After picking up my secret weapon we headed toward Los Angeles with little traffic impeding our progress on the maze of freeways that makes up Southern California.
Who’s my secret weapon?
We’ll get to that later.
First, we arrived in Hollywood, California home of the stars and motion picture and television industry around 11 a.m. Because of the national holiday it was easy traveling the 70 plus miles from Riverside to the Wild Card Boxing gym.
Because of some construction taking place near the boxing haven, we were forced to look for parking a couple of blocks west, near a private school. After parking we packed up our gear and headed a few blocks to our destination.
Standing under the second floor gym were a few dozen people waiting for the arrival of superstar Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao. The WBO welterweight titleholder attracts throngs of his countrymen and ardent followers of the sport.
Walking up the staircase my secret weapon, photographer Katherine “Natasha” Rodriguez, and I passed through the gauntlet of people to get to the always loud and busy workout facility. The first person we saw was Eric Brown one of the trainers who works with boxers like Kingsley Ikeke and others. After shaking hands with a few dozen trainers, boxers and promoters, we finally work our way to the far eastern side of the gym.
Freddie Roach, who owns the Wild Card, was busy instructing and supervising the sparring between one of his fighters and another. The now recognized best trainer in the business is also one of the most astute experts in the boxing game and didn’t disappoint as he advised us about Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley, Amir Khan and others on Tuesday morning.
Rodriguez and I sat watching the sparring and traded notes on what we saw in the various sparring sessions. I call her my secret weapon because despite her petite appearance she is also an amateur boxer who grew up in the sport and has a good working knowledge of technique, skills and various styles. She also reminds me of that female character in the Seinfeld television series who is always able to find out or obtain information by simply asking. People just don’t say no to her. And lastly, she is a very good photographer with a good eye for excellent shots. I call her Natasha because when she has short blond hair she looks Russian, not Mexican. Currently she has a purple tint to her dark brown hair. No matter, she has some kind of magic with people.
Roach has one of his Filipino fighters blasting away at another fighter. He sees me and shakes my hand before returning to the corner to keep an eye on his pupil. Everything is ok.
After greeting Roach we both begin scouring the gym to see who else is working out in the two-room place that used to be a gay disco nightclub around 35 years ago. Freddy tells us there was also a kind of kinky sex room where one of the rings is now set up. History always amazes me.
One of the guys sparring is a kid from Ireland named Jamie Cavanaugh who is training in Spain. He’s yet to fight professionally but he looks pretty solid from what we see. Another youngster is a Latino kid from Team USA with super fast hands and feet.
Today the two rooms are filled with more than 50 boxers going full tilt before 1 p.m. when Pacman arrives and the gym is cleared.
After 1 p.m. we sat down on one side of the ring talking to Roach, Buboy and one of the TV journalists from a Filipino station named Diane. The conversation turned to the fights that took place in Las Vegas. In particular we talked about Gerry Penalosa’s split decision loss to Eric Morel in a junior bantamweight bout at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. Many felt Penalosa won the fight. I can’t speak about it because I didn’t see the pay-per-view fight card. Before the fight, however, I felt Penalosa would be too strong for the former flyweight world champion.
We also talked a little about his youngest protégé Jose Benavidez who won by first round knockout.
“Are you sure he is only 17?” asked the female journalist.
Soon we moved toward the front of the now empty gym as we waited for Pacman’s arrival. Freddie, Katherine and I talked about the upcoming Mayweather and Mosley fight that is taking place on May 1 in Las Vegas.
“I think it’s going to be close but Mayweather is going to win on points,” said Roach. “But I hope Mosley wins because it will be a better fight with Manny.”
After a slight pause, Freddie thought about the implications of Mayweather fighting Pacquiao.
“If Floyd tries to push that blood test again I can tell you now that we’re not going to fight,” said Roach angrily about the possibility of Mayweather beating Mosley and setting up a match against Pacquiao. “Who does he think he is? He’s not the Nevada Commission. He’s not going to dictate to us what to do.”
On the north wall of the large room are a number of posters and photos of England’s WBA junior welterweight titleholder Amir Khan. A number of names have popped up as opponents for the super quick fighter including Juan Manuel Marquez.
“It looks like Amir is going to fight Paul Malignaggi,” says Roach, adding that Marquez does not want the fight. “It’s an interesting fight.”
Amir recently signed a promotional contract with Golden Boy Promotions that has a number of the top junior welterweights in the world like Victor Ortiz, Marcos Maidana, Nate Campbell, and Juan Manuel Marquez. Putting Khan in the middle of that makes good business sense.
“He’ll be coming over pretty soon,” said Roach of Khan.
We talk a bit more about some other things not boxing related when Pacman walked in. A few minutes later Hollywood celebrity Mario Lopez walked in too. Both talked a bit to each other. About 20 minutes later, I looked at the time and decided to return to my home base.
As we walked outside that crowd of two or three dozen people is now more than 200 strong. All have their cameras and posters ready for Pacquiao to sign.
It’s a good day. There’s no traffic on the freeways because of President’s Day.