LOS ANGELES — When Manny Pacquiao finally made his way past the autograph hounds and the process server to climb the rickety staircase to the Wild Card Gym, he was met by dozens of fans, fellow fighters, reporters and even a television star, all wanting a moment before his workout.
Hollywood is jam-packed with distractions for the world’s top pound-for-pound boxer – and the man they call Pacman isn’t even a congressman in this country.
Trainer Freddie Roach says Pacquiao is having the worst training camp of his career heading into his Nov. 13 meeting with Antonio Margarito in Texas.
In the five months since he won a congressional seat in his native Philippines, boxing has lost some of its urgency for Pacquiao. Roach can even cite physical evidence their careers have been hurt by politics.
“He has a foot problem, and that’s because he wears dress shoes too much,” Roach said, referring to the nagging left heel injury that has slowed Pacquiao’s running.
Although Roach thinks he’ll have no problem putting together a speed-based game plan to beat the bigger Margarito, he’s worried about Pacquiao’s ability to execute it. The fighter who flawlessly teamed with boxing’s most respected trainer to forge a 12-fight winning streak just doesn’t have the same focus, or even the same drive.
“At two in the morning, I’m walking around Baguio pulling my hair out, saying, ‘What do I have to do?'” Roach said, referring to the Filipino city where they trained before returning to Los Angeles last weekend.
“I know his mind is off the fight. I know his mind is somewhere else, and that’s because of politics. If there are no more challenges out there after this fight, this could be it. If Floyd [Mayweather Jr.] doesn’t come to the table, I don’t know what’s going to challenge him. He loves his other job, and he might be done with this one.”
Roach hopes the move stateside will help, although the hubbub Wednesday at the open workout suggested otherwise.
After Pacquiao apparently was served with papers in an envelope on the way into the gym, he quickly got his hands wrapped before walking slowly around the ring in the Wild Card’s stifling heat, patiently answering questions from dozens of reporters. Perhaps after greeting actor Jeremy Piven, Pacquiao would be ready to train.
“I’ve been under pressure and tough conditions before,” Pacquiao said. “The training is going good, but the problem is aside from training, there’s lots of stuff to do. … I’m thinking about [retirement], but I can still fight. I think I’ll do a few more.”
The mob scene in Los Angeles is a sea of tranquility compared to home, where the 31-year-old spends at least part of each day as the Honorable Emmanuel D. Pacquiao, newly elected congressman from the Sarangani province. Although he’s formally excused from legislative duties during training, he still takes regular phone calls from his staff, sometimes even in the middle of workouts.
And for the first time in his career with Roach, Pacquiao took a day off from training to travel to Manila for a meeting with President Benigno Aquino III, although Pacquiao claims he got in a workout there.
“Even if it was the worst training camp we ever had, he never missed a day before,” Roach said.
Pacquiao has suggested he’ll make it up to Roach by proposing a bill to grant Filipino citizenship to the trainer, who says he has never voted in an American election.
“I’d still vote for Manny if I’m a citizen,” Roach said, laughing.
In his spare time, Pacquiao also has a wife and four kids, gestating careers in singing and acting, and a variety of business interests including a greater marketing push for his Nike apparel.
Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum, acknowledges his fighter’s life has become ridiculously complicated, but doesn’t share Roach’s pessimism.
“These things would be distractions to any other fighter or any other human being,” Arum said. “Not Manny. He has the ability to multitask like nobody else I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t let distractions affect his performance. I’ve seen him go from meetings all day to a workout, and then he’ll wash up and eat and go to band rehearsal.”
Arum also promotes Margarito and has an interest in talking up the fight, but even he can’t discount Pacquiao’s fearsome abilities.
“If Manny is trained and is in good condition, because of his skill set, he should be able to handle Margarito,” Arum said. “He’s just different than anybody else fighting today. The only guy who comes close to those abilities is Floyd.”
Pacquiao won’t stop politicking even on this continent: He’s headed to Las Vegas on Friday for a quick campaign stop in support of Harry Reid, the Democratic senator and combat sports advocate in a tight race with Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle.
Yet Pacquiao claims he has plenty of time to get his mind and body right to face Margarito, the hard-punching Mexican with a 5-inch height advantage. The fight is at a 150-pound catch weight, but the winner will get a 154-pound title, which would be a belt in Pacquiao’s eighth weight class.
“I have to win this fight to prove I can move to a higher division easily,” Pacquiao said. “That’s my role, to fight bigger men.”
And bigger obstacles at every turn.