No rest for Pacquiao -- just as he likes it

October, 22, 2010
10/22/10
11:00
AM ET
Manny PacquiaoCourtesy of Peter Owen Nelson Manny Pacquiao, right, has kept busy in and out of the ring during his latest training camp.
Two seconds after Manny Pacquiao finishes his 1,400th sit-up during a recent workout, he curls into a ball on a foam mat and closes his eyes. "Like how I used to sleep," he said.

Fifteen years and seven division championships ago, Pacquiao left his home in General Santos City, Philippines, to turn pro and train at a gym in Manila, where he slept on a mattress made of cardboard. Forty-eight hours after his workout, he will take his seat in Congress, four rows from the back, several miles from the gym where he once slept, a building that Pacquiao today owns and has renamed the MP Tower, which houses the offices of his promotional company. His executive suite sits above two floors of dormitories filled with bunk beds. Manny Pacquiao rarely wants for a mattress these days, although that's because his time is rarely spent at rest.

Friday, Oct. 8

Pacquiao taps trainer Freddie Roach on the chest before gloving up, reminding him to turn off his microphone for an HBO film crew. After working 18 rounds of strategy and stopping only once for a drink of water, Pacquiao heads to the dressing room, where a confused expression falls over his face.

"I feel ..." Pacquiao said, pausing. "I don't know."

"Tired?" conditioning coach Alex Ariza said, as if teaching the word to Pacquiao for the first time. "Bro, you got to take it easier."

Pacquiao eventually nods, but first stares at Ariza, frozen for about five seconds, seeming to process the word "easier" as though he might fire Ariza just for suggesting it.

Saturday, Oct. 9

Pacquiao descends to Manila, where a day later he will take part in a 10-kilometer run to help sponsor clean up of a garbage repository also known as the Pasig River. Pacquiao has decided to skip mitt work Monday, staying in Manila.

Monday, Oct. 11

It's 5:45 a.m. at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, the scheduled time and place of Pacquiao's morning track work, but the only sign of the man is across the street in the form of an enormous billboard advertisement of Pacquiao's smiling face hawking milk from New Zealand. Usually, the only place one world champion makes another wait is in the ring before a fight. But this morning, in an SUV, WBA junior welterweight champion Amir Khan -- another Roach trainee -- has been waiting to train with Pacquiao since dawn. (Khan would spar Pacquiao twice a week later.) After an hour, the motorcade arrives and the sprints began.

Pacquiao darts back for a meal before attending a closed-door meeting with Philippine executive secretary Paquito Ochoa, affectionately known as the "little president." At about 3 p.m., Pacquiao normally would be at the gym ending his mitt work. Instead he is arriving at his congressional office in a navy Calvin Klein suit.

From the outset of camp, Pacquiao has been eager to showcase his newly elected position (from which he is technically on a two-month leave of absence for his training). After Pacquiao's first day of training in Manila in September, he waited for Roach to work mitts with UFC star Georges St. Pierre (who said, after watching Pacquiao's speed, "I have to go after that?"). Once finished, Roach followed Pacquiao in a convoy to Congress, where Pacquiao informed Roach in the chamber, "I would like to introduce a bill to make you a Filipino citizen."

Discussing his potential citizenship after Pacquiao's return from Manila on Oct. 12, Roach smiles at the thought of pledging his allegiance to the Philippine flag. "In America, I've never voted in my life," he said. "But if a citizen of the Philippines, I'd vote for Manny Pacquiao."

The four-time trainer of the year has grown increasingly concerned about losing his champion to politics. Recently, Pacquiao turned to Roach and said, "I miss my job."

Unsure quite what Pacquiao meant, Roach pointed to the ring and stated the obvious: "This is your job."

"No," Pacquiao said, shaking his head. "I miss Congress."

Physical injuries more commonly occur in a boxing ring than on a congressional floor, but Pacquiao is both an unconventional fighter and politician. His new political focus has led to the change in wardrobe, a seemingly superficial alteration that was of nearly cataclysmic proportions: Pacquiao's leather shoes, though stately, are believed to be the cause of severe inflammation in his left foot, a condition known as plantar fasciitis.

But since returning from Manila, Pacquiao has bought a new pair of shoes, ceased playing basketball and has steadily improved in sparring. "Problems like this happen all the time in training, and things are now back to normal," Roach said.

Still, panic continues to grip the media. Pacquiao is the Philippines' favorite son, and the media is his irresponsible, overprotective parent. Each time their champion deviates from his usual training, a type of hypochondria leads to reports of Pacquiao's imminent demise. But their presence has been a source of distraction in itself: Pacquiao was dragged to a banquet one day after 9 p.m. at the behest of members of the Philippine media; the following night, advisor Michael Koncz had an impromptu, open-to-the-media wedding, for which Pacquiao served as a signatory witness and performed with his band at the reception.

Despite Pacquiao's sparring being closed to reporters, it is covered by the Philippine media in daily articles with fabricated quotes and third-hand accounts written as first-hand access. "Every day in the Philippines, I'm quoted by a reporter who never even spoke to me," Roach said. On a courtesy visit to his fighter last week, promoter Bob Arum began receiving calls from the Wall Street Journal and USA Today based on "a quote in one Filipino paper that was completely invented, saying I predicted Margarito would beat Manny in the fight."

Saturday, Oct. 16

Amid the media reports, foot inflammation, basketball, trips to Manila, plans of wedlock, sparring and swarms of visitors, a storm has gradually picked up speed, morphing into a typhoon headed directly toward the province where Pacquiao is training. Last year, back-to-back typhoons ravaged Baguio during Pacquiao's preparations for his fight against Miguel Cotto, causing an estimated $600 million in devastation, taking some 500 lives and forcing his team to decamp early.

After training, Roach asks Pacquiao, "Manny, should we go before the typhoon gets here?"

Pacquiao smiles confidently, "The typhoon won't come here."

Roach nods, then mutters to himself, "If we were smart, we'd get the hell out of here."

Sunday, Oct. 17

After Pacquiao completes the 65th of his targeted 137 rounds of sparring, Roach presses his fighter again on when he wants to leave. "Maybe Wednesday," Pacquiao replies.

Pacquiao then adds, "There is time."

For Pacquiao in his prime, there always is.

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