EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview was a part of a promotional package between American Giant and Wild Card Boxing Club. The complete story including the video and photos can be found at AMERICAN-GIANT.com/WILDCARD.
MICHAEL RAPAPORT: How did Wild Card come about?
FREDDIE ROACH: I had moved to Los Angeles from Las Vegas and me and Mickey Rourke had a gym together. It went pretty well but I wanted to have my own gym. Having partners is a pain in the ass. I had 10,000 dollars to build a gym and it was rough. I didn’t have enough to even buy a boxing ring so the original ring that is still up I framed out with lumber, like a house. 12 by 2’s, 16’s on center, some cables going up into the walls and so-forth. But we made it work. We spend 10,000 dollars, my entire budget was gone and I think I had 50 bucks left at the end and I bought like 25 flyers. Then people started coming, and the thing is we made rent the first month so it worked out pretty good.
MR: Was it tough going at first?
FR: We had a pretty good following from the other gyms, so it actually started out OK. Then all of a sudden I had a couple champions: Stevie Collins, Frankie Liles, and things got even better from that point on. My trainer Eddie Futch always told me “Don’t ever build a gym it’s a pain in the ass and a lot of work.” I said “Yea but you never know when the next Mike Tyson is gonna walk through your doors,” an about 6 months later a guy named Manny Pacquiao walked through my door. That changed my life.
MR: What was that like?
FR: Pacquiao was unbelievable- I never saw so much talent. A little guy that could punch really hard and knock you out. We are still out there 14 years later. Manny Pacquiao was my Mike Tyson for sure.
MR:Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, think that the gym would become what it is today? You know? It’s a part of Los Angeles culture.
FR: (laughs) It is. It’s like buses are going to start stopping by and point out the gym. We’ve had so many actors, so many fighters, so many world champions come out of this gym. I never thought it would be like that.
MR: You’ve had some pretty great fighters work out here.
FR: Yeah. I mean, my 4th year into the gym, Muhammad Ali walks in and says, “can I workout here?” and I says “Yea, okay.” So he puts on his clothes in the dressing room, gets his gloves out and starts hitting the bag. His tremors were pretty bad but as soon as he started hitting the bag he had no more tremors. And I thought, “Well look at that, that’s like me.” When I get in the ring I don’t have tremors anymore. That was one of the best days in my life having him in the gym. I started to call some people over and invited them over because I wanted everyone to see this. But then I said, let me just let this happen natural. Whoever shows up, shows up and gets to enjoy this. We had the best 4 hours ever. He told jokes, did levitation magic, he was the greatest guy. That was a great day.
MR: The gym is successful, it’s iconic, and yet charge only $5 a workout. Why do you keep it so open and fair?
FR: You know, 5 bucks a day is fair! I mean if you want to come in and work out for 5 bucks I don’t think that’s too much. My accountants disagree with me and want me to charge more, but I say the 5 is fair. I’ve kept it like that since day 1 an that’ll never change.
MR: What is the most important thing about the gym that you want to keep consistent even after you retire?
FR: Well you know, I’m thinking about retiring but what the fuck would I do with my life? Stay home and watch TV or something? I need to come here—I don’t have to come here but I want to come here. It’s a lot of fun, all of my friends are here (laughs). Someone told me, you’re going to grow old and lonely someday. You’re 54, you’ve never been married, you have no kids. I says “Well I don’t give a fuck about that so much. I’m really happy with what I have” The main thing is I want the gym to stay fair and I want everyone o be treated with respect. When you treat people with respect you get respect back and that’s what I want.