BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – If you watch Manny Pacquiao work the punch mitts with trainer Freddie Roach closely enough, you’ll notice almost constant chatter between the two.
It is in these moments, when their speech is inaudible to anyone not standing directly beside them, that much of their strategies are formulated. They discuss the tactics they have been devising, and what maneuvers and combinations they feel will work best.
“It’s very important, it’s crucial for us,” Roach, who has trained Pacquiao since the Filipino congressman/pound for pound king first traveled to the United States over a decade ago, said of their mitt work banter.
“It’s one-on-one, that’s why I don’t let anyone mic me because when we used to have [HBO] 24/7 mic’ing us, he wouldn’t talk to me. So I told them not to interfere with that because we’re talking about strategy back and forth, what’s going to work and what’s not going to work, we’re just kinda putting out our formulas together and finding out what’s going to work best for him.”
A fighter can survive with a bad relationship with his promoter and manager, but congruity between fighter and trainer is indispensable. Few tandems in boxing communicate as well as Pacquiao and Roach. Though Pacquiao is far more comfortable speaking in the Filipino languages Tagalog and Visayan, he doesn’t hold back when voicing his input on Roach’s approach.
“Sometimes I’ll show him a move and he may not be comfortable with it,” explained Roach. “At one time he’d just do it to please me but now he’ll say, ‘I’d like to see if we can adjust it,’ and he’ll show me the adjustment. If I see a hole, I’ll show him the hole. If I see it’s good, we’ll use it.”
Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 knockouts), who has held major world titles in eight separate divisions, is currently preparing to defend the WBO welterweight belt on June 9 against unbeaten junior welterweight titleholder Timothy Bradley (28-0, 12 KOs), of Palm Springs, Calif., at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nev. It will be Pacquiao’s third defense of the belt that he won after stopping Miguel Cotto in the 12th round of their 2009 bout.
As Roach prepared for the second to last day of their three-week phase in Baguio City on Wednesday afternoon at the Cooyeesan Hotel, a crowd of nearly 100 spectators gathered for the only buzzing event going on in town, watching their national icon train. The only problem is, there’s no Pacquiao.
As the minutes tick past the scheduled start time of 2 p.m., word reaches Roach that Pacquiao is still upstairs in his room sleeping. The news seems to please Roach.
“I’ll never yell at him for being late because when he’s late he’s not f__king around, he’s sleeping,” said Roach.
“At first I’ll ask him if he had a run this morning, is that why you slept in a little bit longer today, why you slept in a little later? That’s why I don’t mind him sleeping and I wouldn’t want to interrupt that sleep. Most fighters in history, especially champions, they’re nocturnal people, they stay up late at night. They either watch the TV or are playing darts, and after they run they get sleepy. That’s when they get the best sleep, between the run and the workout.
“He’s exactly like Marlon Starling, Stevie Collins, Virgil Hill, Michael Moorer, they all have that similarity. That’s why when he’s late and everyone’s saying, ‘Why is he late?’ I used to say wake him up but I don’t say that anymore because he needs to rest.”
Earlier that morning, Pacquiao went to run sprints at the track at Burnham Park on the outskirts of Baguio City. Roach had said in earlier interviews that Alex Ariza, the strength and conditioning coach who left abruptly the week before to join WBC middleweight titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in America, was unable to convince Pacquiao to run on the track, as Pacquiao usually preferred to run the hills and roads.
“For him to go to the track, that means he’s in a good mood,” said Roach.
After Ariza left, Roach contemplated flying in a new strength and conditioning coach to work with Pacquiao, just as Amir Khan did by flying in Ruben Tavares from England. But Roach saw that his assistant Marvin Somodio, a slight, soft-spoken former amateur boxer from Iloilo City, Philippines, had a strong rapport with Pacquiao. Roach decided to gamble on Somodio to replace Ariza for the remainder of their Philippine phase of the camp.
Ariza will rejoin Pacquiao in Los Angeles at the Wild Card Boxing Club on Monday. Pacquiao, Roach and camp leave Manila for Hollywood on Saturday night.
“Marvin does a good job, I don’t know how, but no one else could get him to the track,” said Roach, who considers Somodio his protege’. “I think he listens to Marvin a little bit more, but one thing about Manny Pacquiao, he’s his own man. He knows how to condition his body well, that’s why he went to the track today, that’s why he’s going to the hills; he’ll even take a day off or go run in the park. I like when he goes to Burnham Park instead of taking the whole day off on sparring days because it kind of gets his blood flowing and gets the body awake. I don’t like when people stay in their room all day and get stale.
“Thing is, when Alex went home, I had to get someone in to replace him. I thought Alex should have covered that if he’s going to leave for two weeks, he should have had someone to come in and take over his duties. I feel that Marvin has fit in really well. I’m trying to kidnap Marvin to America. We’re still working on his paperwork, it’s not a sure thing yet but we’re definitely working on it. Hopefully it comes through because he’s an asset to my camp right now and would be a great benefit to my gym.”
One punch that Roach has focused on in this camp has been Pacquiao’s left uppercut. Roach believes that the resolute Bradley comes in low with his head, leaving him wide open to the punch.
“Then again, we work on uppercuts quite a bit because it’s one of Manny’s favorite combinations, the 1-3-5 (a jab, a right hook and a left uppercut). “From [Lehlohonolo] Ledwaba to a lot of guys, that’s the combination that has swung some fights in our favor.”
Regarding Bradley, Roach dismisses the notion that he will try to move and counterpunch against Pacquiao and insists that Bradley will fight aggressively, just as he did when he earned his biggest victories against Devon Alexander and Kendall Holt.
“Why in the world would he box? When has he ever boxed?” asked Roach. “He’ll fight his typical fight, moving forward, attacking, initiating the fight. Lamont Peterson outboxed him for two rounds, but every time he gets people to fight with him, he wins. I gave Manny a little movement today in the ring, just to jab and chase him to get his legs going and so forth, we’re definitely not going to move that fast against him. We welcome the onslaught.”
Yet as things are starting to click for Team Pacquiao as camp begins to pick up, even Roach agrees that there is a little pressure on Pacquiao to prove why he is regarded by most pundits – including THE RING magazine – as the best fighter pound-for-pound in the world in the wake of his flat performance against Juan Manuel Marquez in their third meeting this past November.
Yet if there is one thing Roach and Pacquiao have done in the past, it’s come back from tough fights against Marquez with impressive outings.
“I know that Manny knows that he has to make a statement in this fight,” said Roach. “He hasn’t said that to me, but in my conversations with him, he knows that he didn’t look that good in his last fight and had a bad night. It was our first bad night in ten years, so he knows that he has to really shine in this fight.”
Photos / Ryan Songalia
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.