HOLLYWOOD-Manny Pacquiao’s media day usually brings hundreds of fans to the doorstep of the Wild Card Boxing Gym where the great Filipino star usually trains.
Not on this day.
Word must have gotten out that Pacquiao’s training camp is tighter than Fort Knox because there were less than 100 fans of Pacman, but more than 100 reporters. Something was wrong in Hollywood.
Let’s back track.
On Monday, I woke up earlier than usual so I could prepare for a long day. I picked up fellow boxing writer Ronan Keenan of Ireland in a Riverside hotel, then we trekked across Riverside and San Bernardino counties on our way to the city of dreams, Hollywood.
Keenan traveled from his native town of Dublin to the Ultimate Fighting Championship fight card last Saturday, and then flew to California to take a look at the hefty boxing scene of Southern California.
It’s been around 90 degrees the last week.
Our first destination was a Hollywood Greek restaurant near the Paramount movie studios where we expected to have lunch with a few reporters and Top Rank’s Bob Arum. The reporters showed up for the delicious food at La Petite Greek, but no Arum. Replacing the super promoter was Todd DuBoef, president of the company.
After an hour of lunch, we all jumped in our cars at around 1 PM and headed for the Wild Card, which is located about a half mile from the restaurant. It was packed with cars so we parked a few blocks away.
Walking up the staircase of the Wild Card I spotted a few of the hardcore boxing fans I usually see at the big events. These are the fans I love. They come to most of the fights and they’re the lifeblood of the sport. Without these diehards boxing would be lost.
Inside the boxing gym that first was built by Hollywood star Mickey Rourke (who has a great movie coming out called The Wrestler), a number of the best boxing journalists on the West Coast are assembled. Television cameras are everywhere and the main part of the gym is rather empty. It’s because Manny is in the other room where about 100 reporters are squished in trying to interview Freddie Roach or Pacquiao.
Keenan and I hung in the back. No sense fighting the hordes of hell for nothing. Lee Samuels and Ricardo Jimenez, two of the top public relations specialists in the sport, spot me waiting for the others to finish their huddle with Roach. They motion me over so I can get a closer spot to speak with the boxing guru Roach.
Roach is one of the nicest guys in the sport and has always been very giving of his time. In this interview he revealed to the two dozen reporters that he does not like Oscar De La Hoya’s new trainer Nacho Beristain.
“He’s an (donkey),” said Roach.
Now Roach rarely, I mean rarely gets mad at anybody. It’s like waiting for an eclipse of the sun. Don’t hold your breath.
The boxing trainer related how one day he wanted to take a photo with Beristain and the famed Mexican trainer shrugged him off and made a comment in Spanish that when translated meant he was trying to have sex.
Roach fumed while telling the story.
“That was disrespectful,” he said. "(Forget) him.”
One thing about Roach, he does not lie.
In boxing you learn who are the truthful fellows and who likes to exaggerate. You also learn who would rather die than lie and those who avoid answering anything. It’s part of being a journalist to determine where your interviewees fall.
Roach is very honest.
There have been secrets he’s shared with me that I will never reveal because I know he said them in trust. Boxing is better because of guys like him.
After speaking to Roach, it was the Pound for Pound champion’s turn.
If you’ve talked to Pacquiao more than a few times you know what to expect from the boxing super star.
He’s a humble cat.
Now, he would never say 'I’m going to crush Oscar De La Hoya' because he knows he’s fighting one of the living legends of the sport. Pacman has class. A lot of class.
“I cannot comment on that, I can only comment on myself,” said Pacquiao when asked to comment something De La Hoya said during his media day last week.
About 45 minutes later the interviews are over and the speedy boxer begins his paces in the gym. First he warms up, then hits the speed bag, then finally jumps in the ring, without a shirt on, and looks like he’s ready to fight on the spot.
This guy was a flyweight?
Pacquiao looks ripped, and like he’s been fighting at welterweight his entire life. But still, he is much shorter than any welterweight I’ve seen on the elite level.
Working on his punches he displays the speed of a machine gun spitting punches like bullets in the air. He’s quick.
After a few rounds, Roach puts on the green padded body harness that he uses to allow Pacquiao to hit him with body punches. The trainer looks good working with his protégé.
While looking at the super fast Filipino boxer I think of all the great Filipino fighters of the past. My grandfather was stationed in the Philippines during World War II and always had a fondness for the people and the islands. Now 94, he still likes to talk about the great Filipino fighters of the past who he saw fight at the Olympic Auditorium and in the various Southern California arenas.
He’s never seen Pacquiao live but he can imagine how good he is if many are claiming he’s not only the best ever Filipino boxer, but probably the best fighter Asia has ever produced.
On December 6, at the MGM Grand, the world might see if he’s one of the greatest fighters the world has ever seen if he beats De La Hoya.
It’s a tall order. Believe me.
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