ARLINGTON, Texas -- Over the last few weeks speculation has run rampant that Manny Pacquiao is not ready for Saturday night's showdown with Antonio Margarito. His work in camp has been sloppy. He's having trouble adding the extra bulk that comes with fighting as a 150-pounder. The distractions that accompany preparing for his first fight as a Filipino Congressman have split his focus.
To a man, members of Pacquiao's team will acknowledge the reports to be true. Just a little overstated.
"Just because it doesn't happen our way, doesn't mean Manny is not in shape," said Pacquiao's strength coach, Alex Ariza. "He worked hard, it just didn't turn out the way I wanted it to. For me personally, I want a fighter to go in there without any concerns, with everything done on time and consistent. It just didn't work out that way. But to say he's not in shape or that he's not going to win, that's not what we're saying at all."
Pacquiao's preparation has come under more scrutiny because of the size of his opponent. Margarito will be the biggest fighter Pacquiao has ever faced and he will be fighting in the highest weight class he has ever stepped into. Pacquiao has faced heavy-handed fighters before (Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya) but never one as powerful as Margarito (38-6), whose thudding power has helped him to a 60 percent knockout rate.
"In our training we started hard against big guys, taller guys to give them that advantage," Pacquiao said. "We had plans for this camp to train for him and prepared ourselves with that strategy so we will have no problem with him. "With our strategy, we are not worried about the size. I believe I can fight the bigger guys even though I am small compared to them. We always believe in our talent."
Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, has been particularly outspoken with his displeasure over Pacquiao's camp. Among other things, Roach has been unhappy with Pacquiao having to miss a day of training to meet with Filipino President Benigno Aquino III and his flying to Las Vegas earlier this month to campaign for Nevada Senator Harry Reid.
When Pacquiao is in camp, Roach has had to compete for his attention. Several times during camp Pacquiao has mentioned to Roach that he missed working in his Congressional office. During his short time as Congressman, Pacquiao has introduced bills to provide funds for local medical aid and to construct a $4.7 million hospital in his province of Sarangani.
While Roach says his desire to help his people is admirable, it's not what he should be focusing on in camp.
"We have always had a good training camp and I give this one a 'B'," Roach said. "We only missed one day that I was upset about but it was just one day and it probably did more good than harm. We are training hard for the fight and doing all the roadwork. We are doing all the work. We are not taking this fight lightly. Manny knows how to get in shape and he's done that for this fight."
Roach says his biggest concern with Margarito is keeping the fight off the ropes.
"Margarito is a volume puncher and if you stand in front of him he will throw six or eight punches," said Roach. "One after the other. If you stand in front of him or hang on the ropes, he will hit you. Manny's biggest chore during this fight will be to stay off the ropes. But Manny wants to prove he can bang with him. So sometime during the fight he will go to the ropes. It's in him. I can't take it away. It's part of being Manny Pacquiao. It's what I love about him."
Speed will undoubtedly be Pacquiao's most useful weapon against Margarito. The former welterweight champion is a wide puncher who often leaves himself open for up the middle attacks. But Roach thinks Pacquiao's power has increased with his weight.
"He hit me in the chest the other day, I thought he was going to stop my heart," Roach said. "He has really grown into the weight. He knows how to use the power."
Trading punches with Margarito might seem foolish given Margarito's clear size advantage. But Roach believes going toe-to-toe might be the best strategy.
"I think we will overwhelm him with the punches he will land on him with the fast hands and combinations," Roach said. "In eight or nine rounds I think we will break him down. Margarito throws a lot of punches and he makes too many mistakes to beat us. He has bad habits and we are going to take advantage of all of them."