Freddie Roach (left) and Buboy Fernandez. Joaquin Henson]

MANILA, DECEMBER 31, 2008 (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Manny Pacquiao admits he wouldn’t be the fighter he is today without Freddie Roach and Buboy Fernandez in his corner.

No doubt, the pair has done wonders in propelling Pacquiao to the top of the world. Roach is the professor and Fernandez, his understudy. Together with Pacquiao, they plot fight strategies and tactics. As a team, they’re unbeatable.

It was Roach who thought of pitting Pacquiao - whom he treats like the son he never had - against Oscar de la Hoya. At first, experts wondered if Roach, a bachelor, was crazy. The size disparity appeared too glaring for Pacquiao to overcome.

But because Roach trained De la Hoya for Floyd Mayweather last year, he had the inside track on the Golden Boy. He saw something in the gym that convinced him Pacquiao would win in a face-off that was eventually dubbed the “Dream Match” by master promoter Bob Arum.

For nearly three months, Pacquiao trained for De la Hoya. Everyday during the grind, he sat down with Roach and Fernandez, viewing tape, analyzing scenarios and discussing options.

Fernandez said his assignment was to study one round of a past De la Hoya fight every night. He isolated himself in Pacquiao’s walk-in closet with a DVD player, took down notes and timed punching sequences with a stopwatch. The next morning, Roach quizzed him and Fernandez, diligent in doing his homework, said he was never caught with his pants down.

“I timed Oscar’s movements,” said Fernandez. “Freddie always started our meeting by asking what I thought and what I saw on tape. Then, we figured out tactics. We calculated that Manny could only move inside with a single 1-2 combination because a 1-2-3 combination would take about 4.8 seconds and Manny had to be out of range by two seconds. Our plan was for Manny to slip Oscar’s left jab by moving to his left while throwing a right to the side of the body then a left straight down the middle. We knew before Oscar could react, he would get hit because his feet would get tangled up as he turned to throw a punch.”

Fernandez said Pacquiao was involved in the discussions from start to finish.

Fernandez’ role isn’t just to act as Roach’s assistant or interpreter. He has been Pacquiao’s best friend since they were kids in General Santos City. They grew up together. They both came from humble beginnings. Now, they’re known all over the country as heroes.

Fernandez’ voice was clearly audible on TV during the breaks in between rounds of the “Dream Match” in Las Vegas last Dec. 6. He constantly reminded Pacquiao to get off the ropes, where De la Hoya has an advantage, and take the fight to the middle of the ring where he has room to operate with his blinding speed. What Roach said in English, Fernandez repeated in Filipino for emphasis. Fernandez would take a bullet for Pacquiao whom he loves like a brother. At night, he brushes Pacquiao’s hair before he sleeps - that’s when Jinkee isn’t around during the long training period. Fernandez also supervises the cooking of Pacquiao’s food, leads the kitchen brigade and does the shopping in the grocery store.

Fernandez said he has learned a lot from Roach.

“I believe in Freddie and I think, he also believes in me,” said Fernandez who reads a lot of boxing technique books to expand his knowledge. “But the most important thing is Manny believes in both of us.”

Against De la Hoya, Roach and Fernandez matched wits with two legendary trainers Nacho Beristain and Angelo Dundee. It was no contest.

“I am what I am because of Freddie,” said Pacquiao, quoted by Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports. “I have total trust and faith in him. He’s like my gift from God. I know Freddie knows what is best for me and he has never led me the wrong way.”

Roach said Pacquiao’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Timing is everything in life,” said Roach, the 48-year-old former featherweight contender whose last pro win was a knockout over a Filipino, Arnel Arrozal, in 1986. “When Oscar beat (Julio Cesar) Chavez, do you really think he could have beaten him in his prime? No, probably not, but that’s not when he fought him. Now, we’re on top and he’s on the downside. This is Manny’s time.” Roach had absolutely no doubt that Pacquiao would beat De la Hoya.

“If Steve Forbes can hit him and mark him up, I feel Pacquiao can hit him at will,” said Roach before the bout. “I don’t feel Oscar can pull the trigger anymore. Oscar trains hard. I’ve worked with him. I know how hard he prepares. He was as good as he can get for Forbes and look at the way his face looked after the fight.”

Roach gambled on De la Hoya losing a lot of power and quickness in bringing down his weight to 147 and even speculated the Golden Boy would try to tamper with the scales.

At the weigh-in, De la Hoya scaled a surprising 145. “I wouldn’t put it past Oscar to try something like buying his way to 150 but three pounds over is a huge difference,” said Roach.

There was some suspicion that the scales were rigged for De la Hoya to weigh within 147. But Roach didn’t care. He knew De la Hoya was sufficiently drained by the weight loss. And he was proved right as Pacquiao easily disposed of the Golden Boy in their showdown.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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