HOLLYWOOD-Only a few people were present as Manny Pacquiao arrived at the Wild Card Boxing gym on Tuesday, including a few of the fighters the Filipino superstar would be sparring.
Standing behind the welcoming counter was Freddie Roach, holding court before the arrival of his charge.
Suddenly, the parking lot below the back stairs of the famous boxing club was gaining activity as several cars arrived.
A few minutes later Pacquiao walked through the doors holding a professional camera and jokingly asking Roach, “Hey, I’d like to take pictures of Manny.”
Everyone chuckled. Ever since Pacquiao emerged as the most exciting fighter in pro boxing, the doors of the gym are constantly cluttered with fans, gawkers and people interested in getting Pacman to endorse a particular product.
One thing most people fail to realize is fame has its distractions.
Pacquiao has become a crossover boxing star capable of drawing interest from not only his beloved Filipino fans, but also boxing fans and sports fans from all ethnicities. Wherever he goes people recognize him.
But inside the Wild Card, he’s protected as tightly as one of the Hollywood movie stars that live in the vicinity.
Pacquiao is preparing to challenge WBC lightweight titleholder David Diaz on June 28, at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The fight will be televised on HBO.
Roach invited two Southern California fighters to spar with Pacquiao and one youngster from Texas. Once it's time to work, all outsiders are kindly asked to leave, excluding media of course.
First up for Pacquiao is Noel Rodriguez, a 22-year-old left-handed junior welterweight who knocked out super quick Cleotis Pendarvis in the first round when they fought two years ago. That’s Pendarvis’s only loss.
Rodriguez has a pretty good right hook and he’s not afraid to use it. In fact, he’s darn right right hook crazy while sparring with Pacquiao. Though a few inches taller than Pacquiao, the Texan likes to fight close. Speedwise, he’s not on the same level as the pound for pound fighter, but strength-wise, he packs a good wallop and takes one too. After two rounds of exchanges, another sparring partner enters.
Chino, California’s Roger “Speedy” Gonzalez enters the ring. He’s not a left-handed fighter but often switches during fights. He’s scheduled to fight on June 18, against Cornelius Lock, who battered former undefeated kid Juan Garcia in front of a nationally televised audience back in March. Gonzalez had been out of boxing for three years after losing to Jhonny Gonzalez as a bantamweight. Now Speedy fights as a junior lightweight and maintains most of his quickness.
While sparring Gonzalez, it’s evident that Pacquiao steps up the speed factor and unloads blistering combinations. Both veterans are quick and precise with their punches. Pacquiao can unload a combination with uncanny quickness, then dart out of danger. Gonzalez has enough quickness to force Pacquiao to move more than usual when seeking a haven. A lot of countering takes place between the two pro veterans. The punches are fired rapidly and fluidly for two rounds.
Next is Steve Quinonez, another veteran who fights out of Palm Springs. He recently helped Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley prepare for his victory over Junior Witter last month. He had retired for a year but decided to return.
“I didn’t retire I just got retarded,” quips Quinonez, one of the good guys in the sport.
Quinonez is a clever southpaw who is a master at keeping distance and maneuvering with his feet. He’ll be fighting slugger Randy Suico on the undercard of Pacquiao’s fight with Diaz in Las Vegas.
It was interesting to see Pacquiao spar with a third distinct style. When I first saw Pacman spar years ago, he was pure aggression. He was a fighter who depended solely on his offensive firepower to offset other’s offense. But over the years, he’s become more and more polished and clever inside the ring. Though he can use his foot speed to get in and out of trouble, he now has the ability to stand in the pocket and deflect most of the blows coming his way. Plus, he uses his head feints and body movements to stop aggression from opponents. Watching him spar with Quinonez, who is a master of the feints and body movements, was entertaining. It was like watching someone finish a perplexing word puzzle on the New York Times or watching the winner of Jeopardy.
“He’s not going at full speed,” said Roach, who has guided the three-division world champion who’s looking for a fourth. “We’re bringing some more sparring partners next week.”
After the sparring, Pacquiao worked on shadow boxing and displayed in spurts the incredible hand speed that’s resulted in 46 wins and 34 knockouts.
Watching Pacquiao work with bigger guys is nothing new, but will the southpaw slugger’s punch be enough to bother WBC titleholder Diaz remains to be seen.
One thing is certain, if the fight goes 12 rounds Pacquiao has the weaponry to carry it off.
“He’s ready for a long fight if necessary,” said Roach with confidence.
At the gym
Trainer Eric Brown was at the Wild Card as usual working with his fighters, including super middleweight contender Kingsley Ikeke, who is scheduled to fight next week on June 13 in Connecticut.
Also present was female junior featherweight boxer Rita Valentini.
Earlier in the day former amateur star Liz Quevedo worked out, but has no fights scheduled at the moment.
“It’s difficult to find women fights,” says Roach, who also trains Valentini and Ana Julaton.
Antillon on Friday
Junior lightweight and lightweight contender Urbano Antillon (22-0, 15 KOs) defends his place in line against Jose Leonardo Cruz (12-2-2, 8 KOs) on Friday at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center in Reading, Penn. Antillon has been knocking out everybody who stands in front of him, including Bobby Pacquiao and four other consecutive opponents. He just might be the most dangerous contender in the 130 and 135-pound division. The fight will be shown on Telefutura Friday at 8 p.m.,
Carlos Quintana WBO title rematch
Puerto Rico’s Carlos Quintana (25-1, 19 KOs) defends the WBO welterweight title he took from Paul Williams (33-1, 24 KOs) in their rematch on Saturday June 7. The fight takes place at Mohegan Sun Casino and will be televised on Showtime. Their first encounter took place in February at the Pechanga Resort and Casino.
Female Champs East
Several female world titleholders are defending their championships next week, including Elena Reid and Melinda Cooper. On Thursday June 12, Canada’s Lisa Brown (14-3-3) defends her IFBA featherweight title against New York’s Alicia Ashley (14-7-1) at the Mohegan Sun Casino. Also on the same card will be Reid (19-4-5) defending her IBFA flyweight title against Russia’s Anastasia Toktaulova (12-8) and Cooper (18-0) fighting Donna Biggers (19-7-1) in a junior featherweight bout.
Female Champs West
In New Mexico, Holly Holm (21-1-2) defends her IFBA junior middleweight title against Michigan’s undefeated Mary Jo Sanders (25-0) on Friday June 13. The fight card will be shown on pay-per-view television. Also on the card will be Wendy Rodriguez (18-4-3) facing Hollie Dunaway (21-6) in a junior flyweight rematch for the world title. Dunaway captured the first fight by decision.