Monday, Oct. 26, 2009 | 12:50 p.m.
The next time somebody says that it’s a small world please ignore him. Take it from me, having just done a whirlwind tour to the Philippines, then to New York, followed by a trip to Tampa, it’s still a very big world.
I recently visited the training camps of both pound-for-pound champion Manny Pacquiao in the Philippines, and WBO titleholder champion Miguel Cotto in Florida. Since my first visit was to Baguio in the northern part of Luzon, where Manny is training, I will tell you about my impressions of Manny’s preparations in this article. In my next column, I’ll do the same about Miguel’s training base in Tampa.
To get to Baguio, one must first fly to Manila, the country’s capital. Philippine Airlines has a regular daily flight direct to Manila that includes a one-hour stop in Vancouver, Canada. Its rates are reasonable and the service is excellent.
The plane arrives in Manila at approximately 5 a.m., and the drive to Baguio takes four to five hours, depending on traffic. Only part of the drive is on a regular highway, after which the road continues through one small town after another with traffic moving very slowly. About one hour before arriving in Baguio, the scenery becomes spectacular. Green mountains and valley vistas highlight beautiful scenic views of the China Sea.
Baguio itself is a mountain town 5,000 feet above sea level. It was built by the United States after taking control of the Philippines from Spain after the Spanish American War. Our government constructed Camp John Hay, a beautiful recreational area with huge pine trees, a great golf course and other amenities. It served as a rest and recreation area for U.S. servicemen in Asia until 1990, when it was transferred to the Filipino government.
Camp John Hay now houses the Manor, a luxury hotel constructed entirely from Canadian logs. This is a very popular summer vacation resort for the Manila elite. Freddie Roach, Manny’s trainer and Alex Ariza, his conditioning guru, were both ensconced at the Manor when I arrived.
Pacquiao, on the other hand, chose to stay in a hotel in town which housed the gym in which he was training. If Freddie’s hotel rated five stars, which it does, Manny’s hotel was so awful it would not even get one star. If there was a minus category, it would rate a minus five. But there is no accounting for taste. Manny was happy as a clam at his hotel and refused constant requests to move to the more luxurious Manor Hotel where the rest of us stayed.
The gym that Manny trained in was not much different from the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California, so I could see right away why Manny and Freddie felt so comfortable training there. The residents of Baguio respected the rules with regards to private workouts, enabling Manny to train in relative solitude. On the other hand, the morning runs were quite different. Manny would start at five in the morning and soon, hundreds of runners would materialize out of the darkness and run with Manny up and down the hills and roads. It was quite a scene.
Manny’s workout at the gym can only be described as awesome. In more than 40 years as a boxing promoter, working with Hall of Fame fighters like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran, I’ve never anything like it. His training sessions go on for about four hours without a break. After the usual warming-up exercises, Manny boxes most days with two or more sparring partners, then hits the mitts with Freddie for at least 10 more rounds.
This display of energy and stamina exhausts anyone watching, Manny doesn’t stop. He skips rope and works the heavy and light bags continuously for more than an hour. Only then does Manny finally stand still, which allows his Filipino trainer Buboy Fernandez to pound his midsection with a bamboo pole for about twenty more minutes. The brutal workout finally concludes more than four hours after it starts.
In the sparring sessions, Manny trots out his entire arsenal of tactics and weapons. I was amazed once again to see him attack from one side and then the other. When his sparring mate reacts, Manny’s no longer there but is either right in front of his opponent or on the other side entirely. This unique tactic of disappearing in plain sight is the “Siegfried and Roy” weapon in Manny’s arsenal.
The shear athleticism that Manny brings to his workouts reminds me of the great martial artist Bruce Lee. The more one reflects on Manny and his ring performances, the clearer it becomes that he is the Bruce Lee of boxing. This athletic style is unique in boxing to Manny. In more than four decades of promoting fights, I have never seen anyone like Manny Pacquiao and his Bruce Lee style of boxing.
The mitt sessions with Freddie were also revealing. While Manny hits the mitts Freddie coaches him in moves he will undoubtedly use when he faces Cotto. It is fascinating to watch the teacher and pupil converse while Manny pounds on Freddie’s leather pads.
Three years ago, the mitt session would have consisted of Freddie giving instruction to Manny. Over time Manny the pupil, having learned so much from Freddie, takes an active and important part in the dialogue which sets out the plan Manny will use in fight night against Cotto. Watching the two of them interact now is like being at a boxing ballet, so well attuned are they to each other.
After three days in Baguio I headed down to Manila to catch my plane home. It left at 5 p.m. Sunday and arrived in Las Vegas at about 6 p.m. Sunday. Somewhere, somehow, I picked up a day which seems only fair since I lost one when I flew to the Philippines.
I also came away with the impression that Manny is getting better, improving all the time. Bottom line, Manny is getting into great shape as he prepares to give us another Pacquiao-Bruce Lee type of performance. He knows that in Cotto he faces his toughest foe ever, a real tough, determined opponent.
In my next column I will discuss Cotto’s training and just what he is doing to counteract the typhoon that is Manny Pacquiao.