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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pacquiao the prankster

Manny Pacquiao gets stretched out by strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza during a workout at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California March 31, 2009. Pacquiao of Philippines will take on Ricky Hatton of England in a 12-round fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 2.

Most of the world knows Manny Pacquiao as boxing’s pound-for-pound king, but what even prize-fighting purists might not know is Pacquiao is also a world-class prankster.

“He’s quite the jokester,” said a smiling Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, while recalling some of the Filipino superstar’s better shenanigans.

“He likes to have fun, and he has a great sense of humor.”

Well, that all depends whom you talk to.

Pacquaio’s strength and conditioning trainer Alex Ariza seems to be the reigning fighter of the year’s favorite target.

“He’s always trying to pull something over on me,” Ariza says with a half laugh. “His favorite is the water trick.”

At a recent workout at Roach’s Los Angeles Wild Card Boxing Club, Pacquiao’s pranking prowess was on display just like Ariza described it.

The 30-year-old Pacquiao takes a drink out of his water bottle and acts normal. He waits several minutes while Ariza is intensely stretching him out after a lengthy workout that made the crush of camera crews, media and onlookers just tired from watching.

As Ariza leans in to apply pressure on a deep stretch of his thigh, Pacquiao squirts a stream of H20 at him.

Pacquiao misses, but his latest practical joke fills the gritty gym — plastered with autographed pictures and boxing promotional posters from everyone from Muhammad Ali to actor Mickey Rourke — with hearty laughter.

“When he pulls that crap I make sure to give him a little something extra on the next stretch, just a little reminder,” Ariza said.

As if anyone needs a reminder of Pacquiao’s rascally high jinks. He's usually got a stunt up his sleeve on a daily basis.

“I like to have a little bit of fun,” Pacquiao said with a sly smile.

It’s a deviation on the smile that Roach said made him the sport’s most captivating figure.

“Wherever he goes, he lights the room up,” Roach said. “He’s a really happy kid. That hasn’t changed from day one until now. He plays more jokes on people now, because he’s not as shy as he once was and his English has really improved.”

Indeed, just ask former two-weight champ Michael Moorer.

Roach’s first assistant at Wild Card still looks the part of a man who held belts in the light heavyweight and heavyweight classes in the 1990s.

But apparently Moorer’s intimidating looks don’t scare Pacquiao, who probably weighs 100 less pounds.

“One day he snuck up behind me and punched me hard in the back of my knee. He buckled me and I’m almost fell over and he’s just back there laughing,” Moorer said. “I haven’t really got my retaliation yet, but as soon as this training camp is over I most certainly will.”

Not everything is fun and games for Pac-Man and his entourage.

After all Pacquiao is only two and a half weeks away from a megafight with British superstar Ricky Hatton.

“I’m definitely focused,” said Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 knockouts), who has won nine fights in a row over the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, Oscar De La Hoya, Juan Manuel Marquez and Erick Morales.

“I respect Ricky Hatton, but I feel really good about my training camp. I’m ready to go out and show that on May 2.”

And, of course, offer up a few more laughs.

At last month’s promotional stop in Hollywood, Calif., Pacquiao didn’t spare Hatton or his outspoken trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., from his punch lines.

“I like Ricky, he’s a really nice guy. But I have a joke that ‘I’m fighting for freedom against the Englishman. I’m from Scotland,’ " Pacquiao said, offering up his best Mel Gibson impersonation from “Braveheart.”

When asked how he really feels about Mayweather Sr. lobbing verbal barbs at Roach, Pacquiao admits he’s not pleased.

“It angers me a little, but we’ll see …” said Pacquiao, purposely failing to finish the statement.

After all, if anyone is going to get one over on Roach, it’s probably Pacquaio.

“I’m the only one exempt from his jokes,” Roach said. “I’m not sure if he just doesn’t know my sense of humor or respects me enough not to try anything.

“I’m waiting for that day to come though. But maybe I’ll just have to beat him to the punch.”


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