BACK TO K-9 KIM’S CORNER

By Steve Kim Updated on August 26, 2021

Manny Memories, Upstairs at the Wild Card

Photo Credit: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Boxing

Yeah, it's been several days since Manny Pacquiao lost to Yordenis Ugas, which may or may not have dropped the curtain to this legendary career.  As the emotions of his defeat have subsided a bit, there is a realization that the Filpino icon might extend his career another fight or two.

There is actually the possibility of a rematch. 

Regardless, I don't want to completely turn the page, just yet. I'd still like to reminisce a bit more about covering Pacquiao up close and personal throughout much of his amazing professional run in America because at the very least, this era is ending soon. 

(Besides, this is a lot more interesting than talking about upcoming purse bids, wouldn't you agree?)

Since the time he set foot inside the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California, where he linked up with trainer, Freddie Roach, for the first dozen or so years he worked exclusively in the upstairs portion of the gym. This was before the laundry mat downstairs closed shop and Roach made the decision to lease that property and turn it into the private area of Wild Card for his marquee fighters.

 

Photo Credit: Wendell Alinea/MP Promotions

 

It's a clean room, almost to a point of being clinical and sterile like a dentists office. Wild Card Boxing Club is an iconic establishment but my most cherished and vivid moments will always be when it was just situated on the second floor on the small strip mall near Vine and Santa Monica.

Back then, it was more or less just a gym, before Pacquiao turned into a tourist attraction because of his immense popularity. It was a vibrant, bright place for everyone who stepped in there, either to workout, or just gawk at the surroundings. 

It was also more fun back then. It had an atmosphere that was unmatched, and there was something unique about that place. No longer is it that, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. 

I was lucky enough to have been able to cover Pacquiao from basically the beginning of his run with Roach in 2001, all the way through. But it was really in that first decade when Brian Harty (the ace cameraman and content creator for MaxBoxing.com) and myself were able to get access and see Pacquiao prepare for his battles against the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Oscar De La Hoya, and beyond.

But it was in those years upstairs that were really the most remarkable. Here are some remembrances of what I witnessed in that period of time, and other recollections of that era....

- Pacquiao's stateside debut took place on June 23, 2001, where he stepped in as a late replacement for Enrique Sanchez, and blitzed IBF 122 pound titlist Lehlo Ledwaba in six rounds. I recall he was such an anonymous figure that he just seamlessly blended in with the other professionals and white collar clientele that got their work in at the Wild Card. 

Back then, he was accompanied by Buboy Fernandez (who would be a mainstay throughout the years) and if I recall correctly, his original coach, Ben Delgado. 

How unknown was Pacquiao to the American public? 

Oscar De La Hoya, who headlined that card verus Javier Castijello at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas the night of the Ledwaba bout, recently admitted on 'the 3 Knockdown Rule' podcast that he had no idea who he was. 

The day of that fight, Doug Fischer (then the editor of MaxBoxing) and I were eating at the MGM Grand buffet with meal tickets given to us by Jermain Taylor's trainer, Pat Burns. Also eating there was Pacquiao and his very small crew, unbothered by anybody.

Later on, Pacquiao stole the show that night.

- It was for an article on MaxBoxing that I coined the moniker 'Pac Man'. It's interesting but many Filipino's have credited me with that nickname. I still find it hard to believe I was the first to use it. I mean, 'Pac Man' was a hugely popular video game in the 80's, and it was such an easy tie in. But as Harty told me recently, "Steve, it was low hanging fruit."

And I picked at it first.

For the record, I thought 'Ms Pac Man' was a far superior video game.

Photo Credit: Sean Michael Ham/TBG Promotions

- Speaking of Harty, for just about every training camp we were allowed to film a training session or two of Pacquiao. Back then, all you needed was permission from Roach, and you could record whatever you wanted - even sparring.

In my view, with just bare resources, Harty -- who is now the senior editor for Ring Magazine -- created some of the best vignettes of Pacquiao that have ever been produced. There's just something very organic about the way he shot and edited the footage.

Here's one of his videos:

Pacquiao, once he got going in training, was like a sports car that went 120 m.p.h, for couple of hours and never hit the brakes. He's the most energetic boxer I've seen in the gym.

- Many fans are enamored of mitt work, where boxers throw fast, flashy combinations (many of which will never be replicated in a real fight), and certainly Freddie and Manny put their rounds in on the pads. But in my view, what was most remarkable about Pacquiao was his explosive work on the heavy bag, which often came after 10-12 rounds of sparring.

Never have I seen a boxer that could throw such rapid-fire combinations with the velocity he had, all the while seemingly hovering in air like a hummingbird.  And he would sustain this for several rounds. Here's an example that was captured by Harty:

- As Pacquiao's profile swelled, more and more Filipino's started coming into the Wild Card to not only just catch a glimpse of their idol, but stick around to see him train. Yeah, believe it or not, the gathered masses were not thrown out. Partly because the likes of Macka Foley (RIP) and Justin Fortune didn't want to be the bad guys and do the dirty work. They would've been awful bouncers. 

It really got bad during the lead up to the first Morales fight, which Pacquiao eventually lost. It would take Manny a good half hour to get from the front entrance of the gym to the dressing room (which was no more than 15 feet in distance) as he was mobbed by well wishers. 

For the subsequent camps, Rob Peters, an old pal of Roach's was brought in to basically be the head of security at Wild Card, and clear out the crowd (gym members, included) before Pacquiao's arrival. Peters, is best known for bellowing out ''It's Pacquiao Time!!!'' on HBO's 24/7, which meant everybody had to clear the premises at high noon every day during his camp. 

Rob had a way with words.

-- Pacquiao wrapped his own hands on a daily basis, which is unusual at this level. Unlike others who would make their trainers, or a specifically designated member of their camp do it, Pacquiao never had anyone else get his tools of the trade ready for his days work.

Old-school trainers like Rudy Hernandez believe that a boxer knows his own hands better than anyone else, and because of that, they should be in charge of this. Now that I think about it, Pacquiao hasn't had many issues with his hands throughout the years. 

-- Pacquiao was a gamer. In other words, when the bullets were flying and the lights were on, he became a different guy. I watched a multitude of rounds with Pacquiao sparring,  and I can honestly say, whether he was facing Ray Beltran, Rashad Holloway, Jorge Linares, David Rodela or Mike Dallas, there were times he was really less-than-spectacular.

He would flash his brilliance on occasion, but to him, sparring was just that -- sparring. A chance to work on certain things. But he would also coast if he felt he was in there with someone he could overwhelm. I don't recall a single time he handed out a beating to his sparring mates. 

-- While his popularity surged after his win over Barrera in 2003, it went to an entirely different stratosphere after his victory over Oscar De La Hoya in 2008. It was the most attentive Pacquiao I had ever witnessed. For that fight, Roach noted that Pacquiao actually watched tape of his opponent. Something he had never done before.

There was a certain focus that was a bit different this time around. While he was just one fight removed from defeating David Diaz at lightweight, he made the bold decision to face 'the Golden Boy' at 147. He would retire De La Hoya after stopping him in eight one-sided rounds.

At this point, the boxer became an international brand. Nothing would ever be quite the same again. 

Here's a video that Harty did (which he describes as ''artsy'') for that camp

Manny Pacquiao from Brian Harty on Vimeo.

 

MERCHANT MEMORIES

Larry Merchant, long-time color commentator for HBO Sports, was ringside for many of Pacquiao's most momentous bouts. He has long been an ardent admirer of his. When asked what was his most fond memory of Pacquiao, he started with the bout with Ledwaba.

"I had never seen him before," Merchant said earlier this week to SNAC.com. "He just kept coming and coming till he stopped the guy. I had no idea where he was going but I know I'd see him again."

Merchant then added, "And the fight with (Miguel) Cotto, when  he faced a legitimate, strong, tough, experienced welterweight champion. Everybody knew we had something beyond special."

 

FINAL FLURRIES

I've rambled on long enough, everyone have a great weekend.... I can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Author
Manny Memories, Upstairs at the Wild Card
  • Hosted 'the Main Event' on KIEV 870, and then later XTRA AM1150 ( a three hour show devoted to boxing) from 1996 to 1999.
  • Joined one of the first boxing websites, 'House of Boxing' in 1999, and then later became one of the founders of Maxboxing, that started in 2001, till his departure in 2014.
  • From 2014 to 2018, he was the lead columnist for UCNlive.com.
  • Was a boxing reporter for ESPN.com from 2018 to 2020.
  • He has written for Ring Magazine, International Boxing Digest and Boxing News.
  • Is the co-host of 'the 3 Knockdown Rule' with Mario Lopez, which has become of the most popular boxing podcasts the past several years.
  • Steve has also served as an announcer and analyst for RingTV, Thompson Boxing, 360 Promotions and CBS Sports Network.