Michael Rosenthal

Pacquiao behind in training? Doesn’t matter

Manny Pacquiao exhibited his customary explosive combinations while working the double-end bag at a recent media day for his fight with Antonio Margarito. Photo / Chris Farina-Top Rank.

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – One fighter who knows Manny Pacquiao as well as anyone scoffed at the notion that the No. 1 fighter in the world is at less than his best 2½ weeks before he’s scheduled to meet Antonio Margarito at Cowboys Stadium.

David Rodela, one of Pacquiao’s regular sparring partners, went three rounds with him on Tuesday and pronounced him as devastating as ever in the ring.

That doesn’t mean Pacquiao didn't had a subpar training camp in the Philippines, which Pacquiao acknowledged, but it does support trainer Freddie Roach’s contention that his prize pupil is back on track after only a few days at the Wild Card Boxing Gym.

“He looked good to me,” Rodela said. “He looked like he was in shape. I’ve sparred with him a long time now. He looked like he’s ready. His punches were nice and crisp. If I noticed anything, maybe it was his timing. He hesitated a few times throwing the hook. I think that was just jet lag because he arrived on Saturday.

“Other than that, I didn’t’ see anything that was off. He threw a lot of flurries like he always does. His work rate was high. He wasn’t really different from any other time I sparred with him.”

Roach said that Pacquiao has had his worst training camp since the two joined forces nine years ago because of distractions, including a day trip to Manila to commiserate with Filipino President Benigno Aquino.

Pacquiao wouldn’t go that far. He told a group of reporters crammed into a small, sauna-like dressing room at the Wild Card that camp went well in his native land and believes he’s in optimal condition. At the same time, he acknowledged that his mind wasn’t on boxing 100 percent.

He implied that personal problems played a role but wouldn’t go into detail.

“My time to train was divided on some other things,” he said.

Roach isn’t worried.

The trainer Pacquiao calls his “master” knew that Pacquiao would thrive once he left the Philippines and returned to Roach’s gym, where he has prepared diligently for his biggest fights.

And that has been the case. Roach said Pacquiao’s full attention is now on the task at hand, preparing for the biggest opponent he will have faced in his long career.

“Once we get back here at the Wild Card, everything is serious,” Roach said. “There are no politicians to take him away, no presidents asking him to come to meetings and so forth. He’s much more focused. Monday was a great day. (Tuesday) we had a great day of sparring. We went 10 rounds. We’ll go 11 (Thursday). And we’ll peak at 12 rounds on Saturday. From that point on we’ll go the other way, cutting back.

“… There are no problems. He’s right where he wants to be.”

Some were aghast at the news that Pacquiao had a subpar camp in the Philipppines, which obviously was an overreaction.

Even a slightly subpar Pacquiao has enormous advantages over the strong, but plodding Margarito in terms of ability and speed. That’s why Roach was somewhat concerned but never alarmed.

He said when the fight was signed that Margarito has the perfect style for his protégé – one in which he constantly plows forward — and hasn’t budged from that position.

“I’m sure they’re trying to make some changes in the gym with the new trainer,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll try some new strategies. Usually when you have a veteran fighter, though, after the bell rings and the first punch lands, you kind of revert back to what you are. I think that’s what he’ll do. …

“Manny has the game plan to fight this guy. I’m very, very positive that we will stop him. Manny’s hand speed will be way too much for him. He’s a volume puncher but he’s very slow and has terrible footwork.”

Roach later added: “The guy is made to order for us. The speed will just overwhelm him, I feel.”

One concern Roach has is Pacquiao’s fighting spirit.

The Filipino icon’s approach will be to use his hand and foot speed by landing quick combinations and then moving out of harm’s way before Margarito can react, which is how many observers expect the fight to go.

Margarito’s best chance to be competitive is to tap into Pacquiao’s inner warrior and goad him into exchanging punches, which presumably would work in the Mexican’s favor.

Pacquiao is on board with the game plan – “I’m faster than him. That’s my advantage,” he said — but Roach expects his fighter to take some risks in the heat of battle.

“That’s a problem I’m having,” he said, “people saying he’s not big enough or strong enough to fight Margarito toe to toe. At some point in the fight he’ll prove that he’s big enough to do that. I can’t stop him from doing that.

“That’s inside him. He promised me he wouldn’t do it but I know he will.”

Pacquiao apparently has never had reservations about fighting Margarito, who is about five inches taller than he is.

Roach was asked whether his fighter might feel he can take a few liberties in training because he believes he is simply out of Margarito’s league in terms of talent.

“Possibly,” he said. “This guy is for real, he’s very capable. But after he fought (Oscar) De La Hoya, I asked him, ‘Who do you want next Manny?’ He said Margarito. So he wanted this for a long time. I don’t know if he sees something or what.

“At the time, I said, ‘he’s too big.’ Manny said, ‘no he’s not.’ He’s just wanted this for a while.”

Pacquiao certainly isn’t among those who are worried.

More cheating? Roach believes Margarito had to be aware of the illegal knuckle pad found in his gloves before he fought Shane Mosley last year.

And he suspects it wasn’t the first time it happened.

“I’ve studied his last six, seven fights,” he said. “I noticed differences in some fights compared to others. I think it’s obvious, in my opinion. Again it’s my opinion. I wasn’t there and these weren’t my fighters. Against Daniel Santos and Paul Williams he doesn’t look like that big a puncher. Against (Kermit) Cintron (II) and (Miguel) Cotto, that was different.”

How could he tell?

“The way he threw punches,” he said. “… And what’s the first thing a fighter wants to do after a fight? Take his f—ing gloves off as quickly as possible. Against Cintron, he kept his gloves on the whole time. He didn’t take them off until he got into the dressing room. … It makes me wonder.”

Roach believes Margarito should’ve been banned for life.

Etc.: Pacquiao, a newly elected congressman in the Philippines, used his influence to bestow an honor on his longtime mentor: He introduced a bill to make Roach a citizen of the Asian country.

“They passed it. I’ll have my Filipino passport soon,” Roach said with a broad smile. …

Pacquiao, whose mother has asked him to give up boxing, was asked again about his thoughts on retirement.

“I’m thinking about that,” said. “But I can still fight a few fights and that’s it.”

Pacquiao, 31, has been fighting professional for almost 16 years. …

Pacquiao, who said his natural weight is 140 pounds at this point in his career, expects to weigh 148 or 149 the day before the Margarito fight.

The fighters have agreed to a catch weight of 150 pounds. …

Pacquiao said he plans to fly to Las Vegas after training on Friday to speak at a function for Sen. Harry Reid, who is running for re-election in Nevada. Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter, is a supporter of Reid.

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