JUNE 28, 2008: PACQUIAO VS. DAVID DIAZ
Freddie Roach was nervous. Sitting in a quiet dressing room at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Roach wondered if finally his fighter had bitten off more than he could chew. Since teaming with Roach, Pacquiao had enjoyed a meteoric rise, winning titles at 122 and 130 pounds with just one loss—a narrow decision to Erik Morales in 2005—along the way. It was Pacquiao's idea to move up to challenge Diaz at 135 pounds. Only Roach wasn't so sure. "It was big," says Roach. "I wasn't sure if his power and speed would still be there."
Mistakes are more dangerous against bigger opponents. And Pacquiao still made a bunch of them. In the gym he was the perfect pupil, absorbing Roach's coaching and executing it on command. To strengthen Pacquiao's right hand, Roach took away his left. Cut your meat with your right hand, Roach said. Wash the dishes, clean the table and sweep the floor righthanded too. Hours devoted to footwork improved Pacquiao's angles, creating space for his attack and confusion for his opponents. In the arena, however, Pacquiao often reverted to instinct. In a firefight the right hand would disappear. Angles were replaced by head-on collisions. "It wasn't that he couldn't do these things," says Roach. "He just didn't have confidence in them."
Against Diaz, Roach says, "everything just came together." When Diaz defended against the left, Pacquiao snapped his head back with rights. When Diaz opened up his chin, Pacquiao went inside and hammered him with uppercuts. It was a short left hand that put Diaz down in the ninth, but it was the variety of Pacquiao's combinations that did the damage. Says Roach, "That night Manny learned that all the stuff we had been working on could work for him in a fight."
DEC. 6, 2008: PACQUIAO VS. OSCAR DE LA HOYA
Back at the Wild Card, Alex Ariza, Pacquiao's conditioning coach, lays the cloth ladder down carefully, tightening it so it reaches its full length. This drill—in which Pacquiao steps in and out of each rung—targets Pacquiao's legs and footwork. "Hands up," Ariza barks. When Pacquiao drops his hands again, Ariza stops the drill. "Sloppy," he says. "Let's do it again."
Ariza is responsible for moving Pacquiao up and down in weight without costing him speed. Since joining the team in 2008, Ariza has helped Pacquiao make the jump to 135 pounds (for Diaz), to 147 (De La Hoya), down to 140 (Ricky Hatton) and all the way up to 150 (Antonio Margarito). Ariza is often in the line of fire; whenever accusations of steroid use are directed at Pacquiao, Ariza's name is sure to follow. "It's a compliment," says Ariza. "They can't beat us, so they try to smear us."
The secret, Ariza says, is simple. Yes, Pacquiao takes supplements: Trace mineral and fish oil are part of his program. But so is a 3,000- to 7,000-calorie-per-day diet (depending on the weight). So are daily four-mile runs. So are intense core training, isometrics and plyometrics. To prepare for De La Hoya, Ariza devised a "high-intensity interval ballistic system." He upped Pacquiao's meals to four per day and targeted his functional, fast-twitch muscles. On the night of the fight a 148½-pound Pacquiao overwhelmed De La Hoya, finishing him after eight rounds with the same cutting speed he had when he was 20 pounds lighter. "It's a balancing act," says Ariza. "The heavier he gets, the more you focus on his explosive movements."
Any blood-testing before a Mayweather bout would be no problem, says Ariza. All the supplements he gives Pacquiao are available on his website. "People who don't understand why Manny is what he is, that's their problem," says Ariza. "There's no magic bean. It's just hard work."
Taped to the door outside Pacquiao's dressing room at Wild Card is a piece of paper with the names and weights of Pacquiao's conquests. Morales, Barrera, Marquez. Diaz, De La Hoya, Hatton. Cotto, Clottey, Margarito. Each name has a line through it—except one. At the bottom of the page, in bright red block letters, is mayweather. Where the weight should be, it says never.