During their 16-year, 34-fight association, ring legend Manny Pacquiao and trainer Freddie Roach reached glorious heights and forged a seemingly unbreakable bond. Until Friday.
That is when Pacquiao made it official that he had fired Roach, doing so in the final sentence of a news release related to his upcoming fight with Lucas Matthysse and without contacting Roach directly.
A little more than a year since losing his welterweight belt by highly controversial decision to Jeff Horn last July in Horn's hometown of Brisbane, Australia, Pacquiao is scheduled to return to the ring to challenge secondary welterweight world titlist Lucas Matthysse at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ,on an ESPN platform to be determined on July 15 (July 14 United States time). And Roach, for the first time since Pacquiao's 2001 United States debut, will not be in his corner.
"Pacquiao will be joined by his new promotions team along with trainers Restituto "Buboy" Fernandez and Raides "Nonoy" Neri," the release read.
Fernandez and Neri are longtime friends of Pacquiao's. Fernandez is like a brother to Pacquiao and has been in his corner for every fight of his career as an assistant, and Neri has been a part of his camp for years, mainly as a cook. But neither have the kind of experience or accomplishment of Roach.
From 2003 to 2014, during his heyday with Pacquiao, Roach won the Boxing Writers Association of America trainer of the year award a record seven times and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2012. Under Roach's guidance, Pacquiao, who has won world titles in a record eight weight classes, won seven of them with Roach and also was voted the BWAA fighter of the year three times and the 2000s fighter of the decade.
Roach took the high road when it became clear he had been let go.
"Manny and I had a great run for  years -- longer than most marriages and certainly a rarity for boxing," Roach said on Friday in a statement given to ESPN. "I wouldn't trade any of it. Inside the boxing ring and the political ring, I wish Manny nothing but the best. I would be lying if I didn't say I wasn't hurt that he didn't contact me personally about his decision, but the great times we enjoyed together far outweigh that."
Two weeks ago it was apparent that Roach was out even though nothing had been made official when Michael Koncz, Pacquiao's longtime adviser, told ESPN, "Manny has told me Buboy will be handling the training on this fight. What's important to Manny is that he has one voice to listen to in the corner that he trusts, and I guess that's Buboy for this fight.
"There was some concerns Manny had in the last fight and some statements Freddie made to the media that Manny wasn't very pleased about."
Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KOs), 39, who is also a senator in the Philippines, was unhappy that Roach was not more forceful with the referee during the fight with Horn about Horn's head butting that led to multiple Pacquiao cuts.
In 2001, Pacquiao, then a former flyweight world titleholder unknown to all but the most ardent boxing fan, arrived in Los Angeles looking for a new trainer. He showed up at Roach's Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California, and after a session hitting the mitts, Roach believed he had found a star.
Not long afterward, Pacquiao took a fight as a late replacement with then-junior featherweight world titlist Lehlo Ledwaba on an Oscar De La Hoya undercard at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June 2001. Pacquiao demolished Ledwaba in the sixth round of a one-sided upset. Pacquiao and Roach had been together ever since, conquering one weight class after another and taking part in many of the biggest fights of the past decade-plus.
Besides the mention of his new trainers, Pacquiao, whose MP Promotions will promote the fight with longtime promoter Bob Arum's Top Rank handling the television deals, also announced a two-city media tour to promote the bout. One stop will be in Manila on April 18 and the second will be April 20 in Kuala Lumpur.
Matthysse (39-4, 36 KOs), 35, a big puncher from Argentina who will be making his first title defense, and his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya, are supposed to arrive in Manila next week for the media tour.
"This is the fight I have always wanted. The opportunity to fight a future Hall of Famer such as Manny 'Pacman' Pacquiao inspires me to work harder than ever to earn a victory for my fans," said Matthysse, who is trained by Joel Diaz. "I know that it will not be easy. But I will defend my title with honor and represent my country, Argentina, with pride."
Pacquiao added that everything was on course for Malaysia's biggest fight since Muhammad Ali won a 15-round decision to retain the heavyweight championship against Joe Bugner in Kuala Lumpur in July 1975.
"It is all systems go for the Pacquiao vs. Matthysse fight," Pacquiao said. "We have assembled the biggest fight card Malaysia has been waiting for in the last 43 years since Ali-Bugner."
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