Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is L.A. a safe haven for Manny Pacquiao?

Pacquiao pictured recently at Freddie Roach's Wild Card Gym in Hollywood.

Many of you may have read the story that two of Manny Pacquiao’s campaign aides were assassinated last month in his home province of Sarangani in the Philippines. They were gunned down while laying the groundwork for the pound-for-pound champ’s congressional run in the upcoming May elections.

While the political game here in the United States is serious - politics in the Philippines is a very serious game - deadly serious. The fight for control of the political process in the country is more savage than any opponent Pacquiao has ever met in the squared circle.

When Pacquiao is at home in the Philippines, he is guarded around the clock by a phalanx of bodyguards that look critically at anyone that approaches. They also tote machine guns. Pacquiao’s palatial home is cordoned off by high fences and nobody is allowed into the compound unless they are first cleared by security.

The threat of kidnapping, robbery and extortion is a daily concern for Pacquiao, his wife Jinkee and their entire family. Such is life when you are one of the most wealthy individuals in a country mired in poverty and characterized by hopelessness. The average per capita monthly income for a Filipino is a lowly $275. Manny Pacquiao earned upwards of $40 million in 2009.

But life is different when Manny comes to California.

He is extremely accessible when he does his training runs in the Hollywood Hills with his pet Jack Russell Terrier attentively trotting alongside. Pretty much anyone can walk up to Manny and obtain his autograph. Hang around outside Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym on Vine Street in Hollywood and you are guaranteed to get up close to the “Pac-Man”. Manny likes to play pick-up games of basketball and he attracts large crowds that strain to get close to him. Pretty much anybody can get in on the action if they so desire.

No matter where he goes, the world's top pound-for-pound fighter always attracts large crowds.

So you can probably understand there are some who fear for his safety as he trains in Los Angeles for his upcoming bout on March 13 against Joshua Clottey.

“We think about it, but we try not to think about it, that stuff, when we are here in L.A.,” a member of Team Pacquiao recently told me. “When we are here we think about making sure everything is okay for Manny and that he has what he needs so that he can win. We keep it loose, keep it fun and try to keep his mind off the things that could happen.”

Surely if anybody wanted to get to Manny, who is as happy-go-lucky a person as you will ever meet, here in America would be an easier place than at home in the Philippines.

“Yes, when we are here, the guns, they go away. We don‘t need ‘em,” said the Pacquiao confidant. “We don’t worry here. Here, everybody loves Manny.”

It is the job of Rob Peters to keep a watchful eye on Pacquiao when he is in Los Angeles. Peters ensures that Manny safely makes it to all of his engagements - including the fight. It is Peters that barks at those in the parking lot of the Wild Card Gym that try to park where they aren’t supposed to or make attempts to barge in on Pacquiao’s training sessions. It is Peters that stands watch outside the door of Nat’s Thai Food restaurant - a hole in the wall just steps from the gym where Manny routinely consumes his post-workout meal.

With hundreds of people milling about outside the gym, Peters sometimes loses his temper in his effort to balance the needs of Manny’s adoring fans- along with Manny’s desire to accommodate their autograph and picture requests.

After he destroyed Oscar De La Hoya in Dec. 2008, Pacquiao's popularity surged to new heights.

“You know, it’s always the same, the same as it always is when Manny is here,” says a somewhat exasperated Peters. “Lots of fans, lots of people, but it’s all good. We take it one day at a time.”

But with all of that - there is always the memory of what life is like back home in the Philippines. There is the thought that if the people that gunned down Pacquiao’s campaign workers decided to come here - that they could easily find him and easily get close to him.

“Yes, you are probably right in asking that question,” said the member of Team Pacquiao. “But Manny lives his life and he likes to be free. He likes to do what he wants when he wants and he likes to be close to the people. Manny is a man of the people and that’s why his people love him.”

February 2010

No comments: