On Sunday in a New York ballroom, one of the certified good guys in the sport, trainer Hector Roca, a fixture at the famed and fabled Gleason’s Gym, will get some just do, and receive the Trainer of the Year award at the Ring 8 holiday gala.
Ring 8 is one of the strongest organizations in existence which serves to keep alive the memories of the daring exploits of the sweet scientists from past eras. Ring 8 offers financial aid to those who have served boxing with excellence and valor. On Sunday, on the same dais where Vasyl Lomachenko will receive the Muhmaad Ali International Fighter of the Year award, Roca will be beaming and soaking in the love from the attendeees who know he’s trained 19 world champions.
Born in Panama, the affable tutor, found every day plying his trade at Gleason’s in DUMBO, Brooklyn, traveled to New York in 1981. He’s now imparting his widsoms to a Cuban kid, a Jamaican kid, and Irish immigrant, too, and isn’t in minimizing mode. He wants that 20th world champion tucked into his belt.
I asked him if at this stage, he’s still in learning mode, or he has pretty much grabbed all the knowledge of how to act inside that square ring. “Let me tell you, nobody finishes to learn,” Roca said. “Anybody that say, I’m the best, no, nobody the best!”
His good pal Bruce Silverglade …
..talked to me abut what Hector means to the sport, and to him. (Above pic by Michael Woods, 12-8-17, at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn.)
“I think Hector is one of the very best trainers in the world,” said the Gleason’s owner/proprietor, another certified good guy who gives to the sport more than he could hope to receive. “He’s trained 19 world champions out of Gleason’s Gym, and celebrities like Hillary Swank, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. He’s extrememly technical, and he’s the man, during the fight, you want in your corner. He can see what you’re doing in that three minutes and he can tell you exactly what to do, make your adjustments, he’s really, a real, real good trainer.”
Bruce recalls when Hector came to America: “He was in Manhattan, he was working in the Garment District, trying to get work, fit in, he’s a new immigrant, and he came in to Gleason’s Gym which was then in Manhattan, just started standing around, and watching, and observing. And we had some great trainers over there at that time, Freddie Brown, and Ray Arcel, and he would stand around and watch and observe, and that’s how he came along. He learned from some of these all-time greats, so his fighters come in, they have to learn the basics, unlike a lot of the new trainers that start guys off in the ring, to teach them how to fight. I can’t say enough about Hector. In addition, he’s been a good friend of mine, for the past 38 years. And he’ll do anything you need, if you have a volunteer situation coming up, if you want someone to go to a hospital, someone to go to a charity, Hector is there, front and center. He’s a good hearted guy, a good friend, and I’m so totally glad that I know him and that he’s one of the trainers out of Gleason’s Gym.”
I put Roca on the spot, as that rat-tat-of-speed bags and the chirp of the three minute bell sounded behind us. What one favorite memory in boxing stands out for him, in his fourth decade in the realm. “Arturo Gatti, against Tracy Patterson, when he won the title.”
December 15, 1995, at Madison Square Garden, 130 pound crown-holder Patterson defending against the human highlight reel. Gatti scored a knockdown, and his eyes were puffing…but he was all solider, no quit was considered…and he won a UD12 by an eight point margin on the three cards. “It was special because I took Gatti with one win and one loss, and I bring him all the way to be a world champion. Another good memory….(damn right, I was not capping him at one!)…for me was Buddy McGirt, he lost to Frankie Warren (1986), for the title, and they bring him to me, and next we knock out Frankie Warren in four rounds, a couple fights down the line.”
Buddy grabbed that Roca knowledge for eight fights, shored up his arsenal, and then, in 1988, “Thunder” snatched the vacant IBF super lightweight strap.
Buddy’s KO of Howard Davis stands as a special memory, as well, as he downed the 34-2 ex Olympian and started to cement that “Thunder” rep with a first round rubout.
Roca was a cyclist, Olympic level, and worked with Joan Guzman, Iran Barkley, Rogelio Tuur, Don Diego Poeder, Ray Joval, and many more. This pretty well sums up his reason for being in this game: “I like to make champions. I love to make champions!”
Congrats, to a good dude, such an award is that much more meaningful when given to one of the good souls. Congratulations, Hector, on a job well done, and here’s to adding number 20 to the resume, soon!