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Manny Pacquiao: The People’s Champion
Manny Pacquiao: Naoki Fukuda/WBC
By Thomas Hauser
Outside the ring, fully clothed, Manny Pacquiao looks almost delicate and vulnerable. The first reaction that many people have on meeting him is surprise that he’s so small. His voice is soft. There’s a gentle quality about him.
But in the ring, Pacquiao is a destroyer. He won his first world title in 1998 at 112 pounds and hasn’t lost since dropping a twelve-round decision to Erik Morales in 2005. Since then, he has been undefeated in thirteen fights, including knockout victories over Morales (twice), Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Miguel Cotto. At age thirty-one, he has collected belts against credible competition in eight weight divisions.
Pacquiao’s profile exploded following his 2008 stoppage of De La Hoya. Thereafter, Time Magazine observed, “His private life, as well as the ins and outs and ups and downs of his training regimen, are tabloid fodder.”
But Pacquiao is more than a celebrity curiosity. Earlier this year, the voters in Sarangani province elected him to Congress. He’s a unifying force for Filipinos at home and around the world. In its most recent year-end issue, Time included Pacquiao on its list of “people who matter” and referenced him as a “living legend” and “savior,” both for boxing and the Filipino people.
“Manny Pacquiao is this generation’s Muhammad Ali,” says his promoter, Bob Arum. “I have never promoted a fighter who has so captivated a country and a people the way that Manny does. He’s idolized and followed by every Filipino and his appeal is worldwide. Thanks to Manny Pacquiao, boxing is now retaking its proper place on the world stage.”
Numbers vary from day to day. But as of this writing, typing “Manny Pacquiao” into Google’s search engine engenders 19,200,000 “results.” Floyd Mayweather elicits less than ten percent of that total.
And the Pacquiao phenomenon keeps growing. At a time when boxing is struggling in the United States, he’s becoming a crossover star. Earlier this month, 16,500,000 viewers saw him on 60 Minutes.
“Manny Pacquiao,” Jim Lampley notes, “is having a love fest with the world while beating the crap out of people.”
The love fest continued in Dallas on November 13th, when Pacquiao squared off against former welterweight champion Antonio Margarito.
Pacquiao-Margarito fight was seen by many as a morality play. Margarito is regarded as a man of questionable sportsmanship as a consequence of illegal inserts that were found in his handwraps prior to a 2009 fight against Shane Mosley. His trainer at the time, Javier Capetillo, took responsibility for the incident, saying that he’d grabbed the wrong knucklepads “by mistake” and that Antonio was unaware of the problem.
Capetillo, appropriately, has been banned from practicing his trade in the United States. Margarito’s license to box was revoked by the California State Athletic Commission, which refused to reinstate him earlier this year.
Arum, who promotes Margarito, defends his fighter, saying, “What really irritates me is that there is not one fact to indicate that Margarito knew there was anything wrong with the handwraps. You cannot gloss over that by saying, ‘He must have known.’ What do you mean, he must have known? What kind of legal standard is that?”
Arum is correct in that the California commission never made a serious effort to prove that Margarito was complicit with regard to the illegal handwraps. The CSAC could have asked the district attorney’s office to conduct a criminal investigation that would have included interviews with both Margarito and Capetillo conducted by trained law enforcement personnel. But that request was never made.
No one except Capetillo (and possibly Margarito) knows how and when illegal handwraps first found their way into Antonio’s arsenal. But just as a mugger who has been caught in the act by police swears that this is the first time he has ever attempted such a dastardly deed, there are those who assume that Margarito used the same inserts without being caught in previous fights.
Pacquiao has been on the receiving end of ugly innuendo regarding the alleged use of performance enhancing drugs, so he understood what Margarito was going through. Still, Manny was of the view that it was “impossible” that Antonio did not know.
Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, went further, saying, “I think that Margarito’s gloves were loaded in some of his earlier fights and I also think that they were loaded in the gym. You’d want to practice with the inserts, so you know how they feel and what they do to your hands. Rashad Holloway and Craig McEwan both sparred with Margarito before the Mosley fight. They told me that he was one of the hardest punchers they’d ever faced. But Victor Ortiz and Ernie Zavala sparred with him and told me he punched like a girl.”
Knowledgeable people differ in good faith as to whether Margarito should have been given the opportunity to fight Pacquiao. Some think that the decision by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to license him without a hearing was a thumb in the eye to boxing. Virtually everyone agrees that the situation was further exacerbated when Antonio and his trainer, Robert Garcia, were seen on HBO’s 24/7 series making fun of the incident by taping “cinderblocks” to Margarito’s hands.
"When you’re caught doing something, you don’t make fun of it,” Roach told Lem Satterfield of Fanhouse.com. “Boxing is our sport. He put plaster of Paris on his hands and he’s making jokes about it? I think Margarito is an asshole.”
Be that as it may; Margarito was fighting in Dallas for a purse of US$3,000,000 plus an upside based on pay-per-view buys. A win would give him everything he’d had before and more; with the exception of his good name.
Pacquiao-Margarito was contracted for a catchweight of 150 pounds. That enabled the WBC to put its 154-pound belt on the table (for a sanctioning fee, of course) and allowed the promotion to talk about the possibility of an unprecedented eighth world title for Pacquiao. Trainer Naazim Richardson (the man who discovered the inserts in Margarito’s knucklepads prior to the Mosley fight) put the matter in perspective when he said, “Forget the belts. What matters is that, fight after fight, Pacquiao puts his ass on the line.”
Then the plot thickened. There were dire reports out of Pacquiao’s training camp in the Philippines, which began with four weeks in Baguio followed by a week in Manila.
“Manny is having the worst training camp of his career,” Roach said. “His focus is not one-hundred-percent. He told me after three days of training, ’I miss my job.’ I said, ‘This is your job’. He said, ’No, I miss congress.’ Stuff like that scares me. He hasn’t been consistent. There have been too many distractions. Manila was the worst because they all wanted him. He even missed a day of training; he had to meet the president. I said, ‘Who gives a fuck about the president? We have a fight coming up.’”
Roach has a well-deserved reputation for candor. When he talks, people tend to believe him.
In late-October, team Pacquiao journeyed to Los Angeles for two weeks of final preparation. Then it descended on Dallas.
There’s no entourage like a boxing entourage, and Pacquiao’s was substantial. Manny had chartered an American Airlines 757 that brought 180 people from the Philippines to the United States. “Air Pacquiao” cost him $120,000 plus food, lodging, and fight tickets for many of the travelers. Peter Nelson (who is collaborating with Roach on the trainer’s autobiography) heralded their arrival.
“When Pacquiao fights in Cowboys Stadium,” Nelson wrote, “his countrymen will colonize Arlington, Texas, forming a populace replete with advisors, cooks, priests, security, political chiefs-of-staff, a five-piece band, mentors, apprentices, past exiles for crimes now forgiven, future ones for crimes yet committed, and, of course, his mother. Where he goes, his people follow. They have nowhere else to be but living on his largesse. Manny Pacquiao has become the 7,108th island of the Philippines.”
At the final pre-fight press conference on November 10th in Dallas, Roach proclaimed himself satisfied with Pacquiao’s physical and mental condition. “Manny catches up quickly,” Freddie said. “In the past, he spoiled us. Usually, he’s ready to fight after five weeks of training camp. This time, there were some distractions and he wasn’t always there mentally like I wanted him to be, so it took the full eight weeks. But when we got to Los Angeles, everything was fine.”
Meanwhile, an ugly diversion had intruded upon the proceedings.
Roach suffers from Parkinsonism, believed to have been caused by blows to the head sustained during his boxing career. On Tuesday, a video that showed Margarito, stablemate Brandon Rios, and Robert Garcia making fun of Freddie’s symptoms surfaced on the Internet. Margarito was seen holding his shaking arms in front of him and moaning, “Oh, Freddie Roach.” Garcia pointed to Rios (whose head was tilted to the side and shaking while he pretended to have trouble speaking) and said, “Hey, that’s Freddie Roach.”
Margarito, Garcia, and Rios should have apologized at the Wednesday press conference. Instead, they tried to justify their conduct, saying that they were simply mocking Roach’s inadequacies as a fighter.
Roach has a thick skin, but the video bothered him. “I got a lot of calls that there was a video out there making fun of me,” he said at the press conference. “I don’t have a computer with me, so my assistant brought it over. I had trouble sleeping last night. I wanted to fight these guys. I know I’m too old and I can’t beat them up, but I hate these guys. I can’t do anything about what they did, but you know what? It’s okay. They’ll pay for it.”
Finally, on Thursday morning, Garcia called Roach and apologized. Then, at the undercard press conference that same day, Rios said he was sorry. Margarito appeared after Rios (claiming without much credibility that the video had been unfairly edited) and declared, “I will never make fun of Freddy Roach or anyone with that disease.” But unlike Rios, Antonio did use the word “apologize.”
“I was in a bad mood for a while about the videos,” Roach said afterward. “They didn’t just make fun of me. They made fun of a whole society of people. But Robert apologized, and I felt like it was a sincere apology. I think they realize that they went a bit too far. I’m a forgiving person and I accept their apology. This isn’t The Freddie Roach Story. Let’s just get on with the fight.”
Ah, yes; the fight. Pacquiao was a 4-to-1 favorite; and in the days leading up to the encounter, Roach explained why:
* “Margarito is tough; he’ll come to win. But I’ve watched tons of film on him. He’s always the same, completely predictable. He winds up on all of his punches, so you can see them coming a mile away. He likes to exchange and he’s hittable. When Manny can hit somebody, I usually don’t worry that much about the fight.”
* “Margarito will come out attacking. We’ll feint a lot because he chases the feint; give him a lot of movement, side to side; never let him set his feet. We’ll see a competitive first four rounds. Then Manny will start breaking him down. He won’t be able to handle Manny’s speed. He’ll begin feeling Manny’s power. Manny will beat him up badly. This will not be a difficult fight for us. I don’t see any issues.”
* “I’m not worried about Margarito. He’s made to order for us. I don’t see sound fundamentals. He has poor footwork. He doesn’t cut the ring off. He follows his opponent around. And he’s too slow to beat Manny. You can watch Manny on TV and say, ‘Oh he’s fast.’ But you don’t know how fast until you get in the ring with him. And there’s no sparring partner in the world that can prepare you to fight Manny because no one else in the world can fight like him. And another thing; when people fight Manny, they aren’t prepared for his speed but they also aren’t prepared for his power. I’ll be disappointed if Manny doesn’t knock him out.”
Most observers agreed that, if Margarito had an edge, it was his size. He was five inches taller than Pacquiao and most likely would outweigh Manny on fight night by at least fifteen pounds.
“Size doesn’t win fights,” Roach countered. “Skill does. And Manny is the most skilled fighter in the world.”
“Stop thinking of Pacquiao as a small fighter,” Naazim Richardson added. “All of us once weighed ten pounds.”
But size in boxing translates into power and the ability to take a punch. That’s why the sport has weight divisions. At some point, big becomes too big to handle.
“Boxing history is rife with great fighters who went one weight class too high,” Bart Barry wrote. “Margarito’s relentlessness would not be enough if he were Pacquiao’s size. But he is much bigger. Margarito will lope forward, hands low and wide, smiling as Pacquiao hits him fifty times every round. He will not be discouraged. He will be the largest man Pacquiao has faced. He will be a man who fights with a special kind of resentment. He will be outclassed but not outwilled.”
Margarito’s battle plan was pressure, pressure, and more pressure. Wear Pacquiao down. Suffocate him with punches. He would be more concerned with doing damage to Pacquiao’s physical wellbeing than protecting his own.
“He’s a great fighter,” Margarito said of Pacquiao. “We all know that he’s fast and lands punches from all angles. But I think it’s impossible that he’ll have the power of a super-welterweight. He might hit me with five to one at first, but I’m too strong for him. I will gradually break him down and knock him out.”
And there was another issue. In truth, Pacquiao would be coming into the fight in less than optimum condition.
Like Muhammad Ali before him, Pacquiao feeds off distractions. They keep his mind fresh in the gym and provide an escape from the emotional pressures of boxing. But there came a time when distractions took Ali away from the gym more than they should have and his lack of focus on boxing became a problem. He stopped pushing himself to the extent necessary to maintain his previous level of ring excellence. A sad decline followed.
Sixteen days before Pacquiao-Margarito, hall-of-fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler watched Pacquiao train at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles and reported, “I’ve never seen Manny look this bad. He was flat and listless. He was faking timeouts. ‘My headgear is loose’ and stuff like that. He’s not where he should be, and Freddie says that he needs two weeks more than he has to get him ready. Manny just doesn’t seem to be as motivated this time as he has in the past. It seems like training is a job for him now instead of a game that he enjoys playing.”
“I also watched Margarito train,” Trampler continued. “He looks very motivated. He’s in tremendous shape. He came into camp ten pounds lighter than he usually does. When Manny fought De La Hoya and Hatton, they were dead meat. Cotto was on a downward slide when Manny beat him. Margarito might be as good now as he was before the fall from grace. He’s slow and his punches are long and slow, which is to Manny’s advantage. But he’ll throw so many punches that he’ll land some big ones; especially since Manny is so offensive-minded and might not be in good enough shape to move for twelve rounds.”
One day later, Pacquiao traveled to Las Vegas to attend a rally on behalf of Nevada senator Harry Reid, who was locked in a tight re-election battle against Sharron Angle. There are 50,000 Filipino-American voters in Nevada.
That diversion was troubling to Alex Ariza (Pacquiao’s strength and conditioning coach). Three days before the fight, Ariza put the matter in perspective.
“The best shape I ever saw Manny in was for the Cotto fight,” Ariza noted. “He was a relentless juggernaut in training for that one. He never had a bad sparring session. He was hurting everyone he hit. He was one-hundred-percent ready for Cotto and he was close to one hundred percent for Hatton. The Clottey fight, I’d say he was at ninety percent. This time it’s less. He’s in shape, but he’s not in Manny Pacquiao shape.”
“Manny did very little physical work between the Clottey fight and the start of training camp for this one,” Ariza elaborated. “I wanted to start right in on strength and conditioning, but he wasn’t ready. And once we started, he was cutting corners. There was excuse after excuse. He missed sessions for Congress; he missed sessions for physical ailments. He had plantar fasciitis on his left foot and that became an excuse for not doing sprint work that we normally would have done. Then he had an excuse for not doing the swimming that he was supposed to do instead of the sprint work. Manny controlled the tempo of his own training this time. He took breaks when he wanted to take breaks and rested when he wanted to rest. Margarito won’t let him do that. Strength and conditioning work is hard; it’s supposed to be hard. Manny stopped doing some of the things that were hard. Then he stopped the strength and conditioning work altogether two weeks earlier than he should have if he was going to have maximum endurance.”
Why did Pacquiao make those choices?
“I’d say a number of factors played into it,” Ariza answered. “The fear factor that he had in the past doesn’t seem to be there. Being in Congress requires more time than any of his previous outside activities did. And being in Congress has taken away some of his mental focus. Manny is passionate about being in Congress, and that has shifted some of his passion away from boxing. At this point, there’s nothing he can do to improve his condition. From now on, it’s all psychological, so we have to do everything we can to reassure Manny and make him feel that he’s at one hundred percent. But when the fight is over, I’ll sit him down and tell him, ‘Never again.’ I think, deep down inside, Manny knows that he could have done more to get ready for this fight. And there’s a price you pay on the night of a fight when you’ve done less than you should. I don’t know what that price will be. Will he tire more easily? Will he take ten more punches than he should? Twenty punches? It’s a good feeling for a fighter to know that he’s going into the ring in the best shape possible and fully prepared. And it’s an uneasy feeling to go in with something less.”
An hour after Ariza spoke those words, Pacquiao finished a workout in Longhorn Exhibit Hall E (a huge room in the Gaylord Texan Hotel that had been converted into a makeshift gym). Wearing red trunks and a blue sweatshirt, Manny watched as Freddie Roach worked with Amir Khan and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr; two of the trainer’s other fighters.
By 7:45 PM, a hundred invited guests had gathered at the far end of the room. There were tables and chairs for thirty of them. The rest were standing. Pacquiao donned a straw hat and walked over to a group of musicians that included three guitarists, a keyboard player, and drummer (known collectively as “The Manny Pacquiao Band”). Two back-up vocalists joined them. For the next seventy-five minutes, Manny sang.*
“I bless the day that I was born for you . . . Two hearts that beat as one . . . I can’t resist your touch . . .”
“At this point, it’s all about keeping Manny happy,” Rob Peters (the point man in Pacquiao’s security detail) explained. “He loves doing this; it relaxes him. Right now, he’s having fun, singing love songs. And Margarito is on a treadmill somewhere, killing himself to make weight.”
“I’m not worried about Manny’s concentration at this stage of the game,” Roach added. “Singing puts his mind in a good place. It makes him happy, and he’s a much better fighter when he’s happy. Besides, Manny won’t get tired singing. If he does, I’ll have more than his singing to worry about.”
On Friday afternoon, the fighters weighed in at Cowboys Stadium. There was the usual pageantry. Michael Buffer warmed up the crowd. WBC president Jose Sulaiman presented Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones with a statue of an Olmec warrior in recognition of Jones’s designation by the WBC as its “Man of the Year.”
Two days earlier, at the final pre-fight press conference, Sulaiman had presented Bob Arum with an identical statue as “one of the two greatest promoters of the past three hundred years.”
Jones looked at the statue as though Sulaiman had taken a wad of chewing gum out of his mouth and handed it to him.
Then the fighters got on the scales. Margarito was at the maximum weight allowed; 150 pounds.
Pacquiao disrobed. His body wasn’t quite as defined as it had been for recent fights . . . 144.6 pounds.
On the night of the fight, Freddie Roach arrived at dressing room F300 at Cowboys Stadium at 5:45 PM. Peter Nelson and training assistant Billy Keane were with him. A commission inspector was also present.
Roach is a man of little formality. Asked once what his full name was, he answered, “Fred Steven Roach.”
Is his middle name spelled with a “v” or “ph”?
“I don’t know. I’ll have to look it up on my birth certificate.”
Roach didn’t seek fame. It found him. He was schooled as a fighter and then as a trainer by the legendary Eddie Futch. Looking back on the experience, Freddie recalls, “The hardest thing in the world for a fighter is when he realizes that he won’t be a champion. I know because I had to face that.”
Futch told Roach that he was taking too many punches and had to retire. In recent years, Freddie has had that same conversation with Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, and James Toney.
How did it go?
“Oscar told me that I was a loser, although he didn’t say it to my face. He said it to the media. Bernard told me, ‘You just lost your check.’ And James told me to go fuck myself.”
Roach lives for boxing. He could retire now and be financially comfortable for the rest of his life. But he loves the sport and likes helping young men achieve their dreams. The fact that he was never a champion drives him and has made him a better trainer.
Emanuel Steward says, “There are very few guys I’d trust my fighters to these days, but Freddie is one of them. He’s old school. He understands basics and teaches his fighters basics before he goes on to anything else. He’s a great strategist. He’s creative. He’s honest with his fighters. He doesn’t bullshit them to keep his job. And he knows what he’s doing during a fight. When a fighter comes back to the corner after a bad round, the trainer has to do more than shout at him to win it for his kids. He has to explain to the fighter what he did wrong and how to correct the problem. When Freddie’s fighter comes back to the corner between rounds, he gives him something useful to work with.”
How good is Roach? Paulie Malignaggi says that, when he watched a tape of the HBO telecast of his fight against Amir Khan, he listened to Roach’s corner instructions.
“After the third or fourth round,” Malignaggi recounts, “Freddie told Amir, ‘I need you to feint. If you feint, he’s going to drop down and then you do this.’ I’m saying to myself, ‘Wow. That is my reaction to a feint. I never focused on it before, but that is how I respond.’ Freddie knew me better than I knew myself.”
When it’s crunch time during a fight, Roach has ice in his veins. But he never takes himself too seriously. Pacquiao’s rise to glory has given him a certain celebrity status of his own. Freddie has been the subject of numerous high-profile media stories, leading to quite a bit of attention from the opposite sex.
Two days before Pacquiao-Margarito, a young blonde was chatting Roach up in the hotel.
“You don’t want to hang out with me,” Freddie told her. “I eat at Denny’s.”
One gets the feeling that Eddie Futch is looking down on Roach and smiling. One also gets the feeling that history will treat Freddie kindly. Like Futch, he ennobles the sport of boxing.
When a fighters hands are wrapped, the man doing the wrapping runs long strips of tape between each finger (other than the thumb) on each hand. Most trainers apply the tape flat; six strips in all. Roach likes to roll each strip vertically so they resemble sticks of incense. He calls the strips “ligaments.”
Sitting in Pacquiao’s dressing room, Roach began rolling the strips while conversing with Nelson and Keane.
“Manny loves to watch himself on television,” Freddie said. “Between rounds in Vegas, he watches himself on those big video screens. The first time it happened, I tapped him on the cheek to get his attention and he told me, ‘I’m listening.’ In Cowboys Stadium, he can’t see the screen because it’s above the ring, so I won’t have to compete for his attention.”
“Sometimes, when we’re getting ready to fight a guy who I know does something dirty, I’ll try to teach Manny the same tactic for retaliation. Manny will say to me, ‘Coach; I can’t do that.’ But there’s one trick I taught him that he likes. If the other guy goes wide with a hook to the body, you jam an elbow into the inside of his forearm before he lands. It’s legal, but it hurts like hell. [Guillermo] Rigondeaux did it to me once, and I had a bruise on the inside of my forearm for a month.”
Pacquiao is Roach’s signature fighter. There’s remarkable chemistry between them. Emanuel Steward observes, “It’s rare that you have a great boxer and a great trainer and the chemistry between them is this good. That’s one of the reasons they’ve done so well together.”
Roach began working with Pacquiao in 2001. At the time, Manny had awesome physical gifts but was largely a one-dimensional fighter. Jab, jab, straight left-hand. Roach improved his charge’s footwork, balance, and defensive skills; added a right hook to his arsenal; and brought consistency to his technique.
“Building a fighter from scratch is good in that the fighter doesn’t have any bad habits,” Freddie says. “But he doesn’t have any good habits either. Trust me; Manny had some good habits when I started with him.”
Cutman Miguel Diaz entered the dressing room. He was wearing black pants. Pacquiao won’t wear black for a fight and he doesn’t like anyone in his corner to wear black either.
“Don’t worry about it,” Roach told Diaz. “You’re wearing a red jacket. Manny won’t notice.”
At 7:20, by prearrangement, an observer from Margarito’s camp entered. Because of the Margarito handwrap scandal, it had been agreed that each side would have a representative in the opposing fighter’s dressing room for the entire pre-fight proceedings and each trainer would fashion his fighter’s knucklepads in front of the observer and a commission inspector.
Billy Keane left for Margarito’s dressing room.
Roach began folding gauze into knucklepads.
At 8:05, Buboy Fernandez (Pacquiao’s assistant trainer and longtime friend) arrived; a sure sign that Manny was in the building.
Buboy arranged Pacquiao’s trunks, robe, and shoes (a color-coordinated white with gold trim) on a rubdown table.
Diaz’s red corner jacket was adorned with advertising logos from a previous fight.
“Buboy,” Miguel queried. “Is the advertising on this jacket okay, or will it be a problem?”
“No problem for me,” Buboy answered. “They’re not paying me for the advertising. They’re paying Manny.”
At 8:10, Pacquiao entered with thirty-six people in tow. The group included adviser Michael Koncz, Geng Gacal (Manny’s longtime lawyer), and Wakee Salud (a close friend).
Word came that Margarito had weighed in on “the unofficial HBO scale” at 170 pounds. With a five-pound deduction for the clothes he was wearing, that translated into 165 pounds. Manny was at least seventeen pounds lighter.
The dressing room was cleared of non-essential personnel.
Pacquiao put on his trunks and did some stretching exercises.
“I’m going over to watch Margarito wrap,” Roach told him. “If you need anything, ask Miguel. Is that okay?”
With Diaz assisting him, Manny started to wrap his own hands. Margarito’s representative objected to virtually everything, including the tape provided by the commission and the knucklepads approved by the commission. The inspector overruled the objections.
Margarito’s co-manager, Sergio Diaz, entered and lodged more objections. They too were overruled.
Roach returned. Diaz finished wrapping.
At 9:30, there was a problem. Billy Keane telephoned Alex Ariza to report that Margarito was about to take Ephedrine (an appetite suppressant and stimulant) nasally.
“When you stack Ephedrine with caffeine and aspirin,” Ariza responded, “you get speed.”
Keane said that three cups of coffee had been delivered to Margarito’s dressing room.
“It won’t show up in his urine unless we test him before the fight,” Ariza told Roach. “An ECA stack burns out quickly. A post-fight test will be too late.”
Michael Koncz left the dressing room to file a complaint with the commission.
William Kuntz (executive director of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation) and Dickie Cole (administrator of combat sports) arrived for an impromptu hearing
“I want a drug test right now,” Roach demanded.
“You focus on what you have to do,” Ariza told Pacquiao. “Let the rest of them handle this bullshit.”
Pacquiao started doing stretching exercises and shadow boxing.
Robert Garcia entered and complained that no one from the Margarito camp had been present when Roach rolled the ligaments earlier in the evening. He wanted Pacquiao to rewrap.
“It’s pieces of tape,” Roach countered. “Your guy looked at them and didn’t have a problem.”
Tempers flared. People from both camps started shouting. Pacquiao looked at Peter Nelson and winked.
Kuntz and Cole announced that they wouldn’t administer a pre-fight urine test even though Ephedrine is a controlled drug and its use would be against commission regulations.
Garcia’s complaint was overruled.
Keane reported that Margarito had agreed not to use the Ephedrine.
Pacquiao finished warming up.
Once a fighter steps into the ring and the bell for round one sounds, nothing that he has accomplished before matters.
It was a hard-fought battle before an exuberant noisy crowd. The first two rounds were cautiously contested. Margarito was a bit less aggressive than expected. Pacquiao’s fast hands kept Antonio at bay.
In round three, Margarito began stalking in more determined fashion. Pacquiao circled, darting in and out, alternating between getting off first and landing sharp counter blows.
In round four, the landscape tilted lopsidedly in Manny’s favor.
“Sports are about angles,” Roach says. “In any sport, if you can obtain the angle, you put yourself in a better position to win. The basic formula in boxing is that, if you don’t stand in front of a guy, you’re not going to get hit as much. You put the other guy in a position where he has to move his feet to hit you. If you do that properly – and it’s a very quick aggressive move to do it right – when the other guy moves his feet to hit you, he’ll turn into your punch. Manny can make that move. Not everybody can.”
In the fourth round, Pacquiao raked Margarito with hard lightning-fast punches. One minute into the stanza, he landed a left uppercut as Margarito turned into the blow. Seconds later, Antonio’s face was grotesquely swollen and discolored beneath his right eye and blood was dripping from a cut that would require six stitches to close.
Now Margarito was on his back foot, giving ground. Round five was more of the same. But at the start of round six, Manny looked a bit tired. Take away the swelling beneath Antonio’s right eye and Margarito might have seemed the fresher of the two men. With thirty seconds left in the round, he backed Pacquiao into the ropes and dug a vicious left hook to the liver. Manny doubled over in pain and spent the next twenty seconds in retreat.
“I was a little worried in the sixth round,” Roach admitted afterward.
“He hurt me,” Pacquiao would acknowledge.
At that point, Margarito was behind in the fight but very much in it. He’d entered the battle in top physical condition, and the energy level between the combatants seemed to be shifting on some primitive level.
Margarito began round seven by going to the body. Pacquiao, as he’d done before, circled and darted in and out. One of the things that makes him effective is his ability to score while his opponent is punching. The combatants resembled a grizzly bear swatting with his paw at a swarm of killer bees.
Over the next few rounds, Pacquiao landed the more numerous blows, firing back and landing multiple punches each time he was hit. As the bout progressed, it began to take on the look of a man smashing a boulder to pebbles with a sledgehammer.
By round ten, Margarito’s right eye was useless and his left eye was closing, which meant that he was fighting with half an eye. The right side of his face was disfigured to the point of mutilation. Referee Laurence Cole stopped the action, raised his left hand to cover Margarito’s right eye, and asked the fighter how many fingers he was holding up. Margarito answered. The action resumed. But Antonio was now defenseless against Pacquiao’s onslaught.
With twenty seconds left in round ten, as Margarito was plodding hopelessly forward, Pacquiao landed a sharp right hook to the jaw. Antonio’s legs buckled and Manny followed with a barrage of punches that left his opponent lurching back to his corner at the bell. He’d been blasted with sixty-four punches during the round; fifty-seven of them, power punches.
The ring doctor examined Margarito briefly from outside the ropes. He couldn’t look into Antonio’s right eye with a penlight because the eye was swollen shut.
Round eleven was target practice. On three occasions, Pacquiao stopped his assault and looked toward Cole; in effect, asking him to stop the fight. “Boxing is not for killing,” Manny said afterward. But Cole ignored the gesture and the carnage continued; although Pacquiao fought the rest of the bout with what seemed to be a blend of caution and compassion. His concern brought back memories of Bob Fitzsimmons, who said of the brutal beating that he administered to Nonpareil Jack Dempsey in 1891, “I was as kind to him as was possible under the circumstances.”
This writer gave Margarito the sixth round. The judges turned in similar cards, scoring the bout 120-108, 119-109, and 118-110 in Pacquiao’s favor. Overall, he out-landed Margarito 474 to 229 with a 153-to-32 advantage over the last nine minutes.
After the fight, Pacquiao went to Margarito’s dressing room, where Antonio’s cuts were being stitched up. They embraced and exchanged words of mutual respect. Then Manny hugged Antonio’s wife and left.
Margarito’s right orbital bone wasn’t just broken. It was splintered. Surgery to repair the damage couldn’t be performed until Tuesday, when the swelling had subsided.
Roach was critical of Robert Garcia for allowing the fight to continue. “There’s no doubt at all in my mind that he should have stopped it after the eighth round,” Freddie said. “Margarito had no chance to win by then and his face was a mess. After round ten, I thought, ‘They have to stop it now. If the corner doesn’t stop it, someone else will.’ But they didn’t. Margarito might never fight again after this. For sure, he won’t be the same fighter.”
Roach weighed his next words carefully before speaking: “Those guys shouldn’t have made fun of my physical condition. After what happened tonight, Antonio might have some of the same problems.”
Too many people in boxing today who are responsible for stopping a fight don’t.
Doctors, cornermen, and referees sometimes forget that fighters have a life beyond the ring. They’re not just fighters. They’re husbands, fathers, sons. In some instances, they’re irrevocably damaged because of punishment they take in the ring.
The cut beneath Margarito’s right eye wasn’t a major problem. What was happening beneath the cut was. The area swelled up so quickly and in such grotesque fashion that one could assume there was a fracture. That could lead to further splintering of the bone (which happened) and problems with the muscles and nerves around the eye.
Also, there came a time when Margarito had no chance of winning the fight and was no longer able to defend himself. He was still on his feet, but couldn’t see the punches coming or stop Pacquiao from landing at will. The only issue was how much more damage (some of it permanent) he would suffer.
After each of the late rounds in Dallas, an HBO cameraman jumped in the ring for a close-up look at Margarito’s mutilated features. The ring doctor didn’t. In the future, perhaps that process could be reversed.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao’s future appears bright. It takes a while to properly assign the word “great” to a fighter. But it can now be said that Manny is great. As David Greisman wrote recently, “He can do it with four hundred punches and he can do it with one. He can do it with power and he can do it with speed. He has stood in with more powerful punchers and taken their hardest shots. He has broken down men who said he could not hurt them.”
Pacquiao is so dynamic in the ring that, at times, he seems like a video-game action hero. But what he does is real. He would have been competitive with the best in any era.
Boxing grinds the dreams of most fighters to dust, but Pacquiao’s dreams are flourishing. In recent years, his self-belief has grown, both as a fighter and as a person. Ronnie Nathanielsz, who has followed Manny since the formative stages of his career, observes, “What drove him initially was personal. He was fighting to earn a living. After he grew in stature, country and people came first.”
Now Pacquiao is a symbol of hope and a true “people’s champion.” He enjoys that status.
When asked about his purpose in life, Manny answers, “It is to love and to serve. My concern is not only for myself but for what I can give to the people of my country.”
Unlike many politicians, he means it. He is what he appears to be and sees the struggle of every Filipino in his own torturous journey.
“I feel what they are feeling because I have been there,” Pacquiao says. “I slept in the streets. I ate once a day. Sometimes I just drank water, no food. That was my life before. So hard. I understand the needs of people who need help. My heart hurts when I see people in the street, sleeping. I remember my past when I was young.”
Through his work in the ring, Pacquiao has lifted the spirits of his people. Through his work in Congress, he hopes for more tangible gains. He appears to harbor dreams of being elected president of the Philippines. Would that be any more remarkable than what he has accomplished so far?
No sport other than boxing has given rise to an athlete who moved passions, lifted spirits, and impacted on an entire nation in the manner of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali. Now Manny Pacquiao is having a similar effect in the Philippines and beyond.
We are witnessing a great fighter, who is also a good person. Enjoy the show while it lasts. Manny Pacquiao belongs to the Philippines and to the world. But he also belongs to boxing.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (“Waiting For Carver Boyd”) was published by JR Books and can be purchased at http://www.amazon.co.uk/ or http://www.abebooks.com.
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