Ex-Pacquiao strength coach Ariza on joining Rios: ‘I had no choice’

Alex Ariza and Manny Pacquiao during happier times. (Getty Images)

Once the word got out that  “Fighter of the Decade” Manny Pacquiao’s former strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza had decided to accept an offer to train Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios, Pacquiao’s exciting opponent in their November 24 showdown for the WBO International welterweight title in Macau, there were several questions asked and a fair deal of criticism leveled against Ariza.

There were some who argued that Ariza should not have accepted the job of serving as the strength and conditioning coach of Rios out of a sense of delicadeza since Manny had been so good to him through the years while others were harsher, even branding him an ingrate.

‘I had no choice’

Yahoo Philippines decided to call Ariza and put it to him straight. We told Alex: “I’m being very honest with you. Doesn’t it look a little bad because Pacquiao has been good and nice to you?”

Ariza prefaced his answer with, “You are right. That’s why I love you for your honesty. That’s why I talk to you.”

With the niceties out of the way, Ariza lamented what had happened and indicated he basically had no choice since he still “had bills to pay”.

Ariza claimed he was informed he had been fired by Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach from Yahoo US boxing writer Kevin Iole, who learned about it on an Internet chat of Roach. When the story broke we checked with Pacquiao’s adviser Michael Koncz after Ariza insisted there was no way Roach could fire him because he doesn’t work for the trainer but for Pacquiao.

Koncz clarified that he was there when Pacquiao and Roach met in Macau to discuss his preparation for the showdown with Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios and Pacquiao agreed that Freddie “is in charge of the training camp and whatever Freddie wants Manny is in support of.”

When reminded by us that he had always insisted “Manny is the boss” and the individual who makes all the decisions, Koncz said  “no matter who’s the boss, Manny agreed with what Freddie wanted and that’s it.”

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who also didn’t feel too comfortable with Ariza, confirmed, “Ariza is definitely out.”

In somewhat of a surprise Pacquiao’s original strength and conditioning coach Justin Fortune, who parted ways after differences with Roach, supported the move to fire Ariza claiming he didn’t think the Colombian brought anything to Pacquiao’s training camp except “tension.”

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Noting that Pacquiao will train in his hometown of General Santos City for the Rios fight, Fortune stressed that Pacquiao “doesn’t need any more tension. He needs to just concentrate on his fight because the pressure is all on him. None of it’s on Brandon Rios.”

Ariza, as 2012 “Fighter of the Year” Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire pointed out, “is very vocal.” Donaire himself told us that while he trains under Robert Garcia and will spend some weeks in his Oxnard Gym, he will not work with Ariza but will depend on his trusted guys with whom he has worked all these years even though his close friends Mikey Garcia and Rios will use the services of Ariza.

Excellent results

Well-known boxing writer Chris Robinson in an article on boxingscene.com in which he had a lengthy interview with trainer Garcia noted that ever since he began working with Pacquiao some two weeks before the WBC lightweight clash with David Diaz, the results were excellent.

Ariza reminded Yahoo Philippines that he helped Pacquiao in five fights in which he “looked sensational.” These included wins over David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito.

When Pacquiao chose not to follow his strength and conditioning regimen, he lost two fights back-to-back   ---  a hugely controversial split decision to Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley on June 9, 2012 and a crushing 6th round knockout to Juan Manuel Marquez at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 8, 2012.

One of those in the training camp of Pacquiao who has long been against the methods of Ariza has been Pacquiao’s childhood friend and assistant trainer Restituto “Buboy” Fernandez. Fernandez told us during a training camp in Baguio City where Manny trained alongside Amir Khan that Pacquiao isn’t a bodybuilder, he’s a boxer and his speed is one of his biggest assets but with the regimen of Ariza he tends to slow down and be muscle-bound although the results of his most successful and dominating performances belied the Fernandez claim.

Freddie Roach (left) and Alex Ariza also worked together for Amir Khan (center). (Getty Images)

Robinson wrote:  “The results Ariza was able to produce with Pacquiao were unquestioned, yet he also had a way of creating attention because of his brazen approach to all aspects of the sport.”

That is essentially correct, but one has to give Ariza credit for speaking his mind and telling it like it is, unlike some individuals within Team Pacquiao who sing his praises and in so doing, don’t help him at all.

Robert Garcia told Robinson: “I know that there are so many negative things that everybody has said about him. And believe me, not one person has said something good about him. That’s the thing. Not one person has ever told me anything good about him. Everybody tells me a negative thing. And believe me, it’s everybody, not just one person. But I like his work. He does a good job with the morning workouts.”

Elaborating on the workouts, Garcia said, “I have never even seen a boxer do what they’re doing. It should help Brandon and Mikey get better when it comes to speed, being more explosive, faster, stronger. And all that matters to me is that the work is done and he does a good job. And I’m sure that nobody likes him, nobody wants him around. Everybody keeps telling me negative things about him. Well, he has to do things right. He can’t f*** up. He knows that this is probably one of his last chances. And he’s probably with the best team that there is right now in the world of boxing. He can’t f*** up.”

Garcia insisted he had met with Ariza and Rios who had invited the strength and conditioning coach two days after he arrived in Los Angeles from the grueling media tour to promote the Pacquiao fight and laid down the rules. “He’s got to do things right. I don’t want no drama. I don’t want him getting the team in trouble or just creating things that are going to bring drama to the team. I don’t need that.”

‘He left me no choice’

Ariza was visibly hurt and disappointed at the manner in which he was fired.  Ariza said he learned he was fired through the media and regretted that “Nobody had the decency to even call me. I left him (Pacquiao) several messages that someone was reaching out to me to work. I wanted to call him and tell him, but got no response.”

The strength and conditioning coach emphasized, “I didn’t leave him. He left me.”

Ariza made it clear that he is grateful for what Pacquiao did for him, even as he stressed that he never would have left.

He revealed that two days after the Pacquiao-Rios media tour ended he got a call from Brandon in Los Angeles and they teamed up after talking it over with trainer Robert Garcia.

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In a swipe mostly directed, we suspect, at Freddie Roach, Ariza said “Just when they think they have me out of the boxing game they call me back in. I’m right back in Oxnard, training Rios.”

He called and sent Pacquiao a text message wishing to inform him of the Rios offer and at the very least to get his approval just like he did with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. who gave him permission to leave training camp to work with Rios. Regrettably, there was no response.

Chavez Jr. said “Go train them, I can work here. Maybe I’ll go over there and see how it,s like working with Robert – that’s a possibility.” Right now his father Julio Cesar Sr. is handling his son’s training while an Ariza assistant, Henry Marchena, is doing the strength and conditioning.

Ariza confessed that “If Manny said ‘Don’t take it, sit this one out and I’ll bring you back,’ I would have sat it out and I would have waited. But he left me no choice.”

During his meeting with Rios and trainer Garcia, Ariza told them “Spend two weeks with me if you like what I do then we’ll do it,  if you don’t you have no obligations to me,  we’ll part ways amicably.”

One week later Rios told Alex “I like what you do –I love it. This is what I want. I texted Manny again, no response again so that’s the decision I made.”

Ariza also pointed out, “I have a home in the Philippines –I have to pay mortgage there, my wife is there my family is there. Manny left me no choice.”

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.

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