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ON THE ROAD TO THE CLASH IN COTAI: A voyage to the world of Pacquiao and boxing
Manny Pacquiao and boxers from China and Hong Kong are training furiously in a remote and restful city on the southern tip of the Philippines to prepare themselves for the fights that will take place at the Cotai Arena on November 24.
Mindanao is known to be home to guerilla warfare, but “not here in Gensan,” several residents told us. It’s the “only city on the island that is secure and peaceful without any record of violence,” contrary to what happens elsewhere on the island, especially in the northwest. Just this month, there were five days of intensive fighting between rebels and regular troops that disrupted communications for the entire island, including Pacquiao’s hometown.
Life in General Santos revolves around the “PacMan”, Pacquiao’s boxing nickname.
Everybody knows Manny, and many know him personally. People of Gensan – making up diminutives is a national pastime here – are very amicable and being Manny’s guest opens doors.
Once the pound-for-pound king, Manny is preparing himself for the ultimate fight in Macau, against American Brandon Rios. And he has a message to Brandon: “I’m going to win.”
But although Manny is a man of great faith, nothing is being left to chance.
“If the fight was to be tomorrow, Manny would not be prepared,” Freddie Roach, his legendary coach, told us. “But the fight is in a month, so he is where he should be now. He will be ready to win in the right time, by the time of the fight.”
That is probably why this training camp is one of the longest preparations of Pacquiao’s boxing career. “I [started to] train earlier because I want to prove that I can still fight in the top (tier) of boxing,” Manny told reporters last week in his heavily guarded mansion, where he welcomed more than 50 journalists, celebrities and other guests.
Freddie Roach and Manny
“This time my preparation is more serious, more focused. My mind is like when I was 20 years old.”
A former champion in an unprecedented eight weight divisions, Pacquiao, 34, is seeking to come back from two consecutive defeats, which have led supporters to question if he should hang up his gloves.
The Filipino boxer hero lost a controversial split decision to American Timothy Bradley in June last year, then suffered a sixth-round knockout to Mexican arch rival Juan Manuel Marquez in December.
Pacquiao said he had come to terms with his shock defeat to Marquez, reasoning that losing was inevitable during a long sporting career.
“I don’t think I made a mistake in that fight. If you look back…I had 100 percent conditioning, aggressiveness. That [defeat] is part of boxing. I accept 100 percent what happened in the last fight,” he said.
In the interview, Pacquiao also said his match against American Brandon Rios in Macau next month would be “a good window” to promote boxing in China, and that he felt “honored to take part” in the landmark bout. He also admitted that Macau appears to be the ideal place to host high-profile boxing events.
Manny is a man of faith – you can see quotes from the Bible in his home and gym
Bob Arum, the TopRank boss and a legendary figure in the world of boxing couldn’t agree more. In a short interview with the Times during a training session at Pacquiao’s gym, Bob said that “It’s going to be an unbelievable show and I’m very, very excited. There will be a lot of good fights. I think the main event… it’s going to be spectacular. Brandon Rios is an unstoppable aggressive fighter and Manny gives everything in the ring.”
Bob Arum believes Macau can also be the capital of boxing in Asia. “As it happened with boxing going to Vegas, I think Macau, which is an even bigger gaming market, will attract more and more big fights.”
Manny’s boxing fame helped him to pursue a successful political career in the Philippines, and he is now a second-term congressman with ambitions of eventually running for president. But “let’s focus now on this fight,” he said, laughing, when asked if he still dreams of higher power in politics. On the question of which career is tougher, the fighting or politics? No definitive answer to that: “Depends.”
Manny was elected as a Congressman in the Sarangani province in the Philippines. He is also a recording artist and an action-movie star in his home country.
His “rags to riches” story is inspiring. Against all odds, a 14-year-old kid living in the slums of Manila goes on to become one of the world’s most recognizable and revered athletes. He has already been the subject of books and movies, is featured in video games, and is on a postage stamp in the Philippines.
Manny was voted “2009 Fighter of the Year” and “Fighter of the Decade 2000-2009” by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Being a national hero in the Philippines, the entire country of over 96 million people comes to a virtual standstill to watch him whenever he fights. The next standstill will be the morning of November 24 – live from the Venetian Arena – where Manny is fighting one of the most important fights of his career.
The writer was at General Santos at the invitation of Sands China
Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao
Age: 34 (12-17-78)
Residence: Kiamba, Sarangani Province, Philippines
Birthplace: Kibawe, Philippines
Record: 54-5-2, 38 KOs
Stance: Left handed
Advisor: Michael Koncz
Trainer: Freddie Roach (five-time Boxing Writers Association of America “Trainer of the Year;” inducted into International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2012)
“Bam Bam” Brandon Rios
Age: 27 (4-29-86)
Residence: Oxnard, California
Birthplace: Lubbock, Texas
Record: 31-1-1, 22 KOs
Stance: Right handed
Managers: Cameron Dunkin (Boxing Writers Association of America “2007 Manager of the Year”), Robert Garcia (Boxing Writers Association of America “2012 Trainer of the Year;” former IBF junior lightweight world champion)
Trainer: Robert Garcia
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