BEVERLY HILLS-You’ve got your Errol Flynns, your George Clooney’s and your Rocks, but don’t forget Manny Pacquiao.
Hollywood has been home for thousands of movie stars, television celebrities and sports figures, and it’s always had a place for its boxers too.
Filipino superstar Pacquiao (45-3-2, 35 KOs) will train regularly at the Wild Card Boxing gym in preparation for his long-awaited rematch against Mexico’s other star WBC junior lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez (48-3-1, 35 KOs).
The second fight with Marquez takes place on March 15 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and will be televised on HBO pay-per-view.
Ironically, though Pacquiao can scarcely walk out of his own house without attracting a few thousand worshipping fans, in the streets of Hollywood he can walk freely without nary a second look from passersby.
During the day thousands of tourists descend on Hollywood Boulevard or Sunset Boulevard to look at the historic spots where movie stars and other celebrities once or currently inhabit.
You can go to Lucille Ball’s first house or find the footprints and handprints of several hundred stars of yesteryear at the Mann Chinese Theater. One can even eat at one of the favorite eating and drinking spots like the Formosa Café, or the Pig N Whistle Restaurant, but you can’t always visit the Wild Card Boxing gym when Pacquiao is in town.
It gets too crowded with Pacquiao’s fans whenever he starts training in the small gym located on top of a laundry mat.
If you attempt to gain entrance you will be stopped by a muscular guy who’s job is primarily to stop gawkers and autograph seekers from attempting to enter the boxing training center of dozens of prizefighters.
Many of Pacquiao’s fans wait on the parking lot to get his attention. After a two-hour workout Pacquiao usually spends time signing autographs and taking pictures with the hundreds of fans that gather when he’s in town.
Though it seems like a lot, it’s nothing compared to the reception he gets in General Santos City, Philippines.
Remarkably, Pacman gets a rest from the Pacman mania he receives in his homeland.
In California he can expect hundreds of fans to see him daily. In the Philippines you can add an extra zero because it numbers in the thousands.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Bob Arum of Top Rank promotions. “People stand in front of his house waiting to get a glimpse of him.”
Arum, who also promoted Ali during his prime, says Pacquiao has the same magnetism as a mega movie star or the former heavyweight champion Ali. One added factor is that the Filipino boxer has people lined up asking for favors or help.
“He’s a welfare system in his self,” says Arum, who witnessed Pacquiao in his home city trying to help his people. “He’s such a wonderful person.”
Roach, a former boxer who has trained Oscar De La Hoya, James “Lights Out” Toney, and Mike Tyson, has spent months in the Philippines watching the public reaction to Pacquiao on a daily basis.
“Manny is a very humble person,” said Roach. “He can’t say no to people.”
Recently the famous trainer purchased an adjoining property and converted the room into another place to put a boxing ring and other equipment. It also provides needed privacy for sparring.
Pacquiao’s arrival also attracts reporters, photographers and video cameras of web sites, magazines and newspapers. It gets so crowded that boxers can’t perform their regular routines.
“It was getting so crowded in here we couldn’t train,” said Roach, who bought the adjoining building and added another ring so that Pacquiao could spar in private. “It still gets crowded whenever Manny is here.”
The media requests go off the chart.
“It gets crazy in here,” says Eric Brown, one of the resident boxing trainers at the Wild Card Gym.
Though many might see chaos, Pacquiao sees a relief.
“Here I can walk around and people don’t know who I am,” said a smiling Pacquiao while at the Beverly Hills Hotel during a press conference. “It’s different.”
However, don’t expect Pacquiao to let down in the ring in the ides of March.
When Mexico’s beady-eyed Marquez held Pacquiao to a draw despite being knocked down three times in the first round, it put a stop to the Filipino superstar’s master plans of total domination over Mexican fighters.
Marquez feels he won the fight and is anxious to prove it.
“I took this fight and agreed to all of his conditions just so that I could fight him again,” said Marquez, 34, who captured the WBC title last year by beating fellow Mexico City boxer Marco Antonio Barrera.
Aside from seeking to beat Pacman, he wants to prove he’s the best of the Mexican featherweights from his era.
“I’ve always wanted to prove that I was better than Marco Antonio Barrera and better than Erik Morales,” says Marquez. “I proved it against Barrera but Erik Morales never wanted to fight me.”
So far, only Morales was able to pin a victory over Pacquiao. Then he got clobbered. Marquez seeks to be the thorn that bursts Pacquiao’s bubble of success over Mexican boxers.
“The people followed Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera because they had more experience,” said Marquez who at one time fought for Top Rank that promoted Morales and Forum Boxing that promoted Barrera. “I was put in the back of the line.”
After beating Barrera last March, maybe Marquez’s luck has changed for good?
“I’ve been trying to demonstrate who I am,” said Marquez who feels a win over Pacquiao would finally lead to star status. “I built a career in Los Angeles and people will know me in Mexico when I beat Manny Pacquiao.”
Pacquiao, 29, only smiles when he hears Marquez’s predictions and goals. He only remembers that he knocked Marquez down three times in the first round and failed to finish the job.
“After I knocked him down three times I thought the fight is over,” Pacquiao said. “I made a mistake.”
Marquez also remembers the three knockdowns he suffered and claims he can solve the Pacman riddle.
“That won’t happen again,” says Marquez about the knockdowns.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao roams the streets of Hollywood amongst thousands of tourists and star seekers who don’t recognize him when he walks down Hollywood and Vine.
But that’s a good thing.
“I’m comfortable here,” says the Filipino super star.