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"And I'm going like this for 60 miles," Pepper remembers years later, showing how he would bend over during those bus rides. Pacquiao was paid $30,000 for that fight, against Fahprakorb "3K Battery" Rakkiatjim at Rizal Memorial College gymnasium. Pepper received $3,000, the trainer's standard 10 percent, barely enough to cover his travel expenses.
"Ah, but it was fun," Pepper says, relishing the memory. "Nobody paid to watch that fight. There was a hole in the fence and people slipped through. Nobody made any money."
The money would come. Because under Freddie "La Cucaracha" Roach's guidance, Pacquiao began to win. Big. "His inner drive is unbelievable. His willingness to learn," Roach says of his protégé. "I've never seen anything like it." The raw materials were there. Pacquiao just didn't know how to use them.
Speed and power are his genetic gifts. Poverty's gifts are hunger, endurance, a killer work ethic, the capacity to suffer.
Roach molded Pacquiao into a devastating fighter. He took the boxer's wild, reckless, mad-dog swinging and gave it strategy. They worked on footwork, on getting both hands equal. A month after he walked into Roach's gym, in his first fight in the United States, Pacquiao stepped in on two weeks' notice as a last-minute replacement against South African boxer Lehlohonolo Ledwaba. By round three, Ledwaba's gloves were slippery with his own blood, his white shorts stained pink. Elated, Pacquiao brought home the IBF super-bantamweight title.
One by one, the greats dropped to their knees before him: Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar Larios, Jorge Solis. Pacquiao left Eric Morales sitting dumbfounded against the ropes like he'd had a very bad day at the office. He used David Diaz's head as target practice. Oscar De La Hoya, he dismantled. Left him perched on a stool, humiliated, stunned, a deer caught in headlights.
Ricky Hatton, pride of England? Lights out, nobody home. Out cold in round two before his head even hit the canvas. Most recently, Pacquiao broke Miguel Cotto, whose handsome face swelled like a pumpkin.
Pacquiao hits them at weird angles. His punches are surgical. There are moments in the ring when you catch a glimpse of it in his otherwise soulful face, that great and terrible lust for violence.
He became known as "The Mexicutioner," "The Destroyer" and "The National Fist," a stark contrast to his other nickname, the sweet, childlike "PacMan." Each time he wins, it is his country's retribution for years of grinding poverty and oppression. It is an awful lot for a man to carry. Roach, who grew up in Boston's projects and knows something about hardship, believes if Pacquiao hadn't grown up poor, he wouldn't be the fighter he is today; wouldn't have sought the brutal way out that boxing offers.
"Rich people don't have drive," says Roach. "They're comfortable."
2. BIG NUMBERS
In some ways, the only way to understand 31-year-old Pacquiao is by the numbers.
The number of crunches he does in one day: 1,400.
The number of calories he eats in one day: 7,000.
The number of calories he burns: upward of 5,000.
The number of hours he sleeps at night: He tries to hit eight (with a midday nap) but sometimes misses. "Sometimes he can't sleep. He's got a lot on his mind," says conditioning coach Alex Ariza.
The number of days he gets off a week: one.
Sunday, the Lord's day, is the only day Pacquiao rests.
Even as he has gone up in weight to his current 147 pounds, the PacMan has lost none of his speed. "Manny is high-intensity," says Ariza. "We have to slow him down as it is."
Pacquiao wakes up at the crack of dawn, then runs four miles in Griffith Park, all of them uphill.
"Yes, I can run it, but I don't know anyone who can run it as fast as Manny," says Ariza. The only creature who can keep up with Pacquiao, who can match his boundless energy, is "Pacman," the pet Jack Russell terrier with whom he shares a name.
Afterward, he puts in four more punishing hours at the gym — stretching, jumping rope, doing one-handed push-ups on an inflatable ball, sparring or hitting the mitts, lifting weights and pummeling a speed bag. Every day, a member of his entourage strikes him repeatedly in the stomach with a wooden stick. It is a Thai technique to deaden the nerves.
Asked if the stick was his idea, Roach snorts. "Fuck, no. You hit me with a stick, I'll get my gun out," he says, then mumbles unintelligibly about "kung fu bullshit." Better to make your opponent miss. Better to not get punched at all.
The boxer leads a life of strange extremes. "Manny's a different person in the Philippines," says Campos, the biographer. "They treat him as a demigod. He can still walk around shopping malls in Los Angeles. In Manila, it's chaos. He doesn't have a normal life anymore. That's why he likes coming here."
In Southern California, he can play basketball, eat out. But there is an increasing element of surreality to his life here, too. When he plays poker at Commerce Casino, he sometimes goes with actor Tobey Maguire. When he spars, Mark Wahlberg comes to the gym to watch, and after one fight, the entire Boston Celtics team hung out with him in the locker room.