LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao was hardly a helpless waif in 2005, but neither was he the superstar boxer, influential politician and global icon that he would become.
It'd take a special relationship with a special trainer for Pacquiao to ascend to the level he's at today.
He fights Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday in a pay-per-view bout at the MGM Grand Garden that, once again, is expected to sell in excess of a million units and should ultimately earn him more than $25 million.
Pacquiao's status now is unquestioned, but in 2005, he was just an above average boxer coming off a loss to Erik Morales. And losing was the least of his worries.
He owed millions to the Internal Revenue Service – the result, he said, of an illegal scheme between his managers and promoter. The fact is, he was earning far less than he was worth under an oppressive promotional agreement that made it unlikely he ever would become a major attraction.
At the urging of his managers, Shelly Finkel, Nick Khan and Keith Davidson, Pacquiao filed a lawsuit against his promoter, Murad Muhammad, and Muhammad's company, M&M Sports, alleging significant violations in the Muhammad Ali Act.
His career literally hinged on the outcome of the case. If he got free of Muhammad, he would be able to sign with a promoter who could help him generate the kind of money he'd need, not only to pay his massive tax debt but also to set his family up financially for life.
Pacquiao's trial attorney, Judd Burstein, told him he had a very strong case but that there are no sure things.
"Going through a trial is a very intense experience," Burstein said. "It's warfare. It really is."
Pacquiao had to be prepared to go to war in a country that was not his own and in a language in which he was not fluent. He had been betrayed by people he had trusted and didn't know whom he could believe or count on.
He'd been used, he felt, as a human ATM by those around him, who watched him torture himself physically to fight for his money while they lived the high life and then took the largest part of his purse. In matters big and small, he was coming out on the short end.
One of the perks for a main event fighter in a Las Vegas match is a large suite. Pacquiao, though, didn't benefit from that. Muhammad took the massive multi-room suite for himself without telling Pacquiao it was his. He put Pacquiao into a small hotel room that was quickly overrun with dozens of friends, family and acquaintances who stayed with him.
Pacquiao's future in the spring of 2005 depended largely on his trainer, Freddie Roach. It was Roach who recognized Pacquiao's brilliance on a January day in 2001 that Pacquiao, on a lark, walked into Roach's Wild Card Gym while on vacation in Hollywood, Calif. in search of a workout.
Roach's wizardry helped turn Pacquiao from a talented but flawed boxer into a ferocious fighting machine, though he was far from a finished product after the loss to Morales.
Pacquiao and Roach were friendly at the time, but truth be told, Pacquiao wasn't sure who his friends were.
"Manny had been burned so badly by so many people," said Khan, who served briefly as Pacquiao's co-manager and is now Roach's agent. "He didn't understand the business and he didn't speak much English. He'd developed a relationship with Freddie, and he started to feel like Freddie was the one guy he could trust."
Burstein said as he was preparing for trial, he "had a sense that Manny felt naked in America. I didn't know them before that point, but I got the sense at that point that here at least, Freddie was the center of Manny's universe."
Roach saw what he felt were abuses happening. He knew that television networks were paying Muhammad large sums of money to secure Pacquiao's services, but that Muhammad was paying Pacquiao only a small amount of it. The Ali Act requires promoters to disclose all revenue streams to the fighter, but Pacquiao wasn't getting it.
Roach brought it to the attention of Khan.
"At the time, I was concerned for Manny personally, not as a fighter, and so I decided to tell Nick Khan, even though some people thought I overstepped my bounds by doing that," Roach said. "My job was to train him to fight and not be involved in his business. But I just couldn't stand by and not say anything when I knew something bad was happening."
After Pacquiao's one-sided upset victory over Marco Antonio Barrera on Nov. 15, 2003, he asked Roach for advice. He had been in the U.S. just shy of three years, but was beginning to get the sense that things weren't right in his dealings with Muhammad and business manager Rod Nazario. He decided to take them to court.
Much of Pacquiao's success at trial would depend upon Roach. He was the boxing expert who would have to convince the jury that Muhammad's treatment of Pacquiao was not typical.
Roach hit a home run with his testimony. The jury fell in love with him and the only question after Roach got off the stand seemed to be how much Pacquiao would win.
Marianna Morano-Amato was Juror No. 4. She has since become friends with Roach and Pacquiao and has flown to several of Pacquiao's fights as the fighter's guest. At the time, she knew nothing of boxing, but was taken by Roach and the special relationship she sensed between Roach and Pacquiao.
"Manny was sitting there at the table and he was just this very humble, very quiet, very sweet guy," she said. "Watching the trial unfold, this guy Murad Muhammad was really a creep. As the days went on and the trial progressed, there was no doubt in anybody's mind, especially mine, that Manny was being taken advantage of.
"As Freddie Roach got on the stand, and I began to learn about him, the first thing that was obvious was the tremendous loyalty he felt toward Manny. It was so clear how much he cared about Manny and he wanted to guide him. It was obvious that he wanted what was best for Manny, whereas Murad Muhammad was this creep and a liar who took advantage of him."
Muhammad settled the case with Pacquiao as the jury was deliberating and has not been involved in boxing since. He was not available for comment.
In a strange way, Muhammad's actions helped Pacquiao. They tightened the bond between Pacquiao and Roach. That led to Pacquiao signing with Top Rank and embarking on a career that would earn him well more than $100 million.
Roach was the unquestioned boss in those early years. He guided Pacquiao to a 7-1-2 record in the 10 fights from the time they began working together until the Morales fight just before the trial.
It was obvious Pacquiao was going to be a star if he was promoted the right way, which is why Golden Boy and Top Rank got into a heated battle for his services that led to them suing each other.
Not so obvious, though, was how good Pacquiao would actually become. Pacquiao and Roach worked together feverishly to improve, with no detail too minute to fix. By early 2008, Roach was convinced Pacquiao was as good as any fighter in the world.
"He worked so hard and he wanted so badly to be good," Roach said. "He was a great, great student. As a coach, you dream of getting guys with his talent who are willing to do whatever it takes to win."
Prior to Roach, Pacquiao was extraordinarily fast and had a deadly left hand, but he had poor balance, no right hand and was vulnerable to good boxers.
As Roach remade him, those flaws went away. All the time they spent together working on his boxing game and fighting for Pacquiao's promotional freedom brought them extraordinarily close.
At one time, the relationship was more like a father and son. Now, Pacquiao says it's evolved to more like they're brothers.
"Freddie had absolute power in those early days together with Manny," Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. "As the years wore on, it became more of a two-way street. Manny matured as a person and became more worldly and he wasn't afraid to share his own ideas."
During the trial, the tension was overwhelming. Looking for a way to relax, Pacquiao, Roach and Khan came up with a scheme. They decided to see who could have the smallest hotel bill.
To win, that meant no charging food or drinks to the room and no raiding of the in-room refrigerator.
"I said, 'Well, that's easy, I'll win hands down, because I don't drink,' " Roach said. "And I didn't charge anything, so I knew I had won."
But when he checked out, his bill was far higher than he expected.
It turns out, Pacquiao had charged things to Roach's room: Dinners, drinks, services.
"They all thought it was so funny that they got me," Roach said.
Their relationship will go down as one of the best trainer-fighter combinations in the sport's history. Arum compared it to the bond between Angelo Dundee and Muhammad Ali, as well as between the Petronelli brothers and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Morano-Amato said she's seen the humility of both men up close and thinks that ultimately, it's the reason why they are so close and have been so successful.
"After his last Morales fight, it was a very rough fight you might remember, and Manny asked for me to come to his suite," she said. "He wanted to thank my husband [Gerald] and I for coming to the fight and being supportive. What boxer does that? My first impression of him was of a sweet, humble guy, but the funny thing is, that's the guy he is in real life.
"And that's exactly how Freddie is, too. Neither of them wants anything from the other, but they care for each other so much. I'm not surprised they do well together because it's like they're on the same track all the time."
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