01.05.04 – By Joe Rein: Like a cat, Manny Pacquiao sprung straight up in the air at eye level with undefeated Art Simonyan and executed a perfect spinning back kick past his nose, just to remind him: “I have an answer for everything.”
“Oohs!” and “Ahhs!” went up all over Wild Card from Pac’s faithful for his Matrix-like response to Simonyan’s transgression. Simonyan, in frustration, had playfully kicked Pac in the behind as the two headed back to their corners after sparring. Pac had floored him at the end of round one – the first time in 229 fights – amateur and pro – and consistently put him at the end of a straight left for six rounds. Pacquiao and Simonyan both grinned, “Good work.”
John Bray, Simonyan’s head trainer for the last three years, said about the knockdown: “He got caught. No ifs ands or buts about it. All you got to be is not on for a moment against a guy like Manny Pacquiao and you’re gonna get dropped.”
That’s the reality check that every fighter gets when they step in the ring with him. All activity stops to watch Pacquiao spar. Nobody but James Toney gets that respect. Photographers are poised on all sides. Everybody crowds around the ring apron — fans to enjoy, the fighters to learn, and the sparring partners, like Karhen Harutyunyan, that have been battered by Pacquiao, try to figure out this enigma. The only sound was the ticking of a single jump rope on the hardwood floor.
The sparring with Simonyan, who’s 13-0-1 and a USBA Super Bantam Champion, followed the same scenario, round after round, as it does with every fighter at this stage of Pacquiao’s preparation for Juan Manuel Marquez.
Pacquiao, wearing purple Spiderman gloves and a “NO FEAR” T-shirt, sprang up and down, slipping Simonyan’s jabs, to the right and left, closing the space between them like a video on fast forward –chastening him, when appropriate, not to get reckless, with the occasional left stick flush in the face, confounding Simonyan and giving him some religion.
It was just such a flash left that put the Armenian on his back, confused and embarrassed at the end of the first round, shaking his head back to his corner…Bringing to mind the old joke: A trainer tells a dazed fighter, “He’s not lay’n a glove on you!” Well, you better watch the ref,” the fighter says, “Somebody’s kick’n the hell out me. Well, it’s Pacquioa, and he’s doing it consistently to world-class fighters, not anonymous sparring partners.
Pacquiao’s attack could be code-named: Shock and Surprise. The closer he gets to fight time, it becomes: Shock and Awe. He’s like a high-voltage power line on a wet street, shooting sparks in every direction: Too dangerous to come near. He doesn’t pummel you. He electrocutes you.
All of Pacquiao’s punches are straight and funneled to a bull’s-eye. He strikes from every corner of the compass. Except for the impact, they look like arm punches. To release some of his barely contained energy, Pacquiao digs to the body like a man who’s found gold and has no shovel. He personifies the trainers’ mantra: “Let your hands go.”
But, it’s Pacquiao’s quickness – not just his hand speed – that’s as much key to his domination as his firepower.
Professional fighters become experts in time and space. They juggle equations that would boggle the minds of mathematicians. Years of daily practice and repetition have so finely calibrated the geometry between their opponents and incoming, there’s little margin for error… None at the championship level.
Pacquiao scuttles those calculations like a Stealth Fighter. He’s on the enemy before they know what’s hit them, and the bombardment leaves the circuitry so devastated, future sorties are even easier and more damaging. But the comparison of Pacquioa to the Stealth Fighter is too surgical – too bloodless. He doesn’t so much strike as carpet bomb.
Harutyunyan, who was sitting with his dad, gave his impressions of Pacquiao after the session:
Q: When you watch Manny, he’s constantly bouncing up and down, but you don’t see brilliant boxing moves. What is it that makes him so special?
KH: “That’s what I was observing with my dad… Whenever he’s not doing that speedy thing – when he’s just trying to get some work done – he’s, basically, not doing anything. He’s just standing there. You don’t see the basic elements: the jab, the hook…move around – slip the punches…But, when he starts going, his punches come at you like rain. So, when it starts raining…” he trailed off… and smiled.
Q: How do your sessions usually go with him?
KH: Sometimes I hold my own. I know I can hang in there with him. I acknowledge he’s the only fighter among all the champions that I have sparred with… I can’t find the key to him. He gives me a lot of trouble.
Q: Is it his left-handed style or his innate speed that makes him so difficult?
KH: It’s his innate speed. Cause I spar with a lot of left-handed guys, and I’m used to it. Being left handed doesn’t give me any problem…It’s just his speed, his talent, footwork – plus, all that generates good power.
Q: What about the day you were injured?
KH: It was his first sparring session since he got back to training, and so he really took up the pace. I think he was excited being back; that’s how it happened.
Q: What else don’t we notice about him?
KH: “…he has long arms, too…and he has long feet, too. He takes two steps; he goes from one corner to another corner. Also, his feints work really well. He has this tendency to pop his feet and throw the jab, so he tricks you.
Q: How would you compare him with the other featherweights?
KH: I don’t think there’s anybody to give trouble to Manny today. I don’t think anybody couple of weights down or up that can create a problem for him in the ring.
Bernard Dunne, a feisty 12-0 feather from Ireland, who’s sparred many rounds with Pacquiao, offered his opinion of what of what the big difference is: “Power! One thing Pacquiao has in abundance is power — either hand. That’s the thing that sets him different from everybody else.”
Q: I notice with some fighters — whether they intend to or not – when they get in there with Pacquiao, they give him respect, like: “This guy is gonna lower the boom on me.”
BD: If you let Pacquiao dominate you, he’s gonna dominate you. He’s a fantastic fighter – super fit. Marquez is in for a really good fight. Marquez is really strong, as well. Although I’ve never personally been in with him, I’ve watched him many times…. He knows exactly what he wants to do. He’s deliberate in all his actions in the ring. He doesn’t jump around too much. He doesn’t do much that he doesn’t have to do. It’s gonna be a tremendous fight…it really is.
Trainer Macka Foley, clearly impressed by Pacquiao’s performance, enthused: “The first sparring partner, some Armenian kid, he busted his rib the first day he sparred. He was in great condition right from the get-go. He came to this country in super shape. He’s so up for this fight, when we got this other guy – who’s a 12-round fighter – just won this title – he beat the fuck out of him – so bad, the guy don’t show up the next time. So, Freddie had to hire another guy. This other guy has the bitch bar on. A lot of fighters — they’re paying a sparring partner — they won’t even let him wear it because it might break the guy’s hand. But, he let him wear it. He beat the fuck out of the guy — almost had him going. In fact, I’m predicting the next time, he’s gonna bust this guy up so bad, he’s gonna discourage him, and the guy aint gonna come back.”
Several days later at Wild Card, in front of a large Philippine flag, Pacquiao posed for the cover of Ring Magazine, wearing their Championship Belt for his stunning eleventh-round KO of Marco Antonio Barrera last year. While Jan Sanders snapped picture after picture, Frank Nazario – who also translated– pointed out that when the Philippine flag is hung with red on the top, it means the country is going to war.
After the shoot, trying to compete with the deafening chant of Team Pacquiao, “CALL 911! MARQUEZ IS IN TROUBLE!” – reminiscent of “Ali Bombaye!” in “The Rumble in the Jungle – I sat with Pacquiao.
Q: Manny, you’re punishing very good fighters in your sparring, but you don’t look like your throwing as hard as you can. When do you turn it up?
MP: The fight still not to May 8. I don’t want to be over trained. Heavy training — in a way — but not full – not 100% yet. I’m pacing myself.
Q: How do you manage to get such power in your punches when you’re not throwing hard?
MP: If you have speed, you have power. Even myself, when I see my fight on tape, I think I don’t have power. It’s look like no power my punches. But, I know in the ring, I have big power. It’s a big surprise to my opponent.
Q: Do you think Marquez will be your stiffest test?
MP: I think, no. Marquez is the same to the other fighters who fought me, like Barrera. I think Barrera good than Marquez.
Watching Filipinos descending on the Wild Card Gym from all over L.A. — cops, workers, young, old, kids cutting school, moms and dads with little children, just to get a glimpse of Pacquiao, get a picture with him…and seeing him shaking hands, musing a child’s hair, accommodating everybody, clearly proud to be a Filipino and for the esteem of his countrymen; it’s not hard to believe when Frank Nazario tells me: “There was a fight against Lucero, and there was a coup d’etat that was going on at that time, and they actually stopped because Manny was fighting. There was a two-hour delay on the coup, just for them to watch.”
Pacquiao is not a creature of the media; he connects with the people, like Rocky Graziano in the 40’s. He’s not fighting for the Philippines… he is the Philippines…and the night of May 8, this son of General Santos City will be wearing his nation’s colors with red at the top.
photos (c) Carlos Kalinchuk