Manny Pacquiaoâ€™s foibles have become almost as famous as the man himself. The worldâ€™s greatest fighter, known for his single-minded ferociousness in the ring, seemingly can move among his quirks and obsessions outside of it faster than his flurried fists strike opponents.
As boxing hypes its biggest and most brutal nights with fly-on-theâ€“wall glimpses into the inner workings of the lives of its superstars, Pacquiao has emerged as the sportâ€™s poster boy. He not only is its most intriguing character, he is its greatest paradox.
He is the kid from the impoverished streets in the Philippines who hopes to one day become the national president. He is the mild-mannered gentleman who crushes hopes, dreams and facial bones for a living. He is the private family man who keeps himself surrounded by an entourage of laughable enormity during training.
And he is the uber-focused world class athlete who canâ€™t concentrate on a darned thing outside the ring.
The way Pacquiaoâ€™s brain flits between activities while those devilish fists are on temporary hiatus has become the stuff of legend within boxing circles.
Gary Poole, who gave the best insight yet into the life of Pacquiao in his superb recent biography Pacman, regaled a scene of typical Pacquiao chaos at a Los Angeles restaurant. â€śIt is thought that Pacquiao probably
suffers from attention deficit disorder because he repeatedly shows intensity for a few minutes -- the length of one round -- and then he is on to something else,â€ť writes Poole.
Old school boxing sages would wince at the invasions that Pacquiao allows upon his time. A machine in the ring? Absolutely. A fighting cyborg who lives and breathes nothing more than the fumes of the sweet science? Certainly not.
â€śThe motion is so constant it is incredible,â€ť said Poole in a phone conversation with ThePostGame.com. â€śOne minute he is talking on the phone to Mike Tyson. Then he takes a bite of his food. Then he is ordering something else. Then he is texting Ron Artest. Then heâ€™s discussing policy with a senior Filipino politician. Then talking to some poor soul from back home who has somehow got his number and is asking for money. Then heâ€™s on his BlackBerry, looking at basketball scores.â€ť
One thing that all of the most important influencers of Pacquiaoâ€™s career -- promoterBob Arum, trainer Freddie Roach and advisor Michael Koncz â€“ agree upon, is that the outside distractions are becoming greater. That Pacquiaoâ€™s patience and concentration for the trivialities of life is diminishing. But that his powers of hyper-focus, or enhanced attention either within the ring or in training, have never been deeper.
"Everything is madness around him, but he doesn't blink."
Inside the cloistered world of the Hollywood sweatbox that is the Wildcard Gym, where Pacquiao and Freddie Roach have created the closest thing to a complete fighter for decades, there is endless opportunity for distraction. Celebrities drop by, Filipino fans make regular pilgrimages for a glimpse of their idol, and the whole place is a hive of fistic carnage.
Yet amid it all, Pacquiaoâ€™s steel-eyed focus never wavers, whether he is pounding Roachâ€™s padded hands and body, smacking about another hapless sparring partner or even being clouted on the stomach with a chillingly evil bamboo pole used to strengthen his abdominal muscles.
It is always there, the glare of utter intensity. The look of a champion. A gaze so fierce that you sense he could hold it for eternity. A window into a soul that would rather die than waver an inch.
â€śI have never seen anything like it,â€ť says Arum, who is 40-plus years into a fight career that began with Muhammad Ali and is now intrinsically linked with a man whose is etching his name as one of the all-time greats. â€śThe intensity he shows in the Wildcard just blows me away. It is just crazy in there but for him it is like an empty room. Everything is madness around him, but he doesnâ€™t blink.
â€śThe way he conducts his life is not usual and it doesnâ€™t seem to make sense ... but it is what successful people do. They prioritize. Whatever 17,000 other things are going on in his life donâ€™t matter, in training or in the ring he is in his own world.â€ť
The life of Pacquiao, whose next bout pits him against Shane Mosley on May 7 in Las Vegas, beats to its own rhythm, and 13 straight wins (heâ€™s 52-3-2 overall) and countless box office and pay-per-view millions suggest there is little to be gained by investigating the upstairs computer. Pacquiao himself is steering clear of the media before the promotional necessities of the Mosley fight kick in, but it doesnâ€™t take more than a short
time with â€śPacmanâ€ť to get a good glimpse of a man who is driven past distraction.
Pacquiao fights when he fights, trains when he trains, watches tape only when Roach physically places him in front of a screen. What he doesnâ€™t do is lie awake at night thinking hooks and jabs, or talk footwork and strategy over dinner. Boxing time is boxing time. The rest of the time â€“ well, that could be taken up by anything.
Associates have detailed marathon sessions of playing pool or gambling. And he has thrown himself into the political arena with such remarkable gusto, that he was elected to be a member of the Filipino Congress from the Sarangani province and is widely expected to run for president in the not-so-distant future.
Meanwhile, the entourage, the one so amusingly detailed on HBOâ€™s 24/7 and in which every man has his place, gets busy fluffing the champâ€™s rice, tucking him in at night, and doing whatever else their meal ticket canâ€™t be bothered with.
â€śHe always needs to be occupied,â€ť Koncz says. â€śThere always needs to be something going on. That is how he is. He needs stimulation, something to keep him interested. Even this week we cut short a vacation in Australia because he was getting bored with it.
â€śBut people underestimate how intelligent he is. When he gets interested in something, he certainly focuses in on it fully.â€ť
Pacquiao has a BlackBerry, one that is used so constantly that most of the keys have their symbols worn away by being overworked. He uses it when he gets bored, which it to say he is rarely off it. Those close to him say the activity never ends, each snippet of temporary interest devoured and discarded.
Which all begs the question: How can a guy who canâ€™t concentrate for more than a few minutes exhibit such levels of brilliance in a toughest game of all, one where a split second of lapse can have the most disastrous of consequences?
â€śManny is Manny,â€ť says trainer Freddie Roach. â€śWe are not going to change him, you have to work with him. And then you realize that is what he has done as well. He has learned to understand himself, his personality, and adapted his life around that.â€ť
Arum and Roach frequently despair at the ever-growing number of non-boxing activities that find their way onto the fighterâ€™s schedule. Every time they think there is too much on his plate, they raise their concerns, and Pacquiao shrugs them off with a smile and a wink before trouncing another opponent.
â€śPeople worry that I have too many thing in my life."
Pacquiao last fought on Nov. 13, a devastating rearrangement of Antonio Margaritoâ€™s face that left the Mexican with a bloody, egg-shaped monstrosity beneath his right eye. It was a massacre at Cowboys Stadium, with one judge scoring each of the 12 rounds to Pacquiao and the others having him dropping just one and two rounds
It was another night of coronation, another weight class conquered. This was for the WBC super-welterweight title, Pacquiaoâ€™s eighth overall, which he won despite giving up more than four inches and 17 pounds.
With Floyd Mayweather Jr. still apparently more interested in antagonizing Las Vegas security guards than making the fight all boxing wants to see, that might be as good as it gets for now.
The contest with Mosley at the MGM Grand Garden Arena will give his bank balance another injection of lucre but do little for his reputation, whatever the outcome. Mosley, 39, was woefully outmatched against Mayweather 10 months ago, and has only a dispiriting draw with Sergio Mora on his record since then. Still, Pacquiao is huge box office whoever he fights and the interest is not dying down.
With every crushing victory comes more adulation, more interest and a systematic swelling of the legend of a little man with the hopes of both a sport and a nation on shoulders.
And with the adulation comes analysis, with the intrigue a thirst for knowledge about a 32-year-old who is in every way a modern master. Elite fighters take months between fights for preparation and recovery, so the public will never get enough of Pacquiao in action.
Thus, the focus on the minutiae becomes greater. Every aspect of Pacquiaoâ€™s life, especially among the Filipino community, is looked upon with both interest and concern.
From everyone, that is, except Pacquiao.
His lifestyle is a topic he rarely addresses, except for one time at a press event before his 2009 victory over Ricky Hatton. â€śPeople worry that I have too many things (in my life),â€ť he told me. â€śThey should not worry. I am okay. I like this. I am happy. This is what I chose.â€ť
In the end, the public fervor for any snippet of information about Pacquiao is because of the boxing. Because of how it might offer insight into the future path of his continuing ascent to greatness. Because there is just something downright interesting about people who can cause extreme physical harm with nothing more than their fists. And because it is so different, so contrary to conventional fight-preparing wisdom.
â€śAn anthropologist could spend half a career working out what goes on with him and the people around him,â€ť says Gary Poole, with a chuckle. â€śA pop psychologist might say his actions are a way to forget about the terrible conditions he grew up in. Or maybe he just works that way.
â€śOne thing I know, he is incredibly strategic in everything he does. I donâ€™t see anyone else who is the brains behind this operation. Thatâ€™s him.
â€śPart of his distracted way is probably a mechanism of escape. He is constantly being asked for something. Everyone wants a piece of him, from politicians to people in distress asking for help. He really does carry the weight of 94 million people on his shoulders and he is still trying to figure it all out.â€ť
Manny Pacquiao has somehow made the chaos work, made it make sense for him. Perhaps the madness is really who he is, what he likes, and what he thrives on. Perhaps it is a situation that has gotten out of control and will come back to bite him. Or perhaps it is just another obstacle overcome, another stitch in the rich tapestry of a fighterâ€™s life.