Manny Pacquiao: He’s come a long way
Tonight, Manny Pacquiao faces Floyd Mayweather in what may or may not be a career-defining fight. So much is being made of the historical importance of this bout but the truth of the matter is the “Pac-Man” long ago punched his ticket to Canastota and firmly entrenched himself as the greatest Filipino fighter ever – with all due respect to the great Gabriel “Flash” Elorde.
It’s amazing if you think about how far Pacquiao – a smaller fighter from this remote country, who didn’t speak a lick of English when he came to the United States in 2001 – has come from rather humble beginnings. By the time he came to the States, he had already won and lost a WBC flyweight title and the story has been told often of this little Filipino being brought to the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, where he moved around a bit with Freddie Roach.
Back then, neither was particularly world-famous or iconic, but they clicked immediately and, soon, a union was formed.
Soon Pacquiao was lined up for a title shot against the highly-regarded Lehlo Ledwaba, who held the IBF 122-pound title, on the Oscar De La Hoya-Javier Castillejo undercard, June 23, 2001 at the MGM Grand. Ledwaba was a thought to be perhaps the next standout boxer from Africa and was given the opening slot on HBO on the night Hasim Rahman upset Lennox Lewis in their first meeting in South Africa. He unanimously decisioned Carlos Contreras over 12 and with the endorsement of Dan Rafael, then writing for USA Today, HBO was on board with Ledwaba, who was originally paired with Enrique Sanchez for this card.
Sanchez eventually pulled out of the fight and his original promoter in the US, the long-forgotten Murad Muhammad, finagled a title shot for Pacquiao as the leading available contender in the IBF who was willing to take this fight on relatively short notice.
For their first fight together, Pacquiao and Roach would have a tough hill to climb and were the decided underdogs.
Back in the summer of 2001, Doug Fischer, Tom Gerbasi, Gary Randall and I were in the nascent stages of a new boxing website called Maxboxing.com. During that week after a workout at Wild Card (where no heavy bag was safe from my wrath), I happened to be around the front desk and Roach asked, “Steve, you going to the fight this weekend?'”
“Yeah, leaving Friday,” I told Freddie.
He explained to me that he would be working a fight on that card. I said, “Really? Who?”
“That little Filipino left-hander, Manny Pacquiao; you’ve seen him. He’s been here for about a month or so,” said Freddie.
Honestly, at that point, Pacquiao could’ve punched me in the face and I wouldn’t have known who he was. At that point, he blended in like any other boxer, actor, writer, housewife or accountant who put in their daily grind in this building located on the corner of Santa Monica and Vine in Hollywood. Back then, long before Roach expanded his gym and Pacquiao needed security detail just to get into the parking lot, Pacquiao and a small group of other Filipinos – which included Buboy Fernandez, the one true constant in his inner circle throughout the years – would do their daily training alongside everybody else.
And quite frankly, I’m not sure anyone outside of Freddie even really knew Pacquiao’s name then. You go to any real boxing gym; there are bound to be boxers from foreign lands who don’t say much and just blend in like any other client quietly going about his or her work. Nowadays what was once the downstairs laundromat is now the private gym for Roach’s marquee fighters and where Pacquiao trains exclusively in seclusion. It was this way for a few years with Pacquiao and his crew, who would customarily put their equipment and gym bags on the wall closest to the double-end bags and train in relative obscurity.
Fast-forward to the afternoon of that fight, Doug and I ended up getting a couple of buffet vouchers from one of the fight camps (if I recall correctly, it was Pat Burns, who was training Jermain Taylor) and who did we see but none other than Pacquiao with Roach, Buboy and his original trainer from the Philippines (the older guy who’s name I never got). That was literally the first time I had ever seen Pacquiao in person or otherwise. It’s amazing if you think about it now but back in 2001, just like any other undercard boxer, he was at the MGM Grand buffet, anonymously eating with tourists. He didn’t need any bodyguards back then.
“Oh, so that’s the guy Freddie was talking about,” I thought to myself, thinking that he probably had no real chance to beat Ledwaba later that night.
But instead Pacquiao blitzed him with a series of left hands that bloodied and bruised an overwhelmed Ledwaba, who, quite frankly, was put on his heels early and was never really in this fight. Pacquiao went from zero-to-100 in seconds and never let his foot off the gas pedal. Pacquiao stopped Ledwaba in six one-sided frames. He had arrived and he has never really left since then.
At the post-fight press conference, as we were all milling around, waiting for De La Hoya – who defeated Castillejo in a rather pedestrian 12-round decision – I happened to see Larry Merchant, who had called that show for HBO, and I said to him, “Larry, I think we saw one of the best fighters in the world tonight.”
Merchant, beating me to the punch (line) responded, “Yeah, his name is Manny Pacquiao.”
We both laughed and I conducted an interview with Merchant that was the basis of my story the following week on this whirlwind in which I used “Pac-Man,” which some have given me credit for coming up with. But honestly, I have a hard time believing I’m the first one to really use that moniker. I mean, that is an iconic video game.
The rest as they say, is history.
Now, he is involved in one of the biggest fights boxing will ever see in the very same building.
Yeah, he’s come a long way.
3 KNOCKDOWN RULE
Mario Lopez and I taped two more episodes of “The 3 Knockdown Rule” – one of which welcomes Oscar De La Hoya into the studio to preview Mayweather-Pacquiao. They can be downloaded here on iTunes.
BIG FIGHT FLURRIES
Pacquiao weighed in at 145 pounds, Mayweather at 146…Both Floyd and Manny have fought on Oscar De La Hoya undercards and have defeated the “Golden Boy”…Pacquiao was also involved in the split HBO and Showtime pay-per-view broadcast for Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson bill in Memphis back in 2002 versus Jorge Julio. What are the odds of that?…Let’s be honest, Game Seven between the Clippers and Spurs is the real undercard tonight…How did Miami go 6-7 with all these players drafted in the early rounds?…I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.