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Getting Pac to Basics

(Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)
(Photo © Chris Farina / Top Rank)

No one saw Manny Pacquiao coming when he first arrived on the HBO boxing scene in 2001 in a super bantamweight 122 lb title bout. Six rounds and a knockout of Ledwaba later, Pacquiao had a second world title in as many weight classes. Coming into the bout, Pacquiao was coming off a six fight winning streak following his second knockout loss. The bout was the very first with trainer Freddie Roach, taken on short notice when Pacquiao, now a super star boxer turned Philipines congressman, was living at the motel next door.


For much of his career even after that HBO debut, Pacquiao has been the embodiment of the knockout punch you don’t see coming. Against Marco Antonio Barrera in November of 2003, the world stage finally saw what those who witnessed Pacquiao take Ledwaba apart and stayed with him already knew. 11 rounds later the fight was over and Marco Antonio Barrera would be the first in a long line of big name boxers to wonder what hit them when the final bell on a Pacquaio fight was sounded.

(Photo © Gabriel Montoya, MaxBoxing)
(Photo © Gabriel Montoya, MaxBoxing)

At this stage, Pacquiao was raw but pure and true to his nature. With an in and out style fought out of the southpaw style, Pacquiao used odd angles and unpredictable footwork to keep an opponent off balance to set up that opening his straight left could shoot through.

From 122 knocking out Lehlo Ledwaba at 122 lbs. in 2001, to his stunning destructions Oscar De La Hoya at 147, Ricky Hatton at 140 lbs, and Miguel Cotto at 145 pounds, Manny Pacquiao’s greatest strength was that no one saw him coming. From his punches to his chances of victory, Pacquiao moved up in weight rapidly and surprised the critics and his opponents by being able to stay inside the pocket at times and take what the bigger men gave to get his work done. Most of the time he was a whirling dervish, turning and burning his opponents as he let fly with combos, slid to the side and let left-handed bombs go. He could land punches with his feet off the ground.

But following his one-sided destruction of Antonio Margarito at 150 lbs in 2010, the battles at the higher weights and the possibilities presented to Pacquiao for life after boxing seem to have eroded his lust for combat. In the Margarito fight, he backed off the Mexican fighter who had a severely damaged eye early on in the bout. The young Pacquiao who worked his way around and ultimately through Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales in their final two bouts, took pity on an opponent for the first time.

In his last three fights, against Shane Mosley in Juan Manuel Marquez and Timothy Bradley, the explosive power and killer nature of Manny Pacquiao was seen in spurts. The combos are there. The footwork is there. But lately, the explosive synchronicity of those two things is somehow off.

In an interview with Pacquiao’s strength coach, Alex Ariza, the second man to work in that capacity for Pacquiao, claims it is because he Pacquiao is no longer following his strength and conditioning program.

In each of his last camps, there has been a storyline. Congressman Pacquiao. Manny has leg cramps. Man of God Manny. Freddie and Ariza don’t like each other. Who is Michael Konz and why is Alex Ariza hitting him?

In this camp, seated in front of the media in the tiny dressing room at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA, Pacquiao said he didn’t want to talk religion or politics. He appeared a man with one storyline only: An aging champion looking to make one last stamp on his career so he can leave with his millions and live the life he dreams of beyond the violence of the squared ring.

“Just the fight,” Pacquiao said with a polite smile to a small group of reporters during media day for Saturday night’s Pacquiao-Marquez 4 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. Seated in the tiny dressing room of the Wild Card Boxing Club, Pacquiao was his usual calm self.

In the corner of the room, Pacquiao’s long-time friend and corner man BuBoy Fernandez appeared asleep, arms folded, eyes closed as his buddy, one of the top draws in the world answered questions about his fourth go-round with a man Pacquiao just can’t seem to beat clearly: Juan Manuel Marquez. It’s hard to say just what Buboy’s job is because he appears to be so many things. Best friend, corner man, conditioning adviser and endless positive energy well. He’s always there, Buboy.

At age 33, with 54 wins, 38 knockouts, 4 losses and 2 draws for a total 365 under Pacquiao’s endless supply of belts in what feels like a million divisions. He’s been boxing since 1995. In that time, Team Pacquiao has changed and grown quite a bit.

From Ledwaba to Jorge Solis in 2007, Pacquiao’s co-trainer along with Roach was former heavyweight contender and Roach fighter Justin Fortune. He handled fighters and made champions with Freddie as his second off and on for six years. That team of Roach Fortune and Pacquiao had wins over Ledwaba, Barrera and Erik Morales twice to name a few of the choice names. But after a falling out and legal battle over the trainer’s cut for the Jorge Solis 130 lb fight, Fortune and Roach split.

The best fighters Alex Ariza had previously worked with prior to applying for the Wild card job opening were Erik Morales and Diego Corrales. Morales worked with Ariza for his February 2001 Guty Espades, Jr fight. Diego Corrales worked with Ariza prior to his January 2001 fight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. he worked with each one time only. Corrales lost a one-sided beat down, getting dropped 5 times. His step father, Ray Woods, stopped the fight in the tenth amidst the protests of Corrales, who kept getting dropped but rising.

Morales won a hard fought unanimous decision over Espades, Jr but later complained about liver problems and publicly blamed Ariza for the trouble.

A source late last year told this writer a rumor about both Corrales and Morales having liver issues while working with Alex Ariza. Soon after, I was able to ask Ariza about it on the November 3, 2011 episode of

We were on the subject of why some critics had whispered about Manny Pacquiao and PEDs.

“Was it because of your background,” I asked.

“My background?” asked Ariza. “What’s my background?”

I went on to explain that what I had heard.

“One story I heard was that when you were working with Diego Corrales__”

“Diego was juiced?” Ariza interrupted. “Never heard that rumor before. Never heard that rumor. Don’t mind that people bring up legitimate stuff but never in the years that I worked with Diego never have I ever heard that he was juiced.”

It should be noted Ariza only worked for Corrales that one camp.

I told Ariza I had heard while under Ariza’s strength and conditioning program, Erik Morales and Diego Corrales had suffered liver problems that put them in the hospital.

Ariza laughed and said “I’m not a journalist but if I was, I’d research whatever it is that I read. Find out where it came from and figure out where it originated from. Liver failure? It should be easy. Google ‘Diego Corrales. Erik Morales. Liver Failure.’ I’m sure . . . at that time when I was training them, they were world champions. Trust me if they were in the hospital with liver failure, Google it. See if you can find it. Especially . . . Look at the Las Vegas Review Journal. I’m sure it’s somewhere.”

In July of 2001 in La Opinion, Morales told reporter Ramiro Gonzalez, "I never liked ’screaming’ or giving excuses when things go wrong; however, it is fair and necessary to let everyone know that the training I did in Las Vegas under the direction of Alex Ariza was not ideal. I don’t deny that he worked hard, but the proteins and vitamins he prescribed affected my liver ..."

Morales’ manager, Fernando Beltran confirmed the liver issue in a May 2008 article in the San Diego Union Tribune.

Ray Woods, Corrales step-father and trainer confirmed Ariza’s claim that Diego had no liver issues in the Mayweather camp. He actually had a bad case of bronchitis. An article detailing that training camp and surrounding events is forthcoming.

To Ariza’s credit, his fighters have never tested positive for any banned substance with the exception of Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr testing positive for marijuana. Blaming that on a strength coach would be unfair to say the least. Under Ariza’s care, Amir Khan underwent the state-of-the-art Voluntary Anti-Doping Association testing. Coincidentally, in the two fights Khan had without Ariza during Khan’s time at Wild Card, Khan looked ordinary in one and got knocked out in the other. Not many trainers can say they’ve a clean bill of health from arguably the most effective testing group out there with a long division jumping history with several top level fighters. Alex Ariza can.

And so Roach hired Ariza after Fortune left in April of 2007. In a way, it was like the Beatles when Pete Best left and Ringo joined the band. By December of the following year, Pacquiao had beaten Barrera and Marquez again at 130 pounds, obliterated David Diaz at 135 and then jumped to 147 to retire Oscar De La Hoya. The proof is in the strength coach pudding. Everything was smooth sailing for a time. The trio of Ariza, Roach and Pacquiao could seemingly do no wrong. Before last November’s fight with Marquez, Ariza famously boasted "Not even God Himself can help Marquez on fight night"

Then the last the fights happened and the Mayweather fight continued to not happen. Ariza drew more attention on 24/7 than ever. The outspoken S&C coach became infamous for hitting Pacquiao adviser Michael Konz and rumors of an angry near-violent late night incident in Houston following a Chavez, Jr fight were floated as Freddie Roach became more and more open about his Ariza ire. Most recently, Ariza chased this reporter through the Wild card parking lot over an issue with a question I had asked about him to a third party. Top Rank CEO Bob Arum has periodically been at public war with Ariza as well. Egos clashed and still, Pacquiao kept Ariza in the corner and on the team.

This is not Stability Central.

In this camp, Ariza’s role has been reduced significantly. Pacquiao stayed in the Philipines for two weeks longer than usual, training a full month in General Santos before joining Roach in Hollywood. There is no talk of politics, drama, religion or Manila Ice. There is a sense of urgency and dread.

“Manny asked me if he could run the hills because Alex wanted to take him to the track and Alex took him to the track [to run] and his back was sore,” Roach told “So Manny asked me if he could run the hills like he normally does. I told him yes. Manny, he knows how to get in shape so. Alex does stretch him every day but that’s [Ariza’s] only job at this point.”

Roach essentially agreed that he was implying playing out the string with Ariza.

“Well, the thing is I don’t think he is necessary anymore but Manny likes him so we’re stuck,” laughed Roach. “I thought he was going to be with Robert Garcia for a minute but I heard Bob Arum pulled the plug on that.”

Roach, who recently hired strength coach Rob Garcia (no relation to Robert Garcia) and chief second Marvin Somodia to help condition the fighters. Somodia is apprenticing under Roach and trades off working with Pacquiao on the mitts.

The reduction of Ariza and the hiring of Garcia and Somodia is timely. Strength coaches and their place in boxing is a hot issue right now. Over in Marquez’ camp, Memo Heredia, high level chemist/steroid dealer turned star Federal witness is front of center this week under what sounds like FDA investigator Jeff Novitzky’s watchful eye.

Heredia, profiled in this piece earlier this week, claims to have created 20 undetectable performance enhancers over the years.

When asked about feeling any trepidation having his fighter face a Heredia fighter, Roach said “I’m a little bit leery about that. That’s why when I wanted to do blood tests with Marquez the first person I went to was Alex Ariza. The thing is, you don’t know what these strength coaches are giving these fighters. If you get rid of strength coaches we wouldn’t have drugs in boxing because they’re the ones who brought it here. The boxing crowd don’t know much about it. The strength coaches are the ones.”

When asked the same question Pacquiao said “I have no comment about that.”

According to Bob Arum, Alex Ariza assured him Memo Heredia is on the up and up. Yet Heredia claimed this week Marquez would be giving blood and urine samples on Thursday. Whether or not that happened and, why, how and by who was the testing conducted are all solid questions.

Roach claims he wanted drug testing for this fight beyond the normal parameters required by Nevada but was re-buffed.

“I asked Ariza, Manny and Michael Konz. Michael Konz told me Arum wouldn’t go for it so I dropped it,’ said Roach who dispelled the rumor Marquez had turned down a testing offer. “It never got that far.”

Arum claims he never heard mention of the testing.

All strength coaches and drug testing talk aside, Pacquiao and Roach seem of one mind this camp. They need a knockout to win this final fight with Marquez. They need a stamp to end this legendary career that by Roach’s intimation following the weigh-in, might be Pacquiao’s last if he loses and loses big. And so Pacquiao has gone back to basics.

At his best Pacquiao was fast and elusive, leaping in with power and moving back out before you do anything. He overwhelms you with his unorthodox high energy style. Both en agree that aggression is the name of the game with the pure counter puncher Marquez.

“I’ve been trying to find the puzzle of Marquez since the last three fights,” explained Roach. “Our game plan worked somewhat but not really. So I told Manny let’s just get in the best shape you can and fight this guy hard and fight three minutes of every round. I think if we press this guy we will knock him out. So that’s where we are right now. I got Manny in the best shape I could. I’m not worried about the footwork of a southpaw. It hasn’t worked for us at all. I’ve got Manny being more aggressive and backing guys up. When I watch tapes, that’s when Manny is doing his best with Marquez, when he is backing Marquez up. He’s always done well being aggressive with him. He put him down four times being aggressive so that’s what I want more of.”

They’ve tried to box and to fight with the man and it’s come up draw, close win and close win he likely did not deserve. It’s time to forget thinking how to knock out Marquez. It’s time to go in and just get him.

“He definitely will have to expend more energy than his last few fights. That’s what we plan to do. To fight three minutes of every round,” said Roach. “He is very capable of that. But the thing is, he takes it easy on these guys. He takes compassion. He hurts them but doesn’t try to finish them. I want Manny to be the old Manny Pacquiao that when he hurts someone he goes for the kill.”

Odd angles, endless energy and the ability to let his hands go for all twelve rounds will be the order of the day. It’s why Pacquiao started in General Santos a month before he set foot in the Wild Card.

“It’s a long process. Not right away you get that condition,” said Pacquiao. “That’s why I started early this training camp. It’s really hard to train [in General Santos] because it’s hot," said Pacquiao. “[The heat] makes you tired. It needs more stamina.”

To beat Marquez, Pacquiao has to reach back one more time to a man he was in that first round of their first fight. That left hand exploding from the darkness and sending Marquez to the canvas there times. He must forget the pressures surrounding him and focus in on what he used to do better than anyone.

“I need to be unpredictable when throwing punches, Pacquiao told me. “My intention is if I can have a chance to make the fight easy then I will grab that opportunity.”

Roach sounds confident Pac-man can get back to basics. The extra time in General Santos appeared to put Pacquiao in the right mind frame and both agree the campo is their best in years.

“The first day he did twelve rounds on the mitts. If you can do 12 rounds on the mitts he’s in shape,” said Roach. “He told me in great shape and that is why he wanted to spend more time in [General Santos]. Frankie Gomez, [an amateur] from Russia and the two Roman brothers. We had some really good sparring. We had four knockdowns in camp and that’s the first time we’ve had knockdowns since the Cotto fight. He’s come back to the old Manny Pacquiao.”

With Marquez weighing 143 at Friday’s weigh-in to Pacquiao’s 147 (a career high), and both looking in tremendous condition, the thought is that we are in for a war to end them all. Both men have slowed just enough to stand and trade. Roach feels that won’t be the case.

“That’s my wish but the last time he was pretty big also,” said Roach of a possibly over-aggressive Marquez. “But Marquez still is mentally a counter puncher and I don’t think he can change. I think he’s going to run. He’s a counter puncher by nature and it’s hard to change your stripes.”

Roach envisions a beatdown and stoppage for his man over Marquez.

“Being in shape and fighting three minutes of every round. Fighting three minutes of every round is key,” said Roach. “With all that muscle he has put on, all the weight lifting he is doing, [Marquez] is very big and tight. It’s going to take a lot of energy to throw punches. A lot more energy than usual. I think he’ll fade in the fight and I think we’ll be strong to the end.”

Through three camps to prep for Marquez, Pacquiao has gone through two strength coaches, an election to Congress, made movies, beaten superstars, successfully settled a defamation suit from Floyd Mayweather while not fighting him and still he has not found a way to clearly beat Juan Manuel Marquez. Maybe the fourth time is a charm. Maybe sheer aggression and a back to basic approach is what it is all about. Maybe the strength coaches, be it the absence of Ariza’s full program or the presence of Memo Heredia’s, will have no effect whatsoever on the fight.

Maybe I will just come down to wanting it more and sheer aggression.

“I hate to accuse anyone of something,” said Roach of the cloud of suspicion surrounding Heredia this past couple weeks. “We’re going to fight the fight. [Marquez] is the only one who knows if he cheated or not. We’re going to win the fight. I feel Manny is at his best and we’re going to knock him out.”

In three camps prepping for Marquez, Manny has not found the solution. Is it possible in this fourth camp, he found something he had missed? Some key that will finally unlock the puzzle of Marquez?

“Yes,” Pacquiao smiled without hesitation.

Saturday night he’ll attempt to show us.
You can email Gabriel at, follow him on Twitter at and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
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