29.03.04 – By Joe Rein: – Ever lose a ten in a bar bet when somebody said, “I’m gonna put this ten-dollar bill between your fingers and let it go; if you can catch it before it hit’s the ground, it’s yours?” It’s right there; all you have to do is press your fingertips together. But no matter how you anticipate – set yourself – even jump the gun — it gets away … time after time. It’s a sucker bet. It’s just too fast for you to react to, and too tempting not to keep trying.
And that’s what Juan Manuel Marquez will be trying to do with Manny Pacquiao when the two face off for Marquez’s IBF and WBC 126-pound titles on May 8 at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Vegas on HBO. Pacquiao will be an arm’s length away, standing straight up, his head an inviting target. But, is it a sucker bet, with the stakes in the millions, and only pain and frustration for Marquez’s trouble? The winner is already slated to fight “El Terrible,” Erik Morales, for his WBC Super Featherweight crown on HBO in the fall.
The next few months will secure the winner’s place in history, the hearts of their countrymen, not to mention their bank accounts. Pacquiao is already a national treasure in the Philippines. President Arroyo has greeted him after wins; and his grin makes him the best ambassador the country could have. Marquez comes out of the Tony Zale mold — all business, solid skills and a body snatcher, with the indelible stamp of trainer Nacho Berastain. If Pacquiao needed any more incentive not to stand still, all he’d have to do is look at the tape of what Marquez did to Robbie Peden, and be reminded of his 33 KO’s in 42 fights.
Pacquiao is more than a stand-up boxer. He’s a stand-up slugger with springs in his legs and as nimble as a stoat. He’s balanced perfectly, at military attention, as if scanning for a better view of the battlefield. His punches have eyes, with the repetition of years. They’re not tracers, they’re dam busters – shocking in their suddenness.
The other day, I described the awe and admiration at the Wild Card Gym when Pacquiao was working the mitts with Freddie Roach. Since then, I’ve wondered why — where the elite fighters in the world train – who’ve seen it all – would a mitt drill spontaneously draw applause like they were witness to Segovia on the guitar.
So, I put it to Freddie Roach:
Q: Legends train here; nobody even glances at somebody hitting a bag or skipping rope. But, you heard it; they all applauded after Manny finished the mitts. Why? Could he do that in a fight?
Roach: He can definitely do it in a fight! When we do the mitts, everyone stops and watches. Heavy bag, same way – everyone stops and watches…because he’s got so much power and fire in him. He’s so quick. He just puts it all together. He’s an amazing athlete. He’s like Bruce Lee. He’s unbelievable with the quickness of his feet and hands…It’s part of our strategy for this fight. Because this guy’s (Marquez) a little bit of a counter puncher, we’re gonna land combinations and then be gone. There’s gonna be a lot of in and out, side-to-side movements. The difference between the two fighters… is Manny’s hand and foot speed. So, we’re working on a lot of angles, and not standing in front of this guy after he’s landed combinations. We’re still seven weeks away from the fight…and it’s still early, but you see how Manny works…This kid makes my job fun. He loves to work hard. He’s a great example for the rest of my fighters. It shows the young guys how it’s supposed to be done.
Q: He throws with such speed; how does he get that much power out of shots that look like shoe shines?
Roach: Yeah, it’s true. He has great legs and balance. He turns everything over real crisp and fast. You’re right…’cause a lot of times, speed guys don’t have any pop. But this kid hits like a ton! He hits as hard as a middleweight.
Q: Talk about hitting hard, I understand you injured your arm in the mitt drill?
Roach: I’ve got a bad elbow from catching Wladimir Klitschko. Wlad hit me a left hook about six months ago, and my arm’s been really sore ever since. I think something might be broken in there. Somebody told me to go to a doctor and get it looked at. But, if I go to a doctor, Joe, he’s gonna tell me to rest it. I just don’t have the time. So, the first couple rounds it hurts a little bit, but then after I get used to it, it’s OK. It’s part of the job.
Q: Part of Manny’s style is: he’s absolutely straight up. How do you compensate for that?
Roach: That’s why we have the side-to-side movement coming into play. Because after he lands a combination, if he stops punching, he’s right in front of you. So, he’s got to step off to the side — left and right, not straight back. It’s just something we have to work on, because this guy is gonna try to take advantage of that, of course. It will be part of our game plan. Manny has very good eyes. He sees punches coming. He looks like he’s right in front of you…but he’s gone.
Q: He won’t retaliate in kind when people get dirty. Why is that?
Roach: It’s just not in his nature. He’s too nice a guy. If a guy hits you low, you gotta hit him back low to get respect back — tit for tat. That’s the way I was brought up. That’s the way I was taught. I try to get Manny to do something like that…It’s just not in his nature. So, I don’t even teach him anything like that anymore. It’s a waste of time.
Q: Has Manny expressed to you what he hopes to bring back to the Philippines as his legacy?
Roach: He’s a hero in that country right now. He’s a role model over there. He wants to show these young kids there is a way out. If you work hard, you can make it; you can achieve greatness in life. So, I think that’s what Manny stands for in the Philippines.