Pacquiao out to maintain mountain of momentum

HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. — It’s chaos at the Wild Card Boxing Club.

Manny Pacquiao still is an hour from his daily workout with trainer Freddie Roach, and, between trying to clear the gym of fighters and the parking lot of cars, pandemonium is in abundance.

By the time Pacquiao shows up at 1 p.m., more than 100 photographers are capturing his every move.

It’s not this crazy every day; this just happens to be Pacquiao’s "media day." But there’s always an overflow audience that accompanies boxing’s pound-for-pound champion, who returns to the ring Saturday when he faces Ricky Hatton in a 140-pound fight at the MGM Grand Garden.

The fight has sold out, and promoters think most, if not all, of the 20,000 closed-circuit TV seats at seven Las Vegas Strip locations will be purchased. The pay-per-view numbers on HBO are expected to do at least 1 million buys.

Many boxing fans will be tuning in to see Hatton, the popular "Hitman" from the United Kingdom who always comes to fight. But Pacquiao is big box office, too. His gaudy 48-3-2 record with 35 knockouts, coupled with his fast hands and ability to generate excitement inside the ring, has made him must-see TV for fight fans.

His fame back home in the Philippines is so immense that each day Pacquiao spends at Roach’s upstairs gym is chronicled in some fashion by a Filipino journalist, even though the routine rarely changes.

"I try to focus on my training and my fight and not worry about the distractions," Pacquiao said. "That’s why I train here (in Los Angeles). If I trained all the time back in the Philippines, it would be very hard because so many people want to be around."

Pacquiao is coming off a historic 2008, a year that saw him win in three weight classes, culminating with his ninth-round technical knockout over Oscar De La Hoya on Dec. 6 at the Grand Garden. Now, almost five months later, he is looking to pick up where he left off.

He was immensely popular before facing De La Hoya. But after his demolition of boxing’s Golden Boy, which sent De La Hoya into retirement, Pacquiao’s fame has soared to unprecedented heights worldwide.

Witness the February media tour stop in Hatton’s hometown of Manchester, England, where 6,000 Filipinos turned out to support Pacquiao. With De La Hoya finished with boxing, Pacquiao has assumed the role of the sport’s biggest box office draw.

"I don’t want to compare myself to anyone," Pacquiao said. "I just want to give happiness and enjoyment to the people."

Pacquiao is proud of his pound-for-pound championship status, and, even though no official title is on the line Saturday, Pacquiao said pressure is on him to remain at the top.

"I try to put it out of my mind and just focus on my boxing," he said. "People recognize me as that. But me, I don’t see myself as the pound-for-pound best fighter. I just try to stay humble and pray to God."

Pacquiao has been recognized as the champion in five weight classes — flyweight, junior featherweight, featherweight, super featherweight and lightweight. He has beaten a legend at welterweight. Now, he fights as a junior welterweight for the first time when he meets Hatton. Should he beat Hatton on Saturday, it will be Pacquiao’s sixth weight class in which he has beaten an opponent recognized as that division’s best. It also would be the fourth weight class in which he was victorious.

"I have discipline in myself. That’s why I can fight at the different weights," Pacquiao said. "But fighting at 140 pounds is my regular weight. I’m very comfortable at 140."

But does Pacquiao’s future have him strictly as a junior welterweight? Probably not. Should he beat Hatton, the majority of the potential big fights for Pacquiao would be upward of 140. A fight with Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto or Floyd Mayweather Jr., should Mayweather come out of retirement, as many are anticipating, probably would be fought between 143 and 147 pounds.

"It would all have to be negotiated," said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao. "A lot of these fights would be made at a catch weight."

The one possible fight that looms at 140 would be a third meeting with Juan Manuel Marquez. The first two fights were classics, with the first in 2004 ending in a draw and the second in 2008 won by Pacquiao by split decision. Pacquiao said he would be willing to fight Marquez again, but a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight easily would trump a third Marquez fight in terms of the public’s interest.

"I can fight at 145, 147, 140," Pacquiao said. "It depends on what my promoter wants me to do."

For Hatton, Pacquiao has had to prepare a little differently. He has been working with Alex Ariza, his strength and conditioning coach, on getting stronger to deal with Hatton’s power. Ariza had Pacquiao on a weight training regimen that Pacquiao said would help him.

"I started weight training when I fought David Diaz (in June), and it has been a big help," Pacquiao said. "Hatton is a good fighter, a strong fighter. I had to try to apply some techniques I’m going to use in the ring so I can handle his power."

Pacquiao also has another voice in the gym besides Roach’s. Former world heavyweight champion Michael Moorer has been assisting Roach, and Pacquiao, who normally resists change, was comfortable with the new addition to his team.

"It’s very important to hear a different voice," Pacquiao said. "Sometimes Freddie can say things about my technique, but Michael can also see things and make suggestions, so it’s good to have Michael Moorer in my corner."

Pacquiao also kept his training at a high-intensity level. He wasn’t going to allow a mental letdown after beating De La Hoya.

"For me, preparing for this fight compared to the De La Hoya fight is the same intensity and the same preparation," he said. "It’s the same feeling. It’s very exciting because it’s the first time to fight an English fighter."

At age 30, Pacquiao insists the hunger to compete inside the ring still is there. He doesn’t contemplate retirement, and his 2005 loss to Erik Morales serves as motivation for him every time he prepares for a fight.

"Boxing is my life. Boxing is my passion," said Pacquiao, who has won nine straight fights since losing to Morales. "I have to maintain my name at the top until I’m going to retire.

"It’s hard to stay at the top. When I lost to Morales the first fight, I did experience a (mental) letdown. It was a bad feeling. I don’t want to experience that feeling again. That has been a big motivator for me to stay on top."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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