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Pacquiao in Baguio City: Training camp begins

01
Oct

Manny Pacquiao, here hitting the speed bag, is in the mountain town of Baguio City — away from the pressures of Manila — preparing for his fight against Antonio Margarito. Photo / Ted Lerner

RING correspondent Ted Lerner is in Baguio City, a mountain town in the Philippines, as Manny Pacquiao opens training camp for his Nov. 13 fight against Antonio Margarito. This is the first in a series.

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — Manny Pacquiao came here ostensibly because he wanted to engage in several weeks of high altitude training for his fight against Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13 at Cowboys Stadium. But after only a few minutes in this busy, but pleasant mountain town 1,500 meters above sea level, you realize that perhaps the main reason he is here for the second time to make camp is that it affords him a rare chance to relax.

Compared with sprawling, teeming and oppressively hot Manila, a six-hour drive south of here, Baguio is a laid back haven. This hilly town at the gateway to the Cordillera Mountains is covered with sweet-smelling pine trees. The weather is ideal. In the daytime it is slightly warm and never oppressive. At night a faint chill fills the air. The locals are friendly and polite and noticeably non-intrusive.

One gets a good idea of why Pacquiao is here by visiting Cooyeesan Plaza, a modern but non-descript rectangular commercial complex just a few minutes outside the center of town. Except for the bright red pickup truck emblazoned with “Team Pacquiao” in the parking lot outside, there’s nothing here to indicate that the world’s most exciting and very arguably best boxer is anywhere near the place. No banners welcoming the champ. No big crowds trying to get his autograph.

The building houses a variety of establishments. On the ground floor facing the street there’s a supermarket, a hardware store and a beauty salon. Inside there’s a dance school, a small college, several small canteens and restaurants. On the second floor sits the modern Shape up Gym. In the back of the weight room is a door leading into the bright and clean boxing gym. This is home to Team Pacquiao for the next month.

Pacquiao and his entourage are staying in the 129-room hotel on the third floor. The hotel isn’t fancy. Giving it three stars would be a bit of a stretch. The whole setup, though, seems to fit Pacquiao’s personality to “T.” He might be a high-flying, all-action superstar, but at heart he is really a simple kid from the province. Here he has everything he needs. There’s even a basketball court on the fourth floor. And Pacquiao can just take the stairs down to the gym.

Thursday was to be Pacquiao’s first day of sparring. The previous week he had been training in Manila, several miles from the Philippines House of Representatives. Just after lunch every day, Pacquiao would show up at the Elorde Gym in Quezon City, part of Metro Manila, and train for several hours. He would then quickly shower, don his suit, dodge the massive crowds that had gathered on the streets outside, and head straight to the Congress for the 4pm session.

Pacquiao had a productive week in Manila. Under huge banners and murals documenting the legendary life and career of Hall of Famer Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, Pacquiao plowed through his daily workout. On the mitts with trainer Freddie Roach, he showed blinding speed and footwork, and frightful power. The Manila media and others, including plenty of local celebrities who crowded into the gym to watch, marveled at how, despite a layoff of several months, Pacquiao hadn’t seemed to have lost a step.

After one impressive 10 round session on the mitts, a confident Roach revealed some of the game plan he and his fighter have in store for Margarito.

“We’re working on some angles a little bit,” he said. “I want him to go deeper on the angles so Margarito doesn’t have a target in front of him and give him [Margarito] a little more room so he’ll follow us because he has the tendency to follow his opponents. Once he picks his foot up, we’ll drill him. The first four rounds he’s going to be trying to walk us down. We’ll set traps for him and walk him into combinations. I love this style of fighter for Manny Pacquiao.”

Roach said that he’s also preparing for the possibility that Margarito will counter Pacquiao’s game plan with a different tactic.

“I do think he’ll move in this fight a little bit,” Roach said. “That’s why I’m bringing a mover in [as a sparring partner]. I’m anticipating him coming forward, but they might try and throw a wrench in this and not come to us at all. I’m trying to cover all our bases. It’s not a problem. One thing about Margarito is that he can move backwards but he’s not good at it. It’ll be a mistake if he does that, I feel.”

After a week of fighting the traffic and thick, smoggy air in Manila, Roach was elated to get up to Baguio this past Sunday. He loves the clean, cool air here and has even chosen to enjoy it to the fullest by staying at a nearby resort, Camp John Hay, inside a log cabin.

After several days of going through the basics, Roach was anxious to get to the meat of the training and wanted to start the first sparring at exactly 2pm. As the clock hit 2, everyone sat around the quiet gym chatting and waiting for the Man; Roach, conditioning coach Alex Ariza, Pacquiao’s childhood friend and assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez, sparring partners Glen Tapia and Michael Medina, about a dozen of Pacquiao’s confidants and hangers on, and a few local media. The atmosphere here was a stark contrast to that in Manila.

Just past 2:30, a smiling Pacquiao walked into the gym. Roach insisted that everyone but the team had to leave for the sparring session. The few members of the media on hand could come back in after about 30 minutes, when the sparring was over. We could watch Manny shadow box, hit the speed bag, do his stretching, Roach said. But the sparring would be private.

“We have some things to go over,” Roach said. Fernandez then shouted out that we all had to leave.

As Roach had said, 30 minutes later the doors were thrown open. Pacquiao hammered the speed ball as about a dozen reporters and others watched. Tapia had worked all four rounds and, as he undid his hand wraps, looked pleased with himself.

“It was a great experience,” the 20-year-old from New Jersey said. “He’s the greatest. He’s not like fighting an average lefty. It’s like fighting a lefty and righty mixed together in one. He gives you angles, he’ll pop you then spin you, then he’s on the other side. He’s very fast. His footwork is great. He’ll hit you then he’s all of a sudden on the other side, then he hits you again and he’s on the other side this time.

“I just tried to go in there and put pressure on him. That’s what Freddie wanted me to do. It’s the first day of camp so we can’t really tell. He’s going to get much better.”

Roach seemed generally happy with the sparring, but said Pacquiao got clocked several times.

“It was better than I expected,” Roach told me, referring to the sparring. “He made some bad moves, he made some good moves. That’s part of the first day. I wanted to see how the sparring partners worked out. Glen was perfect. He fought just like Margarito does. Very strong and very aggressive. I picked the right guy. It was a good first day. Manny’s timing was off a little bit. He hasn’t boxed since the Clottey fight. I’m happy with it. I saw a couple of mistakes. Manny got hit a couple of times when he shouldn’t have. And that’s my job tomorrow. We’ll work it out on the mitts. That’s my job to show him how to defend against that.

“He knows the mistakes he made. He’s getting his feet wet, he’s getting back into it. It takes time. That’s why my training camps are eight weeks long. We’ve got seven weeks to go. We’re ahead of schedule. But the best part about today is that Tapia fights just like Margarito. He’s like a clone of him. He comes forward, he’s sloppy, he comes wide with his punches, he’s heavy handed and he’s rugged. He hit Manny right in the balls today by accident. That’s going to happen. It was an accident, but it can happen.”

I asked Roach if that meant that he thought Margarito was a dirty fighter.

“Margarito’s not dirty,” he said. “I don’t believe in a dirty fight, because it is a fight. I’d say he’s physical. He does whatever it takes to win. I was a physical fighter too. Head butts, elbows, a little low blows here and there. It’s all part of the game. Manny won’t get dirty, but he knows how to handle it. He knows how to keep himself out of those positions. My rule is if a guy hits you low, you hit him back low. Manny won’t do it. He will not foul a fighter. He’s too respectful a fighter for me sometimes, but that’s just his nature.

“We have a plan A, a plan B, and sometimes a plan C. If we don’t do it here in the gym, we’ll never do it in the fight. We cover all our bases in the gym. He understands the game plan and he follows it completely, but sometimes when a fighter gets hit and gets angry, he will exchange. But that’s something I like. That’s in his heart. That’s what makes Manny Pacqiuao, Manny Pacquiao.”

It’s that massive heart and a work rate that exceeds anything he’s ever seen. It never fails to amaze Roach.

“That protection I wear doesn’t work that well,” he said. “He beat the shit out of me yesterday. He hurt me with more shots than usual. And the other day he knocked me down right in my ass. First time in my life. He uses his whole body weight, from his legs. He’s got so much explosion. He’s so quick and snappy, he just like ÔǪ wham! He actually explodes on you. And that’s one thing he’s always had. But now he knows how to use it effectively. It’s something we work on every day, but that power of his, I can’t take credit for that. He was born with it. He could always knock you out with one punch. I’ve tried to get him to hone that power in a more productive way.”
For the next month in this quaint city, far away from the maddening crowds in Manila, the two will gradually hone that incredible power and speed with some of the most-extreme training Roach has ever been a part of.

“It’s intense and continuous,” Roach said of Pacquiao’s workouts. “He does an hour and a half in the morning with the runs. Then we do three and a half in the afternoon. He doesn’t rest. We’ve done an hour on the mitts and he ignores the bell, he works right through it. Actually, if he needs a day off from training camp, I’m going to let him go. The hardest to do is to get him to take a day off.

“Sometimes I’m afraid he’s going to burn himself out and overdo it. I tell him to take a day off and I’ll catch him running 10 miles. It’ll be a blessing if he takes a day off. I welcome that. I don’t have confidence without reason. His work ethic is it.”

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