Freddie Roach leans back against the ropes, arms folded, a faint grimace on his face. Despite a thick pad strapped to his torso and the catch mitts on his hands, despite 24 years of experience taking shots as a trainer—preceded by nine as a professional fighter—Roach still feels the sting in his fighters' punches. Last year an errant left from one boxer caught the 51-year-old trainer on the chin, leaving Roach with vertigo so bad that he had to hold on to a wall when he walked. Today, on a warm October afternoon at Roach's Wild Card gym in Hollywood, his most-celebrated charge, Manny Pacquiao, is punching with pinpoint accuracy, but that serves only to blunt the pain. "The first day he walked in here I told my guys 'This kid can f------ punch,' " says Roach. "Now he punches harder."
This is an article from the Nov. 7, 2011 issue
Watching Roach and Pacquiao work is like watching Toscanini conduct Jascha Heifetz. Every movement is perfectly tuned. Thwack! There is the punishing left that Pacquiao once swung wildly on his way to winning a flyweight title before the age of 20. Thwack! There is the thudding right that was little more than a prop on Pacquiao's shoulder until Roach taught him how to use it. Thwack! Thwack! There are a pair of the uppercuts Pacquiao was once reluctant to throw for fear of leaving his chin exposed.
Tweaks in strategy are made on the fly. At times the words between the two men seem indecipherable—Parkinson's disease has slurred Roach's speech while Pacquiao's English remains conversational at best—but the five-time Trainer of the Year and the world's No. 1 fighter have an uncanny understanding of each other. "From our first day, I knew Freddie was going to be good for me," says Pacquiao. "We get each other."
Pacquiao and Roach are boxing's Voltron, individually powerful, virtually unstoppable combined. Since teaming with Roach in 2001, Pacquiao is 21-1-2. He has won titles in seven weight classes with a hit-first, defend-later style that has made him one of the sport's biggest attractions, his bouts accruing 8.7 million pay-per-view buys that have generated $456 million in revenue. On Nov. 12, Pacquiao will complete a trilogy with longtime rival Juan Manuel Marquez, in a fight that has already sold out the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas and is expected to exceed one million buys on HBO pay-per-view. With a victory, Pacquiao will only further burnish his glittering résumé and yet again set the stage for the one bout all of boxing is waiting for: a showdown against welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Some, however, believe there may be more to Pacquiao's success than the mere evolution and education of an awesome natural talent. Pacquiao has a federal defamation suit pending against Mayweather, charging that Mayweather unfairly accused Pacquiao of using performance-enhancing drugs. Mayweather denies making any such allegations, though he failed to turn up for a court-ordered deposition in June. Certainly the question of drug testing will be an issue in any negotiations for a Pacquiao-Mayweather bout, even as Pacquiao's team insists that the fighter's success is purely a product of good coaching and a structured conditioning program that has unleashed the monster lurking within. And they point to a few key points along the way.
NOV. 15, 2003: PACQUIAO VS. MARCO ANTONIO BARRERA
When they booed him, he smiled. When they cursed at him, he smiled wider. And when a few of the 10,127 fans at the Alamodome in San Antonio spat at him as he walked to the ring, Pacquiao's grin stretched from ear to ear. "I didn't know what else to do," says Pacquiao. "Out of all the people there, maybe 15 were cheering for me." Texas was Barrera country. They weren't there to see the stringy, 24-year-old Filipino with the peach-fuzz mustache; they were there to cheer on Mexico's great champion. This was just Pacquiao's fifth fight in the U.S.; many had not even heard of him.
Pacquiao was not born to box. Early on he didn't even like it. Couldn't reconcile the violence with his Catholic upbringing. Pacquiao's faith is paramount. He prays before he trains. He prays before he spars. He prays before and after each fight. It's the same prayer every time: Thank you, God, for my training. Thank you, God, for your strength. On the morning of each fight, Pacquiao holds a Mass, during which a priest blesses everything from his trunks to his cup to his shoes. "He believes everything that happens to him is the will of God," says his promoter, Bob Arum.
Poverty pushed him into the ring. Growing up in General Santos City, in the Philippines, Pacquiao peddled candy, cigarettes and fish. But there was more money in boxing. As a teenager he earned 100 pesos (then around $2) per bout in underground matches, enough to provide his family with rice and bread for weeks. When he was 16 he moved on his own to Manila and turned pro, becoming enthralled with the possibilities of a career in boxing. "I dreamed of another level of boxing," says Pacquiao. "I wanted titles. I wanted money."
Both came quickly. Pacquiao won a flyweight (112-pound) title at 19 and a super bantamweight (122-pound) belt at 21. That night in San Antonio, against Barrera, the reigning featherweight (126-pound) king, Pacquiao was a 4-to-1 underdog. For 10 rounds he carved up Barrera with an endless barrage of punches. In the 11th, Barrera's teary-eyed cornerman charged into the ring to stop the bout. "Going into that fight, everyone was against me," says Pacquiao. "But afterwards, everyone knew me."
JUNE 28, 2008: PACQUIAO VS. DAVID DIAZ
Freddie Roach was nervous. Sitting in a quiet dressing room at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Roach wondered if finally his fighter had bitten off more than he could chew. Since teaming with Roach, Pacquiao had enjoyed a meteoric rise, winning titles at 122 and 130 pounds with just one loss—a narrow decision to Erik Morales in 2005—along the way. It was Pacquiao's idea to move up to challenge Diaz at 135 pounds. Only Roach wasn't so sure. "It was big," says Roach. "I wasn't sure if his power and speed would still be there."
Mistakes are more dangerous against bigger opponents. And Pacquiao still made a bunch of them. In the gym he was the perfect pupil, absorbing Roach's coaching and executing it on command. To strengthen Pacquiao's right hand, Roach took away his left. Cut your meat with your right hand, Roach said. Wash the dishes, clean the table and sweep the floor righthanded too. Hours devoted to footwork improved Pacquiao's angles, creating space for his attack and confusion for his opponents. In the arena, however, Pacquiao often reverted to instinct. In a firefight the right hand would disappear. Angles were replaced by head-on collisions. "It wasn't that he couldn't do these things," says Roach. "He just didn't have confidence in them."
Against Diaz, Roach says, "everything just came together." When Diaz defended against the left, Pacquiao snapped his head back with rights. When Diaz opened up his chin, Pacquiao went inside and hammered him with uppercuts. It was a short left hand that put Diaz down in the ninth, but it was the variety of Pacquiao's combinations that did the damage. Says Roach, "That night Manny learned that all the stuff we had been working on could work for him in a fight."
DEC. 6, 2008: PACQUIAO VS. OSCAR DE LA HOYA
Back at the Wild Card, Alex Ariza, Pacquiao's conditioning coach, lays the cloth ladder down carefully, tightening it so it reaches its full length. This drill—in which Pacquiao steps in and out of each rung—targets Pacquiao's legs and footwork. "Hands up," Ariza barks. When Pacquiao drops his hands again, Ariza stops the drill. "Sloppy," he says. "Let's do it again."
Ariza is responsible for moving Pacquiao up and down in weight without costing him speed. Since joining the team in 2008, Ariza has helped Pacquiao make the jump to 135 pounds (for Diaz), to 147 (De La Hoya), down to 140 (Ricky Hatton) and all the way up to 150 (Antonio Margarito). Ariza is often in the line of fire; whenever accusations of steroid use are directed at Pacquiao, Ariza's name is sure to follow. "It's a compliment," says Ariza. "They can't beat us, so they try to smear us."
The secret, Ariza says, is simple. Yes, Pacquiao takes supplements: Trace mineral and fish oil are part of his program. But so is a 3,000- to 7,000-calorie-per-day diet (depending on the weight). So are daily four-mile runs. So are intense core training, isometrics and plyometrics. To prepare for De La Hoya, Ariza devised a "high-intensity interval ballistic system." He upped Pacquiao's meals to four per day and targeted his functional, fast-twitch muscles. On the night of the fight a 148½-pound Pacquiao overwhelmed De La Hoya, finishing him after eight rounds with the same cutting speed he had when he was 20 pounds lighter. "It's a balancing act," says Ariza. "The heavier he gets, the more you focus on his explosive movements."
Any blood-testing before a Mayweather bout would be no problem, says Ariza. All the supplements he gives Pacquiao are available on his website. "People who don't understand why Manny is what he is, that's their problem," says Ariza. "There's no magic bean. It's just hard work."
Taped to the door outside Pacquiao's dressing room at Wild Card is a piece of paper with the names and weights of Pacquiao's conquests. Morales, Barrera, Marquez. Diaz, De La Hoya, Hatton. Cotto, Clottey, Margarito. Each name has a line through it—except one. At the bottom of the page, in bright red block letters, is mayweather. Where the weight should be, it says never.
Prophetic? Maybe. There is little urgency in Pacquiao's voice when he talks about Mayweather. "Would I like to fight him? Definitely," says Pacquiao. "But if not, I'll be O.K." It appears to be the truth—no matter how much fans yearn for the matchup. Pacquiao, who with wife Jinkee has four children (Jimuel, Michael, Princess and Queen Elizabeth, known as Queenie) on whom he dotes, has made north of $120 million in his career. He has numerous investments in the Philippines, from a chain of Jinkee's Fashion World outlet stores to nightclubs and office buildings. He has broadened his relationship with Nike, become a spokesman for Hewlett Packard and is on the verge of signing endorsement deals with Monster energy drink and Hennessy that will pay him more than $2 million per year.
Pacquiao is a philanthropist. He gives food and money away. He finances government projects out of his own pocket. The first man to beat Pacquiao, Rustico Torrecampo (a KO in his 12th fight), is facing charges that he killed a man in a street altercation in 2007. Pacquiao is paying his legal bills. And there is his political career. Pacquiao was elected to the Congress of the Philippines in 2010, in which he has supported bills that have improved infrastructure, created (and partly financed) a program that will offer financial support to high school kids and will soon break ground on Sarangani province's first public hospital.
Politics is his future. In 2013 Pacquiao, who has appeared often with Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, will run for governor in Sarangani, likely unopposed. "Anyone who runs against him," says Pacquiao's chief of staff, Jeng Gacal, "is the stupidest person in Sarangani." In nine years, Pacquiao will likely run for president. Today he is focused on pleasing a crowd. Soon it will be on securing his country's future. "I was a boy with nothing," says Pacquiao. "I love boxing, but it's in my power to help my people. There is nothing I want more than that."
For more on the bout, go to SI.com/boxing and HBO.com/boxing
ASCENT OF MANNY
Age 17, 112 pounds and hungry
A coming-out against Barrera
Last loss—since avenged
Putting it all together vs. Diaz
A showcase win over De La Hoya
Will boxing ever see Manny-Mayweather?
A successor someday to Arroyo?
ONE MORE SHOT
Juan Manuel Marquez nearly beat Manny Pacquiao. Twice. Now 38, the great Mexican champion seeks his career-defining victory
The white 2010 Porsche Panamera idles at the top of Juan Manuel Marquez's crowded driveway, his favorite of the seven luxury cars he owns. The vehicles are adornments to the spacious seven-bedroom estate in Mexico City that Marquez bought in 2004. Most mornings the fighter hops into the Porsche, eases out of his gated community and heads for the Romanza Boxing Club, where he works out under Hall of Fame trainer Nacho Beristain. Life is good for the 38-year-old champion. But it could, says Marquez, be better. "I think about how if I had won those two fights," says Marquez, "my life would be different."
The fights he is referring to are his two achingly close and brutal bouts with Manny Pacquiao. In 2004, Marquez, then the unified featherweight champion, was knocked down three times in the first round. He got up, rallied and forced a draw. In 2008, Marquez, then a super featherweight titleholder, lost a narrow split decision. How narrow? Flip one round on judge Tom Miller's card and Marquez gets the win. Beyond those two matches, of course, Marquez has accomplished plenty: He has a record of 53-5-1, with 39 knockouts. He has won titles in three weight classes. He has beaten Marco Antonio Barrera and knocked out Joel Casamayor. Currently he is considered the top 135-pounder in the world and ranks in the top five on virtually every pound-for-pound list. But the memory of his battles with Pacquiao lingers. "It's like a thorn in my side," says Marquez. "I win those fights, I'm at a different level. Everything changes."
On Nov. 12, Marquez will try to change boxing history when he challenges Pacquiao for the WBO welterweight title. The weight—a negotiated 144-pound limit, three pounds below the class limit—is an unfamiliar one: Marquez has fought just once above 138 pounds, a lopsided decision loss to Floyd Mayweather in 2009. To adjust, Marquez has brought in a strength coach, Angel Hernandez, a Texas A&M graduate who has added some elements to the program (intense calisthenics, a third workout a day) and eliminated others (running with rocks in his pockets, drinking his own urine). "The key to moving up is keeping my speed," says Marquez. "We're doing that. I feel strong, but the speed is still there."
Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, claims Pacquiao is a more complete fighter than the one Marquez faced three years ago. Marquez says he sees "minor changes" in Pacquiao but is quick to add that Pacquiao "is not even close to the technician that I am." Says Marquez, "He has problems with my style. He has moved up in weight well. But he can't match my technique or counterpunching."
The magnitude of the moment is not lost on Marquez. A win will vastly increase his profile, not to mention pad his wallet. Most important, after seven years of what-might-have-beens, Marquez will finally find some peace. "My strategy isn't going to change much," says Marquez. "I'm going to move around the ring, counterpunch, be diligent. He better be ready. Once I beat him, it will be my time."