by David P. Greisman
No training camp is watched more intently or scrutinized more closely than one involving Manny Pacquiao.
No training camp is more publicly tumultuous.
There are the personality clashes between members of Pacquiao’s expansive entourage. There are the acts of God that not only disrupt Pacquiao’s camps in the Philippines, but also devastate his country. And there are the numerous responsibilities that come with Pacquiao’s status.
Pacquiao had already reached the pinnacle of superstardom years ago, back before he transcended being a denizen of pound-for-pound lists and became a shoo-in for a spot among the all-time greats. His fights have famously put battles in the Philippines on pause, with both the government soldiers and the rebels ceasing fire while Pacquiao is in the ring.
A superstar became a national hero. The national hero has become an icon.
He acts in movies. He records albums and performs in concerts. He holds a seat in his country’s House of Representatives.
He still fights. He still fights at the highest level of the sweet science. He still wins at this highest level.
He is still watched intently and scrutinized closely. His many extracurricular pursuits are still questioned openly.
“There are so many distractions here in the Philippines,” Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum, was quoted as saying to USA Today. “His preparation – for Manny – leaves something to be desired. When he hits the mitts, he demonstrates his quickness. But when he’s sparring, whether it’s because he’s adjusting to bigger guys, taller guys, or whether he really hasn’t got the conditioning to fight at full speed the way he always does, I’m not sure.”
“I think Congress is getting in our way a little bit,” Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, said on the first episode of HBO’s Pacquiao-Margarito 24/7 miniseries. “His focus isn’t right, so he’s not consistent. Going into big fights, even the slightest distraction can throw a guy off.”
There have been reports of Pacquiao having some difficulty in sparring. There have been reports of Pacquiao playing basketball instead of going on training runs. There have even been reports that Pacquiao’s left heel was hurting because of the dress shoes he wears.
A typhoon hit the Philippines during Pacquiao’s camp. Pacquiao journeyed away from camp for two days to visit his family and to go on a run to raise money for a charity.
But we read that Pacquiao’s found his stride in sparring. We read that Pacquiao’s foot problem has cleared up. We read that Pacquiao has arrived in Los Angeles to complete his training camp.
Even an ocean away from his homeland, distractions exist.
Pacquiao campaigned in Las Vegas last week for U.S. Senator Harry Reid. He is appearing on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show tonight (Nov. 1). He is being featured this coming Sunday on “60 Minutes.” And then there are the ever-present hordes of fans that show up in Los Angeles for a glimpse of the superstar, the hero, the icon.
One distraction alone can throw a fighter off. Pacquiao has more than one distraction.
They are planned distractions, however, breaking up the repetition and isolation of training camp. And Pacquiao, both according to himself and those close to him, is the type of fighter for whom distractions are welcome, driving him not to defeat but delivering him instead to victory.
“He can’t sit idle,” Pacquiao’s manager, Michael Koncz, said to HBO cameras.
“I’m a workaholic. I’m always busy,” Pacquiao told HBO. “I can rest after the fight.”
“He has the ability to multitask like nobody else I've ever seen,” Arum was quoted as saying to the Associated Press. “He doesn't let distractions affect his performance. I've seen him go from meetings all day to a workout, and then he'll wash up and eat and go to band rehearsal.”
There is no one-size-fits-all rule for boxers and training camps. Some fighters need to be taken far from familiarity, far from friends and family and any semblance of civilization, in order to eat and breathe and live boxing. Some fighters need the comforts of home – Kelly Pavlik still sleeps on his parents’ couch in Youngstown, Ohio. Some fighters would prefer to be busy over being bored.
The key is not necessarily where the boxer trains, but how. The key is in diet and discipline, in determination and drive.
A normal job is but 40 hours a week. A boxing match is no more than 12 three-minute rounds. But the work that takes place before a boxing match goes beyond the mindset of a 9-to-5, punching in and punching out. Rather, it is week after week of planning and passion, day after day of fine-tuning a fighter until he is in peak pugilistic form.
For some, distractions are an evil, obstacles between the boxer and what doing what he must to be ready. For others, however, distractions are a necessary evil, a way to keep from overdoing it in training camp.
Some actors choose to stay in character throughout the filming of the production. Some choose to turn off and return to themselves once the cameras stop rolling each day.
Years ago Pacquiao was criticized for disappearing into pool halls and shirking training camp.
Years ago he was but a puncher, albeit a sensational one.
Now he is an all-around boxer-puncher, combining strategy and technique with speed and power. He has been molded into a complete package as a fighter.
He has also built himself into more than what he is in the ring.
To give himself to nothing but boxing would be contrary to where Pacquiao’s passions now lie. To give himself to nothing but boxing would be to transgress from the responsibilities he feels he has to his fans, his constituents and his country.
And so the superstar, the hero, the icon continues on as fighter, as singer and actor, as congressman.
And so those who look to him in these many parts will continue to do so – so long as he gives his all.
The 10 Count
1. I want to believe…
I want to believe that Andre Dirrell is truly still suffering from neurological issues due to the illegal shot he took from Arthur Abraham seven months ago.
I want to believe that Dirrell’s neurological issues truly exist and that he absolutely was right to pull out of the “Super Six” super-middleweight tournament and his bout with Andre Ward.
I want to believe, even when Dirrell and his team are saying some questionable things.
Here they are in the latest episode of the “Fight Camp 360” documentary series that goes behind the scenes of the tournament:
“It’s not a guarantee that we’ll fight Ward next,” said Dirrell’s trainer and uncle, Leon Lawson Jr., seven weeks before Dirrell-Ward was to have taken place.
“The fight, like I said, is under negotiation still,” said Dirrell himself.
“This is a business,” said Lawson. “We’re prizefighters, not pride fighters. If they want to dance, get that money right.”
2. At least there was finally some light shed on just what symptoms Dirrell’s been having:
“The problem for me really is just not being able to sleep,” Dirrell said on the documentary episode. “Minor headaches. Being dizzy … and not being able to sleep, that’s what really got to me, that’s what really let me know I had to go and see the doc[tor].”
The cameraman or production crew member continued to ask Dirrell and his team questions, such as the name of the doctor Dirrell went to and what advantage there would be to dropping out of the tournament.
But then Leon Lawson Sr., Dirrell’s grandfather, jumped in and said that he felt a lawyer should be present for the interview.
The production crew explained that this was Dirrell’s opportunity to defend himself from the conspiracy theories. People have accused him of faking neurological problems to get out of the tournament and to keep from fighting his good friend in Ward for less money than he wants.
The interview ended there, raising more questions than it answered.
I still believe Dirrell. But I’m guessing there are fewer people who believe him now than there were before this latest episode of “Fight Camp 360” aired.
3. Bronko McKart is back, eh?
Finally… someone who’ll fight Winky Wright.
4. Hey, it could happen. And I can see the marketing for that match already: “Wright-McKart 4 – Even ESPN3.com Won’t Air Us.”
5. My ballot for the 2011 International Boxing Hall of Fame class will include votes for:
- 130-pound titlist and 135- and 140-pound champion Julio Cesar Chavez.
- 108-pound titlist Yoko Gushiken
- 112-pound champion Pone Kingpetch
- 112-pound titlist and 115-pound champion Santos Laciar
- 140-pound champion Kostya Tszyu
- Heavyweight champion Mike Tyson
- 108-pound titlist Myung-Woo Yuh
- 108- and 112-pound beltholder Hilario Zapata.
Voters can pick as many as 10 names. The top three vote getters will be inducted into Canastota in June 2011.
I’m much more open to selecting Naseem Hamed than I was in previous years. I’m just not there yet.
The three most likely inductees are Chavez, Tszyu and Tyson.
6. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Former middleweight and light heavyweight beltholder Reggie Johnson has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for making off with $120,960 in grant money, according to the Houston Chronicle.
That money was to have gone toward boxing summer camps that were to have taken place in 2007 and 2008, camps for children displaced by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Those camps never happened.
Johnson, 44, had a record of 44-7-1 (with 25 knockouts). Among the notable names on his record are losses to James Toney, John David Jackson, Jorge Castro, Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver.
7. Boxing Trainers Behaving Badly update: Roger Mayweather’s trial on battery charges stemming from a 2009 incident has once again been pushed back, this time to January, according to the Associated Press.
And yet these days this is the second-most important Mayweather trial out there.
8. I wonder if any Las Vegas attorneys offer a family discount.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly: Wonderfully nicknamed heavyweight Mark "Oak Tree" Brown was arrested last week and charged with aggravated assault in a case where the alleged victim is an underage girl, according to bizarrely named New Jersey newspaper Today's Sunbeam.
Brown, 42, turned pro late in life, starting his career in 2005. He is still active and is 15-4 (7 KOs).
10. Who’da thunk it: Andre Berto won’t go to Turkey… but Allen Iverson will?
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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