GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines - “I’m back!”
That’s the proclamation Manny Pacquiao made after the first round of padwork with trainer Freddie Roach on the first official day of training camp at the Pacman Wild Card Gym on Monday, February 15.
“I didn’t know you’d left,” responded Michael Koncz, Pacquiao’s advisor.
“It’s nice to be back, Mike,” Pacquiao replied as he watched the clock for the next round to begin.
Surrounded by a few dozen people comprised of his vast inner circle, plus reporters and fans, Pacquiao kicked off the first official day of training camp for his third fight with Timothy Bradley Jr, which takes place April 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 knockouts) appeared enthusiastic to be back in the gym for what he says will be the final fight of his 21-year career. After 7 rounds on the punch mitts and a few huddle sessions about strategy, Pacquiao and his American coach were reacquainted like old times.
"We went 6-7 first rounds that first day. He wasn’t even breathing heavy, I was breathing heavier because I hadn’t done mitts in a while," said Roach, who had been sidelined with a "back problem" for the last few months.
"I think the fact that he’s been out of the ring for almost 9 months, it’s rejuvenated him. Sometimes being away from something that you love reinvigorates you," added Koncz.
Pacquiao, 37, is fighting for the first time since his super-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr in May of 2015, which he lost by unanimous decision.
He spent several months recovering from surgery to repair a damaged right rotator cuff suffered in training for the fight but has maintained his cardiovascular conditioning with almost daily marathon basketball sessions.
Photo by Ryan Songalia/Rappler
Koncz says that Pacquiao had his right shoulder examined as a prerequisite for obtaining a Nevada boxing license while on the United States press tour last month. He says the doctor gave his shoulder a clean bill of health to train without restriction.
Pacquiao's right shoulder looked strong as Roach tested it with jabs and double right hook combinations on the mitts.
"First day I feel good. I’m so happy. Even my trainer Freddie Roach, he’s happy because of my condition," said Pacquiao, the sport's only 8-division champion.
"I’m back because I’m excited to be back in training, focused on training. It’s been a while, almost one year. I miss boxing."
Roach says there's no date yet for when Pacquiao will relocate training to the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles, but says two sparring partners will arrive in General Santos City on Sunday to begin sparring on Monday.
One of the sparring partners is Lydell Rhodes (23-1-1, 11 knockouts), who provided Pacquiao with stiff ring work before his over Bradley in their 2014 rematch.
Roach says he told Pacquiao that he wants to see Pacquiao return to his old aggressive ways for his curtain call.
"There’s a lot of things I want to work on and get back to, like being more aggressive, more combinations, be a little bit hungrier," said Roach, who arrived in the Philippines Sunday.
"I told Manny that people don’t want to just see him winning fights, they want to see the old Manny knocking people out. That’s what I’m looking forward to in this fight."
The consensus opinion is that Pacquiao deserved the win in his first two meetings with Bradley despite losing a disputed decision in their 2012 first fight. The 32-year-old Bradley (33-1-1, 13 KOs) has employed trainer Teddy Atlas since then, and the two conspired to knock out Brandon Rios in their first fight together.
Still, Roach isn't convinced a new trainer will make for a new outcome.
"When he gets hit he’ll go back to what he always does. It doesn’t make one bit of a difference," said Roach.
Juggling politics, hoops and boxing
Pacquiao spent a few days in the Philippine capital of Manila last week for the official start of the campaign season, as the two-term congressman is running for one of the 12 seats up for grabs in the Philippine Senatorial elections on May 9.
Koncz says Pacquiao will have no issues handling both of his upcoming commitments.
"It’s certainly not gonna interfere with boxing," says Koncz, who says he'll focus on his campaign after returning from the fight.
"He’ll devote every day until then to the campaign, which I think will be sufficient."
As is usually the case, Roach made Pacquiao promise to cut out basketball 4 weeks out from fight night to avoid injuries.
Pacquiao still has much work to do to get ready for fight night, but Roach is happy with what he sees so far.
"I was happily surprised. He even mentioned knockout himself. That’s something you don’t hear from Pacquiao too often." – Rappler.com