Publisher’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Summer 2021 release of BostonMan Magazine. April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, with April 11th being World Parkinson’s Day, and April 1st will be the first awareness gala Ryan Roach and the Punch4Parkinsons organization will be holding to help combat the disease.
“The goal of the gala, just like our ‘Fight Nights’ is to continue to raise awareness and make contributions in the fight against Parkinson’s,” Roach recently told BostonMan. “We have Lenny Clarke, Billy Costa and a nice evening of entertainment, food, drinks and music lined up for everyone attending.”
The Punch4Parkinson’s Gala will be held Friday April 1st at Lombardo’s in Randolph. Tickets can be purchased here.
The story below tells of the Roach family and their inspiration in starting the Punch 4 Parkinson’s organization. We look forward to seeing many of you at the gala on April 1st!
Ryan Roach has a big name to live up to.
If you’re a boxing fan, you’ve likely heard of Ryan’s uncle, Freddie Roach. He might be the greatest trainer in the history of the sport.
Freddie was a former fighter himself, who prevailed in 40 professional bouts. After losing five of his last six fights…what the boxing world calls “time to retire”…Freddie’s trainer, another all-time great named Eddie Futch, took him under his wing as an assistant.
Futch wasn’t a bad guy to learn from, given that he trained four fighters who defeated Muhammad Ali. Freddie turned out to be a star pupil, and ultimately trained a few dozen world champions of his own on his way to Boxing’s Hall of Fame.
You might remember Manny Pacquiao’s surprise domination of Oscar De La Hoya. That was a Freddie Roach job.
“Freddie’s been great for a while,” Ryan says. “But I think that fight was an eye-opener because Pacquiao moved up in weight class, and De La Hoya was a god in the sport of boxing, and Pacquiao dismantled him.
“I see Freddie as the greatest trainer of all time. He probably sees himself as the second greatest. He probably still thinks his trainer was better than him.”
So what’s the secret to Freddie’s training style? Ryan respects that what happens in the gym stays in the gym. “I try not to get in his business too much,” he says.
“He’s built a good enough name for himself now that he can pick and choose. And he enjoys taking on a prospect and building them up. I think he really looks for hard work and work ethic. That’s a big thing in boxing, because you gotta have the work ethic to separate you. My whole family, they weren’t the most talented fighters, but they all worked at it.”
One of the many great aspects of the first Rocky movie, even almost half a century after its release, is its realism from the boxing standpoint…the well-known heart of Philadelphia fighters, the trouble even champions have facing southpaws, and a fighter’s need for a manager that actually cares about him as a person.
Ryan Roach, thanks to his streetwise father, is not a professional boxer. He manages boxers, through his company Fighter Locker, with the same work ethic and dedication that his boxing family brought to the sport. Among his cadre of fighters are three Olympians…Yuberjen Martinez and Jorge Luis Vivas from Colombia, and Leonel de los Santos from the Dominican Republic.
His boxing background has given him wisdom beyond his years.
“If you want to build a fighter, you can’t just throw them in there with anyone,” he says. “You’ve got to pick the right fights at the right time. You’re going to try to build a fighter up from zero to five fights. They’re gonna fight, you know, not really tough opposition, but once they start getting past that, you start to move them up and get them ranked.
“It’s a very key role to these guys and some of them don’t understand it. They don’t think they should pay a portion of that commission. But at the end of the day, my cut is 25% or whatever, if I’m bringing him 25% more money, that’s really nothing he’ll ever see.”
Ryan may not pick his Uncle Freddie’s training brain much, but he did pick up on something unique about Freddie’s training style, that can be applied in his own corner of the boxing world.
“I see how he treats his fighters as family. I try to do the same thing with my fighters, because it’s important, especially in the sport of boxing. There’s shady people in it, people get funny with money, and they do stuff for personal gain themselves. I look after my fighters, and Freddie does too, he wants his fighters to have the best.
“I think the word gets out that I’m good to my guys, and I have their best interests at heart.”
That isn’t to say there hasn’t been a learning curve…like being in conversations with two boxers at the same time.. that ended up fighting each other on a card Roach was at.
“I called in two local guys and they fought each other,” he remembers. “I was affiliated with the kid that lost, and the kid got mad at me for talking to the other kid that won. I ended up losing both of them over it.
“It’s a learning thing, that was a mistake that I made. Both good guys, I still talk to both of them. A lot of guys get burned so many times that they’re probably just like, you’re just another one of them, you know?”
Despite that Ryan Roach has boxing in his blood…his father Joey, along with his uncles Freddie and Pepper, were all pro pugilists, fighting out of Dedham, MA about 20 minutes southwest of Boston. He was forbidden from boxing by Joey when his grandfather gave him a pair of gloves at age five.
Not unreasonable, given how Joey and his brothers all took some devastating licks in the ring.
“My dad was a small guy, like 5’2”, 112. He took some punishment in his last fight. His whole face got broken, his cheeks, his eye sockets, everything. He got battered in his last fight, so he was like, you’re not doing it,” Ryan remembers with a chuckle.
Joey’s son ultimately chose an arguably even more dangerous occupation. Ryan is currently a member of the Boston Fire Department, a Lieutenant on Ladder 16. He was on Ladder 24 during the Marathon bombing.
“I think that helps me out with boxing. In this job, you have to make a decision in a split second. In the boxing industry, I can take a second. You’ve got to make that decision, right or wrong, and then be able to own up to it and back it up.
“I’ve seen a lot of people in their worst time, and it makes everything a little brighter on the other side. I don’t look as myself as special, but what we do in Boston, we do pretty well. I’m really proud to be a firefighter in the city, best job in the world to me.”
As Ryan has learned, both occupations carry a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease.
“Definitely, it can be trauma induced,” he says of the boxing angle. “A long time ago, guys used to fight every weekend and they probably didn’t know or realize what they were doing in their brain.
“My dad used to say all the time that when they fought, they’d drain their body of all the water and stuff like that to make weight. They used to weigh in the same day that they fought. So you’re talking about all that fluid around your brain, and you can’t replenish it back quick enough.”
Today, Ryan says, “A lot of these guys, the hydration therapy, they get the IV bags and stuff like that to direct replace the nutrients and the fluids in their body. Because these guys lose like 10, 15 pounds the last week, some of them.
“Even firefighters now,” he adds, “a lot of young firefighters, I started doing this and all of a sudden, three or four guys on my job started getting diagnosed with it. And they’re young guys. The fire department was doing studies, the smoke we inhale, back when we didn’t wear masks. It was like a bravo thing. Guys want that black face look and stuff like that.”
With his background in both worlds, Ryan Roach turned out to be the perfect guy to help matters. And so “Punch 4 Parkinson’s”, an organization dedicated to helping Parkinson’s sufferers through boxing workouts, was born. Ironically, boxing…or at least training as if one were boxing…does wonders for Parkinson’s sufferers.
“We call it boxing, but they’re doing a boxing work out,” Ryan explains. “They’re not sparring or anything, but we treat them like fighters, training for a fight. We pay their memberships for the boxing gym for the whole year, because medical companies don’t look at it as a form of PT. Boxing’s pretty expensive.
“It’s all footwork, which helps with balance. Balance and moving around. We do a lot of reaction punches, just make them think, throw a mitt up and make them react to it. That helps get the brain thinking because it’s a neurological thing.
“There’s just so many benefits from it. Our first person that we took on, her Parkinson’s score was something like 39, and it dropped to like 17. So it dropped that many points just from doing boxing for a year. She says if she can box like once every 2-3 days, she can start doing her eye makeup with no shakes and stuff like that.
“The doctors won’t put a stamp on it, but there’s been plenty of studies out there that say it slows it down. Obviously something’s working, and I try to mimic my program on just the basic concepts of boxing. Whatever a fighter does they do, the jumping rope, shadow boxing, hitting mitts, hitting the bag.
“They just want to live a normal life, and this helps them live a normal life. Even the spouses are like, this is really helping them. They can see a difference.”
Roach intends to build on the growing success of Punch 4 Parkinson’s. He’s added 36 new fighters to his roster. He’s also arranging benefits and charity fight nights, and possibly against his father’s wishes, laced up the gloves and got into the ring at an event himself.
“That’s one thing about me, I can’t ask my guys to do something and not do it. I put myself through a training camp. Four or five days a week while working a full-time job. A lot of these fighters have jobs during the day and they’ll train at night until they make it. My Dad and Freddie and Pepper, they all worked as telemarketers during their fighting days.”
In the ring that night, he says, “I made one mistake and got caught. I didn’t go down or anything, but it woke me up and I was like, man, the game plan goes out the window. It’s just a lot different once you’ve got someone punching your face.
“It’s a lonely sport. It takes a lot to make it up those three steps into the boxing ring. But once you do step up those three steps and get in the ring with someone, no one else can take that away from you.
“I was like, I gotta do it, I’m a Roach.”
Indeed. And Ryan intends to keep living up to the famous boxing name.
“I don’t have a world champion yet, but I have fifteen fighters and three of them are going into the Olympics. That’s probably my biggest accomplishment, I landed three pretty much superstar Olympians. Olympians could sign with anyone, to pick me, that’s pretty special.
“I have big shoes to fill, my uncle, he’s in the Hall of Fame. I see what he does. And my dad was a pro boxer, so it’s a big name.
“I want to build my own legacy. I’ve never been given anything in my life, so I don’t want to stop now.
“I’ve got a lot of pressure. But it’s do the right thing. That’s all I can do.”
Punch 4 Parkinsons
Punch 4 Parkinsons Gala & Charity Fight Night
Punch 4 Parkinson’s is a relatively new organization, but people are seeing the benefits and it is growing. Their recent charity boxing events have been a great success at Moseley’s On The Charles in Dedham.
On Friday April 1st, to kick-off Parkinsons Awareness Month, they will be holding their first Punch 4 Parkinsons Gala at Lombardo’s in Randolph.
If you would like to support a great cause and help Parkinson’s patients punch their way to improved health, look into attending the gala or one of their fight nights. You can follow their Instagram page for more information.
For the “Fight Nights” you can even sign up to do some boxing yourself.
“We’re looking to do two or three of those a year,” Ryan says. “That’s how we raise most of our money. Anyone can join in. It’s a good experience, you get to lace ‘em up and get in the ring and battle it out with someone else. We do pretty good matchups, it’s a pretty good night. And we raise a lot of money and help people out.”
Ryan trained a lot for his fight night at a previous event, but it was well worth it. “You’ve got a lot of people yelling, and you can hear it all. It’s crazy up there. We had probably 1,200, 1,300 people at our event, and you can hear everyone in there, you hear the boos, and all the stuff.
“We didn’t have a winner or loser. We were raising money for charity, but I think I got the better of him…after I got woke up. I applied the pressure the whole time and used my feet.
“It’s a special feeling, and I always wanted to do it my whole life.”
Of the event Ryan adds, “I had a good team around me helping me. You couldn’t get a ticket. We were sold out two months in advance. We might need a bigger venue going forward, because we were at capacity.”
The Punch 4 Parkinson’s Gala on April 1st will bring the same energy, minus ofcourse, the sparring.
You can fill out an application to be a fighter at a future event, learn more about the gala and other events, or you can donate to the cause directly on the Punch 4 Parkinson’s website.