With time no longer on his side, a rejuvenated Manny Pacquiao is out to prove 'age is just a number'

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports

LAS VEGAS — There is no easy money in boxing. Every penny earned is a penny the fighter sweated and bled and suffered to make. To some, it is blood money, for a boxer leaves a little bit of himself inside the ropes every time he climbs out of the ring.

Manny Pacquiao has suffered and bled more than most, because the Filipino superstar has fought 69 times against some of the best fighters in the world in a professional career that began during the first term of the Clinton administration. He’s become one of the greatest fighters who ever lived, but he, like every boxer, has paid a steep price for his success.

Still, his athletic success enabled him to make a difference in thousands of lives. In 2016, Pacquiao, now a senator in the Philippines, estimated he’d given about $200 million to those who needed his financial assistance.

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Whether it was funding the construction of a hospital or a school in his native Philippines or buying a hot meal for someone who needed it near his training camp in Los Angeles, Pacquiao has rarely said no.

His former promoter, Bob Arum, once astutely noted that Pacquiao is the social welfare program in the Philippines.

Manny Pacquiao trains at the Wild Card boxing gym in Los Angeles on Jan. 3, 2019. (Chris Farina/MP Promotions)
Manny Pacquiao trains at the Wild Card boxing gym in Los Angeles on Jan. 3, 2019. (Chris Farina/MP Promotions)

He’s 40 now, and logic tells you he doesn’t have long left. Rare is the boxer who fights after 40 and is none the worse for wear when it’s over. He’ll fight Adrien Broner on Saturday in his return to Las Vegas in a pay-per-view bout at the MGM Grand Garden that will earn him another $20 million or so.

He’s not eager to talk about the future, though he knows the calendar is working against him.

“My plan is just one fight at a time,” he said. “Let me finish this work first and on Jan. 19 at the press conference, we can talk about the next one.”

There is a difference in him, though, as he prepares to face Broner, and it’s not just that he’s motivated by the insults Broner has hurled.

Pacquiao is a great and proud athlete, and though he’s widely considered the second-best fighter of his generation, he spent much of the last decade answering a question he didn’t want to hear: Why aren’t you knocking anyone out?

When Pacquiao developed into a superstar, it was his rare combination of speed and power that awed so many. He would wade fearlessly into battle and was not only willing, but eager, to stand in the center of the ring and trade blows. More often than not, he came out the victor, but that vicious knockout he suffered in his fourth bout with Juan Manuel Marquez proved the risk that even the greats face.

After knocking out Miguel Cotto in 2009, it was in his 14th fight nearly nine years later before he got another one.

He’s got a spring to his step that he hadn’t had before. He’s the same person he always was said his long-time friend, Joe Ramos, who is now the CEO of Pacquiao’s MP Promotions. But things are different.

“In terms of his personality and the way he is and the way he conducts himself, he hasn’t changed,” Ramos said. “In terms of boxing, in terms of maturity, there’s been a transition from when he was at his best against Cotto, [Oscar] De La Hoya, in that era, until now. And it took him a while to figure out how to transition into being an older fighter. You know, it’s training differently, resting differently, eating differently. As your body matures and ages, you have to take care of it differently and do different things.

“It took him a while, but I think he’s figured it out. And to be honest with you, I think the knockout [of Lucas Matthysse in July] rejuvenated him. He heard the same questions and was having the same conversations for so long, and it can drag on you. Now, he got the knockout and he’s kind of getting a fresh start. I think in a lot of ways, it’s brought the kid out in him again.”

Manny Pacquiao and Adrien Broner attend a news conference on Nov. 19, 2018, in New York. Pacquiao will defend his World Boxing Association welterweight title against Broner on Jan. 19, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)
Manny Pacquiao and Adrien Broner attend a news conference on Nov. 19, 2018, in New York. Pacquiao will defend his World Boxing Association welterweight title against Broner on Jan. 19, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)

If Pacquiao can get anywhere close to where he was during the halcyon days from 2008-10, he’ll make a lot more money he can give away to the needy in the Philippines.

He’s reunited with his long-time trainer and close friend, Freddie Roach. Roach suggested after Pacquiao lost to Jeff Horn in Australia in 2017 that maybe it was over, and that Pacquiao should retire.

Though he never ripped Roach publicly, Pacquiao wasn’t happy with Roach’s words. When the Matthysse fight was made, Pacquiao made his unhappiness clear by hiring his childhood friend, Buboy Fernandez, as his trainer.

But Pacquiao met with Roach earlier this year and the two smoothed over whatever differences, if any, that existed between them. Ramos said Pacquiao doesn’t like labels and titles and just views everyone as part of the team, though Roach said nothing has changed and he is still the team leader.

Roach is relentlessly optimistic, but he said he sees a difference in Pacquiao this time. Pacquiao came to the U.S. and got away from the Philippines, where he was pulled in so many directions, to train. The hours Pacquiao was pulling were unsustainable, even for one of the great athletes in the world.

“He has time to get ready to be at his best, which the last couple of fights, he didn’t really have,” Roach said. “He was doing his thing in the Senate and then he was training. Sometimes, he’d get out of a [Senate] session at three, but other times, it would be 10. But whenever it was, he had to go train. He was doing so many things at once and it was just not a great way to do a training camp.”

This time, Pacquiao came to Hollywood early and has been focused solely on boxing. The distractions that always surround him aren’t entirely gone, but they’ve been significantly lessened. And Roach said it’s paying off in camp.

“He’s so explosive and he’s punching harder now than he has in I can’t remember when,” Roach said. “It’s been a long time since I remember him being this fast and explosive and hitting this hard. He hit me with one the other day and it just about [expletive] killed me.

“I think getting that knockout against [Matthysse] has brought the fire back. He’s talking about getting a KO, which he hasn’t done for a while, and to me, that’s a good sign.”

Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao have reunited ahead of the Filipino senator’s title defense vs. Adrien Broner. (AP)
Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao have reunited ahead of the Filipino senator’s title defense vs. Adrien Broner. (AP)

The changes were many for the Broner fight. Michael Koncz, who served as Pacquiao’s de facto manager for years, is no longer running the show. Ramos had just graduated college when he met Pacquiao in 2005, when Pacquiao was training for his first bout with Erik Morales.

Ramos is in many ways the team leader. Roach is back, sharing duties with Fernandez as the trainer. Gone is Pacquiao’s long-time promoter, Top Rank, replaced by Al Haymon of the Premier Boxing Champions.

Pacquiao once was regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and he wants to get back to that status. He sounds a bit like George Foreman when Foreman decided to make a run at the heavyweight title when he was in his 40s.

It’s one thing to win a world title at 40, but it’s another to be regarded as the best there is, regardless of weight. Pacquiao, though, believes it’s realistic, and the PBC has the opponents for him who could help him reach that goal if he can perform like he once did.

“What I’m trying to prove is that age doesn’t matter,” Pacquiao said. “It’s just a number. For me to get back [to being pound-for-pound best], it’s a matter of how I prepare and my interest in training hard but training smarter. I am still happy and excited and I love to do this. I enjoy training and I enjoy my preparations for the fight.

“We found a solution about preparing for the fight, though. Before, all the time, it was hard, hard, hard; go, go, go. If I felt good, I did everything. If I didn’t feel good, I did everything. Now, I know I have to listen to my body and let it recover, and that’s actually helping me to perform.”

A good performance will guarantee another fight, and another fight means another big payday, and another payday means he can do more charitable work.

Ramos said he doesn’t want to see Pacquiao fighting because he needs the money, but said that’s not the case. He said there is no danger of Pacquiao losing it all, despite how much he gives away.

“One of the things that made Manny ‘Manny’ was it was easy to see how much he loved his people and how he wanted to do whatever he could to help,” Ramos said. “He couldn’t say no, and that made people love him. But the good thing is, he’s got things lined up for him [business-wise] after boxing is over. He and [wife] Jinkee have saved money, and they’ve done a good job with that. They’ll be fine. His kids will be fine. Their kids will be fine.

“Manny is a unique person. He lives to be able to do this, to help people [with his money] and to bring joy to them [via his fights]. Of course, when you care about someone, you worry, but he is secure and in a really good place in his life. I think because of that, you’ll see it play out in the ring and I expect you will see a very impressive version of him show up for this fight.”

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