MANILA, Philippines – Tuesday afternoon marked the official start of the sparring phase of Manny Pacquiao’s training camp for his Nov. 24 clash with Brandon Rios at the Venetian Resort in Macau, China.
Filipino middleweight Marlon Alta and Ghanaian welterweight Fredrick Lawson would have the honors of being the first to test Pacquiao’s punch resistance following his sixth-round knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez last December.
The early returns are that Pacquiao can still take a punch and has more fight left in him.
The eight-division world titleholder Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 knockouts) sparred two rounds each with Alta (12-3, 9 knockouts) and Lawson (21-0, 19 KOs) at the Pacman Wild Card Gym in General Santos City, Philippines. Both were motivated by a $1,500 bounty for each knockdown scored against Pacquiao.
Lawson’s manager Mike Altamura was one of nearly 100 observers on hand to witness the sessions. According to Altamura, Pacquiao began with Alta, whom he had done light sparring with the previous week after South Korean Min Wook-Kim failed to show up.
Alta, who stands 5-foot-10, is a former Philippine middleweight champion but hasn’t fought since being stopped in six rounds by Japan’s Makoto Fuchigami last October.
“With Alta, [Pacquiao] shifted and he moved a lot the first round,” Altamura tells RingTV.com. “[Pacquiao] kept imploring him to come in and punch him. Pretty much for the first minute and a half, Manny just blocked and defended, he didn’t really counter much. If you didn’t know what you were watching, you’d think the other guy was beating the f__k out of him.
“But Manny was just getting accustomed to the speed of the punches and letting him come forward,” continued Altamura. “The last minute and a half, he started turning it up and pushing him back. Round two was a Pacquiao clinic. Alta was pressing but Manny was timing him a lot more and catching him with 5-6-7 punch combinations. He was really sharp.”
Alta told RingTV.com afterwards that he was hurt with a Pacquiao left cross to the body in the second round.
Next up was Lawson, a former member of the Ghanaian amateur team and a prospective signee to MP Promotions. Altamura says that Pacquiao approached Lawson with the same initial caution he exercised with Alta before opening up later.
“He just had a good look at Fredrick, finding his range,” said Altamura. “Lawson caught him with some nice jabs – really stiff jabs – and dropped a few good right hands on him, but Manny found his timing a minute and a half in again. Freddie kept pressing him with good exchanges, Manny hit him in the exchanges but it was competitive.
“Then in the fourth round, Fredrick tired a bit. He shifted a bit too much on Manny so Manny kept imploring at him to pressure him. Manny was really sharp with his timing, caught him with some good right hooks and some fast 1-2s. Freddie landed a few good shots but it was very much a Pacquiao round. Manny outworked him. Manny hit him with a pretty hard low blow and they had a pretty good laugh about it. Manny then hit him with a good left hand over the top.”
Local boxing manager John Ray Manangquil was also in attendance. Having seen many of Pacquiao’s training sessions from past fights, he said he noticed a marked improvement in Pacquiao’s stamina at this point in training compared to the Marquez fight last year.
“Manny was very fast and aggressive,” said Manangquil. “He’s strong; every time he got tagged, he was saying to hit him more. He was saying ‘Punch more, punch more.’ [Pacquiao] is not really punching that hard because [Lawson] just arrived, but give him three more days.”
Manangquil felt Lawson was an effective sparring partner for Pacquiao.
“His punches are crispy. I think he will bring the best of Manny Pacquiao. He’s so fast.”
Altamura feels that Lawson moved too much during the sparring session, which is in contrast to the aggressive, come-forward approach of the former WBA lightweight titleholder Rios (31-1-1, 23 KOs). Then again, that is the style that Lawson is most comfortable with.
“The only thing is we probably moved too much on Manny,” said Altamura. “He’s got to come forward a lot more. We need to mimic Rios a bit more.
“I think it’s hard finding your timing on the first session against a fleet-footed southpaw. Maybe it’s a slight confidence thing, but I think once he gets more familiar he’ll start pressing more. Freddy is a good boxer-mover. I told [Pacquiao advisor Michael] Koncz before we got here that Freddy can fight on the front foot, but he’s probably 60-40 on the back foot when he fights. Freddy moves better than Rios and has punches in his arsenal that Rios doesn’t have. Not saying he’s a better fighter, but he’s very different stylistically, so it’ll take some adjusting.”
Lawson seemed to grow in confidence after his first time in the ring with a fighter the caliber of Pacquiao. “It was a good sparring session,” Lawson said. “Manny is a good boxer, a good puncher and good at movement.
“But the next time I work with him, I’m going to catch him.”
Altamura said that sparring will be resume on Saturday afternoon, with sessions on Tuesday and Thursday scheduled for next week.
Pacquiao’s head trainer Freddie Roach is set to arrive in General Santos City next Monday, with rehired strength and conditioning coach Justin Fortune set to arrive Sunday. Roach is said to be bringing with him a pair of sparring partners to join the Pacquiao camp.
Photos / Ryan Songalia
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine and GMA News. He can be reached at [email protected]. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.