Pacquiao Rising: Doghouse Boxing visits Manny Pacquiao
Interview by Gabriel Montoya, Doghouse Boxing (Jun 25, 2008) (Photo © Laura De La Torre)  
The Wild Card Boxing Club Hollywood, CA on Saturday May 14, 2008, 8:36 AM - There is something just a little different about an empty gym. Most of my time spent in gyms is amongst a whirlwind of activity. Speed bags rat-a-tat-tatting their machine-gun staccato, while the sounds of heavy bags getting pummeled mixes in with the whirl and tap of jump ropes. Through this din is the ever-present sound of the electronic bell that keeps everything moving in perfect sync. One sound that hangs over the top and underneath this cacophony is the sound of voices. They predict, argue, give
advice, pontificate, plan and talk trash. It’s all in a day’s business at the gym.

This particular day, the voices are all that is present as I wait for Filipino superstar and the newest member of the lightweight ranks, Manny Pacquiao, to arrive. It’s a Saturday so that means sparring is the order of the day with a menu of five fighters ranging from very young to cagey veteran.

With Pacquiao moving up five pounds in weight to challenge WBC titleholder David Diaz, I am eager to see what this will do to his speed and reflexes. (Writer’s note: This session was a week ago Saturday where Manny weighed approximately 144 lbs. His partners provided a cross section of answers).

While I wait, the five men prepare. Some of them sit silently, others speak softly among themselves, I-Pods in, wrapping hands and stretching; patiently waiting for their moment with the superstar. Southpaws one and all. “Manny has fought southpaws,” says Roach of his diverse yet exclusively left-handed group, “He fought two in the Philippines but never over here. Most of the adjustments are with the footwork. Diaz’ power is with the left so we want to move away from that side and get him to move into our power.” Today, each man would make Pacquiao work hard to make that happen.

The five citizens of “Southpaw City” are:

Carlos Tangaro, (2-0 with 0 KOs) --- a 140 lb fighter from Hawaii that fights out of the Coachella Valley here in Southern California. Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach calls Tangaro the main sparring partner for Pacman. He is a bit taller than Pacquiao with good footwork and deceptive speed. Best of all, he has a natural come forward style.

Steve Quinonez, (31-12-1 with 10 KOs) --- a newly returned veteran who is roughly Pacquiao’s size, brings to the table a vet’s savvy, good footwork, and toughness.

Chris Rizo, (3-0 with 2 KO), a quietly intense young man, this East L.A. native brings energy, intelligence, a good punch to go with a diverse array of punches, and solid footwork.

Julio Gamboa, (28-13-2 with 17 KOs) is this spice in the group. As Freddie Roach describes him, “You couldn’t ask for a better guy at the end of training camp. He shook things up.”

Noel Rodriguez, (13-2 with 5 K0s) is by far the tallest of the partners. Today would be his final day at camp before returning to Texas with his father.

9:07 AM
Pacquiao enters with a small of group of people, stops at the front desk, and begins signing pictures: the duties of a superstar are numerous and never over. After a few minutes, he disappears into the communal dressing room to change.

9:20 AM
The Wild Card has begun to fill up with fighters of every type. Trainer Kevin Morgan is in the corner working with one of his charges. Fighters young and old begin the day’s pain.

Pacquiao bounds out of the dressing room and jogs over by the ring where he begins stretching out. Inside of it, Rizo and Quinonez begin the first session of the day, jumping right into a heated exchange. Behind me, Pacquiao watches intently as he gets his gloves on. His focus is solely on the work ahead of him. He seems completely oblivious to anything other than the men in the ring.

Rizo and Quinonez show each other no mercy over four rounds of hardcore back and forth (Rizo will be fighting on the undercard and could use the work). He’s a rangy fighter with excellent footwork and crisp, straight shots, utilizing a stiff jab to set up his combinations.

The bell rings on the final round and it’s now Manny’s turn as Rizo steps out of the ring, leaving Quinonez to work with Pacquiao.

Quinonez gives a lot of movement to the unusually flat-footed and visibly slower Pacquiao. It’s clear though that Manny is just warming up along with testing his defensive skills against the mobile yet aggressive Quinonez. By the end of round two, (a round where Pacquiao consistently gets beat to the punch) Manny begins to find the range and catches Quinonez on the end of his shots. By round three, Pacman is heating up. The quickness of foot is there now as the morning cobwebs have been properly shaken off. The thing I do notice is that while Pacquiao can get those guns blazing for some hellacious four and five punch combos, those moments are few and far between.

“He seems like he hits harder at this weight,” Roach says. “But he also seems a little bit slower. Little bit. But we hope to get some of that speed back when we drop down in weight.”

As evidenced by round four, Pacquiao also seems to get tagged a bit more as Quinonez made sure to leave an impression before his day was through.

Now it’s Tangaro’s turn and it’s clear he and Manny have a good rapport. As Tangaro gets behind his jab, Manny gets behind his guard and urges the kid on. At times, it appears that Tangaro is showing too much respect to Pacquiao and Manny attempts to break that mindset by letting the kid wail on his body. “Go. Go. Go,” Manny commands and Tangaro ends the round flurrying to Pacquiao’s head and body. By round two, it’s clear Manny is using the kid to condition himself to Diaz’ aggressive body attack. He takes the body shots with a laugh and begins fighting back, getting the kid on his heels and raking him across the ropes with a brutal combo. Round three is more of the same as Manny starts off yelling “Go!!!” and the kid responds with that body assault. Then Tangaro backs off and gives movement. Pacquiao makes him pay for his retreat with a sweeping right hook that starts off a heated back and forth until the final bell for these two.

Next up is Noel Rodriguez. With by far the best reach of the group, you would think the kid would use his advantage and have his way. But Pacquiao has a way of getting you to fight his fight.

“I wanted to box more. That’s what I do,” Rodriguez would say afterwards. “But they wanted me to fight. That’s what I would prefer to do anyways,” he says grinning.

Pacquiao is now utilizing short, inside shots for this partner. By the middle of round two, the kid is backing off and eating long range shots from Manny who unleashes a two fisted assault that leaves the kid bleeding from the nose. Seeing blood, Pacquiaogoes into another gear, bouncing in and out of range, then diving inside and keeping the pressure on while ripping uppercuts inside. The bell sounds and it’s clear from his bloody nose that Rodriguez’ work ends early today. “I could have gone on,” he insists, “But we have plenty of guys for him to work on.”

Watching Pacquiao work from ringside now, Rodriguez sums up working with the Filipino phenom thusly: “You have to be doing something. He’s very intelligent in there. You can’t throw the same punch twice. If you do, he’ll punish you for it.”

With the early end to Rodriguez’ day, Gamboa gets the call. Pacquiao’s demeanor is clearly changes with Gamboa. Whereas before he urged them on, took breaks during rounds, laughed at a missed punch or a solid one, he is clearly all business with Gamboa. Its clear Gamboa gets under Manny’s skin. “He talked shit to Manny,” laughs Roach. “He doesn’t care who you are. Manny looked at him like ‘Oh yeah, boy?’ And then he beat the shit out of him.”

While not the biggest or hardest hitting of all the sparring partners, Gamboa appears the craftiest. Working angles, keeping solid mid-range attack going, Gamboa holds his own with Pacquiao throughout round one. By round two though, Manny figures out Gamboa’s crafty footwork and awkwardly aggressive style and starts walking Gamboa into his left hand and then back into right hooks. There is a simple poetry to the way Pacquiao glides on his feet, fades in and out, and then shoots in with speed, power and economy of motion. By the end of the third stanza, Pac’s jab is doubling and tripling and the difference in speed, athleticism, and power is clear.

The overall picture I am left with is that what Pacquiao is giving up in speed he attempting to replace with more footwork and a reliance on his right hand hooks and jab.

“I feel stronger now,” says Pacquiao. “But what we want to do is maintain our speed and power. We’ve adjusted a lot of our techniques.”

There were brief moments when Pacquiao turned orthodox. Will that happen in the fight? “I can do that,” insists Pacquiao. “I might fight like that.”

It should be interesting to see Pacquiao enter a phase of his career where he can’t simply rely on his speed to set up what was tremendous one-punch KO power at the lower weights. Now his speed will be setting up a technical attack. “[Diaz] can punch,” says Pacquiao. “He is strong. But my advantage to him is I’m quicker.” How his power will translate to 135 (as well as the ability to take a shot) remains to be seen and is a closely guarded secret among the various partners.

12:30 PM

What most of us would consider a painful workout, Pacquiao sees as a photo op as he jumps off and on a wooden box center ring, landing barely on his toes, and pauses just long enough for a camera to capture his brief arms flexed pose atop the peak of the jump. Freddie Roach assures me however, “Manny prepares the same way every time. He never takes anyone lightly.” This mixture of celebrity and elite athlete focus is part and parcel of being a national hero who must deliver every time out. It’s a responsibility that Pacquiao not only acknowledges but uses as fuel.

I feel a lot of pressure,” he says, “but I have to do something. I train hard to get 100% in shape to make people happy. That’s what I do.”

Pacquiao follows his box routine with extensive work on the double-end, speed, and heavy bags, along with jump rope and more shadowboxing. Then, Pacquiao begins a nightmarish ab routine that will culminate in his one of his trainers beating him with a stick repeatedly about the stomach area.

I don’t know about him but I’m starving and in need of a refresher before the afternoon media session. So I head out and get a head start on the Pacquiao train before it pulls into Filipino town for a scheduled open workout/autograph session.
Lunch time thoughts

Today, I saw moments of explosion followed by long moments of inactivity. The hand speed is intact. The head movement is not. The footwork comes and goes in spurts. Whether or not that will be tuned up in two weeks time remains to be seen. In any case, one thing that won’t be missing is the signature excitement of a Pacquiao fight as he begins his campaign in yet another division.

“I don’t want to predict,” Pacquiao says of this journey into untested waters. “I just want to give a good fight.”

Gabriel at: .

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