Freddie Roach's Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, Calif., is a hive of activity, as usual. Among the many fighters training, two of them are receiving extra-special attention from Roach.
• Pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, Roach's star pupil, who is preparing for his Dec. 6 megafight with Oscar De La Hoya (Roach's former fighter).
• British lightweight Amir Khan, the 21-year-old super prospect who recently hired Roach to guide him back following a crushing first-round knockout loss to Breidis Prescott in September.
Roach has taken on Khan's rebuilding process at the same time Pacquiao is training for the biggest fight of his career, so they're getting to know each other as their schedules intersect -- Khan starts his training at 3 p.m., and Pacquiao finishes his at 4 p.m.
I called Roach the other day to get his take on what was going on inside his famed gym. As we talked I could hear the bags being hit and the bells ringing.
"Amir sparred for the first time the other day," Roach said. "He went four rounds and he did really well. He's got a lot of tools and is unbelievably fast. I think the biggest thing with Amir is he just needs not to look for the knockout. That's when he gets a little lazy and forgets about defense. We need to fix that."
Roach had Khan spar with Dean Byrne (9-0, 3 KOs), a 24-year-old prospect from Ireland now living in California to train with Roach.
Khan's situation is interesting. The plan set forth by promoter Frank Warren was to get Khan back in the ring on Dec. 6 in his first bout since the huge upset loss. However, with Roach scheduled to be with Pacquiao in Las Vegas for the De La Hoya fight and Khan slated to fight in England, it was an impossible situation. Khan was not going to fight without his newly hired trainer -- his fourth in four fights -- at his side, and there were no other British television dates after Dec. 6 to accommodate him.
As great as Roach is, even he can't be in two places at the same time.
Khan's training situation has been a mess lately, which hopefully Roach can smooth out. Khan trained under Oliver Harrison for all of his early fights, but they parted ways and he worked with Dean Powell for one fight while looking for a full-time trainer. He settled on former Cuban national coach Jorge Rubio, but in their first fight together, Khan was promptly knocked out by Prescott, an opponent Rubio picked. So Rubio was demoted to an assistant, and Khan (18-1, 14 KOs) hired Roach, who hopefully will stick around for awhile.
Anyway, over the past week or so, there was a lot of conversation between Warren and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer about finding a place for Khan on the De La Hoya-Pacquiao undercard so Roach could be with both of his fighters. One scenario discussed would have seen Khan's getting the slot on the card in return for Warren making a deal with Golden Boy to match junior lightweight titlist Nicky Cook with Golden Boy contender Rocky Juarez, who eventually will be Cook's mandatory anyway.
However, the deal could not be worked out, and now it looks like Khan will lay off until February. With so many fighters under contract, Schaefer couldn't justify giving Khan one of the valuable spots on the show, even if his bout wouldn't have been part of the HBO PPV telecast in the United States.
However, Roach said Khan will still spar with Pacquiao before his camp is through. That will be something to see, and I sure hope somebody has a video camera handy.
"Amir will spar with Manny before we're done," Roach said. "He's faster than Oscar, tall like Oscar and will give Manny a good look. He'll spar with Manny and he will be tested. It will be good for Amir and good for Manny. They've gotten to know each other since they've been in camp together. They've been running together in the morning and they're getting along just fine. They're competitive with each other and like running with each other. They push each other, so it's a great situation, especially for Amir to see how the best trains. Amir is a talented kid; his work ethic is really good.
"This was Amir's first week of sparring, so we'll let him get his feet wet first before he goes in with Manny. But I'll use them with each other next week."