MANILA, Philippines – Three weeks into his new position as the strength and conditioning coach for Brandon Rios, Alex Ariza says that he harbors no ill feelings towards his former employer, Manny Pacquiao.
Ariza, who says he found out that he was being fired from his position in Team Pacquiao through an ESPN fan chat during the Pacquiao-Rios press tour, is currently in Oxnard, Calif., assisting former WBA lightweight titleholder Rios (31-1-1, 23 knockouts) in preparations for his Nov. 24 [Nov. 23 in New York] non-title welterweight bout against Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs) at the Venetian Resort in Macau, China.
“As far as the personal thing, I still consider [Pacquiao] a friend,” Ariza told RingTV.com. “I don’t have a vendetta or want any kind of reciprocity. It’s just I have to come here now, I have a new fighter and a new responsibility and my job is to win. That’s what I’m here for.
“I think people emphasize too much on [the personal aspect], and it kind of makes me wonder how many people have ever played sports before. I grew up playing sports my whole life. There’s just some times when my friend is on the other team and he ends up pitching against me and I have to hit off of him. It’s nothing personal, it’s just part of sports.”
Ariza, who had aided Freddie Roach in the training of several of his former fighters, including Amir Khan and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., began working with Pacquiao in 2008 when the Filipino boxing icon first moved up to lightweight to challenge David Diaz. With Ariza in tow, Pacquiao went on to win additional titles at junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight.
Now Ariza is trying to replicate the same successful rise in weight with Rios, working alongside reigning BWAA Trainer of the Year Robert Garcia. Ariza describes the 27-year-old Rios as a “younger, hungrier” fighter than the 34-year-old Pacquiao.
The bout will be Rios’ first at 147 pounds after splitting a pair of bouts with Mike Alvarado at 140.
The strength and conditioning program – which Ariza says is similar to the one he employed with Pacquiao – will be supplemented by nutritionist Teri Thom, who also worked with Pacquiao under Ariza.
“No matter what it is I ask him to do, Brandon is going to either throw up completing it or he’s going to drown trying to beat a time,” said Ariza of Rios’ commitment to the program.
“I think he’s done extremely well. I think everybody knows that the training program that we have is extremely difficult. It’s intense and strenuous and a lot of guys can’t deal with it. But Brandon’s done exceptionally well. I was probably surprised because Brandon has a strong character. Even Manny Pacquiao couldn’t do it. He’s doing it everyday, he’s not a complainer. As far as work ethic and discipline, it’s really second to none.”
Pacquiao’s advisor, Michael Koncz, told veteran Filipino sportswriter Dennis Principe that Pacquiao wouldn’t be replacing Ariza with another strength and conditioning guru. Pacquiao has split time between his hometown of General Santos City and Manila during training, working with childhood friends and assistant trainers Buboy Fernandez and Nonoy Neri.
Pacquiao’s head trainer, Freddie Roach, is due to leave for the Philippines after working former three-division titleholder Miguel Cotto’s corner against Delvin Rodriguez on Oct. 6 in Orlando, Fla.
While Ariza says he was disappointed with the way Pacquiao handled the matter, he reserved most of his criticism for Roach. Ariza says that he clashed frequently with Roach, and blames his ego for Roach’s fighters’ recent string of losses. “Freddie’s a coward, so he obviously didn’t have balls enough to call me on the phone. If he wanted to fire me, why didn’t he do it like a man?
“I’m with the best trainer in boxing right now, and I’m probably with the best boxing team right now. The only thing that matters is what Robert Garcia and his fighters think, not some 0-12 trainer that used to be a good trainer.”
Last week, Roach addressed Ariza’s claims in an interview with Chris Robinson. “The thing is, the more I talk about [Ariza] the more press he gets and I don’t want to give him any press,” Roach said. “I didn’t feel like he was doing anything for Pacquiao and I wanted Pacquiao to go back to the old ways.”
Ariza insists that his work with Rios revolves solely around improving him as an athlete, and that his experience spending ten fights inside the camp of the former eight-division world titleholder won’t factor into the outcome of the fight.
“Brandon is going to fight his fight and he’s going to stick to Robert and whatever his strategy is,” said Ariza. “It’s not like they brought me out here to sit me down and go, ‘Well, how does Manny move to the right? How does Manny move to the left?’ Nobody does that.
“At the end of the day, whatever is going to happen on the 24th is going to happen. You can’t plan for that, and it’s ridiculous to think that anything I say is going to make an impact strategically. The only impact I can make is bringing the biggest, strongest Brandon Rios that anyone has ever seen.”
Photos by Jeff Gross-Gettyimages; Stephen Dunn-Gettyimages
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.