Pacquiao follows new, spiritual path

Team members believe welterweight champ's changes will be reflected in ring

Updated: June 10, 2012, 1:46 AM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- Manny Pacquiao admits that he fell victim to the trappings of his enormous success. That's what can happen when you are one of the highest-paid, most famous athletes in the world.

But Pacquiao believes he has righted the ship with a newfound devotion to his Catholic faith, which he believes saved his marriage and has him living a less tumultuous life so that he can better focus on his boxing career and job as a congressman in the Philippines, where he is a national icon.

His womanizing left his marriage in such shambles that his wife, Jinkee, was on the verge of filing for divorce in the days leading up to Pacquiao's November fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. Things between them were so bad that Jinkee at first refused to accompany her husband to the MGM Grand Garden Arena before the fight. Pacquiao refused to leave the suite without her and, according to members of his camp, when she finally agreed to go with him, Pacquiao wound up arriving so late to the dressing room that he had less than 15 minutes to warm up with trainer Freddie Roach before walking to the ring.

Rushed and distracted by his marital problems, Pacquiao turned in his worst performance in years, eking out a majority decision in his third fight with rival Marquez -- a bout many believed Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KOs) lost.

"The fight was not that hard for me, but I was having some family problems," Pacquiao said. "I was in 100 percent physical condition for that fight against Marquez, but I did have some family issues that I had to deal with. I also underestimated him."

"We had a great training camp going into that fight, but on the last week everything fell apart," Roach said. "The personal problems affected the fight, and I don't think Manny will let that happen again. All of the distractions around him caused him to fight poorly."

Besides the womanizing, there was smoking, drinking, heavy gambling -- which caused him to take seven-figure advances before recent fights from Top Rank promoter Bob Arum in order to pay his debts -- and partying nights away while trying to also balance boxing and his political career.

His life was careening out of control.

But now, seven months later, Pacquiao said there are "no distractions, everything is OK," as he prepares to defend his welterweight title for the fourth time, against junior welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr. on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET, $54.95) at the MGM Grand.

Pacquiao, boxing's only eight-division world champion, credits the new calmness in his life -- calm, at least by his standards, because the entourage is still massive and the schedule still packed -- to what he calls his "manual of life." He's talking about the Bible, which he has turned to in recent months.

[+] EnlargeJuan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao
Tom Donoghue/PictureGroup/AP ImagesPacquiao turned in his worst performance in years when he fought Juan Manuel Marquez last November.

Now, instead of staying out until all hours playing pool, gambling, drinking and spending time with women not named Jinkee, he instead attends daily Bible study sessions with his wife and those closest to him. Pacquiao's spiritual adviser, pastor Jeric Soriano, became a key member of the camp in December.

"The old things that we were committing over and over in the past, I stopped that," Pacquiao said. "Now I follow and obey the commandments of God. I found my manual to life, the Bible. So I am reading the Bible. I keep reading and reading it.

"It's better for my personality because I am working with eternal life. And I know if I die today, I know where I'm going. I'm going to heaven, and it's helped a lot in my life because God is with me. The thing is, I am not worried about what happens in this world. I am worried about my life when we die. Are we going to have eternal life or are we going to hell? I chose to invest my life in eternal life, not to a short life."

Jinkee, too, is happier now. She and Pacquiao, who have four children, have overcome their marital problems to build a deeper bond.

"Our lives were like a roller coaster ride. Before, it's something like half-half, 50-50 trust, doubt and trust," she said on HBO's "24/7" reality series. "Now, it's very different than before. It's full of trust. Now we have a happy life together."

Roach, often the calm in the center of the Pacquiao storm, said he see has noticed a change in Pacquiao, 33, since he has rededicated himself to his faith.

The trainer -- who will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., on Sunday -- likes what he sees. Compared to the usual distraction-filled training camps, this one was tranquil.

"I think it's been great for him. If religion works for somebody, I'm happy about that," Roach said. "He comes in the gym now and he never comes in tired. He never comes in from a late night of gambling or maybe drinking or whatever his bad habits were. When you're gambling, what does that lead to? Maybe a beer or two, but what comes next? The girls.

"He's with his family now. He does his bible study. He comes into the gym much more focused. We had a real good training camp as usual, but it's getting close to the fight now and his focus is really good."

Arum has also noticed a difference in Pacquiao.

"From somebody who has visited the training camp a few times, the difference in Manny's face is so apparent," Arum said. "He's not as tired as he was and he's not as worn as he was. There is a glow in his face. I think this religious awakening has been all good on his part. I am a little prejudiced because I am religious myself, but I believe when young athletes find religion, it will greatly enhance their careers."

Pacquiao has always had religion in his life, just not to the extent that he does now, said adviser Michael Koncz.

"Manny's been religious all along, but what he's done is renewed his commitment and vows to God by reading the Bible to strengthen his relationship with God," he said.

Koncz, who has been with Pacquiao for several years, said Pacquiao is very serious about his faith.

[+] EnlargeManny Pacquiao
Chris Farina/Top RankPacquiao says there are no distractions now that he, with guidance from spiritual adviser Jeric Soriano, has recommitted himself to his faith. "Everything is OK," he said.

"Some people have said maybe this is a political ploy, but 210 percent, it's not," Koncz said. "It's real, and I know, because I drive with him most of the time and I'm getting Bible studies from him on a daily basis. It's not a gimmick. There's so many good things that come out of it. His family is happy. He spends more time with his wife and kids."

The new devotion has also led Pacquiao to shed his involvement in things related to his past vices. Koncz said Pacquiao has given up his stake in various casinos in the Philippines and he is no longer appearing in commercials advertising a California casino. In addition, Koncz said, Pacquiao has given up his involvement in cockfighting (which is legal in the Philippines) and sold pool halls and bars he owned.

"We have given up a lot of business that involve gambling. We sold them or closed them down," Koncz said. "We used to have casinos that we owned part of in the Philippines, but we shut those down. It's genuine."

Of the bars Pacquiao sold, Jinkee said: "Manny decided to close it, because if he goes to that place, there is drinking, smoking, betting and then girls. So he decided to stop it all. He decided to focus on Jesus."

Bradley (28-0, 12 KOs), 28, of Palm Springs, Calif., has followed the stories of Pacquiao's lifestyle.

"I knew sooner or later it would catch up with him, all the distractions," Bradley said. "He is pulled in a hundred different places. He needs to be here, he's doing this, he's doing that, he's fornicating. Nobody's perfect. But now that he has his religion in place, to each their own. That's his thing. Having that, it definitely will make him stronger mentally.

"We probably believe in the same God, but he has his way of doing it and I have my way of doing it. I figure he will definitely be focused on the task at hand. He better be, or he will be in for a rude awakening."

For those who wonder whether Pacquiao's faith will make him less ferocious in the ring, it's a non-issue, according to Manny. He said he will fight like he always has.

"This fight is my job. God made me this profession, and I have a job to do in the ring and to make people happy," Pacquiao said. "I am not underestimating [Bradley]. I believe my advantage is my speed. I'm faster than him and, of course, my power also is better. But I'm not underestimating him. If I train hard, no need to worry."

Koncz said he and Pacquiao have talked about making sure that religion doesn't interfere with his fighting style.

"We want to have a good showing in this fight for two reasons: To win back some of the crowd we may have lost in the Marquez fight and, secondly, to debunk what some people are saying, that because of religion he may not want too hurt somebody," Koncz said. "As Manny said, there is nothing in the Bible that says you can't be employed. This is a sport. As long as you obey the rules, it's a job. I think that people will be pleasantly surprised after this fight is over."