Q&A: Alex Ariza
Story by Jeff Zimmerman
Photos courtesy of Stacey Verbeek / Maple Ave Boxing Gym
After the final press conference officially ended at Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday as the final build-up to The Event: Pacquiao vs. Clottey this weekend, and with the main attraction Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao (50-3-2 38 KOs) long gone, there was still one guy hanging around the dais still chatting it up with whoever was interested: Alex Ariza, Manny’s strength and conditioning coach.
While trainer Freddie Roach gets the credit for turning Pacquiao into the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world and rightfully so, Ariza should no doubt get major props for his role that has allowed for Pacquiao’s rise to welterweight and the big money fights that have come with it. You can understand why Ariza may be relishing the moment as the mastermind of Pacquiao’s hulk like transformation over the last couple of years.
Ariza discusses his relationship and role with Pacquiao, his great admiration for Roach, the steroid accusations and the importance of his job in boxing.
Q: You mentioned at Pacquiao’s workout – that you needed to get with Freddie on his weight coming into the fight. Did you do that?
A: Yes we have, 147lbs.
Q: Ok, so he will be right on weight?
A: Yes, right on weight.
Q: As Manny’s personal strength and conditioning coach, you don’t see that a lot in boxing. You don’t see people like you as part of fighter’s entourage – you could be the X factor in lot of Manny’s fights. How do you see what you bring to the table for someone like Manny?
A: You know I would love to sit hear and say, yea, I’m that reason (laughing) – but he would be where he is with me or without me, but I think I make it easier for him, where he doesn’t have to think about where he has to do different things, what to eat, what exercises to do to improve something, because I come up with all that stuff and he just has to follow it.
Q: In an old time boxing, you put in your road work, you get in the gym and you box – [Arias interrupted – “That’s not enough these days” - Are other fighters bringing others like you around? What have you seen?
A: Unfortunately, I think its still archaic as far as having strength trainers and nutritionists, it usually has to do with the trainer, you know, trainers have a big ego, they like to take a complete responsibility or control of whatever as fighters. On the flip side, you have a guy like Freddie Roach who is an old school trainer but he’s outside the box. When I met him I was surprised he knew so much about nutrition, he knew so much about strength and conditioning, he just didn’t know the intricate details of it. And so he was open to a lot of stuff, so in the beginning he watched me, followed me, liked what he saw so that’s when he decided it was probably something that would be good for Manny.
Q: Did you have to practice first on some of the understudies at the Wild Card Gym?
A: Yea, of course, I had trained you know big name fighters like Eric Morales and Diego Corrales, fighters like that. But still, you know, but going to Freddie is a whole different thing, he has to see it; you have to prove yourself to him. Ultimately you have to get his confidence. Yea I did, my first fighter, MMA guy, was Andrei Arlovski, I had him, that was 2 ½ years ago. Then I had Bobby Pacquiao ironically. Then Freddie starting giving me, I had the sparring partners at first, you know, and then gradually he started giving me more and more responsibility.
Q: Do you think the strength and conditioning and the diet is what has caused his weight to increase over time.
A: That 100%! Yea, because for a guy like Manny who walks around at 144, 145 – it was just going to be impossible without these new things and thankfully you have someone like Freddy who will support it and back me up on it because Manny and I have only been together a few years.
Q: Was Manny a little bit confused at first?
A: Manny hadn’t seen anything like it, that kind of stuff. Intervals, drills, biometrics, isometrics, conditioning stations and he was like what is this. And you have to remember your body is going to feel really different and after doing something like this, your body is going to hurt in places of places that you never needed to hurt and that’s what happened, he suffered so much early, but it was really Freddy who just said you got to stick with it. It’s something you have to get used to. He didn’t like it in the beginning but what he saw later on that’s when, I thought for me, as far as doing that with Manny, I thought our strength and conditioning was going to be over as far as that was. But when he came back and he said you know what, I liked it, I saw my body change and that’s when he started putting confidence in it and he started attacking it 100%. He saw his body grow and grow but with that comes all this food and that was another battle.
Q: As he got bigger physically, did the mental approach become just as important?
A: You have to remember, they have to believe in it too. So you know, I have never seen Manny look at himself as much as he does now. Like Freddie says, we know when he starts to feel good, when we’re at the gym and he starts taking his shirt off. He starts doing his shadow, because he’s looking at himself, like where did this come from. And you have so many people that have known Manny much, much longer than I have, for years that go geez, what happened.
Q: Do you take it personally as part of his training team, when you hear all the talk about Manny taking drugs coming out of the Mayweather camp?
A: To be honest with you at first I took it as a complement. Like I said before, this didn’t just happen over night, it took 2 ½ years of coming up with this program. And I want to give thanks and credit to Terry Tom, UCLA who is the dietician who helped me as part of my team, Andre Macias research analyst of San Diego State so they deserve a lot of credit, Freddie as well because we all sat down. It would have been irresponsible of myself to think I could have done it by myself. So it was a lot of work that when in to doing this. So again, in the beginning, we took it as a complement. We did so good, people are thinking he is on steroids. Then it kind of took on a life of its own and once I could see it was affecting Manny’s credibility or I could see this look in his face that I don’t even know what steroids are. Then that’s when you kind of take it personal.
Q: Has he adjusted to the diet and new foods, different shakes? Is it like second nature to him now?
A: Yea, it is. It is. Again its like anything else, in the beginning when he told me, I remember us sitting in Baguio and him saying, you know bro when I first started, I couldn’t eat this, I couldn’t eat that and I couldn’t eat this, I couldn’t eat that, I was f--- miserable and he says now, I got to eat this, I got to eat that and I’m f--- miserable still – well I said, who told you to fight at 147.
Q: Is that his best weight in your opinion?
A: 147? I think 140 is. You know because I think these high calorie, high protein diets could be stressful on the liver and the kidneys but their done in such short durations that I don’t it will become a problem
Q: Since you’re in Hollywood, did your clientele increase exponentially because of your work with Manny?
A: I have the same 3 fighters that I started with.
Q: What about from Hollywood perspective?
A: I don’t deal with that because they don’t have the same intensity and drive as an elite athlete. I do have one Hollywood client, Jeremy Piven, who I would have never in a million years guessed that he was the kind of athlete that he is the kind of athlete that he is and has that resiliency, because when he kept bugging me and bugging me you know train me, train me. I did, I said I am going to kill him, I gave him a beating almost short of throwing up and he called me the next day and he said I loved it man when are we going to do it again. And we have been together ever since.
Q: At the Wild Card Gym?
A: He does, he does, and we train 4 to 5 times a week. I put him through the same stuff that I do. I told him listen I am not a personal trainer, I am strength and conditioning coach, there’s a big difference. I am not going to stand there and count one, two and ask how your day’s going. You’re going to have to push it just like everybody else.
Q: Would you be open to other fighters or other athletes?
A: I’m fine where I am at. And I don’t think I will ever go or step away from Freddy. I just cant see myself working with anybody if Freddy is not there to go to and you know because for sure without doubt I think I am where I am today because of Freddy, but I am definitely a much better coach because of Freddy. I have learned so much from him and if I could just keep learning from him hopefully I will be able to work next to him as long as he stays in this business. Yea I just can’t see myself working with someone else or another trainer, I think, it’s like school all over again working next to Freddy, because I am always learning something. But just not learning different techniques but just learning how to be a coach and that I think is what is making me a better coach.
Q: Did you ever box yourself?
A: Yeah, when I was younger. You know, unfortunately, you know when they say when a fighter gets older, god I started feeling the punches, well I started feeling them then. So I was more of a baseball player.
Q: What drove you to the sport of boxing? Was it because you boxed?
A: No, what drove me to the sport was when I wanted to get into the field, you look at football, baseball and basketball, they have a 100 trainers, they have 100 strength and conditioning guys and you start at the bottom taping ankles and joints, you know, boxing didn’t have any of that just former boxers teaching things that people unfortunately they don’t enough about or they have any real depth in it or knowledge in it so this was the best place for me to start. You know, I could come up with my own thing, I can be sport specific and boxing is like no other sport, because you can get a football sports and conditioning coach and he can transfer it to basketball or you can transfer to hockey because its almost as similar because they get timeouts, they get rest periods we don’t, we got 3 minutes of the most intense 3 minutes that you can put out and you get 1 minute to recover. You go to come up with a pretty solid program to that. I am hoping to start get other strength and conditioning coaches and people interested in this sport and maybe want to come over, because the sport needs it from my point of view, you have a lot of these younger guys that are just killing themselves to make weight and their just doing it so wrong that what you don’t see is the longer term effects that they may have later on, so if they can get educated by someone that does know that has the background and education, I think not only would they perform better as well but they can prevent themselves from doing any kind of other harm to their body.