Suite life for Pacquiao as he prepares for bout

On the road to an anticipated rematch with Erik Morales next year, junior lightweight star Manny Pacquiao has eliminated the distractions that once plagued him.

Originally Published: August 31, 2005
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

For the first time in a long time, junior lightweight star Manny Pacquiao will enter a fight with no distractions.

His managerial and promotional situations finally are stable, training camp is serene and his next couple of fights are slated. All he has to do is fight.

That will happen on Sept. 10, when Pacquiao (39-3-2, 31 KOs), the former featherweight king and a former junior featherweight and flyweight champion, faces Hector Velazquez (42-10-2, 31 KOs) in a 12-round fight (HBO) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Pacquiao
Pacquiao

It is Pacquiao's first step toward a rematch with Erik Morales (48-2, 34 KOs), with whom he will share the "Double Trouble" card. Morales, who outpointed Pacquiao in a sensational brawl March 19, faces Zahir Raheem (26-1, 16 KOs) in the 12-round main event.

If Pacquiao and Morales win their respective fights, they'll meet in a rematch in early 2006.

"The distractions were there when I fought Morales," said the soft-spoken Pacquiao, a national hero in his native Philippines. "For this Velazquez fight, I am very focused. I am 100 percent. No distractions. No worries."

The same could not be said before he faced Morales.

The biggest distraction was his disintegrating relationship with promoter Murad Muhammad, who is now out of the picture.

Pacquiao, 26, blamed Muhammad for cheating him out of large chunks of his purses, including from the Morales fight and his November 2003 upset knockout of Marco Antonio Barrera. Pacquiao alleged that Muhammad took the money and placed it in a shell corporation meant to pay Pacquiao's taxes. But the taxes were not paid, Pacquiao claims. Muhammad denied the allegations.

There were also less serious issues that infuriated Pacquiao, such as Muhammad taking the Las Vegas hotel suite that was supposed to go to Pacquiao during the week of the Morales fight. Pacquiao also was upset that Muhammad negotiated away his right to wear the Reyes brand gloves that he preferred.

Prior to the Morales fight, Pacquiao fired manager Rod Nazario, whom he accused of conspiring with Muhammad to rip him off, and brought in the management team of Shelly Finkel, Nick Khan and Keith Davidson.

After the Morales fight, Pacquiao officially dumped Muhammad and sued him for breach of contract in federal court. Muhammad settled the case for $800,000 during jury deliberations, giving Pacquiao his promotional freedom and peace of mind.

No one is stealing off Manny anymore. He knows what he is making. Manny will get a suite if he wants one. He won't have to share a room with six people.
Trainer Freddie Roach on the difference in Manny Pacquiao's camp this time

"I'll take responsibility for letting the distractions get to him," trainer Freddie Roach said. "But the bad people are out of the way now. It will make a big difference.

"In this camp, we don't have distractions. The Murad Muhammad deal is over. He's not in the picture. No one is stealing off Manny anymore. He knows what he is making. Manny will get a suite if he wants one. He won't have to share a room with six people."

Although Pacquiao agreed to a three-fight option with promoter Bob Arum's Top Rank following the settlement with Muhammad, he hired promoter Gary Shaw to protect his interests.

"I am truly honored that the team has placed its confidence in me," Shaw said. "One thing we already agree on -- Manny will get the biggest hotel room."

Manny Pacquiao
REUTERS/Ethan MillerEarly 2005 was a painful time for Pacquiao.
With his promotional situation under control and his new management team in place, training in peace was the next issue to address.

Because Pacquiao is a folk hero in the Philippines, hundreds of his countrymen would swarm Roach's Wild Card gym in Hollywood to watch him train each day, turning it into something of a Little Manila.

There was a festive atmosphere and Pacquiao played to his many fans instead of focusing solely on Roach's instructions.

Roach decided to put an end to that practice. Now during Pacquiao's afternoon workout, Roach locks the gym doors. If you're not part of Pacquiao's small team or a member of the gym, forget about entering.

"I had to close the gym down for Manny because there were just too many distractions," Roach said. "Manny's Filipino audience loves to watch him, but it became too much.

"We love his fans, but we wanted it more private so we could work on the things we need to work on without him playing to the crowd. For the most part, they've respected it. I've told them if they are really Manny's true fans, they'll let him train properly. They want Manny to win, so they've been good about it.

"So training camp is going very well. We're a little bit quieter this time. We have room to breath this time."

Pacquiao has grown accustomed to the calmer training atmosphere.

"This training camp is good for me," he said. "I like doing my training with the gym closed. Nobody can distract me and bother my training. I like that."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.

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