LOS ANGELES — Manny Pacquiao’s latest pastor wants him up at 5 a.m. every day for prayers. The eight-division champion sometimes has 100 people and a yappy dog named Pacman in his home after training sessions, playing darts and carousing into the night.
Even during a hiatus from his duties as a Filipino congressman, it’s tough to see how a great boxer could keep his focus and fire amid Pacquiao’s hectic life and long career.
According to Timothy Bradley, Pacquiao can’t do it.
“When was the last time you saw him knock somebody out?” Bradley asked, knowing it’s been nearly five years. “He’s not the same guy. He’s more compassionate, more kind. That spark isn’t there. That’s not good for a boxer.”
Bradley isn’t afraid to voice unpopular opinions. After all, he’s one of the few prominent boxing observers who believe he actually won his first fight with Pacquiao two years ago, a split decision that sent Bradley on a wild career loop of his own.
When Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs) repeatedly declares Pacquiao has lost his killer instinct and competitive fire heading into their highly anticipated welterweight rematch Saturday in Las Vegas, he realizes it could motivate Pacquiao to produce his best performance in years.
He claims he simply doesn’t care what Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KOs) thinks or does with that bulletin-board material, and that might be Bradley’s greatest indictment of all.
“It wouldn’t affect him if he didn’t believe it,” Bradley told The Associated Press. “He definitely started thinking, `Maybe I am too nice. Maybe I have lost my fire.’ He started second-guessing himself and really thinking about it. Freddie (Roach) should thank me for saying that. If he gets offended by it, he needs to check himself. Maybe he got a reality check.”
Roach believes that check will get cashed at the MGM Grand Garden. Pacquiao’s longtime trainer insists he sees signs of the hellacious puncher who captivated the boxing world during a 15-fight winning streak before that hotly disputed loss to Bradley.
“I think he’s really winding my guy up to be explosive in this fight, so I thank him for that,” Roach said. “Manny feels like he’s being disrespected, like it’s a little bit of a slap in the face.”
For the first time in several camps, Pacquiao knocked down a sparring partner at Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club. For the first time in ages, Pacquiao is talking about inflicting pain rather than minimizing it.
“He’s very religious right now, but he has mentioned during the mitts and so forth that if he hurts this guy, he’ll finish him,” Roach told the AP. “He showed me the combination he’ll use. I like that, because he’s talking about hurting people for the first time in a long time. I think that hunger is back a little bit.”
When Pacquiao is asked about Bradley’s bold declarations, he doesn’t respond in kind. While Roach insists Pacquiao knows and cares about the perceived disrespect, he doesn’t engage in verbal sparring.
“Maybe I’m too nice and too kind in the ring sometimes,” Pacquiao said while wrapping his hands for his final Wild Card workout earlier this week. “Maybe I’ll try to change it.”
After nearly a year away, Pacquiao looked solid last fall in a clear-cut victory over Brandon Rios. But Pacquiao’s inability to stop a defense-deficient opponent stoked the discussion about whether Pacquiao’s most dynamic days are over.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw him take a backwards step in the 12th round,” said Bradley, who has stopped just one opponent himself in the last seven years. “He didn’t try to engage. He didn’t try to finish. I had never seen that from Manny Pacquiao before. It’s amazing to me.”
Pacquiao will fight without his wife, Jinkee, at ringside for the first time since his career moved stateside. She is home in the Philippines, due to give birth later this month to their fifth child, a boy to be named Israel.
Roach is used to the Pacquiao circus by now, and he remained patient with Pacquiao’s myriad distractions even after a knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in late 2012. The trainer steadfastly believes his prize pupil is still capable of the remarkable feats that got him to the top.
Still, Roach raised an eyebrow when he heard about daily pre-dawn prayer sessions with the latest in a dizzying line of spiritual advisers to the increasingly pious boxer’s camp.
“I told the pastor to stop waking him up so early,” Roach said with a smile. “I told him, `I thought God was with us at all times, not just 5 a.m.'”