RING correspondent Ted Lerner lives in the Philippines and has closely followed the remarkable rise of Manny Pacquiao, who has begun preparation for his fight against Shane Mosley on May 7 in Las Vegas. This is the second of two parts. Click here to read Part I.
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – As the buzzer sounds inside the modern and clean Shape Up Gym in Baguio City, the two partners work on a veritable playbook of combinations and strategies. They discuss where to be and where not to be. They plot, clash, strategize and even laugh in a breathtaking dance of power and violence.
Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao have performed this dance on the mitts together countless times before. In fact it was a brief mitt session that started it all 10 years ago when this unknown skinny kid with the funny name walked into the Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles with his Filipino managers and asked for a tryout. Roach obliged his visitors and worked Pacquiao on the mitts. After a few rounds, Roach couldn’t believe the raw power and speed he was absorbing in the ring and knew he’d just discovered gold. Pacquiao also liked the vibe and immediately rushed over to his manager, telling him, ‘Boss, he’s the one. He’s good.’
Since then the pair have collaborated on a run of epic proportions, with Pacquiao compiling a 19-1-3 record that includes 13 consecutive victories over some of the best competition in the world. Now, as the pair enter their second decade together, the dance they perform is only getting better, more refined and nuanced, more fun.
To watch Manny Pacquiao and Freddie Roach work the mitts together is like watching tango partners who’ve been at it for many years. With a long history together, the dancers have become accustomed to each other’s quirks and know each other’s styles by instinct. Their movement together seems as natural as breathing. While their roles are delineated by tradition – one leading, the other following – they have in fact meshed into equals, continually feeding off of each other. One doesn’t shine without the other.
And so it is with Pacquiao and Roach as they set out down the long road preparing for Shane Mosley, the opponent on May 7 in Las Vegas. Roach is often portrayed as the master and Pacquiao the student. And, yes, the trainer has surely molded that raw power he experienced 10 years ago. Roach also is the one up there telling Pacquiao which combinations to try and what to look out for from Mosley. But Roach also readily admits that it’s Pacquiao uniqueness and superb innate boxing ability that makes the trainer look like a genius.
Roach, sans glasses and wearing his dark green body protector, pretends to be Mosley and talks through the intricacies of each sequence. The first part comes in slow motion .
“Right hand,” says Roach, thrusting his right mitt forward to simulate Mosley’s best punch. “Now you go down, to the left, now throw the combination.” Pacquiao, listening as he bounces on the balls of his feet, repeats the task in slow motion.
“Now fast,” orders Roach, quickly throwing the right toward Pacquiao’s head. Pacquiao avoids the incoming right, ducks down and moves left, then rips a thunderous combination, then moves out of the way just as quickly. It all happens in the blink of an eye.
Roach repeats the drill, this time with a four-punch combination. With blinding speed, backed up by ferocious power, Pacquiao executes the sequence, then as he turns away, he slams a left into the side of Roach’s protector, simulating a shot to Mosley’s liver.
“That’s your best punch right there,” says Roach, pointing his mitt to his liver. “Don’t forget that.”
The pair continues on. The pace is fast. The bell signaling the end of rounds goes unnoticed. Pacquiao keeps going without so much as a breather. Roach maintains the drill. First the instruction. Then Pacquiao executes the move in slow motion. Then he unleashes the full fury.
A right-left, duck under and away. Another right-left, followed by a blinding right hook that lands with bad intentions.
“I think we have to be ready for anything,” says Pacquiao, pulling up for a moment between ferocious flurries, “Mosley’s going to mix it up.” This prompts Roach to work on yet another combination.
A double jab … left upper … right hook … duck under and away, out of range, and nowhere to be found for a counter.
“That’s good. We have to mix it up too,” Roach tells him.
The basics of the plan they are working on appear to be the same as always, with added emphasis for a boxer like Mosley. Pacquiao is the ultimate in two-fisted perpetual motion. Strike, get out, strike again while on the way out. Don’t let Mosley have one second rest or let him get away with anything. Take advantage of every moment. Create angles.
Roach keeps focusing on Pacquiao’s vaunted left hand. Much has been said over the last few fights about the southpaw Pacquiao having developed a right to go with his natural bomb of a left. It seems in this fight Roach wants Pacquiao to bring the left back, perhaps to try to finish Mosley with it, especially when Pacquiao’s moving away and is at one of those angles he creates.
Roach falls back on the ropes and shows Pacquiao what to do when he’s pinned down. Right-left, then slide away, then nail Mosley to the body with the left while moving away. Pacquiao rips into Roach’s mitts, slips sideways and smashes Roach’s protector from a sharp angle. The sequence sends a booming sound across the gym.
“Good, now don’t walk into this,” Roach warns Pacquiao, as he holds up his right hand. “That’s his best punch.”
After 10 intense rounds on the mitts, Roach tells Pacquiao it’s time to call it quits. Pacquiao clearly wants to go more. This session took place on only Pacquiao’s fourth day of training, but he already looks fit and sharp. The mood in the gym is buoyant, confident and the whole team seems to be having fun. Roach is, too, as he and Pacquiao share some laughs. But he doesn’t want to overheat the engine. And so he sends Pacquiao out of the ring to finish the workout on his own.
“He looked really sharp, especially for just our fourth day of training camp,” a heavily perspiring Roach says right after climbing out of the ring as Pacquiao tears into the heavy bag. “We’re way ahead of schedule. Usually I average him about 12 rounds (on the mitts). I mean we’ve done 18 before. That’s why today I talked a little bit, kind of bullsh—ed my way through it so I could rest a little bit. I have experience.”
While elaborating on the on the techniques they had just been working on, Roach also revealed that the teaching process between the two sometimes works both ways.
“Manny knows all the combinations already,” he said. “What we’re doing is after the combinations, we’re working on where Manny ends up. That’s the important part. Instead of being right in front of him [Mosley] in the pocket and he [Pacquiao] gets hit with the uppercut, he’s on an angle. Manny’s developed that over the years. I did a lot research. If you can obtain an angle on your opponent, it makes the fight that much easier. That’s why I’m teaching a lot of fighters right now to use angles. It goes back to Napoleon (Bonaparte). He didn’t fight head on, he fought with angles, that’s why he won most of the time.
“I have an athlete that is so capable of making these moves and doing what I ask. Manny was the one making the angles, and I said well, we can even make that a little cleaner on both sides, that’s why he’s been so dominant the last couple of years. That’s why he can dominate different weight divisions, because we’re fighting off angles.”
However, teaching others how to use angles, Roach says, and actually getting them to try the angles in a fight are two different things.
“Manny’s very efficient,” Roach says. “Most guys can’t do that because they’re afraid of getting tired. Manny Pacquiao doesn’t fear getting tired because he works hard. His work ethic today is probably better than when he first started.”
Roach is asked about the apparent focus on Pacquiao using his left hand. The left was the only punch Pacquiao had when the two started together a decade ago. Roach confirmed that they are planning on giving it a comeback.
“His right hand has become so well used over the last couple of fights because we didn’t have that before, so he was trying to use that one a little bit more,” he said. “I want to use the right to set up the left now at this point, which will be a perfect set up for Mosley. One thing about Mosley is that he doesn’t have a lot of experience with southpaws. I’m even having trouble getting tapes of him fighting southpaws. I have a couple coming but they’re a little bit old.”
Ultimately a Pacquiao victory, if it comes, won’t be a case of which punch, but how many punches, especially the ones coming from places Mosley can’t see.
“I don’t think Mosley can stand our work rate,” Roach says. “That’s why I told Manny, ‘Don’t forget the body in this fight because the body shots will take those legs away quicker.’ Obviously when you go to the body, sometimes you open yourself up a little bit, so again we’re going to a little more scientific about it and work off that angle. We’re turning the guy into the shot instead of just standing in front of him and trading with him.
“When you’re a guy that goes for it like Manny, you’re going to get hit back, but that’s why we’re doing the angles, trying to put ourselves in better positions after we land and not be right in front of the guy.”
For Pacquiao, the just-completed session with Roach had gone exceptionally well. After completing his workout, he was in a good mood.
“I’m happy in my training,” Pacquiao said. “I rested yesterday because of body pain. Now I’m good, the pain is gone. I’m excited and enjoying the training. Mosley is not an easy opponent. He’s strong, he moves fast. I have to train hard and study hard about his style and create different techniques I can use in the fight. Angles and speed and footwork.”
The long time partners were clearly dancing to the same tune.
Photos / Ted Lerner