Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008 | 2 a.m.
When Freddie Roach verbally levels someone, he does it with precision.
There’s no bluster, no hyperbole.
It’s as cold and clean and decimating as a straight right hand that connects with the tip of the jawbone.
In the gym last week at his Wild Card Boxing Club, where he is training Manny Pacquiao for his Dec. 6 welterweight fight against Oscar De La Hoya, Roach laid out his analysis of the match.
It included biting criticism of De La Hoya’s mental state, his training routine, his trainer, his right hand, his ability to deal with left-handers in the ring, his age and his stamina.
The classic diatribe culminated in Roach describing De La Hoya as weak of mind and weak of body.
He did it in typical Roach fashion, speaking in a matter-of-fact tone, with his signature quiet but simmering intensity that always leaves you thinking Nick Nolte should play him in the biopic.
The temptation is to dismiss some of the commentary as mere motivational fodder designed to inspire his fighter. The sport’s consensus pound-for-pound champion, Pacquiao will fight the most important bout of his career against the man who wields more clout than anyone in boxing.
But if Freddie Roach was acting, he deserves one of those stars on the sidewalk a few blocks north of the world-renowned Wild Card.
In recounting a major reason he agreed to train Pacquiao to face De La Hoya, for instance, Roach thought back to the specific details of an incident in the early stages of De La Hoya’s camp preceding his 2007 fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Roach, who was training De La Hoya at the time, brought in left-hander Ivan Calderon, then a 105-pound world champion.
“I wanted Oscar to spar with Calderon for the first week, just to get his feet wet,” Roach said. “And Oscar just couldn’t hit this guy, no matter how hard he tried. This little southpaw was too quick for him.
“I remember it very well, because I got very mad and said, ‘Oscar, go hit this guy once and show him who the boss is.’ He just couldn’t do it. That’s why I know Pacquiao can use his speed to outmaneuver Oscar. He’s just too fast for Oscar, I believe.”
De La Hoya disputes this particular account of l’affaire de Calderon. But in Roach’s mind it was enough to persuade him to back Pacquiao, a reigning lightweight champ who built his fearsome reputation by winning world titles at 112, 122 and 130 pounds.
De La Hoya returns to welterweight in the Dec. 6 bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena after fighting at 154 pounds or higher for the past seven years.
“Size doesn’t win fights,” Roach said. “Speed and strategy win fights. Manny’s stronger and faster. He’s just not taller.”
Roach also relishes the opportunity to face off with an old nemesis, De La Hoya’s new trainer, Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain.
Bad blood between the two men can be traced to an episode in which Roach attempted to put his arm around Beristain’s shoulders for a photographer. Beristain rebuffed him, uttering a vulgar phrase in Spanish that essentially questioned Roach’s manhood. Roach became livid when he later found out how the words translated.
“I never liked Nacho,” Roach said. “The guy disrespected me.”
Under Beristain, a slimmed-down De La Hoya has opted to train at or slightly below the 147-pound welterweight limit. Roach, however, sees that tactic as favoring his fighter.
“Oscar might be at weight, but he’s killing himself to make it,” Roach said. “I think he’s going to be weak going into the fight. I believe they’re taking us lightly.”
Roach has clashed with De La Hoya on whether the fighter abandoned their blueprint in the middle rounds of his loss to Mayweather. He predicted Pacquiao, with his quickness and lateral movement, will throw De La Hoya off his game plan once the men enter the ring.
“Oscar loses focus in there,” Roach said. “His mind wanders. I know his habits pretty well. There’s some tension between us, but it’s nothing personal with me. It’s just that mentally he loses sight of the game plan at times. He blamed me for the loss to Mayweather, and hopefully he’ll be blaming me for losing this one too.
“Some people are weak-minded, like Oscar. Some people are strong-minded, like Manny.”
For his part, Pacquiao would not touch that one. The most popular public figure in his native Philippines, Pacquiao plays it down the middle in interviews. His pleasant, low-key personality is one reason. Another is the fact that English is not his first language.
“For me, it’s all about doing my job in the ring, winning the fight,” Pacquiao said.
He and Roach mesh well, Pacquiao said. He loves running in the hills above Hollywood, and he thrives in the gritty urban atmosphere around the gym, which presents a stark contrast to the pastoral environs of De La Hoya’s camp in Big Bear Lake, Calif., 100 miles to the east.
Sure, he naturally feels some pressure, but no more than De La Hoya does. De La Hoya is 39-5 with 30 knockouts but just 3-3 in his past six fights; Pacquiao is 47-3-2 with 35 knockouts.
De La Hoya will be the most skilled opponent he has faced, not just the biggest, Pacquiao said. He’s prepared to slug it out with De La Hoya toe-to-toe or fight a more tactical match, and he’s ready to make such an adjustment on the fly.
A victory by knockout or by decision would be equally sweet.
“Every fighter believes in his power, and me, too,” Pacquiao said. “I believe in my power. So the knockout would be a bonus.”
Pacquiao has been training at 151 pounds, with 6 percent body fat. His well-muscled physique came from plyometrics (loading then contracting muscles in rapid sequence) and a high-protein diet rather than weightlifting, Roach said. He expects Pacquiao to officially weigh in at 147 pounds and step into the ring weighing 150.
Under Roach’s direction, Pacquiao has sparred with up-and-coming professionals such as Rashad Holloway, Marvin Cordova and Amir Khan. Roach placed a $1,000 cash bonus on the table for any sparring partner who knocks Pacquiao down during a session. No one has collected.
“I can take (De La Hoya’s) punches,” Pacquiao said. “I spar against bigger guys and I can handle their power.”
Just as impressive, Roach said, is Pacquiao’s willingness to learn, to adapt. Roach called it an about-face from his experience with De La Hoya, who tends to pay attention to just one man: Oscar De La Hoya.
“Oscar is Oscar,” Roach said. “He’s had a lot of success, and he’s not going to change. At this point he doesn’t listen to anybody but himself.”
Jeff Haney can be reached at 259-4041 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.