If Joshua Clottey should pull the upset this upcoming Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, it won’t be against an unfocused or under-trained Manny Pacquiao. Yes, this fight is certainly a let down on many levels from the expected and highly anticipated showdown versus Floyd Mayweather and Pacquiao is in a bit of a no-win situation by taking on the tough but relatively unknown Ghanaian, but make no doubt about it, the “Pac-Man” is focused and locked in for the task at hand.
That much was clear on Monday, March 1st, when Pacquiao went through a rigorous two-and-half hour workout. His trainer, Freddie Roach, schedules his sparring sessions for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The other days are dedicated to hitting the pads with Roach and then working on the double-end and speed bags. Followed by a session jumping rope for about ten minutes and then floor work, Pacquiao shadowboxes in a ring that is exclusively his domain from the moment he steps foot into the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California.
On this particular afternoon, Pacquiao arrives much later than his usual time of around one in the afternoon. With no sparring partners waiting for him, he shows up at around 2:30. Alex Ariza, his strength and conditioning coach, who was among a group of people awaiting his arrival, explained, “He wanted to sleep in a bit today.” During this period, Roach had time to work the pads with young prospect Jamie Kavanagh and old pro Steve Forbes.
As you waited for Pacquiao to arrive, you wonder if he’ll ever arrive. Rob Peters, who heads his security around the gym, joked that we were really early because Manny is always on time. Well, it does give new meaning to “Pacquiao time,” which was coined by Peters, as he signals to the regular clients of the Wild Card that their time at the gym would soon come to a close with the arrival of the world’s best fighter.
As Roach finishes up with Forbes, he himself looks a bit anxious for his fighter to get to the daily task of preparing for Clottey, a fighter who is as tough as a combat boot and has never been halted in a professional prizefight. During this time, some rather salacious locker room jokes and boxing tales are bantered about, bringing loud laughter from everyone in the gym (And no, I’m not at liberty to discuss just what was said, but trust me, it may have been the funniest and raunchiest discussion I’ve ever heard).
Finally, the man arrives, rather quietly, and after shaking a few hands and greeting his coach, he goes into his dressing quarters. After about 15 minutes, he finally emerged, ready to get to work.
On this day, he went 16 full rounds on the pads with Roach without using any of the one-minute break periods to catch his breath. The power and speed are striking enough, but what really stands out is Pacquiao’s ability to almost float effortlessly on the canvas and let go of booming combinations with balance and accuracy. Like a cat, he always ends up on his feet. At one time, Pacquiao was as one-armed as any slot machine in Vegas. But with the steady and persistent guidance of Roach, he now has a wide and varied offensive attack with punches that come from angles that can only be conceived by a trigonometry professor.
If he’s complacent, then he must be the most energetic complacent fighter on the planet.
"For me," said Pacquiao afterward, “I don’t worry about motivation. I focus on training. I’m always focused in my training and especially if I have a fight.” Through all this boundless, almost nuclear energy, he smiles and laughs throughout. This is clearly an individual enjoying his craft. While most other boxers trudge and grind through their workouts, it almost seems like Pacquiao whistles while he works. “Yeah, I’m always having fun in my training,” he agreed. “Being tired is only in the mind. Don’t think ‘tired’ in your body, just keep going and going because in the fight, nobody helps you."
It doesn’t matter if it’s Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto or Clottey in front of Pacquiao; Roach gets the same amount of effort, regardless.
"We train the same way for every opponent, shape-wise, condition-wise," said the renowned trainer, after his work with Pacquiao had concluded. "I mean, the only difference is the sparring partners and the strategy of the fight, of course. Manny respects everyone, he doesn’t take anyone lightly. We’re two weeks out from the fight; we just went 16 rounds straight, in the mitts and we peaked on Saturday. We did 12 rounds (of sparring); tomorrow we’ll box nine rounds and we’ll start going the other way, nine, eight, six, four (rounds) and the last day of sparring will be Monday, the 8th."
Roach sees the intensity of Pacquiao every day, up close and personal, yet it still leaves him in awe. "Unbelievable," he says. "It’s been like this since Day One. Well, it’s probably better now than ever because he knows how to control the energy level and he’s in shape. The thing is, he works hard, he fights hard; that’s why he’s the best fighter in the world today. It’s funny, I hear Floyd has a similar work ethic; he works hard, he’s a little sporadic, of course, in his workouts, but I think that’s probably why they’re the best guys out there because of their work ethics."
Of course, the main reason why Pacquiao-Mayweather didn’t come to fruition is that Mayweather’s camp believes that Pacquiao is getting a little extra help. Allegations of illegal performance-enhancing drugs became the central storyline of the failed negotiations between the two sides, ultimately becoming tiresome. Also, Mayweather and his minions are allegedly keeping Filipino journalists from even broaching the issues with Mayweather. Pacquiao told Maxboxing last week, "[I’m] not tired of that because I’m a very honest person and clean. For me, it’s God and sacrifices. That’s all, nothing more."
On that issue, Roach says, "The thing was, he [Mayweather] wanted to run the sport and make the rules and we’re not going to do that. Unfortunately, I think he came up with excuses not to fight the fight and he found a way out." Bottom line, they were adhering to the Mayweather State Athletic Commission. "It actually rubbed me the wrong way because people say, ’Why didn’t he just take the test?’ The thing is, why would we let a fighter dictate what goes on in the fight game? That’s what the commissions and sanctioning bodies are for. The thing is, we let him call that shot; next thing you know we’ll have one minute rounds. You give him a little power, it’s going to grow. The thing is, it’s like giving the first two rounds away and giving him confidence. He can dictate what happens in boxing? He’s not that big!"
Well, he can when it’s Shane Mosley, who really had no leverage. But with Pacquiao, it was a different story. In that case, there were two super-powers who refused to budge. The United Nations or NATO could have intervened and this fight still wouldn’t have gotten made. Who knows if this fight will ever become a reality? When asked about the possibility of meeting Mayweather in the near future, Pacquiao says, "Yes, if everything is done good. It depends on the negotiations with my promoter. I’m just a fighter, my job is to fight and train."
But what all this speculation has really done is take away from the fact that from a technical and fundamental standpoint, Pacquiao has made huge improvements from the first time he walked into this gym back in 2001. Back then, he was all left hand, with very little in the way of balance and alignment and his boxing IQ has risen immeasurably. During this camp, he has even worked a few rounds and sparred from the orthodox stance. And he looked rather comfortable doing so.
"There’s a lot of big differences, how I learn," said the Filipino idol. "It’s like you went to school and you started in grade school, high school and college. Right now, I think I’ve already graduated from college."
Some would say he’s already earned his Master’s degree from the School of Hard Knocks.
"100-percent," agreed Roach. "He’s come such a long way. We’ve been working on improving those skills a long, long time; everything is coming together, now. He knows who to study tapes, he knows what to look for, the flaws to work for, look for mistakes and habits. He’s very good at that, now. The game plan is not my game plan anymore, it’s our game plan."
If Pacquiao is Joe Montana, then Roach is his Bill Walsh. Two masters who work towards the same goal, who have forged a synergy whose level of success is nearly unparalleled. Roach lays out the game plan and Pacquiao executes with stunning precision. The West Coast Offense has never been this hard-hitting and punishing.
In watching Roach don his body armor and mitts, you aren’t just struck by what Pacquiao is doing, but by what Roach is instructing his pupil to execute. Many times, pad work is just an endless stream of repetitiveness, where the same combinations are thrown ad nauseum, bringing about a familiar cacophony that is heard in gyms across the world. But with Roach, there are large pockets of time when the action is halted and Roach is in the ear of his fighter, giving him instructions and reminders of what is to be expected on fight night. He and his fighter often practice their strategy in slow-motion. And then over and over again, ‘til the movement is perfected.
It’s not so much training, but a choreography on canvas of what is to be expected.
Most mitt work is done in a linear fashion, as if the fight will be fought on a railroad track. But with Roach, it’s clear that he focuses in on three layers. First, the path in which his fighter will advance upon his target, followed by a sequence of punches that Roach believes can puncture the flaws in the opponent’s guard and followed, perhaps most importantly, by an exit strategy; choosing a direction or angle in which his fighter will be the least susceptible to counter-punches. It’s a blueprint on hitting-and-not-getting-hit.
For Roach and his charge, the point from A-to-B is not in a straight line.
As Pacquiao gets into the heart of his work, Forbes, who worked about six rounds with the trainer earlier, marveled, "It’s the little things with Freddie that he shows you. Just small, little adjustments that he shows you." Forbes, a former world champion, is one of Roach’s newest clients and had previously worked with the Mayweathers earlier in his career.
The trainer has seen enough to make the bold prediction of a knockout in Texas.
"I thought the fight would go the distance at first, but after studying the tapes and the game plan we have, I feel we can break this guy down, be the first fighter to knock him out. Pacquiao’s on top of his game, right now, and that’s what we’re looking for."
His fighter isn’t quite as audacious.
"Joshua Clottey, I never underestimate him; he’s tall and big and a very good defensive fighter and he’s strong. He’s a former world champion. It’s hard to underestimate that kind of fighter," said Pacquiao. "I’m not going to promise to knock the guy out. But what I can give is a good show and to make people happy. That’s my concern.
"Not only myself, my family, but to all the people who are going to watch, especially the Filipino people."
As Pacquiao finished off his day’s work last Monday, well after the sun had set, with a series of abdominal work, Ariza was intently watching. Afterward, a few of Pacquiao’s assistants started rubbing his shins, as he was suffering from a case of the shin splints.
"See, that’s what I worry about. He’s got shin splints right now because he’s going so hard. I have to beg him to pull back a little bit, but he won’t," Ariza told me.
In the past few months, Ariza, has become a notable figure as the man in charge of Pacquiao’s physical condition and what goes into his body and has come under a good deal of scrutiny. When asked if he felt he was besmirched in any way due to allegations of PED use by Pacquiao, he quickly responded, "No, I don’t think so; not at all. If they came from a credible source or even if there was some validity to it or they had some substantial evidence, paperwork, something. For it to come out of a Mayweather’s mouth is just garbage.
"The people that choose to listen to a Mayweather, it’s just the same kind of people the Mayweathers are. It doesn’t bother me, I think it’s more of a compliment to the work that we’ve done."
Ariza says that Pacquiao is the hardest working client he’s ever worked with.
"No question. It just goes to show what real hard work will do. Manny’s just the pinnacle. He doesn’t believe in rest; he doesn’t believe in quitting, having an off day. Soon as he puts those wraps on, he knows it’s just time to go to work. I just think it’s the desire for fighting."
There has been some talk of this being Pacquiao’s swan song if a fight with Mayweather can’t be negotiated or if he’s elected into political office, but Ariza believes that if Pacquiao continues, there is plenty left in his gas tank.
"The way he takes care of himself and he never lets himself get out of shape, he doesn’t abuse his body and when you take care of yourself like that, your body takes care of you. So if he wants it, he could be like Bernard Hopkins; he can go into his 40s if he wants."
Big D (well, actually Arlington) here I come (On Wednesday)! But that’s still the earliest I’ve ever gone to cover a fight in all my years covering the Sweet Science. I got a haircut on Friday for this trip and I came THIS close to getting a Cowboy star carved into the back of my head, or at least having three stripes shaved on the side ala Michael Irvin and doing the whole “Korean Playmaker” thing, but I chickened out.
But if I can get to the middle of the field, I will stand on the star like Terrell Owens. Hopefully George Teague won’t be around to knock me off it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URaBENN4sFo).
I can’t wait to see this stadium and I love Texas, in general. I mean, what other fight will I cover anytime soon where I can tailgate before the fight card (Which by the way, a crew of guys I know are already planning this)? Tailgating (which I think will be preferable to that undercard put together by Top Rank) and boxing: Does it get any better than that?
I might even wear my suit to this special event.
Can I start banging the drums for Tim Bradley-Devon Alexander? Regardless, let’s hope Don King really pushes Alexander in St. Louis, where he belongs, and not places like the Mohegan Sun or Treasure Island...I thought the “Countdown” show for Pacquiao-Clottey on HBO was very good. It’s much better when they don’t try and make up a storyline like they do too much on “24/7” and just let it flow...Also, HBO’s documentary on Magic Johnson and Larry Bird was excellent. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely catch it...That ‘84 Finals meltdown by the Lakers and Magic is still the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever been through as a Lakers fan. Every once in awhile, I see Gerald Henderson in my dreams, picking off the pass from James Worthy...Speaking of which, Lakers fans, are we now officially worried?...Vic Darchinyan won on Saturday night, but it was really the courage and chin of Rodrigo Guerrero that I’ll remember...”Celebrity Fit Club: Boot Camp” on VH1 is great. To see Bobby Brown with a beer gut is just wrong...This past week’s edition of “The Main Event” featured Darchinyan and Bradley...Any questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow me at Twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing