For fans and fighters alike, the highlight of induction weekend at the International Boxing Hall of Fame is the boxers themselves receiving their moments in the sun after careers spent entertaining the masses at great personal risk. One only has to look at the joy and humility on the faces of the fighters who are being inducted or who are returning after being inducted years ago to realize what it means to them.

But boxers – modern, old-timer, or pioneer – are not the only categories for enshrinement. There are observers and non-participants, as well – the former reserved for journalists, broadcasters, and other chroniclers of the sport; the latter a catch-all category that includes referees, promoters, managers, matchmakers and the various others whose work has helped the sport and its participants achieve success.

It's in this category that Fred Sternburg will be inducted this weekend, and for many involved in the sport, there will be few happier moments than when he takes his turn at the podium to make his speech. (Sternburg himself, quick-witted and self-effacing, would likely counter that the happiest moment for everyone will in fact be when he’s finished and is escorted off the stage.)

Few fans would recognize Sternburg or know who he is, but most will be indirectly aware of his work, in the form of the words he has coaxed out of his clients and onto the recorders of any number of journalists over the years. If the definition of a Hall-of-Famer is someone who has elevated boxing, then Sternburg is as deserving of enshrinement as just about anyone.

Not that he would necessarily agree with that sentiment.

“I'm looking at all these names and it's very strange to see your name on the ballot,” he told me and my podcast partner and BoxingScene colleague Eric Raskin shortly after being nominated last year. “Last time I saw my name on anything, it was on what they used to call Monday morning letters from high school, when they informed my parents that I wasn't doing what I'm supposed to be doing in school.”

Clearly not a model student, Sternburg, a native of Washington, D.C., dropped out of law school and found himself trying to sell real estate – a job that, he says, he “hated.” Fortunately for him, a co-worker named Donna Taaffe recognized that he was in the wrong business. Luckier still, her husband Bill worked for Sports Illustrated; and it was through him that Sternburg met Charlie Brotman.

Brotman had a boutique PR agency in DC, and among his clients was one Sugar Ray Leonard, whom Brotman had represented since his amateur days.

“He brought me in as an intern and then retained me afterward,” Sternburg recalls. “And when you’re watching Sugar Ray Leonard do all these press conferences and media events, it’s the top echelon, and you’re learning how it should be done. So I got a great experience learning the top level and how a professional athlete conducts himself.”

From there, he took on former promotional entity America Presents as a client, following which they hired him to be Vice President of Public Relations. It was there that he began working with Dan Goossen and Gary Shaw, two promoters with whom he would work a lot over the years, and his immersion in boxing was fully underway.

He worked with the likes of Winky Wright, David Tua, David Reid and, later, Gennady Golovkin. He was involved with the 2003 rematch between Sugar Shane Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya – which he says is still his favorite of the countless events he has worked. But the professional relationships with which he has become indelibly associated in the business are his longstanding ones with Manny Pacquiao and Freddie Roach. Roach is already also a Hall of Famer, and Pacquiao will soon follow; when he does, it will be because of his phenomenal achievements in the ring. That alone would have made him a household name, but Sternburg’s influence helped put him over the top in the United States and make him the crossover star he became.

“My first fight with Manny was 2005,” he recalls. “It was the first Morales fight. And he was at that time being promoted by Murad Muhammad. And it was Top Rank, who was co-promoting, that suggested he use me. I meet Manny, and he and I have nothing in common. We don't know each other.”

At that stage, Pacquiao spoke very little English and American reporters struggled to extract good soundbites from him. The perennially mischievous Sternburg, sensing an opportunity, worked with Roach to devise the notion of a “secret weapon” that Pacquiao had been working on in camp, which Sternburg dubbed “Manila Ice.” The first rule of Manila Ice, however, was that nobody could talk about Manila Ice; the secret of its success would be remaining secret. 

“I just did a release on it and it somehow became the storyline. And I’d have quotes, you know – ‘Sugar Ray Leonard was there, he saw it, he can’t believe it. But he’s signed an NDA, so he can’t discuss it.’ 

“So, now it’s fight week. And Manila Ice is coming up a lot now. And I’m just laughing because it’s a play on words and I’m having fun with it. I’m not taking it seriously. And we do the fighter meetings with HBO. And they asked Manny about Manila Ice. And Manny looks at me and you know, what am I going to tell him? Because he’s not going to understand what I tell him anyway. But they tried to catch him out: ‘It’s the right hook,’ and Manny said no, it’s not the right hook. ‘Oh, well, it’s the left uppercut.’ And Manny doesn’t even know what Manila Ice is. He just knows he’s not supposed to talk about it.”

A short while later, Sternburg was in the media room when he was approached by HBO’s Larry Merchant.

“And he says, ‘I have to know what Manila Ice is. I have to know what I'm talking about on air.’ And I say, ‘Larry, I've signed these agreements; they will have my ass, I cannot divulge this thing.’ And now I'm just reeling him in. ‘When he gets the chance, he’ll use it. Just keep your eyes open, you're gonna know when you see it.’”

The whole Manila Ice angle carried over for a couple of fights, but in time, Pacquiao became more confident in his English and more willing to express himself. And, Sternburg says, people found out that “he’s a smart guy. And he's a funny guy. And we just had a blast together. He and I just got along great. And you know, it wasn't like we kept in touch between fights. But we were in camp. We had a great time. And you know, to see him train: I've never seen anyone trained like he trained, especially in those years up and through Cotto and De La Hoya and all those fights. There was no one who could beat him. He was incredible.”

Perhaps the biggest boost to Pacquiao’s celebrity in the States came via a series of appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live! The relationship came about via John Carlin, who booked Kimmel’s guests from the sporting world, and whom Sternburg had met when Carlin was booking guests for The Best Damn Sports Show, Period, on Fox.

“So one day, he calls and he says, ‘You know, I think we’d really like to have him on.’ Well, he wanted to have him on. Kimmel didn’t want to have him on, but he went along with it. And they worked it out that he’d sing a song. And it shocked everybody: he was a good interview, but then he just stands up there and belts out ‘Sometimes When We Touch.’ He was not self conscious at all; he thought he was a great singer and he gave it his all and the place is doing the wave. I’m at the side of the stage and I can see Jimmy’s face, and he’s beaming - half in admiration and half in relief that this is actually going to work. I think he ended up making nine appearances on the show. They would bring him in for skits. They loved him. And yeah, we had a great run through the Mayweather fight and Kimmel walked Manny to the ring.” 

For journalists, a particular strength of Sternburg’s time with Pacquiao was that, while they could not be in camp, he could, and often was, sending dispatches and keeping the stories flowing. 

“I miss it,” Sternburg says. “Because you get a lot. I mean, you can just service people over and over again. People are up to date, people become interested and invested. And you know, it’s just a lot of fun. 

“The last three camps I kept thinking, ‘This could be the last one,’ and I tried to soak it all in. It was great that Manny saw the value in it, and his promoter saw the value in it. And I think it paid off.”

Not every publicist gets to work with a Manny Pacquiao; very few are elected to the Hall of Fame. But for Sternburg, the fundamentals to being a good publicist are simple.

“You've got to have perseverance,” he says. “You’ve got to be accurate. You’ve got to tell the truth. You have to know why it’s newsworthy. That’s really the bottom line. Why is this newsworthy?”

But what has always elevated Sternburg is a refusal to take anything – boxing, public relations, least of all himself – any more seriously than absolutely necessary.

“Everyone’s got their own style. I don’t think it’s any secret that my style is I like to have fun with things,” he says. 

He'll get plenty of coverage this weekend when he is inducted, even though he hasn’t sought any and will almost certainly attempt to deflect the attention onto others. But don’t be surprised to see him return to Canastota next year, when his most famous client is sure to be inducted. He'll be the one helping Pacquiao navigate the throngs of reporters. Maybe he’ll encourage the former senator to sing a song or two.

Just don’t expect him to reveal anything about Manila Ice. It’s still a secret, you know. 

Kieran Mulvaney has written, broadcast and podcasted about boxing for HBO, Showtime, ESPN and Reuters, among other outlets. He also writes regularly for National Geographic, has written several books on the Arctic and Antarctic, and is at his happiest hanging out with wild polar bears. His website is