Bob Arum has promoted boxing for nearly half a century and has seen a lot of strange things, but it's a rare day when he watches a 6-1 favorite train and thinks he's looking at a 6-1 underdog instead.
When Arum entered Manny Pacquiao's training camp in Baguio City, Philippines, on Oct. 16, he was stunned by what he saw from the man regarded as the best fighter in the world.
"He looked like [expletive]," Arum said in his typically gruff, blunt style.
Pacquiao is set to face Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in a challenge that Arum knows will be much more difficult than the nearly 6-1 odds that favor Pacquiao would indicate. Throw out Margarito's one-sided loss to Shane Mosley on Jan. 24, 2009, and the odds would likely favor Pacquiao by no more than 8-5, perhaps less.
And so, after having flown halfway around the world to check on Pacquiao's preparations, Arum wasn't particularly thrilled by what he saw on his first day in camp.
"I was totally surprised," Arum said. "He looked lethargic. He wasn't sharp. I was not very impressed."
Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, was thrilled when the team arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday and could set up camp for the final three weeks at his Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, but he said that Arum had nothing to worry about.
Roach is also blunt and never shy about giving his opinion. He said Arum just picked a bad day to show up at the gym.
"The day Bob got there, I will admit that he looked like [expletive]," Roach said. "The next day, he was back to himself. We've had good days and bad days and Bob showed up on a bad day. But we're getting the bad days out of the way and Manny is doing what he should be doing and he's getting where I want him to be."
The first half of Pacquiao's training camp was typically hectic. As a congressman in the Philippines, duties required him to make a six-hour drive from Baguio to Manila. He also had to fly to Manila for a meeting with President Benigno S. Aquino III, which didn't sit well with Roach.
For most people, a meeting with a country's president is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. For Pacquiao, it's old hat, and Roach didn't want him to go.
"He had to miss training one day because he had to meet the president and I said to him, '[Expletive] the president. We have a fight coming up you need to get ready for,' " Roach said.
Pacquiao chuckled about Roach's concern and hopped onto the plane and fulfilled his commitment to meet Aquino. Pacquiao has become something of a legend for his ability to focus on the task at hand while seemingly in the midst of chaos, and both Arum and Roach said this time appears to be no different.
After his initial scare of watching Pacquiao struggle through a workout, Arum was relieved when he saw Pacquiao humming along like his old self the next two days.
He's legitimately concerned about the challenge Pacquiao faces and said he needs to be at his best in order to win.
"You can't be at top speed every day," Arum said of Pacquiao. "The first day I was there, I definitely was concerned. Definitely. But on Monday and Tuesday, he showed marked improvements. He's where he needs to be."
Pacquiao has faced all sorts of different challenges since 2008, when he moved up from featherweight and began to regularly face much bigger fighters. He's handled it with aplomb – ask Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, David Diaz and Ricky Hatton for their opinions if you need more evidence that Pacquiao can hang with the big boys – but he's yet to face the type of challenge that Margarito poses.
The perception of Margarito's chances has been skewed by his one-sided loss to Mosley, by his lengthy layoff as a result of his suspension for having been caught with loaded hand wraps prior to the Mosley fight and for Pacquiao's huge speed advantage.
But it was less than two years ago that Roach was convinced that Margarito was too big and too physical for Pacquiao and was saying he'd never allow the two to meet. And though Pacquiao's performance in the interim has caused him to change his mind, Roach still has much respect for Margarito.
And if the Mosley fight and the suspension hadn't taken place, the outcome of the fight would be perceived much differently. Pacquiao has a massive speed advantage, but Margarito is far stronger and has an iron chin.
The only time he ever had a problem with his chin came in the Mosley fight, when he was stopped at 43 seconds of the ninth round. The controversy about the hand wraps that occurred in his dressing room earlier that night had an impact, but more so was the fact that in the three weeks prior to the fight, Margarito had to shed 35 pounds to make the welterweight limit of 147.
Margarito had still been celebrating his epic July 26, 2008, victory over Miguel Cotto and wasn't in nearly the kind of shape he should have been when he faced Mosley. Hand wraps controversy or not, Margarito likely would have taken a beating that night because of the lifestyle he was living after the Cotto fight.
But he's been working with trainer Robert Garcia diligently for the last several months and has been committed as he has ever been. The result, Roach said, is an exceptionally dangerous opponent for Pacquiao.
"I wish people would quit thinking Manny is just going to walk through this guy," Roach said. "In my mind, this is the toughest fight of his life, by far. He's the biggest, strongest guy Manny has ever fought. He's got a big reach advantage. He's got a lot of things going for him."
Roach knows that Pacquiao is faster and quicker than just about everyone he faces and has become an expert at placing his punches and putting them together in combination. Margarito's defense "sucks," in Roach's estimation, and he expects Pacquiao to be able to exploit that flaw.
If Pacquiao wins, Arum plans to make another run at making a Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight, but he doesn't want to get ahead of himself because he realizes the seriousness of the challenge Margarito poses.
"I get it, but the more important thing is that Manny totally gets it," Arum said. "Everyone in that camp does. I was a little concerned by what I saw that first day, but after the next couple of days, I realized that it was just one of those things. They are taking this fight very seriously, as they should, because anything less than their best effort is going to be a big problem."
- Manny Pacquiao
- Antonio Margarito
- Freddie Roach
- Bob Arum