Freddie Roach is lauded by many fans and experts as the best boxing trainer in the world today. He holds mitts and works the corner for big name world champions including Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Julio César Chávez, Jr.
Kombat Arts boxer Mohammed Abedeen, veteran of around 80 amateur bouts and aspiring pro, recently had the opportunity to train at Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California for two memorable months.
Here is part one of our conversation with Mo about his Wild Card experience.
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JEF CATAPANG: How did you end up at Wild Card?
MO ABEDEEN: Actually, it was through Twitter. I got the idea through a boxing journalist, Gabriel Montoya, that I talk with who suggested I come down. He thought it would be a good thing for me, for experience. He trains there for fun.
What’s the gym atmosphere like at Wild Card?
When you go there, it’s a different kind of gym. There’s a lot of regular people that come during the night; during the day it’s packed with high quality fighters and high quality trainers. When I got there, I had to work hard and become known as someone who’s a little bit better, let them see that I want to spar and that I want to be taken in as a fighter. Once I stood out, I got picked up by [Wild Card trainer and assistant to Freddie Roach] Eric Brown, who trains Paulie Malignaggi, who just won the title overseas.
What was your training like?
For the first couple of days I worked my own routine, my own regiment, just trying to stand out and look like I have a lot of skill. And I did well. I stood out, and I got picked up by Eric, who wanted to give me some sparring, so he put me in with a couple of the guys that he had that were coming up and I did really well with them. It just took off from there. I would come in Monday, Wednesday and Friday for sparring.
The guys are always there. The trainers are always there. Freddie was there. Freddie wasn’t there in the beginning because he was in the Philippines with Manny and Amir Khan; he came the second week I was there. When he was there, he was there all the time. I met him, he’s a really good guy. He oversees the sparring. He doesn’t comment too much, you know, he’s working with a few specific pros. He would overlook to make sure what’s going on. That’s it.
I would come in at maybe 9. If I was sparring that day, I’d come in at maybe 9:30 to loosen up, skip, shadow box, get ready for the ring. I’d let Eric know, he’d tell me who I was sparring that day. Pros are always coming in from out of town. I sparred with several different pros that came in from either the surrounding area of California or from another state. When I was there, “Kid Chocolate” was there getting ready for his fight. We’d spar and then finish with pads and work on technique, then finish with the bags. And then abs, of course.
What was your biggest takeaway from your time there?
A lot of it has given me new confidence because I feel like the training we do here [at Kombat Arts] is very, very similar. And as far as working hard, we work just as hard [as they do at Wild Card]. They’re hard-working guys, they’re world champions, but we work hard here, too. And I did very well in the ring with them, so that’s given me a good confidence boost.
At the same time, I picked up a bunch of new things to implement in my training here, or just change slightly, to take me up to their level. They do things different. The way they train dictates how they perform in the ring. The exercises they do give them more energy, let them be a little more explosive. I want to work that into my own game.
Freddie and his team are known for refining the skills of already established fighters. Were there any weaknesses they tightened up for you?
I gained confidence in a lot of techniques, but yeah, I also found a bunch of stuff that I have to work on. Specifically…they’re very explosive. Nothing is done lazily. Nothing is done 80 per cent. Even in sparring, I feel like they’re going 100 per cent, trying to take someone’s head off. It’s high competition there, everyone is trying to prove themselves and get better.
Brian Veloria was there, I saw him spar . . . giving it everything he had. I think that’s something I need to work on here. Sometimes you take that mental break in the ring or you throw things less than 100 per cent. They use 14 oz. gloves whereas here we use 16 oz. But they also use much better protection. Their head gear covers almost your entire head. With that protection they can use the lighter 14 oz. gloves and go 100 per cent.
Manny was training for Timothy Bradley at the time. Did you get to see any of his fight camp?
Yes! The gym is a regular gym, anybody can train for $50 [a month]. As a result, you have a lot of people in there. When Manny came back [from the Philippines], they would have the gym closed from 12 to 5. Manny would be there, Khan would be there, a couple of other pros and fighters. I got to stay there a lot of days and I got to see Manny train. I never got to see him spar. They were very strict with that—they don’t really know me, you know. It was amazing. It was inspiring. It’s something I’ll remember, for sure.
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Be sure to check back tomorrow for part two of our Q&A with Mo, where he we ask him about the controversial Pacquiao vs. Bradley decision, what it was like to meet one of his heroes, and his plans on going pro.