Manila, Philippines: The Pacman is in the house. Finally. It’s only taken seven hours of traipsing all over Manila, through streets choked with traffic, from standing at 6am outside his mansion in a gated community belonging to politicians, ambassadors and fellow multimillionaires, to inside the Philippine Senate where he was expected to sit late on Wednesday afternoon, to the Elorde Boxing Gym where signed posters of the 11-time world champion adorn the walls.
Each time he failed to appear as promised, as directed, as scheduled, the posse of Australian reporters here for the next few days started to wonder if this was all by design and Team Pacquiao was privately laughing at the sweaty reporters trying to get a piece of their man, just like the rest of the country.
In another life, Manny Pacquiao lived on these streets. Not walked but lived on them. Now, he’s the city’s most wanted man.
Around 1pm, a white SUV with a police escort pulls up outside the gym in a quiet area in Pasay. You are later told the car is bulletproof. When Pacquiao eventually walks through the door, he instantly charms everyone in the room.
“Hello and welcome to the Philippines!” he says in his soft, melodic voice.
He’s wearing a green-and-blue striped Hollister polo shirt, shorts, white sports socks underneath black sandals and a gold Rolex. It’s unclear if it’s the $585,000 watch he accidentally left in a hotel bathroom three years ago.
We’re here in Manila because one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers in the history of the sport is fighting Brisbane schoolteacher Jeff Horn at Suncorp Stadium on July 2.
There’s a growing suspicion that Pacquiao, 38, isn’t taking Horn, 29, seriously and has his eyes on other opponents. Just days ago, British fighter Amir Khan revealed he was in negotiations with Pacquiao about the pair fighting by the end of the year. They were supposed to fight in April but the money wasn’t there and it was postponed.
Questions also remain about Pacquiao’s focus and fitness less than seven weeks out from the Horn fight. Earlier this week, Pacquiao was swamped by hundreds of fans when he ducked into a local Jollibee restaurant – the Filipino answer to McDonald’s – and started tucking into some fast food.
On Wednesday morning, we waited outside Pacquiao’s enormous residence and watched his two personal chefs, his 10 bodyguards, his enormous trainer and other members of his entourage come and go ahead of some morning roadwork.
His younger brother and former pro boxer, Bobby, emerged instead. We were told Pacquiao was sleeping but were continually assured by his “executive assistant” Benjamin that “Manny is gonna run”.
Benjamin met Pacquiao in Las Vegas in 2008 after Pacquiao’s fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. He has a distinctive Los Angeles accent, bald head, goatee and wears the playing strip of the basketball team that Pacquiao owns. For most of the morning, he sat on a mountain bike.
Then, at 8am, he delivered the news: “Manny isn’t going to run.”
As Pacquiao explained later: “I am so tired because we did so much work the day before. Hard work, a lot of training here [at the gym]. My body’s so tired. I train hard. We do our first day of ply [plyometrics]”. He then dismissed talk of taking Horn lightly. He starts sparring next week and his conditioning continues to focus on his speed and agility.
That’s how he will beat Horn, he says. Pacquiao hasn’t knocked out an opponent for a long time. The last was Miguel Cotto in 2009. “Quick and strong legs,” he says. “Strong body”.
Says Bobby Pacquiao: “He’ll have to move quick, fast. He needs to be quick this time. Working on his speed …”
As he says this, the door of the gym is locked and barred so fans cannot randomly walk through the door and harass the national sporting hero.
Each of Pacquiao’s moves is made with military precision, which doesn’t surprise because his security detail is made up of former soldiers and policemen.
Does he get sick of the interest? Of being famous?
“I am so thankful for everything I have done and thank the people for their support,” says Manny. “It’s not easy, it’s very hard, but I am very disciplined.”
Does he like going out in public where he is hounded like Hollywood celebrity? “No, you have to tell people, ‘Sometimes, you have to rest the body’.”
After the training session, he heads around the corner for a 3pm session of the Senate. Most politicians crave the limelight. This one seems to do all he can to avoid it.
The author travelled to Manila courtesy of Duco Events.