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Pacquiao's traveling circus concerns Roach

Moving camp to Philippines, a chaotic gym environment and reports of marital, gambling problems have trainer on his guard.

October 05, 2007|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- For Freddie Roach, it was like being a hard-working father returning home early from a long business trip. Instead of being greeted by his children's adoring hugs, there was a surprise teenage party in progress, with neighbor kids sipping the home's finest champagne, smoking dad's cigars and pouring beers from mom's orange juice carafe.

Boxing trainers reach their breaking points too, and Roach's came in August inside a stifling hot gym in the Philippines that was occupied not only by his star fighter, Manny Pacquiao, but by more than 100 hangers-on who were taking pictures and chatting up the super-featherweight boxer. It was merely the latest distraction for the national icon who will fight Saturday against a proud former champion, Marco Antonio Barrera, bent on revenge.

Roach had to unexpectedly uproot his training base from Hollywood to the Philippines because Pacquiao reported problems with his wife. Upon arrival in the islands, there were reports that the charismatic boxer -- considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world -- had been gambling too much.

Roach observed the chaos infecting his disciplined environment, and took a stand.

"Everyone, get the . . . out of the gym!" Roach barked to the annoying throng.

"I was really mean," Roach recalled last week. "But we never had that problem again."

The hectic life of the 28-year-old Pacquiao is pointed to as a source of concern by both those around the fast-moving southpaw and other boxing observers, who say he's in danger of a downfall, perhaps even in a fight in which he's more than a 3-1 favorite.

"When there are major distractions, the fighter doesn't want to admit it -- he'll think, 'As long as I train hard. . . .' But he's in denial," said boxer-promoter Oscar De La Hoya, Barrera's promoter, who knows how the tug of celebrity and personal crises can shape a fighter's preparation.

When he last fought, in April, Pacquiao was in the midst of campaigning for a national election that he would ultimately lose in May. Pacquiao (44-3-2, 35 knockouts) fought most fiercely after being cut in the sixth round and scored an eighth-round knockout victory over Jorge Solis in San Antonio.

He fell to his knees and tears welled in his eyes after an emotional triumph that temporarily relieved the weight of the election pressure and his involvement in a legal battle between De La Hoya and Top Rank's Bob Arum for the right to promote him.

Now, as Pacquiao has readied for a rematch of his impressive 11th-round technical knockout victory over Barrera in 2003, he has been burdened by reports of excessive gambling and marital strife while negotiating a film and reality television project in addition to his many endorsement deals.

"When the fight is on, I set aside all those things," Pacquiao said last week after a training session in Hollywood. "The stuff that bothers me . . . in training, I'm just concentrated on the fight. I do have fame and popularity, but I don't think the distractions can get to me."

Barrera, however, knows there's precedent in this rematch for the negative toll of lacking focus.

"This is a contact sport that's very dangerous," Barrera said. "If you're not mentally fit, it's a problem."

While training for Pacquiao in November 2003, Barrera (63-5, 42 KOs) had his Big Bear training camp uprooted in October by the massive Old Fire in the San Bernardino Mountains. He also dealt with rumors of his own marital problems, and had to get medical clearance to fight with steel plates in his head -- inserted in a 1997 procedure.

That set up Barrera's canvas thud, a moment defined, Golden Boy Promotions Chief Executive Richard Schaefer said, by the fallen veteran fighter delivering a stunned look to a ringside De La Hoya as if asking, "What happened?"

"I just had a bad night," Barrera said. "The big difference [in] this fight is the preparation."

Pacquiao was supposed to train for six weeks at Roach's Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, but in August he abruptly scrapped the plan, returning to the Philippines to be with his wife, Jinky, and the couple's three children.

Roach said Pacquiao returned to his home country to answer rumors that he had engaged in an affair with actress Ara Mina while the pair filmed a movie, "Son of the Commander."

Manila reporters later witnessed Jinky visiting Pacquiao at his new training location on an island resort in Sebu City.

"There are no problems with my wife," Pacquiao said. "When I went to Sebu and saw the training camp, and felt how hot and humid it was, I thought, 'Man, this is going to be a good place to train.' They have a very steep mountain there that I jog. Freddie agreed, so we stayed there."

Earlier in August, Pacquiao filed a $500,000 lawsuit against the Manila Bulletin newspaper after reporter Nick Giongco, who covers the Pacquiao "beat," said he wrote the boxer was "said to be a compulsive gambler."

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