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CALIFORNIA, USA —Most prize fighters one month shy of being a quadragenarian are largely a shell of their former selves. But Manny Pacquiao, who turns 40 years old on December 17, seemingly has found a fountain of youth as he embarks on a new, unknown road in his career in fighting off father time.
Boxing’s only eight-division world champion will return to the ring and take on his toughest test in nearly 3 years when he battles Adrien Broner on January 19, a brash, battle-tested boxer who is 11 years his junior.
It will be Pacquiao’s first fight since a resounding TKO victory over Lucas Matthysse in July. That match marked the first time the Filipino senator faced the realities of his increasing age because he slightly toned down the dial during his training. Although, one wouldn’t be able to tell that night when he beat the beleaguered Argentinian with punishing power in a dazzling performance.
“We adjust, because we’re not young anymore,” Pacquiao told Rappler.
Pacquiao, along with trainers Buboy Fernandez and Justin Fortune, are now calendaring more days for rest and recovery to stave off the pitfalls of a body that could be bordering on the lines of breaking down. After 24 years of top-level fighting, Pacquiao’s team is now more deliberate in his training, diet and sleeping, going as far as calling it “scientific.”
That meant for the first time, training only once a week prior to his fight against Matthysse. The plan for Broner is to repeat that training regimen, only this time, with the addition of his former trainer Freddie Roach back in his corner as a “supervisor.”
“I felt stronger,” Pacquiao admitted in hindsight before moving on to the next opponents he has his sights set on. “This fight is going to be a good fight. I have to pass through [Broner] before fighting Floyd Mayweather. I want to prove to the boxing fans that Manny Pacquiao is still in the pack.”
The clock that is ticking down on Pacquiao’s bona fide Hall of Fame career is not the only change in his life. In October he signed a contract that now has him fighting on a new cable network, Showtime, and a new promotional company, Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions (PBC).
Top Rank, Pacquiao’s previous promoter, didn’t offer a new deal to the fighter when company head Bob Arum visited his former fighter in the Philippines in October. Pacquiao said that he has “no hard feelings” against Arum because of all the help he has offered him throughout this career.
The newly formed relationships present a plethora of potential scenarios that could have Pacquiao fighting anyone he chooses down the line—including opponents like Mikey Garcia, Errol Spence Jr., Keith Thurman and all of the other welterweights Showtime and PBC have access too. Even boxing matches against the likes of UFC star Conor McGregor have been discussed, according to Pacquiao. That’s if the Filipino should still be long for the sport.
The allure of younger boxers needing a dancing partner like Pacquiao to make international names for themselves was a pivotal bargaining chip for the Filipino to further chase paydays with PBC.
“Manny is still one of the biggest names in the sport. Part of the conversation in doing business with him was the future, and not just this one fight,” Showtime Sports vice president Stephen Espinoza told Rappler. “It depends on how his fight with Broner goes. Manny hasn’t faced a fighter who poses the risk that Broner does in quite a while. This will be a challenge for him.”
Broner, a former four-division champion and one-time Mayweather protégé, has shown several instances of respect in recent weeks in between his usual braggadocio toward his upcoming opponent.
“Hell yeah [he still presents danger.] He’s still a fighting machine. He’s definitely one of the best ever,” said Broner. “If I hit him, we know he can go to sleep . . . I am coming to win. Screw the money, I’m going to be victorious. They keep talking about a Pacquiao-Mayweather 2, but I’m going to mess those plans up.”
If Pacquiao does not prepare to take Broner seriously, he could be in for a rude awakening come January that could spoil future plans. During their two-city press tour in New York in Los Angeles this week, Pacquiao could barely keep a straight face during faceoffs after Broner was done with his verbal diatribes. He even laughed off a question at the Waldorf Astoria that compared Broner’s style to Mayweather.
“Broner has a similar style to Floyd, huh?” before breaking out in a schoolboy-like giggle, only to then take a long sip of his water before sitting in prolonged silence. He then pointed to a woman in the room and said, “she’s laughing there.”
“I’m not a talker. I do it in the ring just to prove it to them that I’m still here,” Pacquiao continued. “I can say that I have a master’s degree in boxing. I’m just enjoying my life and education in boxing. When I fight a younger boxer, they will learn from me and my experience.”
Pacquiao has to convincingly get by Broner if he plans to ever get a rematch again with Mayweather, which is very well a viable possibility in 2019.
“Having followed up with Floyd several times, he’s absolutely serious in fighting Pacquiao,” said Espinoza. “Part of the initial conversation he had with Pacquiao was to gauge the reaction of the public. If universally people said ‘we’re not interested,’ then I don’t think it goes anywhere. But there is significant interest. Without a doubt making the rematch would be easier than the first fight. There is a path to get it done. When there is that big of an opportunity, ultimately the business just gets done.”
Pacquiao, meanwhile, will channel into his lust as a pugilist to further his legacy in the sweet science, and among the country men and women that he serves as a senator.
“I continue my career as a boxer because boxing is my passion,” he said. “When I hung up my gloves once, I felt sad not being in the ring and giving inspiration to people in the Philippines and boxing fans.”
Joe Ramos, head of MP Promotions, told Rappler that Pacquiao has discussed fighting anywhere between 2 to 6 more fights as a big-name draw before officially calling it a career. But much like everyone around him, he was quick to acknowledge that Pacquiao will soon turn 40.
Buboy Fernandez, the pound-for-pound great’s longtime friend, confidant and now head trainer, told Rappler that “numbers grow old, but Manny Pacquiao is still young.”
“We need to adjust,” said Fernandez, hinting the need to cut corners wherever they can to combat physical regression. “He’s not 25 years old anymore. I brought back his old style in the Matthysse fight. He listened to me.”
Pacquiao will again look to be all ears again when he takes on Broner, and he’ll have an additional trusted voice to listen in on.
Roach, who presided over Pacquiao’s career for 16 years, split with the fighter earlier this year after the Filipino instead opted to have Fernandez take over training duties. Their relationship has been stony ever since. Pacquiao admitted they have not spoken since the controversial Jeff Horn loss in Australia in July 2017.
“I have no problem with Freddie,” said Pacquiao, adding that Roach can join his camp “anytime” once he moves training to America after his birthday. “It’s really busy being a senator. I don’t even have time to relax, or take a vacation.”
With over 40 fighters under his own promotional banner at MP Promotions, Pacquiao said he wants to give Fernandez a crash course as a trainer under the bright lights in order to succeed later down the line with their own fighters.
Fernandez said he has “no problems” with Freddie Roach’s return. “It’s OK,” he said. “The important thing is giving Manny good conditioning and working together. That’s very important.”
Ramos shared much of the same sentiment. “Freddie is considered family,” he said. “They have a father-son-like relationship. It’s that dynamic. Even if they don’t speak for 5 years, when they see each other they are going to hug it out and hash everything—if there were any issues, but there aren’t any.”
The only issue Pacquiao will be presented in the meantime is actually masked as “The Problem.” His name is Adrien Broner, and he plans on severely stopping a superstar looking to tap into his powers for one last stretch before riding off in the sunset.
“I just want to continue my journey and career as long as I can still fight,” said Pacquiao. “I’ve already accomplished my dreams.” – Rappler.com
Manouk Akopyan is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He can be reached at Manouk.Akopyan@gmail.com. An archive of his work can be found at ManoukAkopyan.com. Follow him on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan.