Joe Rein Writings


The Secret to Freddie Roach's Success

Finally, the magic of how Freddie Roach gets the results he does was explained today.

Flush from his success with James Toney and Manny Pacquiao, Roach was being turned in every direction at the media conference at the La Brea Gym for the Klitschko brothers by boxing insiders, press and fans, congratulating him on his brilliant work.

A woman at the back of the crowd, observing all of this attention while Roach was attending to Wladimir Klitschko--who he co-trains with Fritz Sdunek--made her way to the front of the group while Roach was still toweling off Klitschko. She tapped Roach on the shoulder, "So, your job is to keep him dry and make him happy?"

See, it's as simple as that.

If the Klitschkos were as adaptable in the ring as they were with press from many nations, they'd both be heavyweight champs. Effortlessly, they jumped from English to German to Russian, to any number of different languages.

The press were staging their own toughman contest to get to Vitali first. It looked like the passport office in a fascist state.

Vitali was long suffering. One after another, he took a deep breath and answered the same questions: What did he think of the weather? Did he like Santa Monica? What were his hobbies? And on and on...

One guy actually said in the preamble to his question: "Now, Wladimir is a better fighter than you, but..." I actually missed the rest of his question. My hearing must have been impaired by chagrin.

What I did notice about Vitali-and I looked very closely; there was not a hint of the grotesque cut that forced the stoppage against Lewis. I even stared for makeup. His face was without scars, or any marks at all.

As my place in the cattle car got closer to him, I noticed just the faintest discoloration under his left eye. When it was my turn, I remarked at how amazing it was-standing on my tiptoes to see better-- that he hadn't a vestige of that cut. "They put the camera in the cut," he gestured. Made it look worse."

And the discoloration under the eye? I asked

He said, laughing with his PR representative--equally as tall as a mountain: "It's not from Lewis. It's from sparring. Actually, I don't have a problem. I feel very well. Nothing! Nothing! (tapping his eye for emphasis)

Q:     Let me clarify something: I've heard various pronunciations of your first name. What's correct?

VK: In Ukraine, everybody call me V-tal-E. In Germany, everybody call me Vitally. I'm actually: Vital: is power. Is what I am. My parents call me Vit-aly.

Q:     I've seen you smile through wave after wave of inane questions. What's tougher, training or this?

VK: It's very important to be a good boxer. For professional boxing, it's not just sports. You have to be some entertainer. Be present for everybody. Be open for fans-whatever you have dreams for the future.

Maybe boxer, he has the big talent. Make the magic. We had a very small part on "Oceans' 11." Many big movie star: Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Clooney. It was real interesting time. Maybe I have dreams-maybe in the future-to make some new career. You know Shakespeare? Life is just big theater. We just actors in this theater.

Q:     Can you tell almost immediately how your fights will unfold?

VK: I'm 32. I have experienced more than 16 years-half of my life. From my experience, I can see weaknesses and strong side of my opponent. Before the fight, in the fight. Experience is most important point in boxing. The young boxer have power and have good condition. Don't have experience. I try to use my experience in the ring and the life...and it helps me a lot.

Q:     What have you learned from Max Schmeling?

VK: I learned from him not about the fighting but about the life...very much. He has not easy life. I like very much the saying: Boxing one hard sport; it's exactly like life, you know what I mean?

Q:     How did your family feel about your being a fighter?

VK: My mother didn't want me to do this. I can understand; I have a child of my own. My father was not athlete, but now when I go home, he tells me all things I did wrong, what I should do. I think it's funny.

Sometimes a big man-like some of the pro football players I've met-can be intimidating, but the longer we spoke, the more accessible he became-- a far cry from the Ivan Drago-Frankenstein robot that even I thought he was when I saw him on TV, and from what I'd read.

Vitali just happens to be a very big athlete with a keen mind and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

I bucked the crowd and went over to the other side of the huge gym to where Wlad was doing a series of drills with Fritz Sdunek that would have been too over-the-top for a "Rocky" movie.

Wlad, with all of his fingers taped like a tight end, was bounding around the ring at top speed tossing an eight-pound rubber ball back and forth to Sdunek--alternately twisting, left and right, and doing a forward roll on the canvas and tossing it back. And with their backs to each other--leaning as far over as they could-- tossed it between them. They looked like a synchronized swim team.

"He does that for 10 rounds and runs five miles every morning in Marina Del Rey," Roach said. "He's some athlete. You don't see big guys who can do what he can. He runs at top speed. Nobody can keep up with him."

When one of the reporters mentioned to Wlad that he'd never seen anything like the cannon ball tossing (my exact thoughts), Wlad just shrugged, lounging almost the whole length of the ring apron under the bottom rope: "It's just routine exercises. Different trainers have different approaches."

When the question came up for the umpteenth time: who was better, he or his brother? Wlad was prepared with a slogan: "Two men, one dream! What more can I tell you?"

Q:     Whom would you like to fight?

WK: I would like to fight Sanders again. I thought I would show him early, but he showed me. I think Tua would be a good fight, and Toney has come along now. I have no opponent now for my December 20th fight, so we have to see who that is.

One thing you notice about Wlad up close, he gives a bigger impression than his brother. His head is large.

While Wlad talks to what sounds like a Russian film crew, I asked Roach about the extent of Bernard Dunne's right-hand injury, and Lucia Ryker's plans.

"Bernard has a hairline fracture of his right hand and he's in a soft cast. He won't fight till February. Lucia's mother had a bad stroke, so she's back in the Netherlands looking after her."

"Are rumors of an impending match with Ryker and Ali true?" I asked. "Yes." he said, "and it still may happen when she gets back."

What I learned from the media workout was that both Klitschkos have their heads screwed on right and understand their priorities, that the La Brea Gym could easily absorb the Roman Coliseum, and that Don King lays out better sandwiches for the press.

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