By Jake Donovan
For the past several years, strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza has played a significant supporting role in turning Manny Pacquiao into a finely-tuned slaying machine in the ring.
A large portion of the credit rightfully goes to head trainer Freddie Roach and of course to Pacquiao himself. Still, Ariza is also an important part of the puzzle.
His latest assignment regarding Pacquiao, however, has less to do with further developing his conditioning, but figuring out why certain parts of his body are reacting in an adverse manner.
The Filipino southpaw has complained of cramping in each of his past two fights – decision wins over Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez. Both were fights in which Pacquiao was expected to dominate. He instead turned in uneven – albeit winning - performances, while complaining of lower leg cramps after each fight.
Ariza’s next project in line is set to showcase his best stuff this weekend, as Julio Cesar Chavez Jr defends his middleweight belt against Peter Manfredo. The bout takes place at Reliant Arena in Houston, and will be televised on HBO (10:30PM ET/PT).
Preceding the live portion of the show is an exclusive replay of last week’s pay-per-view headliner. It’s fitting that the two bouts are paired up for this weekend’s broadcast, as a part of Ariza remains stuck in Las Vegas, trying to figure out just what the heck is going wrong lately with his star pupil.
“It’s odd, it only occurs on fight night, “Ariza stated to BoxingScene.com. “It could be the shoes. I remember it being an issue earlier in his career as well, before I joined his camp. But for as long as I’ve been along for the ride, it hasn’t been an issue until recently.
“It didn’t happen during the David Diaz fight, or (Oscar) de la Hoya, (Ricky) Hatton – any fight really from Diaz all the way up to his win over (Antonio) Margarito last year. Now all of a sudden they’re there for Mosley and Marquez.”
Several rumored excuses have surfaced in the wake of yet another controversially scored fight between longtime rivals Pacquiao and Marquez. At least one can be put to rest, which was the suggestion that Pacquiao fought strictly for the knockout and took Marquez lightly.
“It wasn’t a good performance (for Pacquiao),” Ariza admits without hesitation. “We expected Marquez to fight a different kind of fight, and we didn’t expect the fight to go to the judges. It was a great camp, though. He was very focused. There weren’t any distractions. It’s the second fight where we didn’t do what we were supposed to do, but had nothing to do with camp. He was ready for this fight.”
More shocking that Pacquiao’s uneven performance was Marquez far surpassing all expectations, given the 144 lb. maximum catchweight in place for this fight and the fact that the Mexican has never looked good in any fight above lightweight. His attempt at a higher weight two years ago resulted in a colossal flop, coming in flabby for his ’09 bout with a comebacking Floyd Mayweather, who dropped Marquez in the second round and coasted to a landslide decision.
Pacquiao had a far more difficult time with the one fighter who has consistently given him trouble through the years. History repeated itself again last weekend, as a thickly muscled Marquez had Pacquiao well-timed throughout their 12-round bout, to where many fought the 11-1 underdog pulled off a massive upset.
Instead, Pacquiao was awarded a majority decision that was greeted with a loud and lengthy chorus of boos from the sold-out crowd on hand at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
The next fight for Pacquiao will presumably either be a fourth fight with Marquez or a first fight with Mayweather, the latter expected by most boxing experts to be the most lucrative in boxing history if and when it ever takes place.
Whoever serves as Pacquiao’s next opponent, Ariza hopes by then to have all of the kinks worked out of the armor.
“You have to go back to when you were successful, when the cramps weren’t there and figure out what we’re doing here that we weren’t doing there. It’s one of those things – it’s not going to be some shocking revelation. It’s just something basic. We have to figure out what it is.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]