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Manny Pacquiao working hard to make up for a bad decision

Pacquiao pounds away at trainer Freddie Roach in preparation for a rematch with Timothy Bradley.

March 19, 2014|Bill Dwyre
  • Manny Pacquiao works with the speed bag during a training session earlier this month in General Santos City, Philippines.
Manny Pacquiao works with the speed bag during a training session earlier… (Jeoffrey Maitem / Getty…)

On a hot Wednesday afternoon in a strip mall near a busy Los Angeles street corner, a congressman was beating up an elderly and defenseless man.

It was almost as one-sided as the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley fight that two judges on duty that night failed to see.

No police were summoned. No 911 calls made. This was sanctioned assault, also known know as boxing training camp.

You knew immediately where you were, from the "pop, pop, pop" of boxing gloves colliding in the ring, and from the moisture forming under your arms. There is no crying in baseball and no air conditioning in boxing.

Actually, the elderly man wasn't all that defenseless, although, at 54, there is a bit more white hair on Freddie Roach's head these days. And to be clear, although this may have just been practice work for Roach's prize pupil, the onetime lightweight who took more than his share of shots in a 40-13 career was taking a few more in this hotbox.

Pacquiao was back at work. He has a rematch with Bradley on April 12 in Las Vegas. Roach, who has trained him to an unprecedented eight titles in eight weight divisions — and continued to train him as Pacquiao became a congressman in the Philippines — had the big vest on again and was working the mitts.

They went 10 rounds, with Pacquiao hitting Roach's mitts according to verbal instruction. Two means "pop, pop." Four demands "pop, pop, pop, pop." Frequently, the action was designed to end with a body punch. Pacquiao tried to be gentle, but you could almost see Roach's hair getting whiter.

"A guy like Manny, with speed, is more dangerous than the power guys," Roach said. "When he gets me up here [points to the middle of his chest], it hurts, even with the vest."

Over the years, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has trained with a former Olympic bronze medalist, heavyweight Nate Jones. One drill is for Mayweather to pound Jones' vest-protected body for several rounds. Jones once confided that he often goes home and urinates blood.

Roach doesn't take shots like that. Nor would he have his workouts any other way. He is an established guru of the sport. He has been named trainer of the year so often he probably owns a tux. Pacquiao is the centerpiece of that.

The Bradley fight is significant in the boxing world, which thrives on never-ending controversy and high drama, because Bradley's split-decision victory June 9, 2012, has become one of the more disputed fight decisions of all time. Which is saying a lot, because everything in boxing is disputed.

Interestingly, the public and media are much more stirred up over the obvious wrongdoing than the wronged, Pacquiao.

When the decision was announced that night, Pacquiao turned and smiled at Roach, gave him a hug as Roach told him he was sure he had won the fight, and then went across the ring to not only congratulate Bradley, but tell his father, "Your son will be a fine champion."

The scene in the MGM Grand Garden that night was one of stunned amazement. Occupants of press row, representing several thousand years of fight-scoring experience, looked at each other wide-eyed. It was a what-just-happened-here moment.

"I couldn't put my finger on it," Roach said. "I couldn't figure who this benefited. Certainly not Manny, but not Bradley either, and not [promoter] Bob Arum."

Roach said they even checked on big bets being made, but found nothing.

Bradley said all the right things. What was he supposed to do? Give the title back? Still, the matchups for his next fight came slowly.

But Pacquiao, through it all, never wavered. In this era of pro sports, where everything seems controversial and borderline life-and-death, he took the decision and shrugged. Wednesday, he shrugged again.

"I have peace of mind," he said. "Not every time is a decision perfect. I don't blame the officials. I'm not mad at the [Nevada State Athletic] Commission. It is part of the game."

Then, sounding more like a congressman than a boxer, he added, "It's professionalism. It's what we are."

Pacquiao will enter the Bradley fight with a 55-5-2 record. When Bradley got the decision, it had been seven years since Pacquiao had lost a fight, that one to Erik Morales. His fifth loss was the shocking knockout six months after the Bradley fight against Juan Manuel Marquez. His other losses were at much lighter weights at the start of his career, a TKO in '99 and a KO in '96.

"When he first came to me," Roach said, "he had films of his fights. But he wanted to show me the fights where he was knocked out, as well as the victories. That's the way he is. Totally open. Every time I got beat in a fight, I threw the film away."

The pop, pop, pops will continue at Roach's Wild Card Gym, and the 54-year-old body will keep taking hits. But it won't be anything like the days he trained Mike Tyson.

"He got mad at me one day," Roach said. "He had his gloves off and I told him we weren't done. He said we were. I said we weren't. I needed to establish who was boss. So we got back in the ring and did three rounds of bare-knuckle mitts. It was bloody.

"The next day, he was still mad. We put on the mitts and he got me with a right hook to the jaw. I remember the room closing in around me."

The congressman promises to be more gentle, at least until the night of April 12.

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