Pacquiao: This is gift for Filipinos
By Francis Ochoa
Last updated 06:32am (Mla time) 07/02/2006
Published on page A1 of the July 2, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
THIS is his chosen stage. This is his preferred audience—his adoring public. And almost everybody expects Manny Pacquiao to put on a show his people will talk about for a long, long while.
“He’s going to perform for his people,” said trainer Freddie Roach.
Pacquiao, the Filipino ring icon elevated to national hero status hereabouts, takes on Mexican challenger Oscar “Chololo” Larios at around noontime today in a super featherweight bout that holds more significance than just the “Pacman’s” defense of an obscure title.
This is the bout the 27-year-old superstar from General Santos has fought hard to stage: A fight against an opponent with legitimate credentials at the historic Araneta Coliseum, a gift to a country that has seen in him a refreshing diversion from its current political and economic turmoil.
“This is for all my countrymen who always supported and prayed for me,” said Pacquiao in Thursday’s press conference, the last time the ring sensation spoke to the media.
Pacquiao will earn $1 million for the fight.
The Pacquiao-Larios tiff, scheduled for 12 rounds, is the centerpiece of a 10-bout card dubbed Mano-A-Mano Filipinas Contra Mexico. The bell for the opening bout rings at 8 a.m.
Roach told sportswriters Thursday that there was “no future [for Pacquiao] without a win,” meaning a loss to Larios could create major kinks in the projected third meeting between Pacquiao and Mexican Erik Morales in November.
For Larios, this is more than just a shot at the WBC international super featherweight title Pacquiao currently holds, a belt normally contested by boxers ranked 11th and above in their division. This is the 29-year-old Guadalajara, Mexico, native’s biggest fight in his battle-scarred career—purse-wise and opponent-wise.
Larios will be paid $450,000 for this bout, and a victory would open doors to more lucrative fights. But if Roach’s fight plans work as he is confident they will, Larios can very well go ahead and cash that paycheck as his retirement fund.
A quick end
“Manny’s going to end it quickly with this guy,” Roach said. “That’s how to deal with [Larios]—jump on him right away because he’s a slow starter. I don’t want Manny to play with this guy.” (See related story on Page A1.)
“So don’t take your eyes off the television screen,” said Roach, who will be in Pacquiao’s corner for the 10th time in the Filipino’s 46-fight career. “Things are going to happen pretty quickly.”
Pacquiao’s 41-3-2 win-loss-draw record is highlighted by 32 knockouts.
Roach said that the Larios camp knows what Pacquiao, a former two-time world champion, is planning to do but “there’s nothing [Larios] can do about it.”
Pacquiao was all business during yesterday’s weigh-in at the Discovery Suites, where he tipped the scales at 129 1/2 lbs. Larios, a former WBC super bantamweight champion, came in half a pound lighter at the weigh-in emceed by famed ring announcer Michael Buffer.
Buffer lent further significance to the fight, calling it the Thrilla In Manila II and dedicating the bout to the two Hall-of-Fame heavyweights who took the country by storm almost 31 years ago with a fight that remains a classic to this day—Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
Quiet lion with sore tooth
As in his final training Saturday afternoon, Pacquiao only offered an obligatory smile for the cameras during the traditional pose of contenders.
Other than that, he was serious and quiet, retreating to a heavily guarded room right after the weigh-in and exuding as much charm as a lion with a sore tooth.
“He was a little cranky,” Roach said, smiling. “And that’s usually a good sign before the fight.”
Closeted in the privacy of a sealed-off room, Pacquiao later had a heavy lunch consisting of fried lapu-lapu, bulalo and fried chicken. His handlers hope to have him at around 140 lbs at fight time. He lightened up a bit after the meal, leafing through a freshly published book about him.
But he remained reserved, as if in deep thought.
In contrast, Larios (56-4-1, 38 knockouts) was all smiles during the weigh-in, a picture of a boxer confident that his camp has gotten Pacquiao all figured out.
“In front of his (Pacquiao’s) public, he wants very, very bad to win by a knockout,” said Rafael Mendoza, Larios’s manager. “The longer the fight is, the better it is for Larios.”
But Roach said Larios could easily be lured into a brawl, something that fits Pacquiao’s style just fine.
‘For you and me’
“He’s going to try and move backwards against Manny and be out of character,” Roach pointed out. “But once Manny lands that first blow, he (Larios) is going to revert back to who he is.”
Roach admitted that Pacquiao might try to showboat a little too much in front of his compatriots, but even that isn’t a cause for concern.
“That’s just a drawback of fighting at home,” said the American trainer. “Sometimes you fight for the people more than for yourself.”
Asked whether Pacquiao will try to be too flashy for the crowd or display the same restraint that was the game plan in his dismantling of Morales early this year, Roach replied: “He’s going to do a little of both. He’s going to fight for you and me.”