caused due to damage from the sport Roach has so much passion for.
So far, Roach is ahead on the scorecard in his fight against Parkinson’s disease, but he admitted watching himself on the screen was an eye-opener.
“It’s difficult to watch,” said Roach. “I know I was there but it’s different on film.”
Roach said he had no idea that he shook so much due to tremors from Parkinson’s disease. “I know there are a lot of steps, MRIs, doctors poking at me trying to make me better. But I just keep working every day as usual. I didn’t notice that I shake that much. It’s a little bit embarrassing. Sorry that I shake, but it’s part of life. It doesn’t get in the way of my work.
“Overall it’s what I deal with day by day having a gym like that and things like this happen in my life, from Amir Khan knocking a guy out to my brother having a stroke (which happens in Episode 2). It’s a little bit overwhelming, a little bit difficult, a little bit sad. That’s the way it is,” shrugged Roach.
Lampley believes some viewers will find the series too slow and contemplative. He says the size of the audience didn’t matter to him. “We don’t want the biggest audience — just the smartest,” Lampley is quoted as saying. “I really wanted to do a show that trusts the viewers. You don’t need to gild this lily.”
For his part, Roach says he hopes the message for viewers is that we can work through anything, “I’m not going to quit boxing… No matter how bad it gets or how hard it gets we can work through it. I’m not complaining about having Parkinson’s… I have the best job in the world. If any of us get down and out, get up, get off your ass and get on with it.”
Boxing fans will find this look into the everyday world of the sport riveting, with its routines and rituals, daily punishment and moments of theater. But it would be a terrible shame if they were the only viewers of this program. It is a drama about a fascinating human being who may think he’s boring, but who teaches many life lessons outside as well as inside the ring.
Video is of panel discussion featuring Peter Berg, Jim Lampley, and Freddie Roach.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
Copyright © 2012 by Falcon Valley Group
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