Interview with Hector Roca

10.10.05 – Interview By Ike Enwereuzor: Legendary trainer, Hector Roca has coached numerous actors, like Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Lopez, Michelle Rodriguez, John Leguizanio and also actress Hilary Swank for her role in the award winning film “Million Dollar Baby,” directed by Clint Eastwood. Hector has also developed some real fighters, such as Iran Barkley, Buddy McGirt, Michael Olajide and many more. His current fighters include undefeated Dmitriy Salita, Edgar Santana.

Ike: How did you get the work to train Hilary Swank for the Million Dollar Baby?”

Roca: Hilary told me that she spoke with her good friend Christy Martin, who told her if her closes her eyes and someone told her to go to Hector Roca, I’ll recommend them. I think Hector Roca can do the job right, she said.

Ike: What was it like working with Hilary Swank for the first time for the film “Million Dollar Baby”?

Roca: It was terrible at first, because she had no experience, but it made my job so easy. She’s a good actress and actors can act like fighters, too. It made my job easy because she had to start from basics with me. She picked the art up quickly and sparred with some professional boxers, including Maureen Shea, who was in the New York Golden Gloves. This is why the movie looks so real.

Ike: Please tell us about the first time you got involved in Boxing

Roca: When I first came from Panama to New York City years ago, I was looking for opportunity. I started with the truck business, then one day, I passed by Gleason Gym, when it was located on Mahattan 32nd street, between 8 and 7th Avenue. My father and brother were both boxers. I learned the game with them. One day, I was passing by Gleason’s in Mahattan, at that time, you had to pay a dollar to watch people training, so one day I paid $1 to watch people train.

Ike: What was it like working with Buddy McGirt, as a fighter?

Roca: He was a great fighter to work with. I had to adjust to his style, at first. He was a straight up boxer, before I bent him. He became such a respectable and nice guy.

Ike: Your most memorable moment?

Roca: Trained Maureen Shea for 3 and half months and helped her get ready for the Golden Gloves. Hilary hit her so hard, she started to cry. After that, she realised she has to train like a fighter and fighters do take pain. Hilary Swank got hit a few times, so this is why she also looked like a real fighter. I was invited to the premier in Hollywood and the movie had history. I was very impressed because everything looked so real.

Ike: Who’s the fighter you enjoyed working with most?

Roca: Michael Olajide was a tough fighter, with a lot of pressure, and he also wanted to fight tough guys because he’s a tough guy. I had a good time with Buddy McGirt. He used to be a straight up fighter, so I worked on his style and bent him but this kid, Edgar “El Chamaco” Santana, is a junior welterweight. I got him with a record of 2-2. A lot of people tried to discourage me about this kid but I believed in him and I think he’ll become a world champion, someday. I have stuck with him. His record now is (18-2) with 12 KO’s. I’m also enjoying working with Dmitriy Salita. He had some managerial problem but came back and won the NABA jr welterweight belt. I love working with Maureen Shea, too. She was the sparring partner for Hilary Swank.

Ike: What do you think of boxing today compared to when you first got into Boxing?

Roca: It’s so much money involved and no competition now compared to then. Fighters are not hungry anymore, like before. They don’t try harder anymore. Fighters, like Roberto Duran, didn’t fight for money but for fame. He didn’t care for the money but just fame and recognition.

Ike: Who are your favorite fighters?

Roca: Nobody currently impresses me at this time. I like Winky Wright because he comes to fight. You can see the dedication he brings to the ring. He came from nowhere to become something. He’s a true fighter. I also like Bernard Hopkins, because he’s one of the greatest, although age maybe catching up with him. I don’t know if he can beat that young boy, Jermine Taylor. Roberto Duran is my all time great.

Ike: Vitali Klitschko vs. Hasim Rahman, who do you like?

Roca: I like Hasim Rahman. Klitschko has problems with movers. If Rahman comes in in shape, then it will be a very interesting fight to watch. I think Hasim Rahman can fight and he’s one of the best now. I don’t think Vitali Klitschko has been fighting this caliber of fighters before now. He did well against Lennox Lewis, but we knew Lewis was going to win. We want to to see all the heavyweight champions fight each other. The game is controlled by top promoters, so we can’t see quality fighters because they are not signed by the big promoters.

Ike: Your impression of Roberto Duran?

Roca: I know him from childhood in Panama. He’s from the streets. My father and brother used to fight, also in Panama. Roberto Duran didn’t care about the money; he just wanted to give fans what they wanted. Give them the best show and they will never forget. Duran made history and was one of the best.

Ike: Your impression of Boxing?

Roca: Boxing is a classic sports, if you do it the right way. When I went there, this man took me to the owner of Gleason’s gym and told him that he wanted me to train his son in self defense. I started then to train this kid, and people started to see what I got and the rest was history. I have worked with many good people in my life.

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