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Manny Pacquiao is a man of the people

He is surrounded most of the time by admirers and hangers-on, but Pacquiao says he has avoided distractions while training for Saturday's fight against Juan Manuel Marquez.

December 04, 2012|By Lance Pugmire

The crowd walked down the concrete steps of Hollywood's Wild Card Boxing Club in front of, and behind, Manny Pacquiao.

More, dressed in emerald green and royal blue sweatsuits emblazoned with the "MP" logo, waited below in the parking lot, some holding a table for the star at a cozy Thai restaurant.

Others had already eaten, ready to drive and pack into a large bus, vans and sedans — 30 vehicles in all —- that transported the world-famous boxer and his entourage of about 150 people across the Mojave Desert on Monday to Las Vegas for his fourth fight against Mexico's Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday at the MGM Grand.

"They're not all with us every day," Pacquiao advisor Michael Koncz said. "But they have a way of all showing up fight week."

This exit scene defines Pacquiao, the brilliant fighter navigating the fray of being constantly surrounded by hangers-on — some who earn their keep by tending to his chores like laundry, cooking and driving, and others whose roles are dubious.

"I know there's a lot of people who want to be close to me," Pacquiao said. "That's a part of being famous. I like having a lot of people around me. If you don't like that, don't be famous."

With so many tugging on Pacquiao, however, tumult is typically the order of the day.

A few weeks ago, Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach, who doesn't believe in a higher power, learned one of the four pastors trying to attach himself to Pacquiao had preached to the boxing great and his friends until 2 a.m. before a training day. There was hell to pay from Roach, an unfiltered scolding of the man of God who kept Pacquiao up late.

One sparring session was delayed because Pacquiao's wife, Jinkee, brought a group of about 20 friends who each wanted to exchange pleasantries and take cellphone pictures.

Yet, Pacquiao's willingness to listen to almost anyone within earshot is one reason why he is so popular with millions of Filipinos and fight fans. At a Monday photo op at the gym, U.S. Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) said Pacquiao's genuine interest in his fellow man "puts Manny above the rest."

Pacquiao, 32, said he acts this way because, "I know the life of nothing. I know what those who ask me for money are feeling. Boxing is my passion. Public service is my calling."

Still, many close to Pacquiao have urged him to step away from those looking for handouts.

"He lets people hang around because it's in his blood to help — spiritually, financially," Koncz said. "But I think he's gotten real good at knowing the [phonies]. The traffic around here is much less than what it was."

Pacquiao said he has learned it's not wise to simply hand out money, as he has done outside his home in the Philippines and to the flocks who wait for him in the Wild Card parking lot, steps away from a liquor store. It's why he created what he calls a "sustainable livelihood" program in his Filipino congressional district to lead those in need to education and jobs.

Pacquiao also made some changes in training camp. He installed a set of rules for his entourage — "No drinking, no women" —- after philandering threatened to end his marriage before his last fight against Marquez in November 2011. Anyone who disobeys is booted by a Pacquiao subordinate.

Pacquiao and his wife credit a Christian pastor for saving their marriage. Although the boxer's friends say that pastor is kept at arm's length after asking for 44 tickets, and multiple hotel rooms, for Pacquiao's fight against Tim Bradley in June, a split-decision win for Bradley.

While that pastor languishes, Father Marlon Beof, a Catholic priest from Oxnard who has delivered more than a dozen of Pacquiao's pre- and post-fight Masses, said he has been invited to preside over the services again this weekend in Las Vegas.

"St. Augustine had a restless heart too," Beof said. "But he ultimately found the truth in the religion he belonged. I see that in Manny. That's my hope."

Pacquiao's increased independence also applies to his training. He didn't follow all the advice from his conditioning coach, Alex Ariza, even as Marquez bulked up in his training.

Pacquiao, who has two close decision wins and a draw in his fights with Marquez, devoted more time to training inside the ring, rather than beefing up with strengthening exercises.

Meanwhile, Roach said the judges Saturday will favor Marquez after three close fights. So Roach thinks it's crucial that Pacquiao scores a knockout, or at least floors Marquez in the non-title bout.

Despite all the extracurricular activity, "We've had the best camp in three years," Roach said. "Manny's knocked four guys down in sparring. He's well-rested, ready to go after this guy."

In his final Hollywood sparring session, Pacquiao threw punches in flurries and dazed his sparring partner. As the bell rang, the crowd erupted in applause, and he smiled at the throng.

"Just a little sample of what's coming," Pacquiao said. "If I have a chance to finish him, why not?"

One of Pacquiao's friends said that no one can compartmentalize life better than this guy.

"This camp has been really good," Pacquiao said to assembled reporters. "No distractions."

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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