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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pacquiao at home in the Wild Card Gym but Roach moves out

Here in Los Angeles at Freddie Roach's Wild Card Gym and Boxing Club, a long queue forms daily each afternoon to gain access to the evening session in the gym after Manny Pacquiao has spent the afternoon working strategies with his trainer.

Pacquiao-Hatton remains a 'work in progress'. Four weeks from now, it will be fight night: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Scene of the crime; fistic poetry between two exciting fighters both bringing a huge following.

Right now, this is game plan time, Los Angeles, California. The Wild Card Boxing Club 1123 Vine Street, hums along to the relentless, methodical rhythm it has had for years. Since Roach started training fighters in 1987-88, after his own boxing career, Roach has trained 17 world champions, the first of them Virgin Hill.

Familiar faces look after the place. 'Big Rob' looks after the gym management, keeps an eye on the door. Alex Ariza, the nutrionist and conditioner, plies his trade. Michael Moorer, the former heavyweight champion of the world, studies under Roach, as his newest assistant trainer.

Top level. Slightly edgy, but always friendly. This is boxing's field of dreams.

Roach is in his element. "Every camp is slightly different," he tells me, revealing that he will be unable to come for dinner as he is packing to move out from the other side of the gym where he currently resides, to a nearby apartment. His current pad is going to become an extension of the gym. "Manny's style doesn't change a lot, but both opponents from these two last fights he is about to be or has been involved in - De La Hoya and Hatton - are both stronger, bigger guys, and we can't stand in front of them. We can use a little bit of the last camp preparing for Ricky, but we can tweak it a little bit."

When the pair work on moves they want strictly private, they move to a room on the side, which is clearly marked 'No entry'. They jokingly call it The Dungeon.

Roach told The Daily Telegraph that the intensity of the Pacquiao training camps over a long period, is "never an issue".

"Focus is no problem. Manny Pacquiao is a movie a star, a singer, a national hero in the Philippines, but I'm waiting for the day that I see that guy come through the door, who's a little bit softer, a little less hungry and that maybe the fame has got to his head a little bit. But whenever that gym door opens and he comes in here he leaves everything on that side. He's a normal person, and just one of the guys. But he's also a machine when he comes in here. "He's a dedicated guy. That's not what he doers best. He knows his job, he knows what he is best at."

"We do have to close down a little bit to the public at these times. So many people want to be around him work at the same time as him. The last time I let people in when he was working out in here, I had 300 hundred come in here, so I have to hold it out when he trains."

When Pacquiao and a growing entourage slipped from the first floor gym to the Thai restaurant into the quad below after another afternoon in the gym, followed by the morning road running, Roach was back at work in his flat adjacent to the gym, packing boxes to move out to a two bed apartment nearby.

Growing demand for space means he has to extend the gym size. Hundreds train there daily. Good, great, legends and lags, and the keenest amateurs come together in this LA sweatbox of spit and sawdust.

But the kingpin in the daytime is Pacquiao. The mood in the gym is one of sobriety, steady progress on strategy and the movement required to outwit the bullish Ricky Hatton, camped across the State line in Nevada, under the eagle eye of Floyd Mayweather Snr.

A Filipino television crew monitor Pacquiao relentlessly. For the Filipino fighting man, and national icon, it goes with the territory. Home Box Office's 24/7 crew film detail after detail, for a series of documentary shows which will depict the lives of the two men as the fight is hyped to an expectant public.

Last week, Sky Box Office were filming for their excerpts for a fight they will air which insiders believe may gain the kind of momentum that saw the superfight between Ricky Hatton and Floyd Mayweather, in December 2008, generate 1.2 million pay per view buys for the event through Sky Box Office, the most ever for a domestic UK audience.

It outstripped the previous biggest sale, which had been Lennox Lewis's demolition of Mike Tyson, which reached the 850,000 'buys' mark.

Hatton-Pacquiao promises to be as big due to the styles of the two combatants, who both like to fight in flurries, and come-forward. Whichever way you see the fight, it is hard to see it going the full championship distance. Power versus speed. Bullish aggression versus lateral movement. Two of the most popular fighters in the world.

Moorer, Roach's assistant, is in the ring with Pacquiao and Roach. All eyes are on the footwork, head movement, the trademark lateral motions which under Roach, have made Pacquiao a much more devastating puncher and fistic protagonist.

That is borne out in the evening in the Thai restaurant in the quad next to the gym off Vine, when Pacquiao's third fight with Mexican ring legend Erik Morales is replaying while Pacquiao, and entourage enjoy the feast.

He was clearly wilder, then. He has since tightened up his game, become more clinical, thickened physically. The intensity was always there, but the mantle he carries now grows ever bigger.

And Pacquiao's mood ? Same as it ever was. Calm, intense, time for everyone. And there are many who want Manny.

"I don't know how he does it, really," said Mike Koncz, a senior adviser in the Pacquiao camp. "It's almost as if any adversity Manny has going on around him outside - business, issues, anything - they just sharpens his mind for training. He can compartmentalise them and just get on with what he needs to do. It's amazing."


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