Manny Pacquiao sat at ringside in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium on March 16, 2019, as Errol Spence Jr. dominated Mikey Garcia and scored a shutout in their heavily hyped welterweight title fight.
Pacquiao entered the ring after the bout and Spence quickly said he’d love to fight the Filipino superstar.
But members of Pacquiao’s team weren’t so sure about the fight. Spence was the one welterweight of all that made little sense to them.
At nearly 5-10 with a 72-inch reach, he’s got more than four inches of height and five inches of reach on Pacquiao. He’s 11 years younger. The advantage in nearly every measurable goes to Spence.
Still, though, Pacquiao wanted the fight and is a +180 underdog at BetMGM.
“The Senator knows what he’s looking at,” said Sean Gibbons, the president of Pacquiao’s MP Promotions.
Gibbons wasn’t so sure. Nor was Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s legendary trainer.
“He wasn’t my first choice,” Roach said of Spence. “I was leaning toward Mikey Garcia, because he challenged us several times and so forth. When Manny picked Spence, I said, ‘Congratulations, you picked the best guy out there.’”
But now, less than a month before their Aug. 21 date in a welterweight title match at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Roach has come around to Pacquiao’s viewpoint.
They’ve come up with a game plan that Roach believes will work, and he’s watching Pacquiao execute every day in the gym.
But he had the 42-year-old Pacquiao, who hasn’t fought since defeating Keith Thurman in 2019, put together a longer than normal training camp. It’s a story as old as the hills in boxing, where reports always circulate that the sparring partners are taking a beating.
Roach, though, said he’s had to bring in more experienced partners to give Pacquiao better work.
“We started early because this is one of the toughest guys out there and we really needed the time to get ready,” Roach said. “I hired some really good sparring partners and then I fired some really good sparring partners and hired even better guys. I’m doing everything we can to get Manny 100 percent into the fight. We still have a month to go and Manny’s getting better and better.”
Both Pacquiao and Spence are left-handers and that can tend to be difficult because left-handers don’t see other southpaws often. But Roach said Pacquiao excels against southpaws because of the sheer number of left-handers he’s seen over the years in the Philippines.
Pacquiao’s footwork will be the key to the fight, Roach believes. He’ll fight Spence similar to the way he approached Antonio Margarito in 2010, despite the fact that Spence is left-handed and Margarito is right-handed.
Margarito was a super welterweight when he fought Pacquiao and Pacquiao simply couldn’t afford to go toe-to-toe with him. So he and Roach concocted a plan in which he’d be on his toes, dart in, throw combinations and zip out.
It’s going to be much the same against Spence, Roach said.
“Manny was in and out, in and out, and when he does that, his opponent doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going,” Roach said. “When he breaks in with a combination, he can’t sit in the pocket. If he sits in the pocket, he’ll get hit back and this guy is a good puncher. He’s got to get in, hit and get out right away.
“And you can’t just go straight right in on him. You have to use an angle. Manny’s been doing that quite a bit and footwork is the key to winning this fight. Manny’s footwork is better than anyone’s. He’s on his toes and he can do it for 12 rounds.”
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