EXCLUSIVE: 'I like people to cheer for one cause' - Manny Pacquiao interview
Luke G. Williams
Photo: Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Ahead of Manny Pacquiao's showdown with Adrien Broner, Boxing Monthly's Luke G. Williams speaks to the Filipino legend one-on-one about the most special moment of his career, being back at the Wild Card, his thoughts on Mayweather vs Tenshin and much more...
For nearly two decades now, the City of Angels has been a second home for Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao.
It was on a fateful day in 2001 that the then 21-year-old former flyweight title holder first walked into Freddie Roach's Wild Card gym on a tatty strip mall on Vine Street, Hollywood.
After Roach took him for one blistering round on the pads a legendary boxer-trainer relationship was forged which would eventually see Pacquiao grow from a 32-2 Filipino pugilist known only to the boxing cognoscenti to a worldwide superstar, eight-weight world titlist and modern-day fistic phenomenon.
Eighteen years later, the Pac-Man is back in the Wild Card.
Back in Los Angeles.
Back in his second home.
The once scrawny Filipino kid is now 40 years of age, but his face is still a youthful mask capable - at a beat - of transforming into the countenance of a cold-blooded pugilistic assassin.
A few more age lines abound and there is maybe even the odd grey hair amid his ever-immaculate facial hair, but otherwise Manny Pacquiao seems remarkably untouched and unravaged by the cruel inevitabilities of time.
His sense of adventure and love of a challenge are similarly intact. The same spirit of derring-do that once saw him leave his family as a teenager on a boat for Manila to seek boxing stardom, has now - remarkably - brought the fearless and ever ambitious Pacquiao to the brink of the 70th professional bout of his pugilistic career, a WBA welterweight title defence against the unpredictable but talented Adrien Broner.
Speaking by telephone with Boxing Monthly after an afternoon training session exactly two weeks before he is set to take to the ring again at the MGM Grand, Pacquiao admits that it feels good to be back in LA after a one-fight break from Roach during which he trained in General Santos City in the Philippines ahead of his seven-round destruction of Argentinian Lucas Matthysse last July.
“Training is great, very good," Pacquiao tells me in his characteristically warm and friendly tone. "It’s good to be back in Los Angeles with Freddie."
Adopting a reflective tone that recurs with regularity throughout our conversation, Pacquiao later adds of Roach: "Freddie has been a great part of my life. He's helped me get where I am today."
As for his opponent on 19 January, Pacquiao is customarily respectful when I ask him for his assessment of 'The Problem'.
"I’m very excited for the fight in two weeks. You know, Adrien Broner is a good fighter. He’s fast, he’s quick and has very good skills. It’s a good fight for us. If it’s available, of course, we’ll take the knockout but we are preparing for a 12-round fight with Broner."
It's impossible, of course, to mention the name of Manny Pacquiao without hearing a reverberating echo of 'Floyd Mayweather', even if it's at a sub-conscious level.
Despite the disappointment of their eventual 2015 meeting, in which Mayweather clearly outpointed a muted Pacquiao who was hampered by a shoulder injury, the possibility of a rematch between the two greatest boxers of their generation remains the source of much speculation.
Post-'MayPac', the eternal rivals have taken wildly converging paths - while the Broner fight will be Pacquiao's fifth contest since 2 May 2015, 'Money' has fought just once since - against Andre Berto - if you discount his novelty contests against MMA superstar Conor McGregor (which, for some reason, was sanctioned as an official bout), and his bizarre New Year's Eve 'exhibition' against kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa.
When asked about the Tenshin farce, the diplomatic Pacquiao displays admirable restraint, although his disapproval is still obvious.
"It was a surprise that he [did that - i.e. stopped Tenshin in the opening round] in an exhibition. It's supposed to be fun for the fans. But, you know, that was his position, that was his way. But I was surprised, you know, that he ended it quickly."
Pacquiao admits that a Mayweather rematch appeals to him, although he emphasises that his full focus, for now, is on his immediate challenge. "Well, I think it's something to think about after Adrien Broner. My shoulder is in 100 per cent condition now so hopefully we can get it on after Broner."
From the future, we then move to the past as I ask Pacquiao to nominate the most special moment of his career - the fight that means more to him than any other.
His response is, perhaps, surprising, although in keeping with his reflective mood and the undeniable emotion of his recent return to Los Angeles and the Wild Card, and his impending return to the MGM Grand for the 14th time in his career.
"'There's a lot of them [that were special]," he says, choosing his words slowly and carefully. "Against [Oscar] De La Hoya, [Miguel] Cotto, [Antonio] Margarito... but, you know, as I get older, I like to reminisce about the early fights, especially my first fight here in America, at the MGM Grand against [Lehlo] Ledwaba [in 2001, see below]. That's the one that got me here to the US and after that my career really started."
Significantly, the Ledwaba fight was Pacquiao's first with Roach in his corner.
So much time has passed since then, and so many battles have been won, in such a glorious fashion.
But, for Pacquiao, the mission remains incomplete. The hunger remains unsatiated.
Politics is one vehicle he is now utilising ("I want to be a change in the Philippines, a big change for the good"), but boxing is what he knows best and what he loves.
As such, retirement from the prize ring remains something Pacquiao is not - for the moment - countenancing.
"My fans are the most important [people]. They are the ones who make me who I am," he explains. "I like to inspire people, especially in the Philippines, where there are such problems and turmoil.
"I think my fights unite people. I like people to cheer for one cause. We've been waiting for the next Filipino to carry the flag and we're still waiting.
"So until somebody is able to do that I'm going to fight."
BUNCH OF FIVES! MANNY PACQUIAO'S GREATEST BATTLES!
Having won ‘world’ titles in eight different weight classes, Manny Pacquiao is, it goes without saying, a pugilistic legend. However, selecting his five greatest performances is something of a thankless task, largely because he has enjoyed so many memorable nights throughout his career.
With particular regret, then, at having to omit any of his victories against Juan Manuel Marquez, as well as his impressive demolitions of Oscar De La Hoya and Antonio Margarito, here is my choice - in chronological order - of 'Pac-Man'’s five greatest fistic triumphs.
5. IBF super-bantamweight title vs Lehlo Ledwaba, 23 June 2001 – Pacquiao won by TKO in round 6
2001 was a landmark year in Pacquiao’s career, marking the beginning of his training association with Freddie Roach as well as his first pugilistic appearance in the United States.
There was a fair degree of chance involved in this contest being brokered, 'Pac Man' having stepped in as a late replacement for Mexican Enrique Sanchez. Ledwaba was highly rated, having defended the IBF title five times and was favoured by the odds makers to once again triumph. However, the whirlwind-fisted Filipino demolished the reigning titlist in a stunning display of vicious southpaw hitting.
Pacquiao broke Ledwaba’s nose in round one and dropped him in the first stanza, as well as twice in the sixth, before referee Joe Cortez waved the fight off. At this stage in his career, Pacquiao has already won and lost the lineal flyweight title in Asia, but the Ledwaba victory was the fight that enabled him to break into the American boxing market and take his first steps on the path to global stardom. Significantly, all but six of his next 32 fights would take place in the USA. Given the low profile nature of Ledwaba, this fight is not often given as much prominence in accounts of Pacquiao’s career as it should be, but its significance, for me, justifies its place in the top five. It's also, as the interview above proves, a personal favourite of Pacquiao himself.
2. Lineal World Featherweight Championship vs Marco Antonio Barrera, 15 November 2003 – won by TKO in round 11
You could argue that this was the greatest victory of Pacquiao’s career - given that he was facing a peak all-time great for a lineal title in one of the eight traditional weight classes. Pacquiao's ensuing against-the-odds victory reverberated around the boxing world, establishing him for the first time as a true boxing superstar.
After deposing Naseem Hamed as featherweight king, Barrera had successfully defended his title against Enrique Sanchez, Johnny Tapia and Kevin Kelley, as well as gaining revenge against Erik Morales by removing his arch rival’s undefeated record.
As a consequence, few thought that the then 24-year-old Pacquiao would be strong enough to stand up to the power and pressure of the relentless 'Baby Faced Assassin'. In the first round Pacquiao was somewhat dubiously ruled to have been knocked down as Barrera stalked him around the ring, but from the second round onwards the Filipino’s hand speed and sharp left hand befuddled the Mexican.
'Pac Man' dropped Barrera heavily in the third with a huge left and gave him a systematic beating thereafter, repeatedly shaking him. The increasingly desperate and bloodied Mexican had a point deducted in the ninth round for a low blow and was sent spiralling to the canvas again in the eleventh, before the contest was finally waved off by his corner. The duo would eventually rematch in 2007 at 130lbs, with Pacquiao winning via unanimous decision.
3. Super-featherweight contest vs Erik Morales, 21 January 2006 – won by TKO in round 10
Less than a year earlier, Morales had become the first man to defeat Pacquiao since Medgoen Singsurat in 1999, winning a unanimous 115-113 decision on all three judges’ scorecards after an intense and action-packed battle at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
The build-up to their eagerly awaited rematch was dominated by a dissection of the myriad issues Pacquiao faced ahead of the first contest, including problems with taxes, gloves and a pre-fight blood test which he claimed had left him feeling weak come fight night.
However, the Filipino promised no excuses second time around, and was as good as his word as he became the first man to ever defeat Morales inside the distance after a spectacular display of non-stop energy and precise, savage punching.
Pacquiao badly hurt the Mexican warrior in the second and sixth rounds and floored him twice in the decisive tenth stanza to register a stunning victory.
“I saw I hurt him every time I hit him in the body,” he crowed afterwards as his growing reputation as a fistic phenomenon flared to new heights.
The two men would meet again later in the year, with Pacquiao demolishing 'El Terrible' in just three rounds.
4. Lineal Super-Lightweight Championship vs Ricky Hatton, 2 May 2009 – won by KO in round 2
With the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to say that Hatton was past his best at this stage in his career, but it’s also a little unfair: he entered this contest with just one defeat on his record (against Floyd Mayweather) and with a lofty number eight ranking on The Ring magazine’s pound for pound rankings.
Hatton may have started the fight as the underdog but few expected to Pacquiao to demolish him quite as dramatically and savagely as he did. The Mancunian was downed twice in the opening round alone, once courtesy of a crunching right hook and then after a flurry of punches, culminating in a straight left.
Perhaps the sweetest single punch Pacquiao has ever thrown, a perfect parabola of a left, separated Hatton from his senses in round two and the fight was over almost before it had begun. This performance represented Pacquiao at the utter peak of his formidable powers. Sadly, boxing fans will have to forever wonder how 'Pac-Man' circa 2009 might have fared against Mayweather.
5. WBO welterweight title vs Miguel Cotto, 14 November 2009 – won by TKO in round 12
Arguably the last truly great performance by Pacquiao, his systematic destruction of a larger man in Cotto was quite simply breathtaking.
At this stage in his career, only Antonio Margarito had bested the Puerto Rican, but Pacquiao’s hand speed and precision simply overwhelmed him. A right hook floored Cotto in round three and a left uppercut downed him in round four.
Thereafter he took his lumps manfully as Pacquiao maintained a terrifying onslaught, before referee Kenny Bayless mercifully halted proceedings in round 12, with a bloodied Cotto being battered against the ropes.
Given that Cotto is surely headed for the International Boxing Hall of fame one day, and would later defeat Margarito and Sergio Martinez among others, this performance ranks among Pac Man's very best. After the fight promoter Bob Arum announced that: "Pacquiao is the greatest boxer I've ever seen, and I've seen them all, including Ali, Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard."