HOLLYWOOD, CALIF-Fourteen years have passed since Manny Pacquiao first walked into the Wild Card Boxing gym on Vine Street and excited the usually low-key trainer Freddie Roach.
“I’ve got a guy,” said Roach, an octave higher than usual, I remember.
We watched him spar and obliterate a number of boxers in that gym. So when he made his debut against Lehlo Ledwaba for the IBF super bantamweight title in Las Vegas, I made it a point to watch that fight in particular.
That date June 23, 2001, is important for two reasons: first, it was my wedding day, thus I was unable to attend the fight card that also featured Oscar De La Hoya versus Spain’s Javier Castillejo; second, it was Pacman’s grand entrance to the boxing world.
That day, when HBO introduced the fight between Pacquiao and Ledwaba, I can never forget the heap of praise the announcing team showered on the South African prizefighter. A number of my wedding guests watched it from my house and I remarked: “Boy, is Jim Lampley in for a surprise.”
Yup, Pacquiao destroyed Ledwaba as I had predicted to my wedding guests that day.
Age has changed Pacquiao superficially. There are a few more wrinkles and physically he’s a lot heavier, but the mentality to focus and prepare at a fever pace has increased a notch. There was a short blip in his career when it seemed he was spiraling downward a few years back. Now the Filipino superstar has rebooted and the zest to fight has returned.
“I fight for the Filipino people and the fans,” says Pacquiao.
Media day for Pacquiao was strangely void of the army of Filipino fans usually seen camped in front of the Wild Card. They were replaced this time by an army of people carrying video and camera equipment waiting and hoping to get into the boxing gym.
The upstairs gym was filled to capacity with reporters and photographers clustered around the ring and around Roach and Top Rank’s Bob Arum. With the tight quarters and body heat coupled with the 82-degree heat outside, the gym was sauna-like inside.
“Floyd’s a counter-puncher,” said Roach above the din of the chatting photographers. “It’s the best fighting the best. We should have more fights like this in boxing.”
Every 10 minutes a new batch of reporters was allowed in the upstairs gym and a new set of the same questions are thrown at Roach and Arum. It’s a cycle that has repeated 14 years in a row. But Pacquiao remains the same low key individual, patient, focused and able to turn on the engine when needed inside the boxing ring.
Pacquiao has never been a man of words. He’s more a man of action.
With just a few weeks remaining until he faces Floyd “Money” Mayweather at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Pacquiao has zeroed in toward May 2. Billions of fans will be waiting.
“We know that the fans have been waiting for this five, six years,” says Pacquiao, who multi-tasks even while training.
A day earlier Mayweather had his media day in Las Vegas. The two warring camps are slowing down the preparation aspects and gearing up their respective war machines. Mayweather is the master of hype and defense, Pacquiao is the master of subdued confidence and never ending offense.
Who will emerge victorious?
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