Manny Pacquiao strength and conditioning coach Justin Fortune has been a staple in the Filipino boxing icon’s corner for better parts of the last two decades.
Fortune is a former Australian heavyweight fighter who tallied a record of 15-9-2 and 9 KOs and trained under Roach before retiring in 2009, and he’s worked in tandem with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach to help Pacquiao from 2001 until 2007, and again from 2013 till now.
Fortune and Roach had a falling after Pacquiao's KO of Jorge Solis in 2007. At the time, Fortune was replaced by then strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza.
Fortune reentered Pacquiao's picture in 2013 ahead of the Brandon Rios fight and has remained on board ever since, including most recently during Pacquaio’s unanimous decision loss to Yordenis Ugas.
Pacquiao declared after the Ugas fight that his legs failed him throughout the bout with cramps.
In recent interviews, Fortune said he’s getting blamed for Pacquiao’s mishap.
“I can’t work with Freddie [Roach] anymore, he keeps blaming me. He always blames somebody else … he never takes responsibility," Fortune told Business Mirror.
“I was blamed for the cramps and tightness suffered by Pacquiao in the early rounds of the bout because of him being overtrained a few days before the fight night.”
In a separate interview with The Philippine Star, Fortune doubled down on his sentiment.
“Mark my words, I’ll never work with Freddie again … He accused me for Manny’s loss to cover up his own inadequacies and didn’t do it to my face. Freddie made stupid statements, not even factual, about Manny running the hills at Griffith Park six days a week. He won’t tell it to my face and I think that’s being a coward. It’s pathetic. If I had something to say about Freddie, I’ll tell it to him straight, not through somebody else.”
Fortune said he was surprised to see Pacquiao’s legs being worked on by physiotherapist Dr. Sean Hampton 30 minutes before the Ugas fight.
“I think Freddie brought him in a week or a few weeks before,” said Fortune. “I don’t know if he’s ever worked with a fighter or an elite athlete before. All I know is you don’t touch a fighter 30 minutes before a fight, certainly not to massage his legs. You want a fighter like a cat on a hot tin roof, not with loose legs. That’s a perfect formula to get cramps right away and it’s exactly what happened.”
Fortune also pulled back the curtain on Pacquiao’s fight-week routine, saying that the Filipino icon had a day off Wednesday, ran sprints on Thursday, and ran 20 minutes on a treadmill before the Friday weigh-in.
“You do all that to drop weight so you can eat before the weigh-in,” said Fortune. “Manny broke out to do sprints on Thursday and maybe he shouldn’t have but he likes to win and he probably felt it would be good to do it. He came in at 146 at the weigh-in. It’s hard to say why cramps set in. Manny just had a bad night, it happens to the best of champions, especially with the ring rust and two years of inactivity.”
Fortune was not in Pacquiao’s corner during the fight.
Instead, Pacquiao was tended to by Roach, longtime co-trainer Buboy Fernandez and cutman Mike Rodriguez.
“I couldn’t understand why Mike wasn’t in the middle during the timeouts because Manny had a cut over his eye and a cut on his cheek,” said Fortune. “Freddie and Buboy were talking over each other so it got messy.”
“Personally, I don’t want Manny to retire with a loss. I wouldn’t mind a rematch with Ugas. I think Manny should be able to beat him with no more ring rust. Let’s face it, if Manny weren’t in condition, he wouldn’t have lasted 12 rounds even with cramps. It was just a bad night. I wouldn’t mind working with Buboy whom I love and Marvin [Somodio] who’s decent and respectful. Buboy and I worked with Manny for the [Lucas] Matthyssee fight and Manny scored a knockout. It was a great camp without Freddie. I’m hoping we can do that again.”
Pacquiao and Roach publicist Fred Sternberg offered the following after Fortune's comments were made public.
“Freddie told me he will respect Manny’s wishes and not respond to these types of interviews Justin is giving,” Sternberg told The Philippine Star. “Freddie agrees with Manny that it’s unproductive.”
In 2012, Fortune sued Roach after Roach told a reporter that Fortune previously used performance-enhancing drugs. Previous to that, Roach once sued Fortune claiming he was owed money, but the case was dismissed.
Fortune also owns a boxing gym in Hollywood, California since 2008 that is 2.5 miles away from Roach’s Wild Card Boxing.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com or on www.ManoukAkopyan.com