The archetypical pugilist, he is blessed with fluidity and ferocity and plies his craft with a frightening blend of power and precision. By any account, eight-division boxing champ Manny Pacquiao is a total-package fighter. But it’s his pure athleticism — characterized by some as an outright ambivalence to the specter of fatigue — that may be his most logic-defying and distinguishing trait.
As elusive as he is predacious, Pacquiao is the most exciting, dynamic boxer in the sport today. Routinely unleashing bursts of six, seven or eight punches at a time, often from unexpected angles and all with bad intentions, he leaves opponents with few options for retreat, save of course for the canvas. In the last six years, no man has managed to defeat Pacquiao, and only an elite few have been competitive against the Filipino slugger.
Pacquiao doesn’t stop. Ever. And opponents who wait for him to tire are doing so at their own peril. As he prepared for his May 7 Showtime pay-per-view WBO welterweight (147 pounds) championship bout with former titlist “Sugar” Shane Mosley, Muscle & Performance got an inside look at what it takes to build a winning mystique and a physique to match.
THE GIFT OF GUTS, GLORY
Sitting in a conference room at the Beverly Hills Hotel on media day, Pacquiao (52-3-2, 38 KOs) seems at first amused by the question: “When was the last time you were actually tired in the ring?” A blank stare dissolves into a look of shock, as if the question was too incredulous to be genuine. Then comes the reply.
“Never. I’ve never been tired during a fight,” he says.
You can call it fight hype or an inflated sense of self … until you see the film. He’s not lying. Pacquiao will take his licks in the ring — his aggressive, toe-to-toe style makes that inevitable — but at no point would you ever accuse him of getting tired. He punches ceaselessly, it seems, and between violent exchanges, he bounces back and forth on the balls of his feet with what can only be eagerness to do it again.
Pacquiao’s Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach can recall seeing his fighter tire only once in his career, citing a momentary energy lapse in the second half of his 2010 bout against the seemingly indestructible Antonio Margarito. “I think he faded a bit in that fight around the eighth or ninth round,” says Roach, who runs his stable of fighters out of Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif. “The guy was bigger, so it wore on him a bit. But then he got his second wind. That was the first time I’d seen him fade a little bit.” Pacquiao’s “second wind” was sufficient to fracture Margarito’s eye socket and send him to the hospital.
“It’s funny because you have guys that get complacent with one world title, and Manny has won eight,” Roach says. “He works harder today than he did in the beginning. His work ethic is unbelievable.”
Whether it’s a day of running sprints on the track with strength-and-conditioning coach Alex Ariza or sparring 10 rounds against an up-and-comer with everything to prove, Pacquiao approaches his fight preparation with an intensity that has become the hallmark of his success, taking a strange, almost masochistic delight in the pain. “It’s difficult to train this way, but it’s good for me so that I can develop my stamina,” Pacquiao says.
But that go-the-distance endurance is only half his physical constitution. Though slight of build — he stands 5 feet 6 ½ inches tall — Pacquiao packs a big punch. In the last few years, he has ruthlessly dismantled some of boxing’s biggest names, including welterweight legend Oscar de la Hoya whose corner threw in the towel after eight lopsided rounds in their 2008 meeting. His one-punch knockout of Great Britain sensation Ricky Hatton garnered The Ring magazine’s“Knockout of the Year” honors in 2009, and later that year, Pacquiao bloodied a bigger, stronger Miguel Cotto in a gruesome 12-round romp.
“I’ve had fast guys before, I’ve had powerful guys before, but this together — it’s unbelievable,” Roach says. “Every time Manny throws a punch, it’s like an explosion. I’ve never seen anything like it. When he hits the heavy bag in the gym, people stop to watch it.”
A FITTER FIGHTER
The nationwide increase in interest in boxing for fitness has led to a physical enlightenment of sorts. Those who have laced up their gloves for an hourlong class or electively engaged in the torturous demands of boxing-like conditioning understand; training for the sweet science hurts. But in addition to the requisite boxer practices of bag work, mitts, sparring and three- to five-mile early-morning runs, Pacquiao also performs many interval-based conditioning drills. Ariza takes his charge through a battery of activities on the track, including lateral movement, sprints, and other footwork and speed drills. “Manny’s an integral kind of fighter,” Ariza says. “He’ll run off 10 to 20 punches, then move and box. So it’s all interval based.”
In most boxing gyms, weights — if they have any at all — are an afterthought. But Ariza routinely takes Pacquiao to Wild Card’s dusty, outdated resistance-training corner early in camp to build raw strength and power. “He’ll do squats and deadlifts, certain things like that,” Ariza says. “We train just to add a bit more power, strength and bulk, and we do it on a limited basis, very early in the camp. We focus on a lot of leg movements because I think you can always have bigger and stronger legs, and you can use them to your advantage to be more explosive. I like to use a lot of bodyweight training for strength, too.”
Because boxers have to be so specific about when they peak, Pacquiao’s work ethic can sometime be a concern. “Manny, once he gets focused, you can’t disrupt his intensity at all,” Ariza says. “He only has two settings: full speed and stop. Even though you love to see him push like that, it’s not always a good thing. There are days when he feels really good and he wants to push it. But sometimes, you have to cut some days short. I believe in shorter work, more recovery. I’d rather get everything out of you in an hour than to have you at half intensity for two.”
By the time he steps on the scale the night before his tussle with Mosley, you can expect that Pacquiao will be rocking his signature 147-pound most-muscular pose for the cameras, with nary an ounce of body fat to be found. But unlike most people seeking to make a lean goal weight, Pacquiao gets there by eating twice the food that he normally would. Ariza, who has taken on a larger role in his fighter’s nutrition over the years, estimates that Pacquiao has to consume upward of 6,000 calories per day just to keep from losing weight.
“Since he trains like a madman — balls out, high intensity — he’ll burn 2,200 to 2,500 in one workout,” Ariza says. “There’s not a lot of room for error as far as missing meals. He can lose 1 to 2 pounds if he misses a meal. His meals aren’t very big, but they’re very frequent. It couldn’t be done without supplementation, namely whey protein powders and carb drinks.”
“I’m small for my weight division,” Pacquiao says. “Normally, I’m 143 to 144, so I have to eat a lot to make weight.”
LEAVING LESS TO CHANCE
So will all the sprinting, sparring, plyometrics and lifting pay off on May 7? Vegas bookmakers seem to think so, scribbling Pacquiao in as a 7-1 favorite (as of press time) over Mosley, who turns 40 in September. Strategize though they may, Mosley’s camp still has to prepare for the sheer physicality that Pacquiao brings to the ring.
It is said that styles make fights, but it may be a wholesale dedication to training — a willingness to punish oneself outside the ring so that one may flourish within it — that makes the fighter. Manny Pacquiao loves a fight. But until May 7, he’s training for war.
GLOVE UP, LEAN OUT
Boxing conditioning can do a body good.
With promises of workouts that can burn as many as 1,000 calories per hour, boxing gyms have seen a boom in recent years. Of course, calorie expenditure can be somewhat subjective, but there’s no denying the athletic and aesthetic benefits that boxing training has to offer.
“I think it’s an extremely effective method for weight loss as well as general fitness,” says Alex Ariza, strength-and-conditioning coach for eight-division boxing champ Manny Pacquiao. “It touches so many different muscles and provides conditioning that’s so hard to find anywhere else. When you have someone holding mitts for you and controlling the pace, it’s going to be so much more effective. Boxing, if you can squeeze it in twice per week, would really complement your training and provide great physical results.”
Typical class-environment boxing workouts normally entail a general warm-up followed by 30 to 40 minutes of high-intensity heavy-bag work interspersed with various plyometrics and conditioning drills. Most classes finish with a variety of push-ups, abdominal work, a cool-down and stretching.
For $50 a month or $5 a day, you can train at Wild Card Boxing Club (wildcardbc.com) in Hollywood, Calif., where Pacquiao and dozens of other pros prepare for their fights. You also can go the franchise route by finding an LA Boxing (laboxing.com) location near you or by searching the geographical database (boxinggyms.com).
Hometown: General Santos City, Philippines
Birth Date: December 17, 1978
Height: 5’6 ½”
Fight Weight: 147 pounds
Normal Weight: 143 to 144 pounds
Record: 52 wins, 3 losses, 2 draws, 38 knockouts
PACQUIAO VS. MOSLEY
What: WBO Welterweight Championship
When: May 7, 2011
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
Watch: Showtime Pay-Per-View ($54.95); ticketmaster.com