Where EAST meets the Northwest
PUNCHING OUT. Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines fights Timothy Bradley during
their welterweight title boxing match in Las Vegas, Nevada. Pacquiao was all
kinds of hungry when he first walked into the Wild Card Boxing Club in Los
Angeles 15 years ago. An undernourished and largely unknown 118-pound champion
wanted to learn, to grow — to take on the world. The boxer’s bout with Bradley
may have been his last. He won the fight, knocking down Bradley twice on his way
to a unanimous 12-round decision. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
From The Asian Reporter, V26, #8 (April 18, 2016), page 7.
Pacquiao, Roach fondly recall 15 years at the Wild Card
By Greg Beacham
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES — Manny Pacquiao was all kinds of hungry when he first walked
into the Wild Card Boxing Club 15 years ago. An undernourished and largely
unknown 118-pound champion wanted to learn, to grow — to take on the world.
When he walked out of the Wild Card for perhaps the final time this month,
Pacquiao stepped onto an enormous bus with his glowering face plastered across
its length. He took a four-hour drive to Las Vegas with his entourage of dozens,
stopping only to buy mountains of snacks at a convenience store, on the way to a
luxury suite and his pay-per-view fight against Timothy Bradley, which he won,
knocking down Bradley twice on his way to a unanimous 12-round decision in their
Pacquiao found everything he sought from boxing in this gloriously
dilapidated Hollywood gym run by trainer Freddie Roach. They’ve been together
since 2001, forming a tenacious partnership that might have met its final test.
"I don’t think this is it, so I don’t think I’m going to have to get sad or
anything like that," Roach said. "If it is it, I will miss him, and we’ll be
friends forever. But he’s always been a great guy to me. It would be different
not having him around, for sure, but life goes on. It’s OK."
If Pacquiao retires into politics, he has already thrown his final punch at
the Wild Card, his training home since 2001. He’ll never again take direction
from Roach, who nurtured his growth into an eight-division champion and the
Philippines’ most famous man.
Pacquiao has repeatedly said he could be forced out of boxing if the
congressman is elected to a senate position later this year, but he might not
have considered the finality of it all until he actually arrived at his last
workout in Hollywood. His eyes narrowed while he methodically wrapped his hands
with brisk movements.
"I’m thinking about it," Pacquiao said. "I love it here. It’s my second home.
It’s been a long time since I started training at the Wild Card."
Pacquiao has spilled years of sweat and blood on the well-worn canvas in this
living monument to the enduring charms of the sweet science.
Roach remembers the earliest months of their relationship with fondness.
Pacquiao lived next door at the Vagabond Inn, and Roach would go back to the
humble hotel to relax while Pacquiao sang and learned to play the guitar. The
Beatles’ "Let It Be" was the first song he mastered — to a point.
"I don’t know if he’s a great singer," Roach said. "But he practiced, and he
tried really hard to be entertaining at that. He was just a really good kid."
The Wild Card has grown along with Roach’s career: The second-floor gym has
also taken over the ground floor of the battered strip mall on Vine Street. The
former laundromat is now used for Roach’s top clients, including Miguel Cotto
and Pacquiao, whose logo is emblazoned on the ring.
Roach is modest about his contributions to Pacquiao’s formidable talent, but
he knows what role the Wild Card played in that development.
"It forced him to maybe grow up a little bit faster than being home," Roach
said. "I look at pictures from when he first came, and he only had a couple of
guys with him. He was almost by himself."
A loss finally allowed Roach to get the superstitious Pacquiao out of the
run-down Vagabond, which was torn down in 2013. The fighter moved to houses in
nearby Beverly Hills or Hancock Park, his properties growing along with his
Even with an increasingly complex home life in Asia, he kept coming back to
the Wild Card for work.
Los Angeles embraced Pacquiao during his rise, but its love has faded in
recent years. The anti-gay political rhetoric that ended his relationship with
Nike also hasn’t played well in the progressive town, getting him ceremonially
banned from a popular mall and prompting the LA Weekly newspaper to ask,
"Should Manny Pacquiao Be Run Out of Los Angeles?"
But inside the Wild Card, Pacquiao’s oldest American friends are still at his
side, even if they disagree with his pronouncements.
And even if he’s really done fighting, Pacquiao doesn’t think he’ll leave the
Wild Card entirely.
"I might come back here once a year (after retiring)," Pacquiao said. "Bring
my boxers. I have other boxers in the Philippines."
Roach believes Pacquiao’s skills and athleticism are still sharp, and he
doesn’t see any slowdowns that would prompt him to encourage retirement.
Although he still sees the hunger in Pacquiao, he developed a slight doubt when
Pacquiao did something he never does after a workout.
The fighter gathered Roach and their closest confidantes for a group prayer.
"We’ll see what happens," Roach said. "I still can see senator Manny Pacquiao
winning a world title, or President Manny Pacquiao winning a world title. He
would like to do that."
Read the current issue of The Asian Reporter in its entirety!
Go to <www.asianreporter.com/completepaper.htm>!