Everything runs on Pacman time

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - The champ was running late, which was not surprising because the champ always is running late. More worrisome on this day was that Manny Pacquiao couldn't be found in the sprawling hotel suite that serves as ground zero for him and his entourage.

"I can't find him; I'm serious," said Michael Koncz, who handles many of Pacquiao's affairs. "Someone is in the bathroom with the hair dryer going. I'm not going in there."

Disturbing the champ is frowned upon, something the signs in Pacquiao's suite at the Gaylord Texan let all visitors know. Various edicts are plastered on the walls, including one declaring that a 9 p.m. curfew strictly would be enforced.

"By order of the champ," it says, making it de facto law in these parts of Texas.

Two days before he meets Antonio Margarito in boxing's biggest event of the year, Pacquiao is in charge of not only his massive entourage but a sport that has fallen on hard times. He is expected to draw more than 50,000 fans Saturday night to Cowboys Stadium and could make $20 million if he can convince enough other people to buy the fight on television.

To do that, he was supposed to appear Thursday at the stadium -- where he has more wins this year than the Cowboys -- to do a series of satellite interviews with major networks.

But first he had to be found.

Eventually the hair dryer stopped, and a few minutes later Pacquiao emerged. Immediately, members of his jumbo entourage jumped to attention, and soon a lucky few crowded on an elevator, heading toward a trio of waiting SUVs that would carry them all to the stadium for the final round of media interviews before the fight.

The champ got the middle seat in the first SUV. I got the one next to him. The idea was to pick his brain about moving up in weight one more time and going for yet another title to add to his large pile of belts.

Except the champ didn't feel much like talking.

Head buried in his Blackberry, he checked e-mail from home, part of his duties as the newly elected congressman from the Sarangani Province of the Philippines. When the answers did come, they came haltingly.

The bottom line was this: He believes Margarito has a style made for him and hopes everyone can come to Lake Tahoe a few days after the fight for the concert he has planned there.

Oh, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. isn't on his radar.

"He needs me," Pacquiao said. "I don't need him."

On that point, Pacquiao probably is right. In a remarkable reverse of fortunes, Mayweather now faces possible jail time while the fighter he claimed couldn't touch him in ticket sales is selling more tickets than any other fighter in recent history.

By now, Pacquiao was getting warmed up. He spoke of the responsibilities of being famous and how Mayweather doesn't understand them, and he spoke of the responsibilities of being a congressman and having the future of his people in his hands.

And then he started singing.

"Imagine there's no heaven," Pacquiao crooned, reprising his role on the duet he did last week with comedian Will Ferrell on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" The video of the performance has nearly 800,000 hits so far on YouTube, and the singing is surprisingly good.

"I'm not a good singer, but I can sing," Pacquiao said. "It's like boxing. I'm not a good boxer, but I can box."

He might not be a boxer in the classical sense, but he's a fighter who comes along only once a generation, a fearsome puncher with both hands who operates with dizzying speed and from so many angles that he usually ends up overwhelming his opponent.

He'll be going for an unprecedented title in his eighth weight class against Margarito, and the oddsmakers figure he will be successful. But it's always a risk against a bigger man, and one punch can ruin a lot of carefully laid plans.

At the stadium, Pacquiao sits in front of a television camera for a live interview on ESPN's "SportsCenter" and later tapes a piece for National Public Radio.

He says he's ready and, despite concerns about his training camp, will be the Pacman everyone knows even if he now has weightier responsibilities.

"There's pressure," Pacquiao said. "In every fight I have to train hard because the whole Filipino nation is on my shoulders."

On the ride back to the hotel, Pacquiao checks a few more e-mails and then falls asleep.

He wakes with a start as the SUV pulls up to a back entrance, and the entourage begins piling out.

"What time is it?" he asked.

Not to worry. When you're Manny Pacquiao, everything runs on Pacman time.

Tim Dahlberg is a Las Vegas-based national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org.


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