On Wednesday Manny Pacquiao was at the Wild Card Boxing Club, a cramped gym in a rundown strip mall, where he trains. He was preparing for his 2 May megafight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. The temperature is always like a furnace in the place, and it was no different on that day. He danced in the ring, shadowboxing, his wrapped hands in a dizzying display of punches. It was Pacquiao's last scheduled appearance in advance of what's been called the fight of the century.
It was media day, a routine for all big fights in which the press are invited to interview him for a few seconds. He was surrounded by literally hundreds of reporters, and those pretending to be. Dozens of people stood outside the gym clamoring to enter.
In the boxing business, media workouts are ways for promoters to create buzz by creating a compelling narrative. The promoters don’t really need to sell this welterweight fight, the biggest of the century and the richest in boxing history, but it’s a habit that is hard to break. Mayweather is the favorite so it is natural to pump up Pacquiao’s hopes for an epic, maybe even biblical, upset.
Mayweather has a longer reach, a great jab, and his brilliant defensive shoulder roll, which has earned him a 47-0 record as a professional. Pacquiao – a world champion in eight different weight classes – loves to take risks and attack. He is a volume puncher who can throw dizzying combinations. A deeply religious man, he has come to think of Mayweather as Goliath to his David.
"Manny doesn't like this guy. When we are doing the mitts, he says he will kill Mayweather when he does the shoulder roll," said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer. Roach says Pacquiao will have to find a way to get inside, throw punches, and then slide away and cut off the ring. He hopes to get Mayweather caught against the ropes. He predicts that it will go the full 12 rounds, and Pacquiao will win the decision based on his how he will control the fight with his relentless style. In training, Roach has taken a very measured approach. When they train, Roach shows him a Mayweather move and how Pacquiao must counter it. "Manny is at different level physically and mentally. More than I have ever seen."
So no one can see their plan and so Pacquiao has the choreography committed to muscle memory, Roach has tried to keep the training camp closed. He hasn't had much success. Pacquiao loves a crowd. His omnipresent entourage is in the dozens, a new face appearing every day to take on some trivial task like mixing the Gatorade or walk his Jack Russell terrier, Pacman. While in Los Angeles, he has met with a cavalcade of stars, including athletes Ronda Rousey, Tim Tebow, comedian Dave Chappelle and actors Lorraine Bracco and Robert Duvall. He bought a $12.5m Beverly Hills house last month and started endorsing Butterfinger Cups, a candy. And he released a song and music video of his ballad, titled Lalaban Ako Para Sa Filipino, or I Will Fight for the Filipinos. The video contains boxing footage and scenes from typhoon damage in the Philippines. Pacquiao is shown sincerely singing the song.
Mayweather calls himself ‘Money’ among other monikers, enjoys making enormous bets and buys expensive cars on a whim. But he has taken a more subdued approach leading up to the fight, saying that he has focused on his training while Pacquiao is out goofing around.
That’s the narrative provided by the promoters to sell the fight. According to people who have been at both camps, both fighters have been preparing flawlessly and professionally.
After reports that Roach heard about Mayweather getting knocked down in sparring, the Mayweather camp responded testily. Floyd Mayweather Sr, father and trainer to Floyd Jr, said, "Coach Roach is lying to you. Trying to trick you all. Floyd's not getting knocked down in the gym. Floyd is the one knocking people down. Roach blows smoke with no hope."
Roach has also commented that Pacquiao’s sparring partners are overwhelmed by his super-human knockout abilities.
There have been some physical issues with the fighters. Mayweather, 38, had a minor foot ailment early in training camp, prompting his fitness trainer to introduce swimming into his regimen. Meanwhile, it was reported that Pacquiao, 36, battled calf cramps, which have plagued him for several years. “That’s a lie,” said Roach. “It was a blister.”
One thing that is certain: along with being a master tactician in the ring, Mayweather typically uses a fight’s buildup to hurt his opponent before they enter the ring. He boastfully calls himself the ‘TBE’ (‘The Best Ever’) as his hangers-on shout, “Yeah, Money!” And per his tradition, he showed off his dynamic skills and tremendous work rate at his own media workout on Tuesday in Las Vegas. But he hasn’t shown the same verbal self-confidence, a bombast that’s created self-doubt within his opponent. Roach says that is a sign that Mayweather is “scared.”
Pacquiao has won the fight before the fight because Mayweather hasn’t been able to project his aura of invincibility.
“It’s not just about money – it’s about legacy, fans, family – everything,’’ Mayweather said, the other day as he talked about the enormity of the fight. But then he downplayed the bout’s significance, adding, “One fight does not define Floyd Mayweather’s career.” A strange statement from a man who relentlessly talks about his perfect 47-0 record and has proclaimed that he wants to go down in history as an undefeated professional boxer.
About Pacquiao, he could only muster: “This is going to be an exciting fight. Our styles are totally different. He is very, very reckless. Every move I make is calculated. I’m always five to 10 steps ahead of my opponent.”