Behind the scenes with Pacquiao (cont.)
Less than 20 minutes before he is due at the Hollywood Boulevard studios of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Pacquiao and entourage make a beeline for the two vehicles parked out front. Manny negotiates his way through the dozens of fans who've accumulated outside and hops into the driver's seat of a black Mercedes coupe. Leading the caravan is a white Suburban driven by ubiquitous advisor Michael Koncz, with indefatigable Top Rank publicist Fred Sternburg riding shotgun.
Upon arrival, there's a dizzying walk from the back parking lot through an alleyway into the bowels of the studio past the green room into Pacquiao's dressing room -- think the Copacabana tracking shot from Goodfellas. The door is promptly locked as Pacquiao plops onto the couch while someone quickly dials up the basketball game. A monster NBA fan, Pacquiao is engrossed in a playoff game between Atlanta and Orlando, with just 2:56 left in the fourth quarter and the Hawks clinging to a 78-74 lead.
Pacquiao's takeout dinner from The Grill on the Alley -- steak, scallops and asparagus -- is still bagged in plastic containers awaiting his arrival. Koncz perfunctorily cuts the steak with plastic silverware while a sapped Pacquiao loses himself in the game.
Alex Ariza, whose name was mysteriously missing from the list, arrives late with a container of white rice and tea, which he pours from a large plastic container into a paper cup. Pacquiao bows his head and says grace before he eats. He makes it disappear within minutes and works his teeth with a toothpick.
Eventually the Showtime camera crew finds its way into the dressing room. Sternburg is perusing the Kimmel show's legal release. Ariza and Pacquiao whisper to one another in the corner. When the Hawks win, an entourage member changes stations to the Lakers-Hornets game. A producer comes in to brief Pacquiao on the itinerary. "I'll make it quick so I can let you get back to the important stuff," he says, nodding to the basketball game on TV. Pacquiao will be talking about the fight, his latest album, his visit with President Obama. When the Kimmel producer leaves, Pacquiao tells a reporter from Top Rank that he's a Celtics fan and a Lakers fan. (Ever the politician).
The framed photos on the dressing-room wall feature Kimmel rapping with past guests like Harrison Ford, Carrie Underwood and Magic Johnson. Other amenities include a vanity mirror, DirecTV and mini fridge stocked with Coke, Sprite and not enough bottled water for the two dozen people who have somehow gained admission into the room. (The population will peak at a fire-marshal-unfriendly 31; "I don't know half these people," Sternburg confesses bemusedly.) A three-man camera crew for Pacman, a forthcoming documentary by Academy Award-winning Leon Gast (When We Were Kings), is sweating profusely in the corner but getting footage of everything.
Pacquiao's famously swollen entourage -- trainers, trainers assistants, advisers, coaches, dishwashers, shoe-tiers, cooks, gofers -- shares an affinity for practical jokes that borders on compulsion. You could be walking for an hour before you realize there's a paper towel taped to your back, or a spoon in your back pocket or a flower step in your belt loop. (When I found a lemon rind hanging from my pocket and turned around to discover three men bursting into laughter, I felt like I'd been initiated.)
Now Koncz is carrying around a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot game. Kimmel wants Pacquiao to play Ariza in the game on-camera backstage. A producer tells Manny to pick up the game and throw it to the ground in mock anger if he loses. But Ariza wins, which the ultra-competitive Pacquiao briefly protests before a producer urges him to the stage.
The appearance itself -- which has already gone viral -- was another hit. Pacquiao plugged his new album, a recording of '70s ballad "Sometimes When We Touch," which includes no fewer than seven versions of the song and a 26-minute DVD featuring interviews and footage of the recording sessions. It's Pacquiao's fourth appearance on the late-night talk show, which he confesses has become a sort of pre-fight good-luck charm.
As soon as Pacquiao is finished, Ariza can't wait to get back on the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em game in the dressing room, which he's quickly converted into a drinking game using the complimentary Bud Light Lime.
This time, Manny loses. And he rapidly throws the game to the floor, destroying it and exploding into impish laughter.
"You're a sore loser," Ariza says, unamused.
"That's what they told me to do!"
* * * * *
After comedian Norm McDonald braves the overflowing dressing room to shoot a bit for his Comedy Central show, Sternburg directs Pacquiao to one last obligation, with TMZ outside, but a savvy correspondent from KTLA 5 intercepts him first. There's no end to it.
When TMZ finally corners him just feet from the parking lot, the interviewer asks Pacquiao if the rumors of a forthcoming movie with Sylvester Stallone are true.
"I don't know yet because I'm too busy after this fight."
Only three more days before the circus leaves town.