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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Manny Pacquiao is poised to be the new golden one

On the day after Oscar De La Hoya retired, the man best poised to succeed him as the world's most popular active boxer made it clear he knows his drawing power comes not from his smile or magnetic personality but from his work in the ring.

"I try to focus only on training and fighting," Manny Pacquiao said Wednesday inside Hollywood's Wild Card Gym in a news conference in advance of his May 2 junior-welterweight fight against England's Ricky Hatton at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Riding the heights of his unexpected battering of De La Hoya in December and feted to a hero's welcome in his native Philippines, Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 knockouts) has been confronted by what his business manager describes as "the double-edged sword of stardom," where endorsement and media requests beckon at new levels but the grunt work of training remains his most important task.

"Manny overextends himself with kindness; he can't say no," Michael Koncz said. "We all knew the torch was passed when Manny beat Oscar . . . how he'd be the face of the sport now. So even though there are times he's overwhelmed, he's focused here in the gym. He's back in his zone now."

Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, said he worried about Pacquiao's conditioning habits before taking a December trip to the Philippines to celebrate the boxer's birthday.

"No one could keep up with him," Arum said. "He was running, playing basketball just like always, and he's having his best training camp ever. He did not allow himself to get out of shape." Even though Pacquiao has been sporadically distracted by celebrities visiting his gym -- actors Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg have stopped by to say hello -- the Filipino star said his strength is peaking for his first fight at 140 pounds.

"This fight will give more action," Pacquiao said when asked how it'll differ from his hammering of De La Hoya. "I feel the same intensity."

Now, however, Pacquiao finds himself as the favorite against Hatton and is regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He has heard the warnings that it's harder to stay on top than to get there. "I keep myself on an even keel," he said. "I just always believe in God and say my prayers."

His trainer, Freddie Roach, has pushed sparring partners to ensure that Pacquiao's not slipping. Roach offered unbeaten super-featherweight Urbano Antillon and junior-welterweight Mike Alvarado (each 25-0 with 18 KOs) a $1,000 bonus if they could knock down Pacquiao in sparring. No one has been paid.

Roach said he has been pleased with Pacquiao's training -- which also includes advice from the Wild Card's new assistant trainer, former heavyweight world champion Michael Moorer -- and said the boxer's training has resulted in improved strength.

"This will be a quick fight," Roach said. "Ricky's a tough guy, but we'll knock him out. I'll bet my house on it."

Arum, who for years has relied on his skills to sell bouts, admits Pacquiao's ring performances (nine consecutive victories over the likes of De La Hoya, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales) are the fighter's most attractive selling points.

"That's why people are becoming fascinated with him," said Arum, who also promoted most of De La Hoya's fights. "Manny's looked at as an exotic, and once people see him fight they are looking up information about him to help transcend the lefts and rights and jabs. It's why CNN is out here today, why Time magazine has listed him one of the 100 most influential people in the world."

That influence is due to take him to AT&T Park in San Francisco on Tuesday, where he'll throw out the first pitch of the San Francisco Giants game and visit with the players while fans receive a Pacquiao bobblehead doll on Filipino Heritage Night. The Giants expect a crowd that will include 10,000 Filipino Americans.


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