LOS ANGELES – Fight night is still more than three months away and a grueling media tour of more than 22,000 miles was finally coming to an end.
Manny Pacquiao was unusually ebullient Thursday as he met the American media for the final time until the week before his Nov. 23 fight against Brandon Rios in Macau, China.
Pacquiao is coming off a two-fight losing streak – a highly controversial decision to Timothy Bradley in June 2012 and a brutal knockout to Juan Manuel Marquez – but is still the star attraction and still commands an A-Rod-sized paycheck. And he clearly has the one thing all great athletes really need: a short memory.
He's probably been asked more than 1,000 times about what it's like to go into a fight with back-to-back losses, and Thursday, minutes before the start of the last news conference of the marathon press tour, he was asked about it again.
Pacquiao was standing alongside a lengthy row of tables, signing his name onto several hundred boxing gloves. He'd grab one, scribble his name quickly onto the area near the fist, flip it to his right and then take a quick slide step to his left to grab another one. All the while, he was doing an interview.
"What is it you asked me?" he said, turning toward a reporter, his brow furrowed.
Suddenly, without prompting, he seemed to remember.
"Oh yeah, about two losses in a row," he said. "Well, you win some and you lose some."
And then, just to make sure his remarks could not be misconstrued, he grinned broadly and began to giggle.
But at some level, that is the attitude he lives by. Losses are as much a part of athletics as winning. The great ones have to learn how to deal with losing.
He's taken torrents of abuse because of the sixth-round knockout at the hands of Marquez, his longtime rival. He's been taunted and teased and harassed about it.
A photo of him unconscious on the canvas was shared via social media tens of thousands of times.
It was the cruelest kind of defeat. He was on the verge of knocking Marquez out, battering him around the ring as time in the sixth round was winding down. The finish seemed near.
"I was there, and I was like, 'Holy [expletive], he's going to knock him the [expletive] out," Rios said.
But Pacquiao raced forward in a desire to deliver a crowd-pleasing finish and ran smack into a crunching counter right from Marquez. It was the best punch of Marquez's Hall of Fame career and put Pacquiao asleep.
Pacquiao was ridiculed mercilessly for it, not only in the immediate aftermath of the bout, but in the days and weeks following it.
If he was bothered by it, he didn't show it. He gets it. When you fight hard and give it your all, even though you normally win, occasionally you lose. And, once in a while, you might lose violently.
"You know," he said, "that's boxing. One of the things I'm trying to show is that you don't quit because something bad happened. I've been knocked out before. It was a long time ago. I came back and I won a lot of fights. And now – Pow! – it happened again.
"The important thing to learn here is that there is nothing wrong with losing. You get up and you fight."
His promoter, Bob Arum, hailed him during the news conference for his philanthropy. Pacquiao has donated millions of dollars to fund scholarships, build homes, schools and hospital. A member of the Philippines' House of Representatives, Pacquiao says he'd like his legacy to be that he tried his best to do good for others.
This is not a meek and mild monk who spends all his waking hours in silent contemplation and prayer.
There is a competitive side to Pacquiao that has kicked in and is driving him back into the ring. He wants to erase the sting of that loss, and the sooner the better. His trainer, Freddie Roach, had to put the brakes on the idea of coming back quickly after the knockout loss to Marquez.
"When you get knocked out like that, the most important thing is to get rest and give yourself a long time to recover," Roach said. "But Manny wanted to come back so fast, and I had to tell him to wait, that it would be better just to get some rest."
He's not a guy who likes to lose, at boxing or anything else. After the news conference in the swank Beverly Hills Hotel had ended, he stood with Rios to do a video interview.
The interviewer asked the fighters to sing the Yahoo! yodel. After they'd each done it once, with much gusto, he told Pacquiao that Rios had the edge. Pacquiao asked for the microphone so he could try the yodel again.
Even while joking and singing a goofy song, Pacquiao couldn't take losing.
It was quite a sight, with two of the best fighters in the world standing in the back of a ballroom filled with onlookers, yodeling lustily in order to get a win.
Because he is a polite, decent man who doesn't try to attract attention to himself everywhere he goes, it's often mistaken for weakness.
That is hardly the case. Pacquiao is as fierce of a competitor as there is in the business.
He's going to spend the next three months working as hard as he's ever worked to be ready to show that he still has it, that he remains relevant.
He's aware of his significance, to his country and to his sport, and he takes that seriously.
His message in Macau will be that life may knock you down on occasion, but you're not a loser unless you quit trying.
"I still want to be a big name in boxing and to show that I can still win the big fights," he said. "In boxing, there is a winner and a loser and sometimes, somebody gets knocked out. That's the way it goes."
He stopped signing for a second to look up.
"I've got a lot of fights left," Pacquiao said. "And one of the reasons I picked Brandon Rios is because I want to give the fans the kind of fights they want to see. They like exciting fights and Rios likes to fight toe-to-toe. I can box for a lot longer and I'm not giving up. There is no reason to give up."
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- Sports & Recreation
- Manny Pacquiao
- Brandon Rios
- Juan Manuel Marquez