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It wasn't too long ago, in the wake of his revenge victory over Erik Morales, that the "Pac Man" had reached a career zenith, not only in terms of his boxing, but with the absence of the stress and strife that had plagued him during his tenure under promoter Murad Muhammad. He seemed content with his managerial team -- that consisted of noted manager Shelly Finkel and attorneys Nick Khan and Keith Davidson, along with promoter Gary Shaw, who was brought in by Finkel last summer, prior to his September tune-up versus Hector Velazquez.
Fast forward just a few months -- Shaw has been jettisoned, and leading up to Pacquiao's bout with Oscar Larios this weekend in his home country, there seems to have been a tug-of-war between his American advisers and Franklin "Ging" Gacal, the in-house counsel for Pacquiao's newly formed promotional company, Manny Pacquiao Promotions Inc., and his close friend and adviser Rex "Wakee" Salud.
Claiming, among other things, "contractual interference," Finkel was to have sued the pair for $7.5 million before a series of meetings a few weeks ago between the parties averted litigation. But it's clear, there was, and is, unrest in Pac-land.
"Everybody knows we had a little problem with my managers and my friend Wakee Salud," Pacquiao would admit to MaxBoxing during one of his final days of training in the States at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif. "Right now, I'm OK, it's OK, the problem is going to be OK."
Usually, the effervescent Pacquiao is the very definition of happiness and joy. But the thousand-watt smile that regularly lit up the gym during past training camps was instead replaced by a rather grim-looking fighter who seemed a bit weighed down by the behind-the-scenes conflict.
"Yeah, sometimes I don't smile during training, but sometimes I'm not going to smile because I think about a lot of my responsibilities, especially to my coming fight, especially the problem with my team. But I know I can focus on my coming fight."
Not too long ago, Pacquiao was just a boxer. Now, he's big business. The innocence (some would say naiveté) that was once every bit a trademark of Pacquiao as his lethal left cross has been replaced to a large degree by a heightened sense of cynicism.
But Finkel says there is harmony among the power brokers.
"We settled everything the way we wanted them to," he said of the disagreements between the two parties. As for the conflict, he says, "It wasn't that bad. There were a couple of things done by some people who just didn't consult us when they did it and we wanted them to do it in the proper manner. And as a result, we were not happy with things. But it's all been settled, it's behind us and I believe that everything's going to be great with Manny's fight in the Philippines."
As the training camp wound down at the Wild Card, Finkel and Khan would be more and more of a presence at the gym during Pacquiao's afternoon training sessions. Considering the circumstances, it's safe to assume they weren't hovering around their client to see how his right hook was coming along. This group -- which was instrumental in extricating Pacquiao from his stilted deal with Muhammad and which had negotiated lucrative deals for his subsequent bouts -- feels that not only were they just protecting their investment, but defending their client from unfavorable deals with unsavory sorts.
Perhaps none of this would have happened if a promoter (whether it be Shaw or anyone else) were already in place to promote Pacquiao's homecoming event. Shaw reportedly was relieved of his duties because of a personality conflict with Pacquiao.
Regardless, Finkel and company might have left themselves vulnerable without an in-house promoter in place.
"It's hard to say," counters Khan of that theory. "Manny wants to be his own promoter, Manny Pacquiao Promotions. A lot of fighters have tried, a lot of fighters have failed. One fighter in particular has not failed, Oscar De La Hoya. And that happens to be Manny's hero. So if this is what Manny wants, it's his prerogative."
|Pacquiao (right) defeated Erik Morales by a 10th-round knockout in January.|
"I think he sees it now; I don't think those things will happen again," Finkel states. "He was in the Philippines, there were people who said, 'Oh, this is OK,' and he went ahead to do it. It's behind us."
During this period, as you scanned the Internet, stories were running rampant from Filipino news outlets detailing the battle for control between the factions.
"I think they were exaggerated," says Khan of those reports. "There's simply nothing there; the contract was entered into, we felt that some of the terms were disadvantageous, so the people who suggested to Manny that he enter into that contract now know that they were disadvantageous and it's all been remedied."
Here in America, a situation like Terrell Owens' unhappiness with the Philadelphia Eagles stays within the confines of the sports world. In the Philippines, Pacquiao encompasses much more.
"The only analogy that I could think of," Khan says of his idolatry, "people say it's like The Beatles in their heyday, I disagree with that. It's like The Beatles in their heyday with no competition from Muhammad Ali, any actor or any other form of entertainment. Literally, people throw themselves at [Pacquiao] when they see him and they start crying. It's unlike anything I've ever seen."
So is this now a harmonious unit?
"Absolutely," claimed Khan a couple of weeks back, before leaving with Pacquiao to the Philippines last Sunday afternoon from LAX. "We're all going in on the same flight together, in fact. Flying together as a team, it was Manny's request and I think it's very important."
But you get the sense that there could be lingering scars from the past few months and it could hinder the futures of the American advisers after their agreement with Pacquiao comes to an end in late January.
"Bad timing," is how a miffed trainer Freddie Roach described the recent goings-on. "I wish somebody would've asked me my opinion on it before they filed suits and so forth. Because as a fighter, I know that it's bad timing for anything to disrupt training camp. If it could've waited, I would've asked them to wait. Maybe it couldn't have waited, but anything that distracts a fighter during training camp can throw a fighter off mentally. Physically, Manny worked through it. But mentally, he was thrown a little bit.
"But now that everything seems to be dropped and settled down by now, and hopefully it didn't hurt him too bad. But it can never help a fighter, of course."
Roach noticed his fighter seemed distracted during this spell.
"Definitely, there was tension," he admitted. "Nick, Shelly, Manny, there's an issue there. There's definitely an issue there and hopefully they'll settle that after the fight. Manny, he seems like he's pretty focused now, he's trained through it."
Which is true. Dispute whatever emotions cloud his mind, but day in, day out, Pacquiao works at a fevered pace, stretching himself to his physical limits every training session. But Roach, who was a key figure in his fighter's dispute with his past promoter, thought these types of snafus were things of the past.
"I guess they thought they had their right to do that but it was just bad timing," said the somewhat annoyed trainer. "I wish they would've come to me and asked me, to be honest with you."
From the very time the Larios bout was announced, Roach expressed concern at his fighter's activities at home and his delayed arrival to California to begin training.
"When I was in the Philippines, I'm very busy and I have a lot to do and I forgot to train," admitted Pacquiao, who came into camp at 142 pounds in mid-May.
His trainer also expressed concern about wrapping up fight preparations in his country.
"We'll be there 12 days," said Roach, about three days before their departure. "I'll have to really lock him up. Manny knows the importance of the fight, also. I don't think it's going to be as difficult with him on my side. He knows as well as anybody else how important this fight is. We're just really going to guard him, have closed sessions and we have one public workout there and that's all we're obligated to and that's all we're really going to give."
Late last week, it was reported that one of Pacquiao's sparring sessions was a tad sluggish with his getting to sleep late because of his movie premiere, which ran long the night before. That didn't exactly please Roach.
But Larios, who faces Pacquiao at the Araneta Coliseum in Manila, could be the ideal foil in this circumstance. He's a recognizable name, moving up in weight, and who wasn't much of a puncher even as a junior featherweight. Pacquiao has spent much of this camp continuing to develop his improving 'Manila Ice.'
"We're always trying to improve Manny and he's got a great left hand, but he has a great right hand, also," explains Roach. "We're just working on getting more confidence, he's getting better all the time and we're always trying to improve."
Roach also believes his boxer still has room for growth.
"This kid's been a champion a multitude of times now. But he's getting better and better and he's still growing. He's still a young guy and he has room for improvement. He's going to be better next time out, also. He's not at his best yet."
A win against "Chololo" and it's on to his Nov. 18 rubber match against Morales.
"I'm very focused on this fight," insisted Pacquiao. "The fight's going to be in the Philippines and it's not like the Morales fight, but I'm very focused on this fight."Meanwhile, it was business as usual for those who work with Pacquiao on a daily basis at the gym.
Justin Fortune, who serves as the lead assistant and physical conditioner for Roach, had to whip Pacquiao into fighting form.
"He was heavy and out of shape," Fortune says of Pacquiao's condition six weeks ago. "Not badly, I'd put him at about 60 percent fitness and now he's running at about 80 percent and he'll finish up the last two weeks over there. He's good enough to get through someone like Larios, but not good enough for Morales. So we'll see a much bigger, more intense, controlled buildup."
But Fortune, who takes Pacquiao running six days a week at 6 in the morning, is concerned about how he'll finish up in the Philippines.
"It's not a good place, it's a hard place to run because there's no space," says Fortune, who did not make the trip, as he has to run the gym in Roach's absence. While Fortune is not there, Buboy Fernandez is in charge of Pacquiao's regimen, which is given to him by Fortune.
According to the hard-driving Aussie, Pacquiao is among the most energetic fighters he's ever trained.
"The thing with Pacquiao is, he has such great recuperative powers that if he's flat, feeling a little stiff, he just needs a day off." And once he gets a brief respite, according to Fortune, "the S.O.B. comes back twice as fast, which is great. It's a gift."
Meanwhile, guarding the door and making sure Pacquiao has a private gym is Rob Peters, head of security for Team Pacquiao.
In the past, he had to shoo away a multitude of Pacquiao loyalists from the Wild Card, but now, the message seems to have been sent loud and clear that Pacquiao will train in privacy. On most days, Peters has nobody to turn away at the door.
So does he feel a bit like the Maytag repair man?
"Well, things aren't quite as hectic as they used to be. But people understand that we got a job to do, so maybe," he said with a laugh.
Peters, who made the trip to the Philippines, saw a productive training camp: "Manny didn't let any of the distractions get to him. Freddie always keeps everything very focused, so I don't think there were any real distractions as far as Manny goes. There's always a lot of stuff that swirls around Manny because he's such an icon. But really, this has been a very focused camp. I think it's been very successful."