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Like gym where he trains, this Manny Pacquiao bout is a Wild Card

His Dec. 8 fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, their fourth meeting, could be epic. Or it could make fans long for bout they really want, Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

November 19, 2012|Bill Dwyre
  • Manny Pacquiao is scheduled to fight Juan Manuel Marquez on Dec. 8 in Las Vegas.
Manny Pacquiao is scheduled to fight Juan Manuel Marquez on Dec. 8 in Las… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

The only hint of nearby legendary greatness is a handwritten sign on an orange parking cone on the fourth step of a concrete staircase in the back of a strip mall in Hollywood.

The sign says that the Wild Card Gym will be closed at 1 p.m. It doesn't get more specific, but anybody who knows anything about boxing knows the reason.

Manny Pacquiao will be training on this day.

This is as organized as it gets at the Wild Card Gym. Before 1 p.m., as well as every day when Pacquiao is not in town to train for another fight, the Wild Card is wonderful chaos. The drumbeat of punches to the heavy bags finds a rhythm with the rat-tat-tats to the speed bags. Whistles blow, ending sparring sessions. Clanging bells do the same. Full-throated trainers motivate pupils, who respond with ear-piercing groans at sit-up No. 200.

The parade up and down the concrete steps is nonstop. Most are young men dreaming of becoming the next Pacquiao. Some are women. Some are even world-class fighters (Paulie Malignaggi) or world-class movie stars (Mickey Rourke). At peak hours, the smell of napalm in the morning wouldn't even register over the body odor.

Air conditioning? Not needed, not wanted. This is the home of the uppercut, not the upper crust.

All of which makes this Pacquiao training day a surprise. The Wild Card is quiet, uncrowded, the hyperactivity chased away in preparation for the arrival of the king.

It is past 1 p.m., of course. The only thing punctual about boxers is their jab. The rest of the world runs on clocks. They run on approximations.

"Manny's been pretty good in this camp," says Freddie Roach, the man who owns and operates Wild Card and also has trained Pacquiao into an international sports legend. He means Pacquiao has, occasionally, been on time. It can also be taken as a comment on how the training camp has been for upcoming Battle No. 4 with Juan Manuel Marquez.

"Manny's work ethic is still good, he still wants this," Roach says. "I'm pushing him. I had a couple of tough guys in here from Russia to spar with him and he handled them. I made him quit playing basketball a month out, and he has. I worry about jammed fingers and sprained ankles."

Pacquiao will be 34 nine days after his Dec. 8 fight with Marquez, 39, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He has been fighting since January 1995, when he was 16. He weighed 106 pounds then. Now, his record is 54-4-2 and he has fought weighing all the way up to 147. He has beaten almost everyone of note and reasonable size. Marquez remains a sliver under his fingernail.

In their first fight in 2004, he knocked Marquez down three times in the first round and still managed only a draw. They called that one a split-decision draw (one judge had it even and the other two had a different boxer winning). In '08, Pacquiao won a split decision (two judges had him winning, the third had Marquez). Last November, he took a majority decision (two judges had him winning, the third had it a draw).

All three times, Marquez screamed we wuz robbed.

The public itself seems split on this fourth one. Is it really another chapter in a thrilling page-turner or deja vu all over again? Should we be excited at the prospect or insulted by the premise? Are the $1,200 ringside seats a value or a fraud?

Roach indicates that Pacquiao has tired of the whining from the Marquez camp. Roach says Pacquiao wrote on a tablecloth during one of the media-tour luncheons, "We've got to knock this guy out."

From most in boxing, that would be typical hype. From Roach, who suffers from the rare disease in boxing called honesty, it is worth noting. He says that Pacquiao, now a congressman in the Philippines, still is fast and still is good and still wants this boxing life. But when pressed about how much longer he will, Roach says he thinks Pacquiao will have "a couple more" fights.

It is close to 2 p.m. now. Pacquiao sits in his closet-size dressing room, wrapping his hands and answering media questions. Roach has said the tactic against Marquez will be fast footwork and faster combinations. Pacquiao says the tactic will be "more aggression."

The elephant in every room Pacquiao is in used to be Floyd Mayweather Jr. Will they ever fight? Does he still care? Now, even reporters are bored with the subject. It remains the one thing boxing fans universally want and are unlikely to ever get.

Mayweather is in the news recently, when he puts out an Internet video in which he displays and brags about all his jewelry and shows a duffel bag filled with what he says is $1 million. The video's purpose seems to be to enhance his brand as "Money Mayweather." About the same time Mayweather's video is (in the wretchedly overused Internet term of our time) going viral, Pacquiao is handing out self-purchased turkeys and pumpkin pies at a church at the Veterans Affairs grounds in Westwood. He says, "I am thankful for the many great friends I have made in this country."

In reality, Mayweather isn't that big a jerk and Pacquiao isn't that much of saint. But their night-and-day lives and personalities are the kind of good-versus-evil booster shot boxing needs.

Instead, we will get Pacquiao-Marquez IV.

It might be good. It could be great. Or it could create for boxing something it doesn't want and can't afford, something like Pacquiao training afternoons at the Wild Card.


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