“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” — Abraham Lincoln.
I recently stumbled upon a story by veteran boxing writer Brad Cooney on 8CountNews.com regarding Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, and his experiences with some of the gym’s characters and personnel (click here to read Cooney’s story) as I received a notification from my “Google alert” with my name being mentioned.
Cooney’s revealing piece discussed how he was mistreated by Roach’s assistant Marie Spivey, and the changes that the Hall of Fame trainer and his gym has undergone in recent years that have turned off many journalists and led to a few heads to roll in the esteemed boxing facility.
The story sparked some inquisition and led me to wonder if it had anything to do with recent misfortunes of Roach’s fighters such as Amir Khan, Jorge Linares, and even 8-division world champ Manny Pacquiao.
First thing’s first, I have nothing against Roach, Spivey or anyone at the Wild Card Gym. I assume Spivey’s role is that of an executive assistant to Roach, an unenviable job that requires a lot of attention to detail, and perhaps being the “bad guy” at times policies need to be carried out. Despite having my own “encounters” with Spivey, I have never been kicked out or banned from the facility, which I frequent every time I’m in the area to cover Filipino boxers. I must admit thought that the task has indeed become a little more aggravating than before, which is why several boxing writers and reporters have opted to stop going. As far as I know, the Wild Card Gym is the only boxing gym in America that has such unwelcoming policies, unlike other renowned gyms like the Mayweather Gym, Kronk, Robert Garcia’s Oxnard Boxing Academy, Gleason’s, Undisputed, or anywhere else for that matter.
In about the 30 times I’ve been to the gym in the last 5 years, I have noticed some changes in its environs. Long gone were the days when people can just come in and watch fighters train, take photos, and or even take videos. The popularity of the gym has increased throughout the years together with Roach’s success, and thanks in large to Pacquiao as well. Roach capitalized on this by doing a reality show with HBO among other ventures. Nothing wrong with that.
But with that success and popularity, the gym has become an attraction for visiting boxing fans throughout the world, which means more people wanting to cramp up the already tight and busy gym on a daily basis. To manage this, the gym has incorporated stricter policies such as no pictures, no video taping, no entry to non-member, etc. etc. depending on what the protocol is that day. Boxing reporter Elie Seckbach cleverly describes it as the Wild Card gym “going Hollywood”. Some people call it “selling out”.
- CLICK HERE to watch this spoof Seckbach and I did about the Wild Card Gym’s new policies two years ago.
There’s truly nothing wrong with profiting off your hard work, and Roach has all the right in the world to steer his gym in whatever direction he wants, but I can also empathize with Cooney, as he must surely feel like his contributions and loyalty to Roach through the years was flushed down the toilet. Cooney, after all, was one of the first people in the media that covered Wild Card extensively which contributed to its rise in popularity.
My encounters with Roach himself in recent years can be classified in two ways: “Hollywood Freddie” and “Classic Freddie”. Now that Roach is a celebrity, he has people that tell him what to do, manage his schedule, his interactions, and pretty much everything he can do or not do. If you’ve watched his reality show on HBO, this is evident. But every once in a while when you catch Roach in situations where he is not surrounded by his handlers, as was the case when I caught up with Roach in Canada and Manila, he reverts to the good old light-hearted boxing trainer who could care less about anything. I see Roach as a good guy who made a choice to “go Hollywood” and at times find himself caught in the middle of that decision.
So what’s wrong with this picture? The problem lies in how policies have been carried out. There are many cases wherein Spivey has been rude, disrespectful and simply unsympathetic to the media and people who simply want to “visit” the gym. Take for example fans who drive hundreds of miles just to get a glimpse of Pacquiao in the gym. Instead of having something in place where they can watch for about 10 minutes, they simply get turned away. For many loyal Pacquiao fans who do not have the loot to go to Vegas and watch a Pacquiao fight, this is their only opportunity to see their idol in the flesh.
As far as how media gets treated, they have this “policy” wherein you should call in your request or write an e-mail beforehand that you intend to visit the gym. The problem with this policy is that you either won’t get a response, or unless you have a major outlet backing you like ESPN, or the blessing of someone like Roach himself (in Cooney’s case, it didn’t matter), your chances of getting an interview in the gym is slim to none. Some writers who live in the LA area have resorted to training in the gym to get their inside scoop.
And the main complain people have against Spivey is the way she talks and treats people. A veteran boxing writer for the Ring Magazine told me once that he got yelled at for simply doing an interview for a piece he is writing for the magazine. Then you got boxing reporters who fall out of her favor that she simply “bans”. Even when the gym isn’t busy, you see people who walk in and sit down, minding their business get kicked out. Pretty much every Wild Card employee will tell you the same thing, “I’m sorry bro. I hate it too, but we’re going to lose our jobs if we don’t do what we’re told.” Even fighters who trained at the gym have chosen to leave because of the “nazi-type” environment the gym now has, and how Roach can become so inaccessible.
Which leads me to my original inquiry on how these changes have affected Roach’s fighters. More power to Roach for being perhaps the busiest boxing trainer and the highest paid at that, but with his success Roach has been spread thin and often have little time to train his fighters the way he used to. Imagine a boxing trainer who has his own “manager”. Instead of just focusing on game plan and preparation, Roach has to listen to this and that person telling him he needs to be somewhere else to attend to his many, various commitments, or be followed around by a camera crew taping his every move.
Despite going “Hollywood”, the Wild Card Gym is still one of the best boxing gyms to find great sparring partners, and learn from some of the best fighters and trainers in the world. Those mass-produced grocery versions of your favorite chicken wings or sliders might not taste as good as the original, but they’re still pretty decent.
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