Archive for June, 2012

On morning of Bradley test, Manny Pacquiao finds strength in fellowship

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Approximately 400 people attended a Holy Eucharist celebration on Saturday morning at the Mandalay Bay ahead of Manny Pacquiao’s welterweight title fight with Timothy Bradley at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. (AP)

 

LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t the first time Manny Pacquiao organized a pre-fight Mass for friends, family and well-wishers on the morning of a major fight.

Yet there was a particular newsworthiness to Saturday morning’s Catholic service at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, down the strip from the MGM Grand where tonight’s welterweight title fight with Timothy Bradley will take place. The spiritual reawakening undergone by Pacquiao over the past six months has become the central storyline of the promotion, thanks in no small part to Bradley’s anonymity beyond hardcore boxing fans. Thus, more than a half-dozen American and Filipino news outlets had camera crews on hand — from HBO to GMA to the local network affiliates — with countless more still photogs snapping away.

By 9:20 a.m., approximately 400 people had filed into the same room where Pacquiao earned signature victories over Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and David Diaz. On the floor to the right of a makeshift altar, the all-male Servant of God Police Choir and all-female M/J Pacquiao Choir sang Tagalog songs like “Ang Panginoon ang aking Pastol,” “Huwag Kang Mangamba” and “Pananagutan” as ushers in pale blue coats guided congregants to their seats in Section 113.

In the second row sat Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach, in black collared shirt and jeans, politely posing for camera-phone pics with gawking fans every minute or so. At 9:23, Pacquiao’s longtime friend and assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez carefully placed the fighter’s gloves, trunks and six of his title belts on a table next to the gilded cup of the Eucharist, prompting a flurry of photography from amateur shutterbugs.

Pacquiao’s spiritual advisor Fr. Marlon Boef blessed the fighter near the end of Saturday’s pre-fight Mass at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. (SI.com)

The congregation simultaneously craned their necks at 9:48, when Pacquiao himself emerged from the tunnel with his wife Jinkee (radiant in a black and white horizontal striped dress) trailed by their children Jimuel, Michael, Princess and Queen Elizabeth, to the traditional Tagalog Mass song “Purihin ang Panginoon.” He looked happy and strong when they rose to sing “Lupang Hinirang,” the Philippine national anthem he’ll hear once again tonight in the ring.

After Communion, celebrant Fr. Marlon Boef blessed the fighter’s shorts, gloves and belts, as he’s done for most of the Filipino’s championship fights over the past few years. But it was Pacquiao’s two girls who stole the show. First 6-year-old Princess made her way to the stage, said a prayer of thanks and dutifully recited three Bible verses (John 3:16, John 14:14 and John 14:15). Then 3-year-old Queenie sang a few bars of “Heaven In My Heart” by the Hillsong Kids.

The pressure Saturday is squarely on Pacquiao, not just to win over Bradley but do it in a way that’s authoritative. That, after all, is how he cracked the cultural mainstream like no Asian-born athlete in history: by dominating his opponents in such hyperkinetic and crowd-pleasing fashion. Yet it’s been more than two-and-a-half years since he knocked out anyone, he nearly lost his last fight against Juan Manuel Marquez and turned in a snoozer against Shane Mosley in the one before that. “Win this one, look good in the next one” is a precept nearly as old as the fight game itself, but a luxury Manny Pacquiao can ill afford to follow.

That burden can’t be easy. Yet for 90 minutes on Saturday morning, he was able to take refuge in the fellowship of his family, his friends, his God. Maybe it’s just what he needed just hours from what could very well be the defining test of his career’s third act.

– Bryan Armen Graham


  • Published On Jun 09, 2012
  • Timothy Bradley tries to intimidate Manny Pacquiao at weigh-in

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    Manny Pacquiao (left) couldn’t help but smile during Friday’s staredown opposite Timothy Bradley (right) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. (AP)

    LAS VEGAS – Timothy Bradley has said all along that Manny Pacquiao doesn’t want to be here. That his mind is elsewhere. That mentally he’s already moved on from boxing.

    “He’s worn out, tired, I can see it in his eyes, the wrinkles,” Bradley said earlier this week. “This boy’s not ready for me.”

    Whether it’s true, only one man knows. But the contrast in demeanor between the two welterweights at Friday afternoon’s weigh-in at the MGM Grand Garden Arena was unmistakable — and did little to refute Bradley’s theory.

    When champion and challenger met for the traditional staredown after hitting the scales – Bradley weighed in at chiseled 146 pounds, Pacquiao a career-high 147 — the intrigue underlying Saturday’s title fight only metastasized.

    Bradley maintained a menacing glare when the fighters came together downstage right, while Pacquiao smiled bemusedly and seemed almost disinterested for 10 seconds until longtime friend/assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez pulled him away. The challenger continued to scowl as Pacquiao played to the crowd and turned to retrieve his clothes from Buboy.

    “I’m happy,” Pacquiao said afterward when asked why he didn’t match Bradley’s business-like glower. “I’m happy because God is with me.”

    Pacquiao’s weight came as a minor surprise, as he’s typically come in comfortably under the limit for fights at welterweight or above. Even when he fought Antonio Margarito for the super welterweight title at a contracted limit of 150 pounds, Pacquiao weighed in at 144.6. As trainer Freddie Roach explained it, preserving Pacquiao’s speed took precedent over a few extra pounds of muscle.

    Whether the heaviest fighting weight of Pacquiao’s career affects his agility remains to be seen, but it’s now emerged as a talking point with the fight less than 24 hours away.

    Approximately 4,000 fans, most Pacquiao supporters, made themselves heard throughout the proceedings. When asked whether a hostile crowd would affect his performance, Bradley remained defiant.

    “Bring it on, the more the merrier,” said Bradley, who is unbeaten in 28 pro fights. “None of these people are going to be in the ring with Manny Pacquiao.

    “It’s just going to be me and Manny at the end of the night.”

    – Bryan Armen Graham


  • Published On Jun 08, 2012
  • Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley odds and ends

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    LAS VEGAS — A few random thoughts from the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley press room …

    * Funny moment last week involving Freddie Roach, courtesy of Pacquiao’s publicist, Fred Sternburg. Last week, Roach threw out the first pitch at Dodgers Stadium. In the dugout before the game, he met Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda. After throwing out the pitch, Sternburg handed Roach a ball he said was signed by Lasorda. Roach — a big Lasorda fan — took the ball home, placed it on his mantle and bragged about it to a few friends. Later that day Roach’s assistant, Marie Spivey, suggested Roach take a closer look at the ball. It was signed all right: by Fred Sternburg.

    * The battle over former featherweight titleholder Yuri Gamboa–who defected from Top Rank in April, scuttling a high-profile showdown with Brandon Rios–is apparently  over. Bob Arum says that Gamboa is back in the fold and will be at the Pacquiao-Bradley fight this weekend. If all goes well, Gamboa will be back in the ring in a small show. But the story is far from over. Arum says he plans to pursue legal action against anyone in Mayweather’s camp who interfered with Gamboa while he was under contact. “Nobody is going to f— with us,” Arum said. “If we let them do that, everyone would eat you alive.”

    * Arum confirmed that former welterweight champion Antonio Margarito has retired. “He told me last week that his body is too beat up,” Arum said. “He was a fighter that never quit. He gave everything. He’s not the most talented guy in the world, but certainly the toughest.”

    Arum defended his decision to stand behind Margarito after Margarito was busted for attempting to use illegal hand wraps before a 2009 fight with Shane Mosley.

    “In the Mosley fight, if anyone is to blame it’s [Javier] Capatillo,” said Arum. “He had no opportunity to test out the wraps. That’s what I believe. I was never going to throw him under the bus. We spent millions on this man.”

    * While Arum insists Pacquiao-Bradley doesn’t need to approach the 1.5 million pay per view buys Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto did last month, he does have a number in mind: 1.2 million, which is right around what Pacquiao did in his previous fights against Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez. Arum is hoping Pacquiao’s newfound religious awakening will attract (wait for it) a large Christian audience that may have a newfound interest in the recommitted Pacquiao.

    Chris Mannix


  • Published On Jun 07, 2012
  • Experts’ predictions for Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley

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    Manny Pacquiao (left) makes the fourth defense of his WBO welterweight title Saturday against Timothy Bradley (right) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. (AP)

    SI.com’s boxing experts predict Saturday’s welterweight title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV). Share your prediction in the comments below.

    CHRIS MANNIX

    Come on, really? Bradley is an easy-to-hit fighter with a questionable chin, zero power and a willingness to trade punches. What am I missing here? I know, I know: Juan Manuel Marquez gave Pacquiao a lot of trouble in their last fight. But Marquez is a tactician with 24 rounds of experience in the ring with Pacquiao to work with; Bradley has not been in with anyone close to that level. Bradley talks a great game and win or lose there are a handful of fights (Amir Khan, Marquez, Zab Judah) that I’d like to see him in. But this is a collect-a-$5 million-paycheck-and-get-out kind of fight. I saw a very focused Pacquiao at training camp last week. If that focus produces anything close to a routine Pacquiao performance, well, it’s lights out Bradley. Pacquiao by ninth-round knockout.

    RICHARD O’BRIEN

    This should be a terrific fight — and far more competitive than the oddsmakers (and my odd colleague Chris Mannix) are predicting. Pacquiao may well be a changed man, having found religion (or, maybe, having pretended to find religion to keep Jinkee from taking him to the cleaners), but I expect him to be very much the same fighter he has been. Put the relatively poor showing against Marquez down to personal turmoil or leg cramps or just the fact that Marquez is one fighter who has Manny’s number. Whatever the cause, I don’t think it means much. If anything, it should motivate Pacquiao all the more to make an impressive showing this time out. And, yes, Pacquiao is 33, but I don’t expect the “old-overnight” scenario to come into play here. All that is to say that I think we’ll see a full-powered Manny Pacquiao Saturday night. And I still think he could lose.

    Bradley is a very accomplished and very versatile fighter. He’s younger, stronger and faster — of both hand and foot — than anyone Pacquiao has faced in years. Bradley can lead, counter, fight at a distance or in close. He has faced nearly a dozen southpaws in his career. I think his reputation as a dirty, head-butting fighter is overblown — but that’s just one more thing that Manny will have to think about in there.

    Bradley’s no washed-up or over-blown opponent. He’s young but experienced and palpably hungry. He’s also in fantastic shape. That might not be enough if he gets caught by a Pacquiao bomb early. But if he can control the distance, use his speed and keep Pacquiao from blasting away from angles, it could be a difficult affair for Manny.

    Just for fun, I’m calling the upset. Bradley by close decision.

    BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM

    Everyone agrees Pacquiao needs a sensational performance now more than ever to prove he’s still the “typhoon blowing across the Pacific,” as Larry Merchant once dubbed him, an athlete capable of those flashpoints of exhilarating destruction not seen since Tyson. But let’s face it: it’s been more than two-and-a-half years since he knocked anyone out. Once uncannily impervious to distraction, the demands of political life have compromised his edge. (See: the sparring session he was content to indulge Mosley in.) The hyperkinetic punisher who bludgeoned Oscar De La Hoya into retirement with a thousand left hands and nearly decapitated Ricky Hatton ain’t walking through that door. Maybe the resourceful Bradley, buoyed by the soaring confidence of a young man who doesn’t know how to lose, is in the right place at the right time. (“I truly believe it’s going to be an easy fight,” he’s said in interviews.)

    The opening rounds will reveal much. If Bradley can score with the right hand, make Pacquiao miss and pay with counterpunches, the momentum could be difficult to reverse. Yet I suspect a hungry, come-forward challenger will bring the best out of Pacquiao, and he won’t allow Bradley the time to get comfortable. At 33, the Filipino may not be the fighter he was three years ago, but he’s still better than most in the game, and Bradley will offer the type of fight he looks forward to. The challenger will be there to hit, so it comes down to whether you think Bradley can take Pacquiao’s punch. I don’t. As the combinations accumulate, look for the Filipino idol — bleeding from one of Bradley’s inevitable headbutts — to close the show early in the third act. Pacquiao by ninth-round TKO.


  • Published On Jun 07, 2012
  • Bradley already promoting rematch with Pacquiao at final press conference

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    Timothy Bradley’s confidence, sky high throughout the promotion, showed no signs of recession at Wednesday’s final press conference at the MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theatre. (David Becker/Getty Images)

     

    The welterweight title fight between Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao might be three days away, but the challenger is already preparing for the rematch.

    Literally.

    At Wednesday’s final press conference with the two fighters at the MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theatre, Bradley showed off super-sized copies of the fight poster and ticket — with a few minor changes.

    The altered versions listed the event as “Bradley-Pacquiao 2″ (rather than “Pacquiao-Bradley”) and the date as “November 10, 2012″ (instead of “June 9, 2012″). This, of course, references the clause in the fight contract mandating an immediate rematch in the event of a Bradley upset.

    “Training camp was hell,” said Bradley, with a confidence belying the 3-to-1 odds against him, before repeating for emphasis. “I’ve never ever trained this hard in my whole life. I’m ready. I’m ready to shock the world. I’m ready to do whatever it takes in there to win this fight.”

    Bradley’s theatrics Wednesday represented the closest instance of trash talk in the kind of gentlemanly promotion typical of a Pacquiao fight, and the Filipino puncher could only laugh with trainer Freddie Roach before taking the dais for his remarks.

    “My training, it’s amazing: it’s heaven,” he said, allowing a wry grin. “We did our best in training because Timothy Bradley is a hungry fighter. He’s young. I know what he’s feeling, [so] I trained like I was 26 years old.”

    The 33-year-old Pacquiao, motivated by a pair of lesser performances against Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez in 2011, promised a crowd-pleasing affair between two fighters who aren’t afraid to take risks.

    Roach said Pacquiao is “really focused” as he prepares for the fourth defense of the WBO welterweight title he won from Miguel Cotto in November 2009.

    “We got rid of a lot of distractions in his life, and got some new distractions that are much better,” said Roach, the five-time Trainer of the Year who’s worked with Pacquiao since 2001. “[We're] fighting a resilient, undefeated guy. I know it’s going to be a tough fight, but Manny is 100 percent ready.”

    Afterward, Roach was less diplomatic about Bradley’s showmanship.

    “I just wonder how much money they wasted on those tickets,” he said. “Seems foolish. We’re going to kick his a–.”

    – Bryan Armen Graham


  • Published On Jun 06, 2012
  • Roundtable: Is Winky Wright a Hall of Famer?

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    Winky Wright, who suffered a career-ending loss to Peter Quillin on Saturday, is generally regarded as a borderline Hall of Famer. (AP)

    Is Winky Wright, who announced his retirement after Saturday’s loss to Peter Quillin, a Hall of Famer?

    CHRIS MANNIX: Winky was never the most entertaining fighter; OK, his awkward, defensive style was downright dull. But it’s the Hall of Fame not the Hall of Fireworks, and Winky has earned his place in Canastota. Over 22 years as a pro, Winky fought nearly everyone in his weight divisions and beat most. He won his first title against Bronco McKart and went on to beat Shane Mosley (twice), Felix Trinidad and Ike Quartey. He also got a draw against Jermain Taylor and lost a close decision to Bernard Hopkins. His career ended strangely with two straight lopsided defeats to Paul Williams and Quillin that stretched out over three years but as 154-pounders go, Winky ranks as one of the best.

    RICHARD O’BRIEN: First, a caveat: The International Boxing Hall of Fame is not exactly the most exclusive body in sports (see: Tszyu, Kostya and Fenech, Jeff). Even so, I don’t see Wright as having, well, the right stuff for inclusion. He was, undeniably, a superb defensive fighter who could make almost any opponent look awkward (and for that reason suffered a long and frustrating battle for recognition and big paydays). He also had a thumping jab that was a pleasure to behold and with which he could control an entire fight. His 2005 win over Felix Trinidad was a textbook display of ring generalship and a real achievement. Winky can also point to victories over Ike Quartey and (twice) Shane Mosley (a fully deserving Hall of Famer, by the way). But losses to Bernard Hopkins, Paul Williams and Fernando Vargas, as well as a draw against Jermain Taylor, in a 51-6-1 career (with 25 KOs) all have to count against him. Certainly Wright was a standout fighter in his era — and certainly boxing was better for having Winky around for 22 years — but that’s not quite enough for giving him a spot in Canastota between Chalky Wright and Tony Zale.

    BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: You can make the argument, on paper, that Wright is one of the best ever at 154 pounds. He made a bevy of title defenses, not to mention headline-grabbing wins over Mosley (twice) and Trinidad, fought 11 world champions and unified the junior middleweight title. But there’s the thought he didn’t quite live up to his potential, and close decisions that didn’t go his way against Vargas and Taylor (for the middleweight title) undercut his case. For the Hall of Very Good, Wright is a first-ballot pick; for Canastota, he’s as borderline as it gets.

    That said, there have been plenty less deserving fighters inducted than Wright, so expect to see him get the call in 2017 or ’18.


  • Published On Jun 04, 2012
  • Who’s TUF enough to survive reality TV and win the finale?

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    Al Iaquinta (above) and Michael Chiesa face off on Fridays season finale of The Ultimate Fighter. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

    Things were different this time on the UFC’s reality TV show. For one thing, a word was added to the title for the show’s 15th season, making it The Ultimate Fighter: Live. Indeed, for the first season after a move from Spike to FX, the fights all were live, which stretched the 16 fighters’ time sequestered together to three months. That’s 12 weeks in a house with no phone, no TV, no Internet, no outside world. Nothing but young men’s longing glimpses of the Las Vegas skyline during van rides back and forth from the gym.

    This season also had heart-wrenching real-life drama. In the first week, Michael Chiesa received news from back home in Spokane, Wash., that his father had died after a bout with leukemia. The 24-year-old opted to remain on the show, and for the months that followed we witnessed his frailty and toughness as he mourned and drew inspiration from his dad. And here he is in Friday night’s finale (9 p.m. ET, FX), facing someone with whom he’s become familiar. Chiesa and Al Iaquinta, a 25-year-old from Wantagh, N,.Y., who is a protege of former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra, trained side by side as part of Urijah Faber’s team.

    Last Saturday, the day after Iaquinta and Chiesa had eliminated Dominick Cruz-trained fighters in the semifinals, the Team Faber fighters sat down with SI.com and talked about the benefits of team spirit, the honor of competition, and how this experience might make both of them not just better fighters but better people.

    On training with a guy, then punching him in the face:

    Iaquinta: “We knew what we were getting into when we got here. All through our training, I knew there was a possibility of fighting any one of these guys. So it’s just par for the course, I guess. It’s different from other fights in that you have a little idea of what the guy does, but in the cage everyone fights a little differently than they do in training. I know I try things in practice that I wouldn’t do in a fight. But it’s still a fight. And at the end of the day, we’re all here for one goal.”

    Chiesa: “I had Sam [Sicilia] in the house with me, and he’s a friend and training partner from back home and a guy I would never fight. But the idea of fighting one of my teammates from the show, that’s different. We met under these circumstances. So if we’ve got to fight, we’ve got to fight. And honestly it’s an honor, because as teammates we’ve built each other up to get to this finale. Al and I have trained together, we’ve pushed each other, we’ve sweated, bled, hurt. So to be in the finale with him is a great honor.”

    On training with a potential future opponent, and how that affects training sessions:

    Iaquinta: “Maybe we think about it a little bit, but your goal in every training session is to improve yourself. You put your focus on that, not the teammate thing. You need a team in MMA. It’s an individual sport, but you need a team. Mike and I helped each other out in training, and now we’re just going to do our thing.”

    Chiesa: “I don’t put that in my mind when I’m training, because it will alter your approach. You’ll start putting pressure on yourself to perform against the guy in training, pressure to look good, to figure him out. That takes away from the training. You’re not training to fight your teammates, you’re training to make yourself a better fighter all around. You have to focus on yourself, what you need to improve on.”

    On becoming friends during the three months together:

    Iaquinta: “We trained a lot together, and we were close in the house, too. We’d sit there and eat together and tell stories. There’s no TV, no radio, so over three months we all got to know each other pretty well. Sitting around with these guys, I really got to know where they come from, what makes them tick, why they got into this sport, everything. It was almost like the show forced us to become friends, then forced us to fight.”

    Chiesa: “All of us on Team Faber, we were very civil. We all connected. I could say so many great things about every guy on my team. Al’s a great guy, and it’s going to be a great honor to fight him on Friday. He and I actually had a talk one night about the possibility that we could be meeting in the finale. And we were, like, ‘Yeah, man, let’s make it happen. Let’s buzz through this tournament.’ And what do you know? It actually happened.”

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  • Published On Jun 01, 2012


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