Tuesday, August 21, 2007

THE FAVORITE SON OF THE PHILIPPINES


From left: Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera, pictured last week in Beverly Hills, California will next meet again on October 6th in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Events Center

Manny Pacquiao, who is one of the few bright lights in the sky of boxing, likes it hot.

And it’s a good thing, because as Pacquiao opens training camp in Cebu City, Philippines for his October 6th rematch with Marco Antonio Barrera the forecast for this week is continued hot and steamy weather with the mercury topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit and a chance of thunderstorms.

But Manny Pacquiao wouldn’t have it any other way.

Over the past decade or so, only Mike Tyson has captured the interest and fascination of boxing fans in the manner that this little Filipino spitfire does and now Pacquiao is learning a thing or two about the type of heat that the magnifying glass of the world can generate.

Just how hot is the demand for Manny Pacquiao and what is it like to live inside the vortex that has become his life? Well, he recently signed a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with Nike, joining blockbuster names like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods – which is even more incredible when you realize that Manny Pacquiao barely speaks English.

He has been the subject of drawn out tugs-of-war among the most powerful of American fight promoters and the most astute boxing managers. In his home country his every move is scrutinized, analyzed and examined. He recently ran in a campaign for a congressional seat “to help my people” but he lost that fight, something that has only happened to him inside a boxing ring once in the past eight years.

Whatever Manny Pacquiao does and wherever he goes it is newsworthy in the Philippines, even if it isn’t news at all. Paparazzi, gossip hounds and those that run the rumor mills churn out page after page that tell of Pacquiao’s out of the ring exploits. Even here in America his face graces everything from the cover of The Ring magazine to the marquees of Las Vegas casinos.

But his life and what is said and written about him has gotten out of hand. So much so that the usually happy-go-lucky 28 year-old has filed a lawsuit for libel against the writers that shadow his every move. They said he gambles too much, spends all night playing in billiard games and that he may not be a faithful husband. He became fed up with what he calls “untruths” and he claimed what was being written about him was nothing more than fabrication.

Whatever the case with Pacquiao and his personal life, he is one of the best if not the very best fighter on the planet and maybe that’s all that should be said or written about him.

The Philippine people are believers in a long list of their old proverbs and perhaps Pacquiao thought of this one before he filed his court papers, “He who cackled is the guilty party.”

But if you know Manny Pacquiao you know that he doesn’t stay mad for very long. He is quick to smile and even in these times of speculation and rumor, Pacquiao decided to show that he was not out to undo everything that is written about him. So on Sunday he took a break from the rigors of his boxing preparations under the watchful eye of trainer Freddie Roach and played a friendly game of basketball with a group of Filipino hacks.

“This is to prove that Pacquiao is not hostile to sportswriters. He just wishes that they could be more careful with what they are writing,” a member of the Pacquiao inner circle told the Philippine Daily Inquirer “He can be nice and play a game with them, but he can also sue them if they cross the line.”

His Filipino lawyer, Franklin Gacal, said the contract with Nike has a morals clause which states that Pacquiao should keep a “good image” and that if Nike believed the falsehoods that were written then the contract would be in jeopardy which could end up costing Pacquiao an untold fortune.

And like any athlete that has gone corporate, Pacquiao now lets his lawyer do the talking for him from time-to-time. “The moment he has a bad image is considered a violation of the contract,” says Gacal.

His trainer Freddie Roach often worries about his charge. So much so that Roach dropped everything and made the long slog across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines to watch over Pacquiao as he prepares to face Barrera in their rematch. Roach calls Pacquiao a “one of a kind” and a fighter “that is unlike all the others.”

Their training camp was supposed to take place in Los Angeles at Roach’s Wild Card Gym but at the last moment, and unbeknown to Roach, Pacquiao fled Beverly Hills, California after the press conference to announce the Barrera fight and flew back to the Philippines. He announced he would be training within the friendly confines of his native land and not in America because he said Barrera “has spies” in California.

Most observers see the rematch against Barrera as a foregone conclusion and they perceive the Mexican as a fighter well past his best days. Even though Barrera is still a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter they view Pacquiao as a typhoon-like force that will again overwhelm the 33 year-old Barrera. As a result, most are picking Pacquiao as an easy winner to repeat the victory of their first fight, which took place in November 2003.

Even “Nacho” Beristain, trainer of many Mexican champions and the current trainer of brothers Juan Manuel and Rafael Marquez (among others) doesn’t see a way that his countryman Barrera can win. “It will be difficult for Barrera to win,” Beristain told the Mexican press last week. “Pacquiao has the style that complicates things for Barrera. He is fast, elusive and left-handed.”

But Roach is cautious and guarded when he hears such talk. “Barrera’s a durable guy,” he warns. “A lot of people are saying that this is going to be an easy fight, but Manny has to be in shape to win it. Barrera will come out fighting because there’s a lot of pride at stake for him in this one. He’s said this is it for him so we’re expecting him to be at his best.”

With the fight only seven weeks away, Roach and Pacquiao finally got down to serious business this week. Manny began his sparring sessions and as usual, he summoned his unique ability to put the rest of the world and the turmoil that envelopes him on hold while he focuses on his training.

In the words of an old Filipino proverb: “To a fearless person, no fence is high enough.”

August 2007