Manny Pacquiao: The Fight of His Life | News | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Manny Pacquiao: The Fight of His Life 

Boxer goes for his greatest win yet — congressman

Thursday, Mar 11 2010
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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.

click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY KEVIN SCANLON - Pound for pound, the world's greatest fighter
 

Pacquiao, who splits his time between continents, owns a sprawling $2.5 million mansion in Hancock Park. But when in Los Angeles, he sleeps in a small fraternity house–like apartment on La Brea Boulevard with 10 members of his entourage. They sing karaoke and cook white rice and tinolang manok, a soupy Filipino dish of chicken and green papaya. Meanwhile, in the mansion, dust gathers on the chandeliers.

Asked why they don't stay there, one of his many assistants, a lanky guy named Prem, shrugs. "Ma sisira kasi ang bahay." Because the house will get destroyed.

Despite the record-setting gate sales and HBO Pay Per View buys, Pacquiao has kept his humble tastes, still feels the gravitational tug of the poor Philippine shantytown from which he has otherwise escaped. "Other boxers come on fast, strong and mouthy," says Campos. "Manny is the antithesis of those people. He doesn't sell his fights by saying, 'I'm gonna eat your family.' Mike Tyson did that."

Pacquiao is a religious man, but to him, God and the violence are not contradictory. Those closest to him say he believes he was touched by the Almighty to help the people of the Philippines. On a secular level, he has been known to quote from the movie Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility. When he prays, he asks the lord to protect him, to protect his opponent. After each fight, as each competitor lies gasping on the mat, the first words out of Pacquiao's mouth are, "Thank you, God." He beats them hard, but his opponents feel honored. "You are still my idol," Pacquiao says, minutes after he destroys De La Hoya.

"No," says De La Hoya. "You are mine."

The day after the Boxing Writers' Association named him Fighter of the Year and Fighter of the Decade, Pacquiao playfully punches the conditioning coach like a tiger batting at a mouse. "No. No. No!" cries Ariza. "You did that to me last time."

"I'm not strong," Pacquiao teases. You could teach an anatomy lesson off his legs. His calves are huge, the muscles striated.

As his popularity grew, so did the crowds at the Wild Card. Pacquiao would get distracted and start entertaining the audience. Roach now kicks people out. "My gym has become a tourist attraction," Roach says. "I don't want him performing for them. I want him to perform for me."

Men line up, ready to provide whatever the boxer needs: One guy to carry the white towel Pacquiao wipes his nose on. One guy to squirt warm water into his mouth. One guy to tell him funny stories. One guy to slather him with cologne. Two guys to lace up his green practice gloves — a man for the left hand, another for the right. Pacquiao's entourage swells with each fight. There is an inner circle of some 15 guys, but the total hovers around 50.

"Never hit the bone because you'll hurt your hand," says Roach, as Pacquiao hits Roach's mitts with painful-sounding smacks, an ineffable sense of play in his movement. "Take that body apart."

Pacquiao smiles. "Coach, I know your thinking."

Everyone wanted a Mayweather match: Roach, Pacquiao, the fans, the promoters and managers and press men and boxing historians. Everyone except perhaps Mayweather himself. Instead, they're getting Joshua Clottey, a welterweight from Ghana. Pacquiao works on creeping in beneath Clottey's longer reach.

"Nice shot," gasps Roach, when Pacquiao lands a brutal body shot to the side of the coach's ribs. "That's the liver. Nothing he can do about that one."

"Boxing is 70 percent mental," says one of the men watching, Mike Levy, who manages boxer Steve Forbes, who now hopes to be coached by Roach.

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