I recently had a chance to speak with Manny Pacquiao’s former strength and conditioning coach, Alex Ariza, on the 200th edition of “On The Ropes.” Ariza (Head of Ariza Fitness) had worked with Pacquiao for 5 years and helped him rise the top of the pound for pound list. After being released by team Pacquiao, Ariza now finds himself in the unique position of now working at the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy and helping prepare his new athlete, Brandon Rios, for battle against his former one.
Ariza spoke in detail on how his relationship with Freddie Roach deteriorated, and how he believes that effected the fighters in the gym. Alex also talked about his decision to take the job from Robert Garcia to work with his fighters, and in particularly, Brandon Rios. Lastly Ariza gave his thoughts on how a Pacquiao- Rios fight will ultimately play out. Here is what Alex Ariza had to say.
JENNA J: Alex, earlier in the interview I mentioned the amount of time you worked at the Wildcard Gym with Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao, for the fans that are listening out there that don’t know that situation, can you let them know why that situation didn’t work out for you and you eventually had to part ways?
ALEX ARIZA:Obviously me and Manny parted ways, it wasn’t acrimonious between just Manny and I, it was obviously with Freddie. It was just very simple to me. After the last four fights I could see that Manny was declining rapidly and I butted heads with Freddie. I saw that Manny wasn’t training right.
I can’t just stand there and watch this guy, you see him declining, declining, declining so you have to at one point as a teacher stop and say “Okay, what do we have to do to change this?” Freddie’s ego just wouldn’t allow it, he just believes he can be this and be that. The problem was clear when you start to look at the track record of what was happening, not just with Manny but a look at what was happening to our world champions.
JENNA:Alex, tell me what champions you believe got effected by you not being in camp?
ALEX ARIZA:Freddie got me out of (Jorge) Linares’ camp because I was conflicted about the way he was training Linares. He got me out of there and he got Linares knocked out. I was conflicted about the way he was training (Viacheslav) Senchenko, I think he was the WBA welterweight champion, he got Senchenko knocked out by Malignaggi. He got me out of that camp. He got me out of Amir’s camp, he got Amir knocked out.
Ultimately, that was happening and I couldn’t just stand by and let it just keep going and going and going. This is the only sport in the world where this would have happened. Think about it, if this was baseball, football, he would of got busted down and I don’t even know if they would let him teach high school. Here he gets four world champions knocked out and nothing happens.
He physically couldn’t do it any more and there’s nothing wrong with that. You get older and unfortunately you have issues, but after six years since I’d been there I can just see him decline and it was happening so rapidly that it was now starting to effect the fighters.
JENNA J:You mentioned that Freddie was declining rapidly, when did you first see the decline and start noticing that?
ALEX ARIZA:I could see Freddie could no longer physically push the fighters the way he used to. These fighters are young and are high intensity. We have a very high intensity program, high volume and I could just see that Freddie couldn’t keep up with them, not to mention Julio Chavez Jr. Julio let him go because he physically couldn’t finish any more than a couple of rounds, there were too many breaks in the rounds. I could see it when it started happening when I stopped going into the Wildcard two years ago.
JENNA J:So basically Alex, what you’re saying is the decline of the fighters that have been working around Freddie isn’t really the fighters themselves, but it’s Freddie that isn’t able to push people like he used to because of his illness?
ALEX ARIZA:Yes, he just can’t push them. I also think he’s just became more of a celebrity trainer. All of the sudden the atmosphere in the gym is all about cameras and interviews, it’s not about training any more. Unfortunately this is Hollywood and people only want you around when you’re winning. The writing’s on the wall.
JENNA J:As far as Manny Pacquiao goes, and you being his strength an conditioning coach, you were still working with him while Freddie had you working with their fighters. Why do you think Manny started to decline in his results?
ALEX ARIZA:Again you always go back to the formula. When you find out that one variable is not in the formula any more. Mosley came, then it was Marquez, then it was Bradley and then it was Marquez again in those four fights. The only thing that I can always go back to is the one variable that was missing, and that was he was no longer working with my team, no longer doing strength and conditioning. Freddie wanted to control everything.
JENNA J:Being that you worked with Manny for so long, I know you don’t have any ill feelings towards him but to immediately to go to his opponents training camp, what are your feelings with that? You are basically training an opponent that could potentially end Manny Pacquiao’s career if he loses one more time.
ALEX ARIZA:There’s a flip side to that point; what about me? Don’t get me wrong it’s not all about me or anything like that, but what a lot of people don’t know is that I did reach out to Manny several times, I texted him. Honestly, when I found out that I wasn’t gonna be working with him any more I thought this is a great opportunity for me to take a break and to go on vacation and you know, do things that I wanted to do.
To be honest I always thought to go back to teaching again. I loved working with kids and I thought this doesn’t define me, this doesn’t validate my existence. If I end up teaching kick ball to first graders I’ll be happy with that. I’ve made a great living and I’m not really a high maintenance guy, so I don’t really need it.
Two days later Robert Garcia calls, I thought “Okay let me send a text out to Manny.” I sent the text out, my fiancé’s still really good friends with Jinkee (Pacquiao). Jinkee reached out to them and they are still talking and they said “Okay, lets have Manny call out,” and nothing came of it, days, days and days. I had to sit down with my team and ask how they felt, it wasn’t an easy decision, believe me. At the same time, my team has to eat too, we have bills, we have family. I just thought, I have another opportunity just like Robert says, “It’s not just Brandon that you’re gonna be working with.”
There’s a possibility of so many other big fighters coming out there that need us an could use us. Not just boxing but the science of it, the exercise, the conditioning, the nutrition, the hydration process that I have. Everything that we have, I have a team of specialists that really are second to none because of the background and the experience that they have. It was a hard decision but it was a business one.
JENNA J:It was more business than personal?
ALEX ARIZA:Of course, of course. Listen, if Manny would have called me up and just simply said “Hey bro, Freddie’s fucking nagging me for two weeks already about you.” I know this because Jinkee told me. Freddie’s out there just nagging and crying and crying and nagging and nagging like an old maid.
If Manny said listen, “Freddie’s nagging, let me just do this right on my own because apparently Freddie doesn’t want any strength and conditioning coaches,” which ironically they ended up having to hire one, but if he said, “sit this one out bro and we’ll talk when we’re done.” I would have left it alone.
Or when he found out I was training Brandon he could of called me up and said “Hey bro is it cool if you don’t take this fight against me, I don’t wanna go against you.” Out of respect for him and everything that he’s given me in terms of my career and things like that, I would have sat it out. He didn’t call me at all, he made no contact whatsoever.
Sometimes you have to sit there and think, this is sport. I’ve played baseball my whole life and if one of my friends ended up in a different college team and I ended up having to bat against him, that’s just the way it works out, it doesn’t mean I hate him. He’s got a job to do, I have a job to do, but at the end of the day when it’s over it’s just a sport.
I believe that friendship is the only choice in life that we have that is ours, you can’t pick your own family. Manny and I have been together through so many things for five years and I find it really hard that he didn’t call me. But I think that’s through something else. I’ll be honest with you I don’t know what it is.
JENNA J:Alex, now that you are working with one of Robert Garcia’s fighters and you are in particular working with Brandon Rios, when you look at him and you look at the work you’ve already done with him, honestly, in your opinion, how much of a chance does he have against Manny Pacquiao? A lot of people are not giving him much of a chance at all.
ALEX ARIZA:I’m not there to lose, I’m there to win. I think that because we have a really good team and we’ve been very successful with troubleshooting things and fixing things and bringing out the best in fighters. Manny Pacquiao whether people wanna believe it or not, was an ordinary fighter. Manny Pacquiao went from ordinary to extraordinary when we got there, and now he’s back to being an average fighter”
You guys are looking at Pacquiao as the Manny Pacquiao who beat Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito. That’s the Manny Pacquiao that everybody has in their head, that’s the Manny Pacquiao that gives one hundred percent to me and my team. Now we have a new guy who I think that we can do the same thing with, he’s not an ordinary fighter.
JENNA J:What kind of mentality does Rios bring into this fight?
ALEX ARIZA: I think there’s nothing you can take from Brandon. He is resilient, he can take a punch, he has a lot of tremendous qualities. The one thing that was killing him that Robert told me was the weight and how they went about it. I think it says a lot about an athlete, especially boxers and boxing trainers that go out and they look for that one thing that could possibly change things.
They went to Memo Heredia and they looked at other strength coaches and sometimes it just doesn’t work, that’s why I said “We’ll just try it for two weeks and see if they like the kind of work that I do.” I think if you look at the books, Brandon was a 5/1 dog and as soon as our team got there he went down to a 3/1, so I think we have a better shot than you guys give us credit for, we’ll see on November 23rd.
JENNA J:One final question for you Alex, when Brandon Rios meets Manny Pacquiao in the ring, what do you expect to happen? Not just getting him into shape and not just getting him into condition. What is your official prediction and how do you expect that fight to ultimately play out?
ALEX ARIZA:I don’t make predictions, I think we learned a hard lesson that way you know, Freddie’s been making predictions for the last four of Manny’s fights and we end up with egg on our face. What I can tell you is that we are coming for a war. I’m training Brandon to fight the best Manny Pacquiao that there is, no excuses. We won’t have any excuses and we don’t want them to have any excuses, like “he was shot” or “Marquez ruined him” or this or that. When our hands are raised I don’t want to hear any excuses.