At the Wild Card Boxing Gym in Hollywood, “name” boxers and actors alike cross the threshold to step through the ropes. Some have big entourages; some have big mouths; some have big egos.
But no one has more fans show up than Manny Pacquiao.
And he doesn’t even live in LA.
So how does a five foot something fellow who’s not on the “A” list out-Hollywood Hollywood?
Forget his straight left. Manny’s popularity amongst the Filipino community is a force that’s just as devastating.
Every day during the month-long camp, at least a dozen fans and a handful of journalists turn out to watch their hero train. Some even show up before he does, to record his entrance to the 2nd floor gym.
Manny arrives ready to go in his “No Fear/Manny Pacquiao” training gear and wraps his own hands; tape, gauze, tape. The fans sit unobtrusively in the chairs against the wall, and politely leave Manny to his workout. The journalists, however, jockey for position.
Pacquiao doesn’t pander to their presence, and proceeds to put in an extremely focused workout. That he can maintain such consistent power and speed for over eight rounds on the mitts is impressive. His intensity transfers as if by osmosis to the soft-spoken Roach. This is one of the rare occasions when Freddy’s shot-calling on the mitts can actually be heard beyond the ropes. During the transitions from mitts to double-end to speed bag to rope and finally abs, Manny’s assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez hustles to get the gloves off and give a quick rub and towel-down before the 30 second bell. That way his charge can work every second of every round. [see photo gallery]
After putting in twenty plus rounds, Manny heads to the changeroom. This must be one of his few opportunities for solitude. As soon as he changes into his street clothes, another workout begins. And for this one, he is on his own.
The moment Pacquiao steps out of the changeroom, the fans rise to their feet. Cameras and cell phones are produced, and mom, dad and the kids take turns snapping away. Some ask Manny to pose in front of the larger-than-life-size poster that adorns the gym wall. Others are satisfied to get a picture taken with their idol. It takes up to half and hour for Manny to reach the door, which is only twenty feet away.
But it’s not over yet.
Before Manny can drive off in the dark silver Porsche SUV he purchased with cash, he has to appease the parking lot crowd. A half-dozen fans surround him with memorabilia conjured out of thin air. One fellow has a giant pair of gloves about 3 feet long. Another has a framed painting of Manny. Someone else has half a ream of large color photos he holds for the champ to sign. Everyone wants his John Hancock.
Manny has so much patience. He obliges everyone without showing any frustration. I imagine his writing hand might be a little tired from his workout. And I am sure he wants post-workout food and drink. Or at least a comfortable place to sit down and put his feet up.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” notes the Manny security force, Rob Peters. “It gets much worse once we get to the Philippines.”
I can only imagine.
If Manny can cause this mini-frenzy an ocean away from home, what bedlam results when he is on his own turf?
Pacquiao is a superstar in his homeland, and his name can sell much more than tickets to his fights.
Earlier this year, he released a nine-track CD, “Para S’yo Ang laban Na ‘To” which has sold over half a million copies. The title song is dedicated to the Filipino people. Stores in Las Vegas sold out following his victory over Erik Morales on January.
On June 21, “Pacquiao: the Movie,” opened in the Philippines. It’s a bio-pic which shows Manny’s rise from a poor boy who sold donuts and cigarettes in the streets of Manila to become the People’s Champion. Producer Rosa Flaminiano became interested in the project after viewing Pacquiao’s draw with Juan Manuel Marquez, and agreed to a three-picture contract with the star, “win or lose,” prior to Pacquiao-Morales II. Although he is portrayed by professional actors in the first installment, plans are for Manny to play himself in the two sequels.
Beyond making the Pac-Man a marketable brand-name, the Filipino’s ascent has allowed him to lift his people up as well.
With spectacular wins over Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, Pacquiao legitimized Filipino boxers in the minds of American promoters and fans, and opened doors for Pinoy pugilists. A number of Filipino fighters, such as Rey “Boom Boom” Bautista and Z “The Dream” Gorres are now signed by US promoters and are able to train and fight stateside. And although they were already established as amateur standouts turned successful pros in their own right, American Filipinos Brian Viloria, and brothers Glenn and Nonito Donaire haven’t been hurt by Manny fever.
Manny’s success has rejuvenated interest in the sport amongst youth in his country. According to the president of the Amateur Boxing Association in the Philippines, enrollment in the amateur boxing organization has doubled following Pacquiao’s success, reaching 4,000 as of January.
Perhaps Pac-Man mania has even touched the hearts of politicians, moving them to sponsor programs with a social conscience. The Presidential Assistant for Youth and Sport announced the opening of several boxing gyms in low-income Manila neighborhoods. The program “will select the less fortunate, street children and young desiring prospective boxers,” mirroring Manny’s own life story.
Philippines Rep. Robert Jaworski recently filed a House Bill 5069 the “Flash Elorde Boxing Reform Act of 2006.” The bill outlines health and safety standards such as pre-fight physical exams, the presence of an ambulance and medical personnel on site, as well as health insurance for the fighters. Jaworski acknowledged, “I hope this bill could be a humble reward of the price and honor Pacquiao and other boxers have undoubtedly brought honor to our country.”
Manny loves the Filipino people, and they love him right back.
Bea Alonzo, the actor who plays his wife in the movie, sums it up. Manny’s life story is one “every struggling Filipino will be endeared with. There [are] so many aspects about Manny’s story that people relate to. It’s good that we have Manny at a time our country needs to depend on a hero.”
When Manny steps into the ring with Oscar Larios tonight, he is armed with the love, hopes, and prayers of the Filipino people.