Breakfast at Manny's: Filipino champ opens up about boxing on the wrong side of 40

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES — As Manny Pacquiao munches on a piece of dried squid, a man behind him cuts the top off a banana and holds it at the ready. His fingers grasp the banana at the bottom and it stands erect in his hand. He’s two steps behind and a step to the left of the WBA welterweight champion, on alert to have the banana as close as possible should the champ want a bite.

Pacquiao turns his head slightly to his left and the man with the banana quickly steps forward to offer it. Alas, Pacquiao just turned to speak to someone eating with him and shows no interest at the moment in the banana.

There is activity throughout the house as the boxing legend sits at the head of his table in the dining room of his home eating breakfast following a grueling workout at nearby Griffith Park. All the seats at the table are filled, though most eat silently without saying much.

Others scurry back and forth, completing one job or another. There are some who are just there, part of the entourage, with no discernible purpose

There are maybe 25, 30 people in the home, though Pacquiao’s publicist said it’s an unusually low number. “Usually, it’s a lot closer to 100, maybe even a few more than that,” he said.

Manny Pacquiao (C) jogs in the morning with fans and friends in Los Angeles on June 20, 2019. (Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images)
Manny Pacquiao (C) jogs in the morning with fans and friends in Los Angeles on June 20, 2019. (Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images)

He’d hit the road a little after 6 a.m. on a crisp, cool morning to do his three times a week workout. He’s had the same routine for years, so fans have learned when to expect him, and before he’s too far into the run, the crowd with him swells appreciably.

It’s Pacquiao, members of his camp and just ordinary people, fans, who want to rub shoulders with the most famous boxer in the world.

Pacquiao is preparing to fight Keith Thurman in a Fox Sports pay-per-view show on July 20 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, a battle of WBA welterweight champions.

His peak was about a decade ago, around the time he was battering Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto senseless. He was blazingly fast and in remarkably good shape, able to keep an astoundingly fast pace for all 36 minutes of a fight, if required.

Now, at the wrong side of 40, he’s not much different. The only concession to his age is that he listens to his body and will take a day off if he needs it. He canceled his workouts on Wednesday when he called conditioning coach Justin Fortune, a former heavyweight contender who once fought Lennox Lewis, and said he didn’t feel right.

“He’s a lucky SOB,” Fortune said, laughing. “He has a ridiculous metabolism. It’s freakish his body’s ability to recover.”

Fortune often has to counsel fighters on what to eat and what to avoid, and plead with them to heed his instructions, but never Pacquiao. The champ has been gifted genetically, and is still as fast, quick and explosive as he’s ever been, Fortune insists, but he’s extraordinarily dedicated.

He eats a clean diet nearly all the time. He works so hard, Fortune said, that he eats an astonishing amount of calories in a day in order to keep his weight up. The limit for the fight with Thurman is 147 pounds, and more than three weeks out, Fortune said Pacquiao’s around 149 ½ or, at most, 150.

“His diet’s never been a concern,” Fortune said. “He eats good food, clean food at almost every meal. Every once in a while — every great once in a while — he’ll have something that is not so great, but that’s so rare. And he works so hard it’s not even a blip on the radar.”

He eats the same food pretty much every day, mostly Filipino dishes with a lot of white rice. In addition to the dried squid and the banana, which is eventually cut into pieces and plopped onto his plate, he eats steak and chicken kebabs, chicken tinola broth and beef nilaga broth.

(Photo by Wendell Alinea/MP Promotions and graphic by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)
(Photo by Wendell Alinea/MP Promotions and graphic by Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

As he eats, Pacquiao is made aware of a minor controversy brewing on the internet. A news report suggests he’s not being drug tested. Sean Gibbons, the president of Pacquiao’s MP Promotions, angrily suggests he is.

A reporter asks Pacquiao if he is being tested regularly and he replies that he has been. He said he’s willing to be tested at any time, and Gibbons interjects to note that Pacquiao is a part of the WBC’s Clean Boxer Program, which means he’s eligible to be tested randomly 24/7/365. The WBC’s program is administered by VADA, which through brilliant marketing has managed to make itself appear to be the gold standard and only acceptable company for anti-doping testing to many in the boxing community.

Pacquiao says he’s been randomly tested by the Nevada Athletic Commission. But then he squints and has something to say.

I never have taken PEDs, Pacquiao said, because I work so hard.

“All my life, I get out there and I work as hard as I can,” he said. “That’s so important.”

It’s led him to become one of the most recognizable figures on Earth. He remains remarkably unchanged by his success, though he has little privacy in his life.

He’s asked if he ever got tired of having so many people around him all the time, if he ever desired to be alone.

“Sometimes,” he said, shaking his head. “I do. Sometimes.”

Then he breaks into this wide, mischievous grin that anyone who is around him enough sees frequently.

“I should get a yacht,” he said, “and go onto the yacht. And not stay [in dock]; go out to sea. Then, they couldn’t get to me.”

He laughs at his jokes and spoons another helping of rice onto his plate. He’ll eat 7,000 or more calories a day because he burns so much.

His trainer, Freddie Roach, said he still hasn’t found his groove in training camp. But Pacquiao has a motivation to fight Thurman that he hasn’t always had.

Manny Pacquiao attends an afternoon training session at Wild Card Boxing in Los Angeles on June 20, 2019. (Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images)
Manny Pacquiao attends an afternoon training session at Wild Card Boxing in Los Angeles on June 20, 2019. (Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images)

He usually doesn’t dislike his opponents and often goes easy on them, so as not to hurt them. But he clearly doesn’t like Thurman, who is as likable and fascinating a figure as there is in boxing. In a bid to sell the fight, Thurman has talked trash and vowed to “crucify” the deeply religious Pacquiao.

“I love it that he’s talking,” Roach said. “The punches are a little harder. The combinations are a little faster. Everything Thurman is saying, it’s motivation for Manny. He doesn’t like this guy, and I usually can’t say that. But if I had my way, Thurman would keep talking. The only thing I’d change is, I’d ask him to talk even more.”

“I don’t know if he is trying to upset Manny and throw him off of his game,” Fortune said, “but the reality is, he’s made Manny put his head down and get to work. He’s made him more determined to hit this guy. He said, ‘I really want to make this guy pay.’ This kind of motivation is great for me and Fred, but it’s a dangerous thing for Thurman. Manny can and will hurt him.”

Pacquiao’s not so much into trash talking. He loves to fight and he loves to compete, and it’s all he’s known for the majority of his life.

And though he’s bombarded with questions about his age and when he may retire, he’s still having the time of his life and retirement hasn’t crossed his mind.

“It doesn’t make sense to retire just because of a number,” he said. “If I can’t do it any more, that’s one thing. But I can still do it at a [high level] and I still enjoy it. I don’t want to say I’ll retire at this time or after this many fights. We’ll see. But I still love this.”

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