THERE are some lines that we do not cross, particularly those that could potentially burn bridges down the road.
In October 1951, shortly after knocking out a faded Joe Louis in eight rounds, a teary-eyed Rocky Marciano went straight to the former's dressing room and apologized for the beating he administered. Marciano grew up idolizing Louis and he only took the fight on the insistence of his shrewd manager Al Weill, who thought a win over the ‘Brown Bomber’ would add to Rocky's popularity. Marciano regretted taking the fight and in the years that followed, he was often seen visiting a destitute and ailing Louis in a charity ward to extend financial assistance. In the end, the fighters were able to preserve their friendship.
In 1985, legendary boxing trainer Eddie Futch found himself in a tough predicament when then International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion Larry Holmes agreed to defend his title against challenger Michael Spinks. Futch was the trainer of both fighters and it was difficult to imagine him switching corners in between rounds during the fight. To preserve his association, and more importantly his friendship with the boxers, Futch decided to play no role in the fight.
Even in a sport as brutal as boxing, friendship permeates. Then again, there are some people who will not hesitate to shift allegiance in a snap of a finger.
Barely a month after Manny Pacquiao informed ESPN that he will no longer be working with strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza, the latter forged an alliance with Brandon 'Bam Bam' Rios, the American boxer who will challenge Pacquiao on November 24 (Manila time) in Macau. While it may be argued that it is strictly business for Ariza, not a few criticized the timing of the move. Ariza could have joined Rios’ camp in another fight, but he has to pick the critical one against Pacquiao.
With Ariza aligning himself with Rios, many wonder if it will have a detrimental effect on Pacquiao. The answer is both yes and no. If it was Roach who shifted allegiance, the effect could be catastrophic. As the chief trainer of Pacquiao, Roach knows the ‘Pacman’s’ strengths and weaknesses from a boxing standpoint. As strength and conditioning coach, Ariza’s duty was to simply hone Pacquiao’s muscle tone in preparation for the tough grind in the ring. If Pacquiao is a soldier, Ariza’s role would be preparing him for battle through nutrition and specially designed exercises. The critical job of mapping out the strategies to conquer the opposing foe belongs to Roach. In previous interviews, Roach did not mince any word in saying that conditioning coaches are not really needed in boxing and that they only tend to ruin the sport, what with the growing number of boxers who have tested positive for banned strength-enhancing drugs.
While Ariza’s absence will not affect Pacquiao per se, his presence in Rios’ camp will arguably bolster ‘Bam Bam’s’ chances. Rios has been plagued with weight issues and a guy like Ariza comes in handy. While competing in the lightweight division (135 pounds), Rios twice failed to meet the weight limit and was eventually stripped of his World Boxing Association title. Rios’ nutrition was previously handled by Cecilio Flores, but the latter failed to whip Brandon into a lean, mean fighting machine. Ariza has boldly promised that with his technique, Rios will be able bulk up and remain a mean animal in the ring.
Ariza, however, may have overlooked the possibility that the problem is not really Flores but Rios himself. The guy has a reputation of being lazy in the gym. If Ariza found a diligent student in Pacquiao, at least until the Miguel Cotto fight in 2009 (thereafter, Pacquiao allegedly started taking Ariza’s regimen lightly), Rios may be tougher to handle. It also remains to be seen if Ariza can get along with the rest of Rios’ camp. Before Pacquiao, Ariza worked with Diego Corrales and Erik Morales in the late 1990s, but he clashed with the trainers of the boxers who did not like the idea of a newbie messing up their traditional training routines. Ariza initially blended with Roach at Pacquiao’s camp, but the relationship between the two eventually soured.
The die has been cast and it’s too late for Ariza to work his way back to Pacquiao’s camp. Somebody will get the last laugh on November 24, but in the event Pacquiao prevails, will Ariza end up doing a Marciano?