Unlike his ringside personality where he sparks images of flashing fists and destructiveness Manny Pacquiao enters the famous Palm Restaurant in Hollywood with a humility and grace of a diplomat.
It’s no accident.
When Pacquiao eventually enters the boxing ring at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Saturday April 14, he’s fighting a battle of two fronts: one for the millions of viewers in his native Philippines where he is running for a seat in Congress and another battle against yet another Mexican challenger who is named Jorge Solis (32-0-2, 23 KOs).
Pacquiao (43-3-2, 33 KOs) defends his WBC International junior lightweight title against Solis in a fight that will be televised on pay-per-view.
Millions will be watching in both the Philippines and in this country that boasts more than 1.8 million people of Filipino descent. Pacquiao knows this and a thin veneer of nervousness comes to his face when reminded.
“He has a lot of pressure on him,” said one of Pacquiao’s entourage. “He has to look good in front of his countrymen back home. He cannot afford to lose this fight.”
The last few weeks Pacquiao could be seen driving along the streets of Hollywood in his shiny black Mercedes Benz 500 SLS. On one Thursday afternoon the sun is shining so the top of the convertible was taken off. Wearing sunglasses, the professional prizefighter considered by many to be the top boxer in the world enters a building where dozens await his arrival.
Because of his popularity the location of his whereabouts is kept a secret until the last moment. Only his promoter Bob Arum knows the exact location Pacquiao will eventually choose and that information comes about 10 minutes before the entourage and Filipino press catch up.
“He’s a huge celebrity in his country,” Arum says, adding that even here in the United States Filipino-Americans are equally enamored with the boxer candidate.
Regardless of the scenery, Pacquiao maintains a constant low-key composure as if practicing to be a Buddhist monk. Nothing rattles him nor do the long lines of autograph seekers badgering him for an autograph or photograph.
Like a magician the Filipino slugger with the shocking black hair and mustache artfully signs photos placed in front of him with a personal message and simultaneously answers in-depth questions from the media about boxing, politics and legal court battles. He no longer needs a translator and easily answers in English. After three years of studying the language he’s pretty adept.
“Thank you, it’s still a slight problem for me to understand everything,” says Pacquiao, 28, while looking directly into the questioner’s eyes.
Fighting is no problem for Pacquiao whose left-handed boxing style combined with eye-shocking speed and punches provide enough impact to level men twice his size. It’s magnetic watching him fight and his style has captured the interest of millions of fans.
But this election business is another thing.
Taking care of the poor people
“I hope it’s going to be ok,” says Pacquiao about the pending election in the Philippines that takes place on May 14. “My top priority will be taking care of the poor people.”
As a youngster growing up in the General Santos City, Pacquiao knows about the needs and ills of his people. He confessed of needing to steal to survive in a region where the poor remain poor and the rich get richer. It bothers him that no one comes to rescue the impoverished.
“A lot of the elected officials are corrupt,” he says bluntly. “It was my decision alone to run for office.”
If elected, Pacquiao, who recently passed a high school equivalency test, wants to focus on medical needs for the poor along with education and housing.
“Elected officials are always making promises and promises but they never keep them,” said Pacquiao whose opponent demanded that the fight not be shown in the Philippines because it gives the boxer a promotional advantage for the elections. The Philippine courts denied the request to ban showing the fight with Solis.
Arum expects a capacity crowd at the Alamodome when Pacquiao meets the Mexican contender Solis. But he doesn’t expect Pacquiao to rattle in front of a large pro-Mexican crowd.
If anything, Solis seems a little nervous about his scheduled encounter with Pacquiao. When the two finally met in the Pound for Pound Boxing Club in the Wilshire District in Los Angeles, Solis seemed a little star struck and giddy about seeing his opponent in the flesh.
“When they told me I was going to fight Manny Pacquiao I screamed with excitement,” said Solis, 27, who lives and trains in Guadalajara, Mexico. “I couldn’t believe I was going to be in the same ring with Manny Pacquiao.”
Standing side by side with Pacquiao, the Mexican fighter tried his best to refrain from smiling and attempted to look sinister. But the smiles kept breaking through the facade.
“I know he’s a very aggressive fighter and I have to be careful,” Solis said. “But I think I have some wrinkles in my style that will allow me to beat him.”
One added obstacle facing Pacquiao will be entering the ring without his trainer for the last six years Freddie Roach. The famed boxing guru is currently in Puerto Rico preparing Oscar De La Hoya for his title defense against Floyd Mayweather Jr. on May 5. Instead, assistant trainer Justine Fortune will be in his corner on fight night.
“I’ve been working with Justine for a long time. It won’t make a difference,” Pacquiao said about have a new head trainer.
Fortune, a former heavyweight contender from Australia who now makes his home in California, says because of their team approach the only difference will be that Roach won’t be giving vocal advice.
“Manny trained especially hard for this fight. I saw it the minute he stepped foot in the gym. In the past he would come over weight, but not this time. He’s worried about looking good before the elections,” said Fortune, who works out of the Wild Card Boxing Club. “He took it (training) very seriously. This time he has two fights to win: the election and the fight in the ring.”
Another Filipino fighter will be on the fight card and that’s Hawaiian-born Brian Viloria attempting to recapture the WBC junior flyweight title.
Viloria, 26, lost once and drew with Mexico’s Omar Nino, but in the last meeting that fighter tested positive for amphetamines and was stripped of the victory and world title. Now Viloria faces Mexico City’s Edgar Sosa (26-5, 14 KOs) for the vacant WBC title.
“I’ll be a little too much for Sosa,” said Viloria (19-1-1, 12 KOs) after working the mitts with new trainer Joe Goossen. “My pressure is going to break him down.”
Until his last two efforts with Nino, the former 2000 U.S. Olympic boxer Viloria had been shocking opponents with his combination of speed and power. Then Nino used clever in and out movements to befuddle Viloria while working on a body attack in the first fight. In the second fight, many felt Viloria had beaten Nino who looked surprisingly fresher in the last five rounds probably due to the drugs. Still, Viloria was surprised he was judged the loser.
“I thought I did enough to win that fight. I was the aggressor. But I can’t let that get me down,” Viloria says. “I have to look spectacular.”
Cristian Mijarez defends his WBA junior bantamweight title against feared flyweight Jorge Arce in a 12-round bout between Mexican fighters.
Arce (46-3-1, 35 KOs) is considered one of the best fighters in the world as well as one of the most entertaining whether inside the ring or not. He’s a former WBO junior flyweight champion and WBC junior flyweight titleholder.
Mijares (30-3-2, 11 KOs) dazzled a Japanese crowd with his slick southpaw style where he captured the world title by stopping Katsushige Kawashima in the 10th round on January 3, 2007.
This figures to be the fight of the night with Arce’s punishing style faced off against the slick-fighting Mijares. Arce is accustomed to fighting flyweights and dominating. Mijares is a true junior bantamweight with pop in his fists. Expect a bloody and bruising collision between the two Mexicans.
The winner gets Vic Darchinyan.