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HBO takes a deeper look at Freddie Roach

Trainer Freddie Roach at Wild Card Boxing Club

Trainer Freddie Roach at Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California. (Nov. 14, 2011) (Credit: Getty Images)

I was concerned that HBO was giving us too much Freddie Roach. Could a series just on the trainer really offer us anything new?

Roach, thanks to training Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and others, is one of the most recognizable faces in boxing. His Wild Card Gym has become this era's Kronk.

For its part, HBO has profiled him on "Real Sports," he's been on 'Face Off" and he really plays Pacquiao's equal on "24/7."

Did we need more?

Turns out, we do.

"On Freddie Roach," by filmmaker Peter Berg, is similar to "24/7" but veers away from the staples of HBO's standard boxing programming. And it's done well. There aren't sitdown interviews, and Liev Schreiber doesn't walk us through the episodes. The scenes during which Khan fights Zab Judah are excellent. You actually feel like you are watching the bout from the corner with Roach. And there is no fight commentary from the announcers.

In watching the first two episodes, it's hard to proclaim that this isn't about boxing because that is Roach's identity. But it's not. It's about a guy named Freddie Roach who right now happens to be the best trainer in the world. He's interesting, not because of boxing, but because in Darwinian fashion he made it through a turbulent childhood. Because he soldiers on in the face of Parkinson's disease. Because, even though he makes a lot of money, he stoops down to pick up garbage outside of his gym. And he's not angry about it.

There is a scene during the second episode when a family member takes ill and the emotion pours out of Roach. For a moment, perhaps just a brief moment, it looks as if Freddie would give it all back - the money, the champions, the fame - just to have that family member restored.

There is another scene when Freddie is set to undergo an MRI. In the midst of all this medical testing, he's talking about life and how he wouldn't trade his with anyone. He says he hopes to work until he dies. Then he says, "If I die doing the mitts, I don't want
that fighter being sad."

It's good stuff.

"On Freddie Roach" debuts Friday, January 20 on HBO, 9:30 p.m.

Tags: HBO , Freddie Roach , Liev Schreiber

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