He’s got a tongue-twister last name, a statue’s chin and busier hands than a 17-year-old on prom night. He‘s not a big guy, but you wouldn’t want to try stealing his girl in a crowded bar. He‘s knocked out most of the guys he‘s faced, and you‘d have a hard time finding his hometown on a world map. But once you’ve seen Manny Pacquiao (39-2-2, 31 KOs) fight, you don’t forget him.
When he faces Erik “El Terrible” Morales (47-2, 34 KOs) in a super featherweight matchup on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (HBO pay-per-view), you’ll understand why they fuss over this guy, why they worship him back home in the Philippines. He’s a national treasure there, a goodwill ambassador with a growing reputation and ugly intentions.
“Everybody recognizes me (in the Philippines),” Pacquiao said when asked on a conference call what his life was like back home. “Also, the president and all my countrymen are proud of me.”
They should be. Pacquiao is more famous than his country’s president and he gets more airtime. But he says being a national hero puts a lot of pressure on him. “My countrymen are all praying for my success,” he said. “So I need to win every fight.”
Against Morales, Pacquiao will be facing a guy who has spent a lot of his career at 130 pounds, while Pacquiao is moving up from 126 pounds. If that’s an advantage for Morales, it’s a small one. Pacquiao, a southpaw, says his regular weight is around 130 and he’s comfortable with it. Besides, he thinks moving up a few pounds will just add a little power to his punch.
“Yeah, Morales might have an advantage with his long arms,” he said. “But I’m sparring in the gym with guys who have long arms and who are 130 and 135 pounds. I’m ready to face Morales.”
There was a rumor out that Pacquiao was beating up some of his sparring partners. So his publicist, Fred Sternburg, put the question to the fighter.
“Are you really hurting a lot of those guys in sparring?” asked Sternburg, who has cleverly given Pacquiao the nickname “Manila Ice.”
“Not really, no,” Pacquiao said about busting up sparring partners. Then he thought about it a little harder. “Well, sometimes.”
According to his trainer Freddie Roach, Pacquiao did knock one guy out a few weeks ago.
Asked if his fighter was really going to follow the highly-touted game plan of “attack, attack, attack” from the opening bell or whether it was just a ploy to get inside Morales’ head, Roach laughed and backed off a little.
“We’re just trying to get inside his head a little,” he said. “We are going to fight an aggressive fight, but we’re not going to just walk in and trade with him.”
Asked for a prediction, Pacquiao said he had a lot of power but he wasn’t going to predict a knockout.
“One thing I can assure you,” he said. “I will do my best to make the people happy.”