Polarizing strength coach Alex Ariza may be the one thing upon which rival boxing trainers Floyd Mayweather Sr. and Freddie Roach agree.
As Saturday’s Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight approaches, Ariza is one one of the most controversial figures on either side in his first bout as Mayweather’s strength and conditioning coach.
Six years ago, when Mayweather Sr. lobbed the first steroid accusations against Pacquiao and his son later took up that chant — it earned them both a federal lawsuit and out-of-court settlement in 2012 — Ariza was Pacquiao’s strength coach.
This year, with the biggest fight of his life coming this week, the younger Mayweather hired Ariza.
The head game was undeniable.
“If I was training you, and I got you from division to division to division, and from weight class to weight class to weight class, and now you know I’m training your opponent, and I’m training him the same way I trained you, you ask me would that bother you? Whether you want to believe it or you don’t, Manny knows exactly what we brought to that table,” Ariza said Monday.
Also undeniable: The disdain Ariza and Roach, who trains Pacquiao, have for each other.
Ariza said the hard-punching Pacquiao who in 2008-09 tore through Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto in succession, creating demand for a Mayweather fight in the process, still exists.
But with training hyper-focused on repetitive boxing technique, Ariza said Pacquiao’s dynamic whirlwind style has been stymied by improper conditioning in recent years.
“It’s as simple as this for me: I think what people are looking if something in Manny is still there, but he doesn’t have the team to bring it out,” Ariza said. “There’s no other way to say it.
“This is the elite level of the elite. And you’re now going to tell me that Freddie Roach, with all his problems and conditions and (stuff) like that, is going to get a Manny Pacquiao ready for the best defensive fighter in the world? You’re so blinded by your ego that you’re going to allow yourself to be a conditioning compass for getting ready for a Floyd Mayweather? Maybe for (Chris) Algieri, or something like that. But for Floyd Mayweather? I would have brought in the best that there is to bring in.”
Ariza’s reference to Roach’s Parkinson’s disease, which affects the trainer’s movements and speech, is in keeping with their back-and-forth accusations that has led him to sue Roach for slander.
Mayweather Sr. last week ripped Ariza on On The Ropes Radio, saying he “ain’t strengthening nobody” and discrediting his contributions.
Roach, asked later whether he thought he and Mayweather Sr. might find common ground after this fight, said yes.
“You know why? Because he found out what Alex Ariza really is,” Roach said. “I was so happy when he made that statement. I was like, ‘It’s just a matter of time before he figures this out.’ It took me a little bit longer.”
Monday, Mayweather Sr. was more reserved about Ariza — at his publicist’s urging — but not at all conciliatory.
“I ain’t got nothing to say about Alex Ariza,” he said. “He’s out of the picture. Whatever he do, he do.”
Ariza worked with Pacquiao for 11 fights, 10 of those as strength coach, beginning with David Diaz in 2008. He was fired in 2013, at Roach’s urging, about two months before Pacquiao fought Brandon Rios.
As time passed, Roach said Ariza became more invasive, while Ariza said Roach undercut his efforts.
Pacquiao reverted to almost exclusively boxing-based training, eschewing some of the strength-and-conditioning principles, late in their relationship, Ariza said.
“What I saw was an inability to be able to condition himself the same way with the boxing as he had in the past,” Ariza said. “It doesn’t even have to be a personal opinion or a visual opinion. Look at the numbers. Look at the punch output. Look at the percentages. If your approach to training an athlete is by the numbers, and you look at that, immediately you know there’s something vastly wrong.”
In Pacquiao’s 10 fights with Ariza as strength coach, he averaged 860.7 punches per 36 minutes, the duration of a 12-round bout, even with a dropoff in output over the last four of those fights, beginning against Shane Mosley in 2011, according to CompuBox.
In three fights since Ariza’s firing, Pacquiao averaged 674 punches per 36 minutes against Rios, Timothy Bradley and Chris Algieri.
“If you’re on top of your game, you don’t max out at less than 800 punches against guys who aren’t even throwing back,” Ariza said.
Ariza’s first fight with Pacquiao was the Filipino star’s third fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, in 2008. Ariza was hired to help treat an ailing shoulder and was retained as strength coach afterward, and in less than two years Pacquiao moved up three weight divisions.
Their last fight together was Pacquiao-Marquez IV in 2012, a disastrous one-punch knockout loss, and Ariza said he feared trouble just from watching the “24/7” preview shows on television.
“I kept watching them on HBO, the drastic change Marquez made,” Ariza said. “He got all the way away from boxing, focused on strength and conditioning, while we, on our side, they were making fun of it. They were saying, ‘Aw, look at all these new muscles, he’s going to be slow, he’s going to throw a punch on Tuesday and it won’t land there until Saturday.’
“Well, maybe he threw it on Tuesday, but it still landed on Saturday.”
Ariza said that an elite boxer should use the bulk of his boxing training “for sharpening and for timing purposes and smoothing out the rough edges, not their main form of conditioning, because they’ve been doing it since day one.”
He said he was impressed that Mayweather, after almost 19 years as a professional fighter and with a 47-0 record, would try some of his techniques, such as training in a swimming pool and cryotherapy to oxygenate the blood and speed recovery.
“Why would you try it? Because he’s not satisfied with being mediocre, he’s not satisfied with being complacent. It’s about if I think it’s going to better myself, I’m going to do it. I’ll put myself in the uncomfortable position and I’ll challenge myself. That, in itself, speaks volumes to me.”
Ariza worked twice against Mayweather in fights.
He was Diego Corrales’ strength coach in 2001, and Marcos Maidana’s last year.
“I had Corrales, which was a disaster, and Maidana, which was as good as it got, I felt,” Ariza said.
The game plan for Maidana was something in the range of 1,000 punches, with at least 70 percent power shots, Ariza said. He did enough of all three last May to earn a September rematch, though Mayweather won by decision both times.
“We did all those things and we still couldn’t beat him,” Ariza said. “So tell me, how are you going to beat Floyd (with a lower-volume punch count)? I’m just looking at the numbers.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody so elusive at his age. You can’t hit this guy. It wasn’t for a lack of trying.”
Ariza said Pacquiao’s face looks drawn to him. He said he would not be surprised if Pacquiao is three to four pounds under the 147-pound weight limit.
“Overtrained,” Ariza surmised. “It’s not a good look.”
Ariza said he wants to win the fight from the other side as a comeuppance, though not to Pacquiao.
“With Freddie, of course,” he said. “But it’s not about me. It’s about Manny and it’s about Floyd. Freddie makes it all about him. He always does. It’s always about Freddie always doing the talking, which means nothing to me. It means even less coming from him. Manny’s not the one saying anything.”
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