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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

After Surviving Baguio, Pacquiao is Back at Wild Card

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You don’t need to hear Rob Peters bellowing out," IT’S PACQUIAO TIME!!!’, in mid-day at the Wild Card Boxing Club to figure out that Manny Pacquiao has made his way back to his familiar haunts in Hollywood to finish out his final preparations for his November 14Th date against Miguel Cotto. Hours before he steps through those doors, you see the congested gym in the morning hours replete with various fighters( who hope to get their days work in before the facility is shut down for ’the Pac Man’) and the usual array of on-lookers and stragglers who stick around hoping to catch a glimpse of the Filipino icon.

When Pacquiao arrives in Los Angeles for his fights, parking spots at the Wild Card becomes harder to find than on the streets of New York, clients of the gym line up for occupied heavy bags as if they were waiting for their ham-on-rye at a famous deli( the only thing missing it seems, is that they don’t issue you tickets with a number on it), photographers roam the premises as if they were the paparazzi and you have HBO’s ever-expanding crew and their high priced equipment setting up to cover every step that Pacquiao takes inside the gym. Then there are the various stars, celebrities and VIP’s that drop by to see boxing’s biggest international superstar.

Yes, the three-ring circus that is Manny Pacquiao is back in town.

" Yeah, but the circus is getting thrown out today," said a somewhat annoyed Freddie Roach, on late Monday morning, a few hours before Pacquiao got in his first day of training at the Wild Card." Everyone, I don’t give a shit who they are. Y’know what? Baguio worked out good, Manila sucked, too many distractions, too many people in the gym. I’m closing down, I’m throwing everyone out. If I have to have another lawsuit, I will."

While Baguio wasn’t Roach’s first choice to re-locate this training camp to, he says everything- outside of the inclement weather- worked out well.

" It definitely did, we had good sparring partners, we never missed a day. We had to run inside with the treadmill and go in the swimming pool, just because the rain was so heavy. But I didn’t let it effect our training camp, whatsoever. We worked right through it," said Roach, who ironically preferred Vancouver, Canada but was overruled because he was told it rained too much over there." Actually, the first month was the best first month I’ve ever seen. He was in great shape, he’s in great shape, right now."

But it was no thrilla’ in Manila for the respected trainer, who believed his fighter took backward steps in his mental and physical focus.

" It was messed up, too many distractions, governors, mayors, councilmen, all dragging him every which way," he says." So Manila didn’t work out that well. I wasn’t that happy with his last day of sparring because his mind really wasn’t there. Now we’re back at the Wild Card, things are getting back to normal. I’ll get him on track, there’s no problem."

During their time in Baguio, the country was ravaged by typhoons. Roach says the extreme damage caused in the wake of the storms left an indelible mark on him.

" I was at the farming area and they were looking for three bodies that were missing and they were digging for them, it was like finding a needle in a haystack. It was really sad, 14 families in one room and they have enough food and so forth, but there’s just no space for them because the houses were just washed away," said Roach, who helped deliver relief supplies to the local inhabitants." It was devastating. We were building caskets because they ran out of caskets, so they were building boxes to bury people in. That’s how bad it was. A lot of people died."

As another storm threatened, Roach- in what was a memorable scene captured on HBO’s ’24/7’- made it clear that it was time to leave Baguio. As Pacquiao seemed to go back on his promise to depart the next day, the trainer made it clear, with or without him, he was heading out. Which left his fighter, who was entertaining a guest, a bit dumbfounded and stunned.

Roach, as promised, packed his bags and headed out.

" I had to," he explained," it was for the safety of a lot of people that we’re responsible for, with HBO, my sparring partners and so forth, with another typhoon coming. I’m usually the type of person that says,’ Aw, don’t worry about it, it wont hit us.’ But y’know what? You never know. It was just about the safety of everybody. It was the best decision I made to get everybody out of there because the storm did hit and they did close the roads, again. We would’ve been stuck there."

As for Manny?

" Well, he went back and finished his little movie shoot he was doing that day and I made my reservations to go. At 12 o’clock that night I got a call from Manny, he says,’ I’m going now.’ I said,’ Well, it’s night and it’s pouring, right now. Don’t go it’s too dangerous.’ He says,’ No, I’m going.’ I said,’ Well, OK.’ I guess he was thinking about my request."

Pacquiao arrived at the gym at around 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday, about an hour later than expected. There was actually a sizable throng inside the building, as a few fighters were allowed to finish their workout and members of the press, who came in from as far as Puerto Rico, were escorted in by the Top Rank staff, which included the likes of Ricardo Jimenez, Fred Sternburg, Chris Farina and Bill Caplin. Along with HBO, a good number of cameramen were given permission to shoot Pacquiao’s training. Also making a special guest appearance was Bob Arum, who came in to see Pacquiao for himself, after spending a few days in Tampa, Florida with Cotto.

And Pacquiao did not disappoint. Folks, no matter what has been written or speculated, Pacquiao is ready to go- right now. He may have looked a bit soft and chubby during the national press tour back in September, his physique now has the ripped, sculpted look of a gladiator going into battle. Pacquiao touched down at LAX on Saturday night and took Sunday off, but there was no signs of jet-lag as he put on an impressive display of speed, power and explosiveness in working the mitts with Roach. His energy, seemed nuclear.

Yeah, I know, the mitts don’t hit back( and plenty of mediocre boxers can be made to look good while working them) but it was hard not to be impressed by Pacquiao. Arum, a veteran observer of the sport, almost seemed to be in awe of what he was witnessing." The thing is, what I’m really most impressed with is the speed I’ve seen, the intensity I’ve seen. But the right-hand is better than it’s ever been," said Arum, while the booming echoes of Pacquiao’s punches could be heard throughout the gym walls.

There was a time, not too long ago, that Pacquiao would’ve fit in with the slot machines of Vegas. In other words, he was a one-arm bandit. He was left-hand, and not much else. But not anymore.

" I think he hits equally as good with the right, as the left," said Arum." I mean, the rights just exploding. He looks like he’s throwing a jab and then he explodes with the hook."

" I think he’s in the best shape we’ve ever seen him in," said Pacquiao’s strength-and-conditioning guru, Alex Ariza." I don’t know it it’s where we were or his attitude or his approach to this fight, but physically, I said way before, if I could get back to America at 150-pounds( with Manny), it couldn’t be any better. I expected it to happen but this morning Manny weighed himself, he’s 150 on the dot."

Much had been made of the fact that Cotto had a head start in his training, but according to Ariza, Pacquiao hit the ground running, himself. In fact, at times, he had to be held back.

" Everything flowed as soon as we got there. Again, there was no distractions, it was great. Manny’s approach to everything was 100-percent. Unfortunately, it took a typhoon to get him to rest some mornings and to recognize that recovery is important and he’s more efficient on sparring days when he rests on those mornings."

Pacquiao was in a very good mood on this day. His smile was perpetual and he had boundless enthusiasm. Perhaps, he’s glad to be back in Los Angeles, where the pressure to fulfill certain obligations here, pale in comparison to what he faces in the Philippines on a daily basis. It wont be long before he and his entourage are on their way to Las Vegas. But with less than a month to go, Roach is at least partially happy with his fighters progress.

" Physically, yes. Mentally? No," admitted the trainer, who believes his boxer still has understand just how difficult Cotto might be on the night of November 14Th." But I have three weeks to get his head on straight here. Because again, Manila, really hurt us a little bit because the distractions and all these people pulling him in every direction. In-shape wise, he’s about 95-percent there, right now.

" Its just getting his focus a little bit sharper."


In addition to the work that took place between Pacquiao and the likes of Shawn Porter, Urbano Antillon and Jose Luis Castillo, there was some unscheduled sparring that took place in Baguio between Ariza and Pacquiao’s controversial adviser, Mike Koncz, that was seemed to be the biggest story in the Philippines that didn’t involved Mother Nature a couple of weeks ago.

So is Team Pacquiao akin to the old ’Gashouse Gang’ of the St. Louis Cardinals, ’the Bronx Zoo’ of the New York Yankees of the 1970’s or the Oakland Athletics of that same era, who were known just as much for their in-fighting as they were for winning ballgames?

" Y’know, one day Alex got mad and he slapped Koncz and Koncz put his hands up. No marks. I wasn’t really a fight," said Roach, laughing at the thought." The thing is, I told them both to calm down and don’t let it happen again or you’re out."

Hey, this is boxing. Stuff happens.

" Hey, everyone’s on edge a little bit and everyone is a little bit nervous, this and that," said Roach, who says that otherwise, this training camp has been very productive." The Koncz thing with Alex, it’s just kinda bullshit. Koncz is just trying to do other people’s jobs and saying that Alex is not working the corner and Buboy’s assistant was. It was actually Buboy’s request I found out. So Koncz get stuck in the middle."

Roach chuckles as he says this. On ’24/7’, Koncz said of the run-in," I don’t want to make something out of nothing. There was a slight physical altercation, nothing like you’ve read on the internet. To me, it’s a dead issue, it’s comical issue. That’s all the comment I want to make on that specific issue."

( Yeah, you can’t believe almost anything you read on the ’net.)

Ariza, when asked about the incident, told Maxboxing," Whatever happened, it is, what it is. Nothing’s going to change as far as him, like I said before, he has some sort of disorder. He just doesn’t know how to be normal. Some things you can handle diplomatically and others you just can’t."

Koncz seems to be a trusted confidant to Pacquiao. So did this adversely effect Ariza’s relationship with him?

" I think it’s improved it, I really do," he says." I think this is something that everyone said that they wanted to do. But you just never really knew what his position was in camp. Did he really have that higher rank? You read all those things, does he have some kind of dirt on Manny? But clearly he doesn’t. I did what I did and I apologized to Manny and Manny just shrugged his shoulders, shrugged it off. I said sorry to Freddie, especially, because this could be a reflection of him. He is the one that I work for. But Freddie just said, ’ Hey, it was going to happen sooner or later.’"

It’s not like Roach has had Koncz on his Christmas card list, either. There was great tension between the two throughout the summer as the Cotto fight was being finalized and the itinerary was set for this training camp. But Roach says now," I have no problems with him. I don’t give a shit what they write. He can’t get me fired, it’s impossible."

The crew at Wild Card is having a good time with this new-found rivalry between Ariza and Koncz, who did their best to stay out of each others way on Monday afternoon. As you walk into the gym, one of the first things you see on the bottom part of the front desk is a sign that reads:’ Mike Koncz Fan Club Meeting Canceled( sic) Tonight’

" I didn’t put that up," said Roach, laughing loudly." I’m going to leave it up, though."

But he does concede," Hey, Koncz has got a tough job. I mean he has to pacify Manny. Y’know, I wouldn’t do his job."


While Arum was at the Wild Card on Monday, he informed me that it would be Rogers Mtagwa getting the next crack at Yuriorkis Gamboa on January 23rd. Rounding out this HBO ’Boxing After Dark’ card according to him will be Juan Manuel Lopez challenging WBO featherweight titlist, Steven Luevano at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Also, the next edition of ’Pinoy Power’ will take place on February 13Th at the Las Vegas Hilton and will star Nonito Donaire. On that undercard, Fernando Montiel faces Z Gorres and Gerry Penalosa will take on Eric Morel. Arum’s hope is to have the winners of these two bouts, meet each other down the lines.

Source: http://www.secondsout.com/news?ccs=1624&cs=111499

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