By Keith Idec
Trainer Freddie Roach has tried his best in the aftermath of a catastrophic typhoon that has devastated parts of the Philippines to help keep Manny Pacquaio focused on his Nov. 23 fight against Brandon Rios.
Pacquiao’s training camp in General Santos City, far south of where Typhoon Haiyan did immense damage in the central portion of the Philippines, was not affected by the destructive storm. But the tragedy obviously has taken an emotional toll on Pacquiao, a congressman and one of the most popular, influential figures in his homeland.
Pacquiao wanted to visit the areas hardest hit by the storm, but Roach and others advised against it because the fight against Rios is so close. The 34-year-old Pacquiao has, however, remained in contact with political officials since the storm struck Friday and has dedicated the Rios fight to the people of the Philippines.
He is expected to leave the General Santos for nearby Macau, China, on Monday in advance of his first fight since Juan Manuel Marquez knocked him unconscious in the sixth round of their fourth fight Dec. 8 in Las Vegas.
“He had a lot of calls,” Roach said on a conference call Wednesday. “It’s a big tragedy, of course. We did talk about it in the gym.”
In what his handlers called “a statement to his people,” Pacquiao said Wednesday, “I really want to visit the area and personally do what I can to help our countrymen who have suffered so much in this terrible tragedy. But I’m in deep training for a crucial fight, so I regret I cannot go. I will send help to those who need it most and I enjoin all of you to pray for our country and people in these trying times.”
After talking to Pacquiao about the situation extensively, Roach isn’t concerned that the tragedy will keep Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs) from fully committing to his comeback bout against Rios (31-1-1, 23 KOs), which will be broadcast by HBO Pay-Per-View.
“He is focused on the fight,” Roach said. “Obviously, it is a distraction because he loves and deeply cares about his people. We do talk about it in the gym. We’ve talked about how many people were killed in the storm. … So he is concerned about it, yes, but I think we’re going to bring [focus] on the fight. He knows it’s a big fight. And he knows that it’s a must-win situation, now even bigger for him because he needs it for his countrymen also, not just his boxing career. He needs to win for his people. He told me that [Tuesday].”
According to cnn.com, Typhoon Haiyan killed at least 2,275 people, destroyed more than 80,000 homes and displaced approximately 582,000 residents in a nation that includes more than 98 million inhabitants. As the storm ravaged the central part of the Philippines on Friday and Saturday, the weather was relatively normal in General Santos, where Pacquiao built a state-of-the-art boxing gym he has used for his entire training camp prior to the Rios fight.
“It was very unusual,” Roach said. “It was sunny and hot. We got a little bit of rain that evening, but there was no wind. It didn’t come in our direction at all.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.