Closed camp policy for Pacquiao’s good
Freddie Roach (right) had to open his gym to the media for Manny Pacquiao's promotional open workout last Wednesday, but the veteran trainer has closed his star fighter's sparring sessions to all but a select few in order to keep Pacquiao's focus on Ricky Hatton. Photo / Chris Farina-Top Rank
The Ricky Hatton-Manny Pacquiao junior welterweight championship fight is less than a week and a half away, and Freddie Roach is making sure his fighter is 100-percent focused in the final days leading into the biggest event of the year.
At least as focused and undistracted as boxer of Pacquiao’s stature can be.
To the chagrin of the media, the handlers of Pacquiao’s sparring partners, and the Wild Card gym’s employees and regulars, Roach has completely closed the pound-for-pound king’s workouts since an April 7 sparring session.
On that day, actors Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg sat in on Pacquiao’s nine-round sparring session with Mike Alvarado, Urbano Antillon and Raymond Serrano.
HBO’s 24/7 cameras caught the visit from the Hollywood A-listers, which was shown on the second episode last Saturday, but they didn’t show the rounds Pacquiao went with Alvarado, Antillon and Serrano. The producers of the acclaimed documentary-style boxing series showed a clip of Pacquiao dropping a sparring partner with a body shot after a ringside shot of Bale and Wahlberg, but that wasn’t the sparring session they watched.
The sparring partner who hit the deck was David Rodela; and the session took place last Monday, on April 13, six days and three sessions after the movie stars were present.
“That day was the final straw,” Roach said. “Manny had been playing around and talking during his sparring sessions more than ever this camp, but on that day he hit one of his sparring partners with a double punch — he hit his ears at the same time just to show off — and I thought to myself ‘Enough is enough, it’s time to get serious.'”
Pacquiao is looking very sharp in this camp. He’s almost untouchable when he keeps his focus, as he did when he sparred with Alvarado, a big junior welterweight contender from Colorado, for the first time on April 7; however, when Pacquiao locked horns with Antillon, an aggressive pressure fighter he’s more familiar with, his machismo and playful side sometimes got the better of him.
It was Antillon’s ears that were swatted by the infamous double-punch. However, Pacquiao’s talking, taunting, posing and showboating left him open for clean counter punches that the Southern California lightweight standout landed with a regularity that caused concern for Roach.
“The thing about Manny is that if there’s any kind of audience watching him spar, he’s going to want to entertain them,” Roach said. “That’s just who he is. So I had to put an end to it. I threw everyone out after that day that Bale and Wahlberg were there. Only me, Michael (Moorer), Buboy (Fernandez) and Nunoy (Neri), the sparring partners with just one trainer each, and the 24/7 crew are allowed in.
“Some of the assistant trainers of the sparring partners were upset about my decision. Shane (Langford) got so mad he wanted to fight me. But the thing is, if you’re not actually working the fighters’ corners, why do you need to be there? I ask my brother Pepper to take a walk when Manny spars now. If my mother were here, I’d throw her out, too.”
The solitude has produced the focus in Pacquiao that Roach was looking for. As for the results, ask Rodela, a talented junior lightweight prospect who has held his own with Pacquiao and veterans like Joel Casamayor in the past.
“The silence is kind of nice,” Roach said. “I hate to be the bad guy, but it’s for Manny’s own good. I used to think that having Manny’s fans in the gym would motivate him to work harder; he did work harder, but he didn’t work smarter.
“The last time I allowed just anyone to come in and watch him spar was before the first Erik Morales fight. He lost that fight. I realized after that fight that I made a mistake and I got strict. From now on, it’s going to be even stricter.”
It’s going to have to be.
Pacquiao has won nine consecutive fights since that loss to Morales, including two knockouts of ‘El Terrible’ in return matches, a decision over Juan Manuel Marquez and December’s brutal beatdown of Oscar De La Hoya.
The streak has elevated Pacquiao from a sure-fire Hall of Famer to an all-time great, and with that status comes a relentless demand for public appearances — like throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the Giants-Padres game in San Francisco this past Tuesday — and interview requests from the U.S., UK and Filipino media.
There’s also the 24/7 camera crew and production staff, who have shadowed Pacquiao during this entire camp, the official Media Day that took place at the gym last Wednesday, and the international conference call that Roach took part in Tuesday.
Roach knows its all part of the promotion of the fight but he still hates it, because it takes away from the invaluable, irreplaceable gym time that he needs with his fighter in order to ensure that the best possible version of Pacquiao shows up on May 2.
“It kind of ruins my day,” Roach said during the Media Day, when his gym hosted close to a hundred members of the boxing press. “I worked 17 rounds on the mitts straight through with Manny two days ago. I won’t do near that much today because of all the cameras that are here.”
Roach hopes that 18 days (April 8-25) of peace and quiet in the gym — four of which will be without him while he works Gerry Penalosa’s corner against Juan Manuel Lopez in Puerto Rico this weekend — will be enough for his ace pupil to enter the Hatton fight undistracted.
Or at least as undistracted as a fighter with a fanatical national following, international popularity, and recognition as the pound-for-pound best in the sport can be.
Pacquiao is Roach’s devoted student for the three hours they are in the gym together; after that, ‘the PacMan’ belongs to his adoring fans.
“We close the gym down from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.,” Roach said. “When Manny leaves the gym at 4 p.m., the parking lot outside is literally full with his fans. Two weeks ago there were 350 people waiting to get autographs with him.
“He obliged them all. We set up tables, had them form lines and he signed everything they stuck in his face, and he took pictures with entire families for three hours until everyone was satisfied.
“That’s Manny being Manny.”
And that’s why he’s beloved by his fans.
Roach is just being Roach when he kicks everyone out of his gym to make sure that all of those fans are satisfied on May 2.
Since I was among the priviledged few who were allowed inside the Wild Card gym to watch that April 7 sparring session that was witnessed by Mr. Bale and Mr. Wahlberg, I might was well share the notes I took, right?
After all, I was there to observe Pacquiao's first sparring session with Alvarado, the undefeated (25-0, 18 knockouts) junior welterweight (who was around 152 pounds that day) with a high school wrestling background, not to report actor sightings.
However, I'll state up front that there wasn't much to report on the rounds Alvarado went with Pacquiao, which were the first three of PacMan's nine-round session.
Pacquiao never allowed Alvarado to get inside and put his ballyhooed grappling skills to work. The veteran kept the sparring at a distance where his superior speed and footwork controlled tempo and the action.
Pacquiao jabbed as he stepped around Alvarado, and the two periodically exchanged one-two combinations. Alvarado's co-trainer Henry Delgado encouraged his fighter to “Step to him” but Pacquiao continually slipped and got under the bigger man's jab to fire quick straight lefts to the body and right hooks to the head.
By their third round of sparring, Pacquiao was willingly going to the ropes with his hands up, daring Alvarado to bring it.
“Come on, come on, let's go!” he barked as Alvarado carefully stepped forward. Alvarad let a one-two combiantion go, but Pacquiao easily blocked the straight punches before spinning off the ropes to land a three-punch body-head combination on the fly.
By the end of the round, Pacquiao was showing off by allowing Alvarado to hit his body while his back was to the ropes. He landed jab-cross-jab combinations before moving off the ropes to croutch and pose with his hands down as if to draw Alvarado in.
Antillon, the undefeated (25-0, 18 KOs) lightweight who has sparred many rounds with Pacquiao in the past, entered the ring in the fourth round of the session.
The Maywood, California native immediately moved in close and let his hands go with a quickness and intensity that let Pacquiao know that play time was over.
Pacquiao tried to side-step Antillon but the pressure fighter blocked him with his arm, tied him up, and shoved him back into the ropes where he landed a clean right hand that knocked the Filipino's head back.
Antillon remained directly in front of Pacquiao and got off with compact three-punch combinations that were mostly blocked, but a single cross got through as did a left to the body.
“Spin off the ropes!” Michael Moorer yelled from Pacquiao's corner.
Pacquiao didn't listen, but Antillon backed off to get some distance for his straight punches. Pacquiao tried to beat him to the punch with his jab, but fell short.
In the fifth round, Antillon stalked Pacquiao behind a high guard. Pacquiao pecked and poked from the outside with his jab before an impatient Antillon bull rushed him and tied him up inside. The two grappled violently until they almost toppled to the canvas.
“Alright, alright, break it up,” Moorer ordered.
Pacquiao appeared to perk up after Antillon's near tackle/takedown, and got his jab working along with his head movement.
Moorer liked what he saw.
“Get going, get into your rhythm,” he said.
Pacquiao got off with crisp jab-cross-jab combinations, ducking under most of Antillon's return fire. However, whenever he posed for even a second, Antillon landed a lead left hook to remind him to keep his focus.
Pacquiao backed to the ropes where Antillon nailed him with a hard right cross and a few body shtos just before the bell.
Antillon tried to resume his success by backing Pacquiao to the ropes at the start of the sixth round.
Pacquiao encouraged him to go for it.
“Go! Go! Go!” he yapped with glee. “Hit the body!”
Antillon did just that, shooting straight shots to Pacquiao's chest.
“Come on, man!” Antillon yelled as he let his hands go.
Pacquiao blocked the punches to his head and fired back with straight shots of his own before spinning off the ropes while tagging Antillon with a series of hard hooks.
While Antillon backed to the center of the ring, Pacquiao bopped his ears with the double punch that brought out smiles and giggles from the room full onlookers but made Roach roll his eyes.
Antillon jumped back in close and the two exchnaged hard head-twisting punches. Pacquiao landed the faser, harder punches to the head, one of which stunned Antillon for a second before the bell.
Serrano, an undefeated (9-0, 5 KOs) welterweight prospect from Philadelphia, stepped in for the seventh round.
The 19-year-old Puerto Rican boxer landed double left hooks to Pacquiao's body and head. The kid was fast and aggressive, just what Pacquiao needs to prepare for Hatton.
Pacquiao took the first part of the round off as if to gauge Serrano's speed, but in the final minute he landed double hooks to the young man's body and head.
A stiff jab backed Serrano up and put him in line for a hard straight left that caused him to stumble.
Serrano came out swinging to start the eighth round, aiminig many shots to Pacquiao's body. Pacquiao avoided the head shots but let him bang away on his body, even encouraging him to do so.
Then he blasted Serrano with ultra-quick one-two combinations and lead left crosses. Serrano was game, firing back one-twos of his own. They traded punches until the bell.
The fierce exchanges continued in the ninth round, and Moorer didn't like what he was seeing.
“Hands up! Hands up!” he yelled.
Pacquiao obeyed as he counter punched Serrano with single power shots (mostly lead hooks and lefts to the rib area). Pacquiao was stalking the kid by mid-round. In the final minute, Serrano attempted to stand his ground. They met in the center of the ring, head to head with their hands up around their chins, and exchanged short, hard inside shots until the bell ended the session.
One of the onlookers was Micky Ward. The former junior weltweight contender accompanied Wahlberg (who is making a movie about Ward's half-brother and former trainer Dicky Eklund, who will be played by Bale) and comedian Louis CK (one of my favorites) to the gym.
Ward was impressed by what he witnessed.
“Those are good sparring partners,” Ward said with his Lowell, Mass. accent. “I like what I'm seein' from Pacquiao. He's movin' well, punchin' well, lookin' nice and sharp.
“That's what it's all about. You win fights right here in the gym with hard work and hard sparring.
“I tell you what, watching this makes me glad that I'm not fighting anymore.”
Doug Fischer’s column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected]