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BOXING

Manny Pacquiao is fighting age as much as opponent Timothy Bradley

At 33, with 59 pro fights and 353 rounds under his belt, Pacquiao could be coming to grips with his boxing mortality. Saturday's bout is likely to reveal how much he's lost, and how much he has left.

June 08, 2012|By Lance Pugmire
  • Manny Pacquiao, left, smiles for the cameras as Timothy Bradley stares at him during Friday's weigh-in for Saturday's WBO welterweight title fight in Las Vegas.
Manny Pacquiao, left, smiles for the cameras as Timothy Bradley stares… (Julie Jacobson / Associated…)

LAS VEGAS — Manny Pacquiao interrupted training in Hollywood recently and confided in his conditioning coach Alex Ariza that something wasn't right.

"I'm not feeling well. I'm restless. I can't eat," Pacquiao told Ariza.

"Bro," Ariza answered, "those are all the effects of overtraining."

With that, Ariza began adjusting to a startling revelation: Pacquiao, at age 33, preparing for his 60th professional fight Saturday night at MGM Grand against unbeaten Timothy Bradley, is officially dealing with his ring mortality.

"You think about an athlete like Manny and how he got here in life, from nothing to becoming this bigger-than-life icon, it's always been go, go, go, drive, drive, drive," Ariza said. "It's worked for him.

"But by continuing to put that into his sport, that relentlessness backfires on him. We have to remember he's 33, and apply sport as a science."

The concerns over Pacquiao's training increased after back-to-back flat performances in decision victories last year over Shane Mosley and counterpunching specialist Juan Manuel Marquez.

There's also the unaccounted toll Pacquiao has paid after admitting in recent weeks that last year he engaged in late nights of gambling, alcohol use and womanizing that threatened his marriage. In the last six months, he has undergone a religious awakening.

"I'm looking at Manny going through some emotional things," said Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward. "I think it's taking up his spiritual and mental energy.

"Something gets sapped from that. I just wonder where that energy is at this point, especially after he picked this tough of an opponent."

Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 knockouts) has boxed 353 rounds as a pro, 45 more than Oscar De La Hoya did in his career, and only 27 fewer than Thomas Hearns, who fought into his 40s. Muhammad Ali, who retired at 39, had 61 pro fights.

When such concerns were raised in an interview, the positive Pacquiao smiled away the questions.

"I still think I'm 26 years old," he said. "I've had some problems with my calves, but I'm taking more potassium now. More bananas. I did my best in training."

Then, breaking out in religious song, he sang, "God will make a way. . . ."

Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach maintains his fighter had a sharp camp. He expects Pacquiao to beat Bradley because of a clear power advantage and said the Filipino star will "have no problem evading Bradley's punches. Manny's too quick."

"It's part of life you slow down when you get a bit older, but I'm watching for it in his foot drills and agility work and I'm not seeing it," Roach said. "He blocks punches clean. There's no slowness or rigidity, none at all. He wasn't 100% focused for Marquez — distractions. Now we have none of that."

Marquez said he did not feel Pacquiao had lost a step in their November fight, compared with their previous bouts in 2004 and 2008. "He couldn't figure me out. I was faster than he thought and that made him unprepared to deal with me," Marquez said of their last bout.

Marquez cautioned, "The thing you have to watch is the legs. They're the first things to go. And once they go, you have to do things you don't want to do in the ring — like stand in there and get hit."

Steward, who will provide analysis Saturday on HBO's pay-per-view broadcast, has reviewed Pacquiao's recent fights.

"I see a slow slippage in his delivery," Steward said. "The animal-like intensity is slightly less than it was. That's the legs. That's what I always look at. It might not be there to the untrained eye, but you'll see . . . a guy like Bradley — a good, young, intelligent fighter — can exploit those weaknesses. This is not a good fight for Manny."

Ariza said his answer to Pacquiao's age is higher-potency health supplements, more intense workouts but for shorter spans, plus longer periods of rest. Ariza has also started cooking Pacquiao's meals during training.

"Manny has been capable of dynamic sparring sessions, where you say, 'Oh, he'll blow through this guy,' but when you don't compensate for those sessions with rest and supplements to allow for recovery, we deal with the effects we saw," Ariza said.

"To me, it's like a triathlete's training. You start a process leading up to a big event, and you're at your best that night. We haven't been doing that."

Now they have. It comes with age.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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