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Book adaptation: ‘PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao’

08
Nov

Author Gary Andrew Poole has provided RingTV.com with this adaptation of his newly released book “PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao ÔÇö The greatest Pound-for-Pound Fighter in the World” (Da Capo), which is available in book outlets worldwide, including Amazon US. It is well written and provides fresh insight into the life of the world’s most-popular boxer. Pacquiao fights Antonio Margarito on Saturday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

As Manny “PacMan” Pacquiao saunters out of the locker room at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California, he holds out his hand and a member of his entourage slaps a comb in it. Looking in one of the gym’s many grimy mirrors, he combs his jet-black hair, brushes off his goatee, and nods his head in self-approval. Someone slips on his watch–a gold Rolex Yacht Master–and then gives him his diamond stud earring, which he puts in his left ear. The champ is ready. Several of us walk down the “secret” back way, out of the boxing gym, where a horde of fans lay in wait with cell phones and cameras. “Manny just one picture, pleeeeeaaase!”

Pacquiao smiles brightly for a moment, but he pays the fans little attention except for a “hello” in the sing-songy way that some Filipinos extend an English word’s last syllable. He gets ushered away. The champ is hungry.

He is only going about forty feet away but there is enormous urgency. It is time for the champ’s dinner. After pressing through the crowd, he jams his way into Nat’s Thai restaurant, his regular nightly spot. The place has orange walls and red curtains, which eager fans are always trying to peer through to get a glimpse of the world’s greatest boxer. Alex Ariza, Pacquiao’s strength and conditioning coach, has already ordered dinner. It is the same at every meal night-after-night: Filipino dishes of beef, chicken, fish, soup, and rice. Spending the last four hours training harder than any athlete alive, Pacquiao lets out a deep breath and sits down at the table. The whole dinner is choreographed. The restaurant’s owner dramatically pushes PLAY on a remote and suddenly, the enormous flat screen television facing Pacquiao lights up, showing a replay of one of his professional fights. Unfolding on the screen is Pacquiao vs. Jorge Eliecer Julio, circa 2002, before the PacMan’s popularity went global. It is an undercard clash out of Memphis when Pacquiao was eight years younger than he is now. He had ridiculous frosted hair, a wispy mustache, and weighed 120 pounds, almost 25 pounds less than he does now in 2010. After Julio hits Pacquiao with an elbow and a low blow, the announcers talk about how Pacquiao’s sense of sportsmanship is so deeply ingrained that he refuses to resort to dirty tactics. In the corner, between the first and second round, Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, tells him to go at Julio with a left hand after a double-jab. Off the stool, Pacquiao does just that and seven seconds into the second round Julio eats Pacquiao’s left glove and falls to the canvas. Pacquiao, the one sitting across from me, studies the replay on the flat screen, raises his eyebrows a couple times, and smiles. The puckish grin can change the mood of any room. It can brighten the day of a sick child or a president of a country. His tablemates see it and everyone laughs. There doesn’t seem to be a shred of malice in him. A big part of Pacquiao’s success, like that of Muhammad Ali’s, comes from his ability to enjoy himself.

As the food is brought to the table, ten members of his entourage mosey in for dinner. Everyone has cheap cell phones and they’re checking text messages, occasionally looking up to chit-chat with one another. Pacquiao’s on his BlackBerry frantically checking NBA scores (he gambles a lot on basketball). The restaurant in a rundown strip mall is crowded, and the excitement of the exclusively Filipino crowd inside is off the charts. Ninety-million of their fellow countrymen would die to be so close to the national icon. These lucky couple dozen countrymen can’t always contain themselves because they are close to the Inner Sanctum of Manny Pacquiao. A heavily-made up middle-aged Filipina pesters Manny to endorse some sort of magical bracelet, and a woman–a friend from his childhood–from his hometown of General Santos City sits across from him. She whispers to me, “He is the same Manny. Even more humble now.” They laugh about old times. Pacquiao slurps some tinolang manok–the chicken-broth soup with special leaves from his native Philippines that he eats at almost every meal, and which has bulked him up through seven different weight classes, all of which he has dominated. At 5'6″ and 145 he is the greatest and unlikeliest pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Pacquiao is constantly asking his Filipino buddies to bring malunggay leaves, often sneaking them through customs, so the soup’s flavor is just right. When someone wants Manny’s attention, they say, “Pacquiao!”

Mike Tyson is on the phone.

“Pacquiao, it’s Mike Tyson, he would like to talk to you.” And a phone is handed to him. Pacquiao seems pleased, but just about as pleased as he would be talking to the woman from his hometown. So many people want a piece of him. Everyone takes from Manny Pacquiao, people tell me constantly. Pacquiao takes a philosophical view of the thievery around him, telling me that God has given him bounty and who is Manny Pacquiao to not give God’s blessing away? When their time comes, he says, the men will face God.

“Hi Mike, yes, yes, call me at my home number. Nice to talk to you Mike.”

Pacquiao’s face is a little blotchy from sparring. His body is good and sore. His right hand aches. Ariza wraps it in an ice gel. Melon is brought to Manny. Ariza makes him a pink-colored protein shake, one of three he has each day. Manny downs it. The television starts on the karaoke.

People keep coming in and bumping Ariza aside so they can get a photo with the champ.

“This is dinner, not a photo shoot,” says Ariza, perturbed.

Manny is distracted but accommodating, curling the thick fingers of his left hand around the people to get closer to them. He starts singing karaoke.

“She calls out to the man on the street ÔǪ,” he sings the Phil Collins song. It’s 6:15. “ÔǪ It’s cold and I’ve nowhere to sleep ÔǪ”

Alex, putting his forefinger to his temple, acts like he is shooting himself. Ariza turns to Manny with a serious expression, “Manny, I need to ask you. Manny, I am serious, I need to ask you something: are you going to run tomorrow?”

“I have to run,” he says as he raises his eyebrows. Pacquiao fakes a serious expression. He won’t take his eyes off his BlackBerry which irritates Ariza.

“Freddie wants me to run.”

“No he doesn’t. 100 percent, he doesn’t want you to run.”

“Have him BBM me.” Pacquiao’s voice tends to squeak in English and he gives his mock serious expression again, which irritates Ariza.

What?

“BlackBerry Messenger me.” Manny laughs, looking away from his BlackBerry and winking at me. It is doubtful that Freddie Roach, his old school trainer, has ever BBM’d anyone.

“I’m going to talk to Freddie right now.” Ariza is usually a calm presence and a charming fellow, but he is pissed. He storms upstairs, conferences with Roach. He returns with a phone and hands it to Pacquiao.

Freddie Roach, who is considered by many to be the best trainer in the world, is on the line. He tells Pacquiao not to run tomorrow. Pacquiao listens, nods sagely, and then hangs up.

“You win,” says the PacMan.

“You guarantee me–100 percent–you won’t run?”

“I promise.”

Manny turns back to the karaoke, bobbing his head as he sings, “I can tell by your eyes ÔǪ If I can see you just a little bit longer.”

The whole table–sycophants, relatives, a couple pretty girls who have appeared out of nowhere–sing. Despite his crackling high-pitched voice, Pacquiao has sold millions of records in his native country. “Us Filipinos are good singers, we have good voices,” says a man sitting next to me. He looks at Manny to make sure his boss is listening. “Manny has a good voice.” Everyone starts talking again until the opening lines of “Hotel California” appear on the screen. “Welcome to the Hotel California,” Pacquiao croons.

Pacquiao, like a little boy, holds a microphone. He is lost in the song. His eyes are raised as he reads the lyrics. He has a goofy expression. What is he really like? people ask me. There are many different answers, but there is a theoryÔÇöheld by most FilipinosÔÇöthat Manny Pacquiao, age 31, the most significant boxer to come along since Ali, acts like a child because he had no childhood.

Gary Andrew Poole is the author of “The Galloping Ghost” and has written for the New York Times, GQ, Wired, USA Today, TIME and The Atlantic. He lives in Los Angeles.

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