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Friday, May 1, 2009

Is There a De La Hoya Hangover for Pacquiao?

You know the scenario, it's happened countless times in sports. A team comes up with a brilliant performance in a big game, but then falls flat on their face in their very next outing. Either they are emotionally spent from the previous effort, fall prey to complacency, or a combination of both. In the immediate aftermath of the initial victory, while everyone else - from friends, family, fans and the media - lavishes the victors with praise, it's up to the coaches to bring them back down to earth and to get their troops to refocus on the upcoming task.

That was the job of one Freddie Roach, who guided Manny Pacquiao to his career-defining victory over Oscar De La Hoya last December. It was a victory that propelled 'the Pac Man' to unprecedented levels of popularity and influence. This Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, he faces the hard-charging Ricky Hatton for the jr. welterweight championship of the world.

The veteran trainer, who was forced halfway through training camp to run the most private camp he had ever had at his Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, believes firmly that Pacquiao has had no 'Golden' hangover.

"Not at all," said Roach, without hesitation. "Manny doesn't take anybody lightly. He trains the same for every fight, and we're in great shape for this fight. Our program is pretty much the same; the only difference is the sparring partners’ style. The game plan’s a little different, but not far away from Oscar though, because Oscar was bigger and I thought he was going to attack us. We couldn't stand in front of him and Hatton's very similar. So a lot of the last camp is carrying over into this camp and he's doing very well."

Roach made these comments on April 22nd, five days before they broke camp and headed off to Las Vegas. He was so secure in the work that they had already put in that he gave Pacquiao the day off from the gym, as they had come in late the night before from San Francisco, where Pacquiao and Co. made an appearance at AT&T Park for Filipino Heritage Night, where he threw out the honorary first pitch before the Giants took on the San Diego Padres.

The game of boxing is every bit as mental as it is physical. It's impossible to know just how big of a threat Pacquiao perceives Hatton to be. But as you watch Pacquiao work out, it's clear he's putting in his usual Spartan work. His energy level isn't just frenetic; it's downright nuclear at times. Nobody grinds as hard - and with as much enthusiasm - as the Filipino icon.

Roach had famously and accurately made the comment before Pacquiao's last fight that their opponent simply 'couldn't pull the trigger' anymore. This time around, they face someone who can at least let the leather fly.

"The thing is, he'll have a hard time doing it with Manny's movement, though. But we're not going to stand in front of this guy and let him get us on the ropes and throw that left hook. He'll have some difficulty with it but I know he's very capable of doing it, if you let him," said Roach.

There is a train of thought that in De La Hoya, Pacquiao was facing about as live a body as 'Weekend at Bernie's', that they faced a shell of a fighter who was simply too depleted to fight effectively. Some believe that Hatton - who has never been defeated at 140 pounds - has the natural advantages in size and strength.

Roach believes that's a huge misconception, "Because Manny's getting used to the 140 pound weight. He's punching better, he's settling into the weight much better now. He's knocking sparring partners out, which he doesn't do too often. We've gone through about four sparring partners this time. The thing is, by fight time, Ricky's going to be heavier than Manny - but that doesn't make you stronger. Manny's become a very strong 140-pounder. Everyone thinks he's a blown-up 112-pounder and '22-pound but that's not true. He's really developed into this weight. He had trouble making 135, he felt like he was starving himself. So that's why we went to 147. But '40 is the best weight for Manny, I feel."

But what really emboldens Roach is that after years of spit and polish, he has a 24-karat diamond on his hand. No longer is he the one-dimensional offensive whirlwind. Pacquiao is now a consummate fighting machine.

"Definitely, something clicked inside his head. Everything we've ever worked on, he's now doing. His head movement is much better, defense is much better, he's setting things up. He's thinking a lot more. He's really matured as a fighter," stated Roach, who has trained Pacquiao since 2001. "He's become more of a complete fighter, now. At one time, he wouldn't hold to a game plan for 12 rounds because he'd get hit and get excited. He'd start firing away. He's lost that part of him.

"Some people think that was wrong for me to take that away from him, but it's made him a much better fighter. He's not so reckless and people like him being reckless at times because it's exciting, because he's exchanging back and forth. I don't want him exchanging back and forth. I want him doing all the hitting and not taking."


I don't want to say that this undercard is horrible - but geez, it's horrible. In fact, the last major pay-per-view undercard that was this putrid was Pacquiao-De La Hoya. Some have cracked that if you put Roach and Floyd Mayweather Sr. as a supporting bout, it would greatly improve the undercard. They may have a point, as both men have taken the gloves off during their verbal sparring leading up to this fight.

“He is just so jealous, I think, of me," said Roach. "He says who have I ever trained, I've never taken a fighter all the way from the start. 'I had my son.' Yeah, he got his wife pregnant with his son, but Roger (his brother) taught him how to fight."

Oh, yeah, Freddie went there. But he can't help himself, and after taking verbal shots for a few years (starting when Roach replaced Mayweather Sr. in De La Hoya's corner when he faced his son in 2007) he just had to fire back.

"Yeah, I try to be OK and not say nothing back because I gotta consider where it's coming from. I don't even dislike him, he's kinda harmless, he's a bit funny at times," Roach concedes. "And y'know, what? As a trainer, he might be OK, I don't know, I've never really worked with the guy. He's had some success, I'm sure he's good at what he does. But why does he have to attack me? I just don't understand it so much. But the thing is, am I better than him? Who cares? I have the better fighter. That's what counts."

Does Roach believe that Mayweather Sr. has made any real change in Hatton?

"You watch the Paulie Malignaggi fight and they say he boxed better in that fight. I've studied that tape over and over, he's the same guy," is Roach's opinion. "He just threw more right hands because he had success with it early in the fight. Usually, he throws more left hooks. But he didn't use his jab, he didn't box well. Paulie, he's non-threatening; let's face it, Paulie's not in the class of Manny. I mean, he couldn't even knock Paulie out. Buddy (McGirt) had to stop the fight. He wasn't impressive."

That being said, Hatton is, if anything, tough and determined. Does Roach really believe this fight is over in three rounds?

"I just said that to mess with Floyd," he admits, laughing. "He got mad. I know he's a tough guy. We're ready to go 12 hard rounds, but I do believe we'll knock him out before the fight’s over. I'm going to bet the under because I think the over/under is 10.5 rounds and I will bet that. And I will win."


The man in charge of Pacquiao's physical conditioning and monitoring his weight is Alex Ariza. Did he ever see any sense of complacency in Pacquiao?

"No," he stated, "if anything, reverse. I don't think I've ever seen Manny so confident and so he's like on a whole different level now. I think everybody sees it in the sparring. I think he got so used to fighting these bigger guys and stronger guys that now when he faces a guy just a weight class bigger than him or the same weight class, he just dominates."

As for his work ethic, Ariza says, "Honestly, for this camp, he trained harder. I absolutely think he trained harder in this camp. There have been no late morning sessions, he's completed everything as far as the conditioning, plyometrics, he's picked up with the speed training earlier than we did last time. I think those new things with De La Hoya fight, you second-guess them. But I think he feels more confident. He knows how his body is going to feel after. So he’s putting in 100-percent."

In other words, this time around, he has complete buy-in from his charge.

"As far as doing the new things, the new, more scientific approach to conditioning, yes," Ariza said. "He's more confident and he knows what to expect as far as how his body is going to feel. How he's going to feel sore and he knows all of that now."

For the fight with De La Hoya, Pacquiao weighed in much closer to the jr. welterweight limit than as a welterweight, at 142 pounds.

"We're doing the exact same thing," Ariza says, of that particular issue. "I spoke to Freddie about it last week, how we're going to do this. We're not going to make any changes until the week of the fight. And just going to make some minor adjustments, the same thing we did for the De La Hoya fight. Eat a couple of times before the weigh-in."


Not only does Pacquiao have the distinction of being the only fighter in the world that had his own bobblehead doll (which were given away in San Francisco), but he also has his own shoe, the Nike Trainer 1. It's a sharp looking shoe, to say the least. But even more than that, they are extremely limited in quantity from what I'm told. (For those of you that collected baseball cards as a kid - which I did - think 1990 Leaf.)

The shoe is scheduled to launch on, of all dates, May 2nd, at five locations in the United States: the Montalban Theatre in Hollywood, Ca., Niketown Las Vegas, UNDFTD (Las Vegas), Niketown San Francisco and Fatlace (San Francisco). Word is that people are already camping out for this shoe at these locations.

The Swoosh is also hosting an exclusive viewing event of this weekend’s fight on Saturday night in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The only thing Pacquiao needs now is his own Fathead.

Source: maxboxing.com

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