BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The Cooyeesan Hotel in Baguio City, Philippines has been Manny Pacquiao’s training camp headquarters for the past three years, but this camp is different.
Gone are the late nights and vices that Pacquiao says he has given up in the wake of becoming a Born Again Christian. In their place are nightly bible studies, which Pacquiao opens with a medley of spiritual hymns. Manny’s wife Jinkee stands right beside him, singing in the chorus.
The processions are attended by locals from the mountain community six hours north of Manila, and on some nights more than 100 people are in the auditorium singing along. Religion, like Pacquiao himself, has been a source of hope to the impoverished citizens of the archipelago nation.
“Being born again of the spirit is not about my boxing career, it’s about my life, my salvation,” said Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 knockouts). “I want to have eternal life and this boxing is just my job. I pray not only myself also I praying for my family.”
Also gone are the marathon basketball games at the hotel’s gymnasium, where Pacquiao would play 40 minute games after completing his workouts for the day. Freddie Roach, who has trained the eight-division titleholder from General Santos City, Philippines for more than a decade, feels that basketball may have contributed to the leg cramps he complained of prior to some of his recent matches.
About five weeks ahead of Pacquiao’s June 9 showdown against junior welterweight beltholder Timothy Bradley (28-0, 12 KOs) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nev., Roach says that Pacquiao is showing glimpses of his explosive form, though the spots are not as consistent as they will be as they approach peak form closer to the fight.
“He’s doing OK. Obviously we’re just getting started and I don’t expect him to be ready for the fight yet,” Roach told RingTV.com on Tuesday afternoon following a Pacquiao workout session. “We have five and a half weeks to go and by fight time we’ll be on course. He’s pushing himself. I was a little bit worried about how his work ethic would be but it’s good as always.”
Just moments earlier, Pacquiao had finished up sparring six rounds with a pair of Russian pros, junior welterweight prospect Ruslan Provodnikov (21-1, 14 KOs) and former lightweight contender Rustam Nugaev (22-6-1, 12 KOs). Provodnikov started off the session already sporting a black eye underneath his right eye from prior sessions with Pacquiao. The 28-year-old boxer-puncher came in low as Pacquiao moved along the ropes. Provodnikov looked to corner PacMan against the ropes, only to have his advances met by uppercuts.
In the third, Pacquiao utilized the double ear clap – a move that drew a warning in the Joshua Clottey fight in 2010 – to get around Provodnikov’s guard, but the rugged Russian returned the favor, then blasted Pacquiao with a thunderous overhand right, followed by heavy body shots. Yet as Pacquiao’s body work began to take effect, Provodnikov began to breathe from his mouth audibly and after four he was replaced by Nugaev.
Nugaev, who at 5-foot-10 is four inches taller than Provodnikov and Pacquiao, was not as heavy a puncher as Provodnikov but kept up a busier clip. Nugaev is familiar with Pacquiao, having helped prepare him for the second Erik Morales and Oscar de la Hoya fights. Their session only lasted two rounds, but Nugaev earned his pay over six minutes of work.
“I think Manny’s laying on the ropes a little bit too much,” said Roach. “It seems like when Ruslan has success, Manny is on the ropes. As he gets in shape, we’ll see less of it.”
Pacquiao finished up the workout with conditioning work assisted by Marvin Somodio and Nonoy Neri, who have picked up the slack following conditioning coach Alex Ariza’s abrupt departure to join WBC middleweight titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Pacquiao says that he has been texting with Ariza and that Ariza will be in his corner on fight night.
“I really can’t say anything really about Alex Ariza except that he left,” said Roach. “So we’re doing what we can. Marvin is doing a great job handling the day-to-day chores that Alex did. One thing about Manny Pacquiao is that every morning so far that Alex was here and he wanted him to go to the track, Manny wouldn’t go to the track. So he didn’t listen to him anyway, so are we really missing him? Manny Pacquiao knows how to get in shape, he’s done it for a long time, he knows his body and I’m confident with that.”
While it’s indisputable that the talent and will to train hard is still there, some have wondered aloud if Pacquiao still has the killer instinct that overcame many of this past decades toughest fighters like Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Miguel Cotto.
“I’m still hungry to win the fight,” said Pacquiao. “I want to win the fight and give a good show. My first concern is how I can give a good fight to the people so I don’t want to disappoint them.”
Turning the subject to Bradley, who most recently stopped former champ Joel Casamayor on the undercard of Pacquiao’s third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez in November, Pacquiao feels that he has his 28-year-old opponent well scouted.
“The style of Bradley is different from the others because he loves to come on the inside,” said Pacquiao. “We created a strategy that we can use in the fight, especially timing the head movement, in-and-out, that’s a very effective strategy. We have to throw the jab side by side.
“I’m expecting that he will fight me toe-to-toe that night.”
Roach also feels that the fight will be exciting. While some theorize that Bradley will try to counterpunch in the manner that brought Marquez success against Pacquiao, Roach doesn’t think Bradley can resist sticking his nose in and mixing it up.
“The thing about Bradley, he’s a hard worker, he says he’s the hardest worker in the world, I said I think I have the hardest working fighter in the world,” said Roach. “Bradley says he’s going to outlast Manny and that he’ll break him down and get Manny tired in the fight, and I plan on doing the same thing to him. He’s a hard worker, Bradley is like Manny Pacquiao; he’s a machine and works hard. Fighters are undefeated world champions for a reason and that’s why these guys are world champions, because they work hard.”
Photos / Ryan Songalia
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.