Saturday, May 31, 2008
Pacquiao, Diaz delight Bay Area boxing fans with free workout
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Although David Diaz knows he'll be an underdog in his fight with Manny Pacquiao in four weeks, he already pulled one remarkable surprise in a storefront martial-arts gym Saturday.
By following up some sharp shadowboxing with a well-timed joke or two, Diaz charmed a bit of grudging admiration out of the hundreds of Filipino boxing fans from the Bay Area who crowded into every cranny of the West Wind Gym for a free workout by the two fighters who will meet in Las Vegas for the WBC lightweight title in four weeks.
Diaz (34-1-1, 17 KOs), a Chicago native who became an unlikely champion two years ago, arrived first at the latest stop on the fighters' coast-to-coast publicity tour for one of the summer's biggest bouts.
About 500 mostly Filipino fans, many of whom arrived hours earlier, cheered him warily when he entered the ring, and they giggled when he pretended to stop his workout after 30 seconds, yelling, "If you show too much, then Manny knows too much."
But the fans really warmed up when he grabbed the microphone.
"I know you guys really came here to see me and not Manny," Diaz said, drawing a big laugh. "I know most people don't give me a chance, but I know I can do it, and my corner knows, and that's all that matters."
A few minutes later, Diaz was smiling for photos and signing autographs with fans who probably still hope Pacquiao (46-3-2, 34 KOs), the Philippines' most popular celebrity, wins another title belt in his long-anticipated move up to lightweight.
"It's important to come and meet with the fans and let them know you're fighting for them," said Diaz, who wore a T-shirt from the Addison (Ill.) Police Department. "There's a lot of responsibilities in promotion [for this fight], but I know it's all for the good of the sport."
Pacquiao worked out after Diaz's session, when the fans were in the mood to cheer his always-impressive mitt work with Freddie Roach, his longtime trainer and a Filipino celebrity in his own right. Pacquiao, who's training in Los Angeles, was in good spirits for his second free workout this year in the Bay Area, where he briefly lived while ascending to international stardom.
The Filipino fans in Northern California always provide some of Pacquiao's biggest pay-per-view numbers, promoter Bob Arum said. Pacquiao wanted to pay them back with a weekend workout -- and he also paid back about 60 family members and local friends by taking them to lunch at a restaurant in the Berkeley Marina after the workout.
"My fans are very important to me, especially the fans in San Francisco and the Bay Area," Pacquiao said. "I fight for them, and they always support me, even when I lived in California."
Diaz, who fought on the undercard of Pacquiao's acclaimed split-decision victory over Juan Manuel Marquez on March 15, will make just his second title defense against Pacquiao, who will be fighting for his first lightweight title in a move up to a more natural weight. The matchup of two natural brawlers has generated plenty of interest, though many believe Pacquiao's singular power will be too much for Diaz.
But Diaz has spent his career pulling surprises, from his unexpected ascension to a spot on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team to his stunning 10th-round knockout of Jose Armando Santa Cruz to win his title.
"People can underestimate me all they want," Diaz said. "I don't think Manny underestimates me, but we'll see next month."