After suffering a controversial defeat against Timothy Bradley in June, Manny Pacquiao plans to return to winning ways against Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez on 8 December at Las Vegas’s MGM Grand. But his toughest battle may be juggling the most intensive and thorough training and conditioning the sport has to offer with being a devoted father and committed congressman. Manny isn’t wired in a way that allows him to do anything half-heartedly, and with his 34th birthday just weeks away he’s showing little sign of slowing down in or out of the ring.
What’s the toughest element of your pre-fight training regime?
It is nothing to do with the training now. I have been doing it long enough that I am used to the early starts and pushing my body until it won’t go any further. What I find most difficult in the run-up to a fight is managing my time. I need to make sure that my family is my top priority, and that I spend time with them. I then have my politics and TV stuff.
What do you look for in a sparring partner?
The young guys who are just getting started in their careers are great. They don’t hold back, and they will come into the ring ready to go for it because they want to learn and better themselves.
Do you hold back when sparring?
It is not the way I train. Focus is an important thing in boxing – probably the most important. You can be a great fighter, but if you lose focus just for a second, then the fight can be over. I am as focused and determined during sparring as I am in a fight.
You’re a champion – what’s the breakfast of champions?
Nilaga is one of my favourite dishes. It is a Filipino beef broth. I will have that most days for breakfast. There is usually fish on the breakfast table as well.
What other nutritional rules do you have?
I eat pretty much the same thing every day. I will have rice and chicken soup at least six days a week. If I don’t have rice with a meal it feels like I haven’t eaten.
Do you undertake any mental preparation before a fight?
I always imagine my opponent training harder than me. That encourages me to work and train even harder. I am always up at 6am, because I want to be up working before my opponent is.
How do you relax during training?
Music plays a big part in my life, in training and after it. It’s a great gift and I take full advantage of that. It is a motivation in training, but when I get home it helps me forget about the pressure of everything going on. I love to get my guitar and jam with friends.
What’s the most extreme training method you’ve gone to?
Before the fight with [Miguel] Cotto I was training in the Philippines, and we were hit with one of the worst typhoons in the country’s history. The media did not understand why I stayed. I always finish what I start, and I was not going to break my training for a typhoon. For us, they are as normal as the sun coming up. We are used to them.
What’s the most scared you’ve been in the ring?
I don’t get scared. You don’t find fear in winners. I think some fighters have been scared to fight me – but I will take any fight on without fear.
Do you channel any demons in the ring?
I don’t have any demons. I feel totally free – I don’t need to vent issues in the ring. I am a very happy person. Sugar Ray Leonard said he didn’t pray to win, but prayed that nobody gets hurt. A praying man has no fear.
What weight class is hardest for you and why?
It was not the fights that were tough – the toughest part was keeping the weight on when I went up a class. I would train so hard the weight would fall off me. We had to make sure we did power training to keep the weight on.
Do punches hurt more as you get older?
If you are up against a good fighter, punches hurt, whatever your age. Great boxers with fantastic records can still take a big hit and go down. It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, you have to train to take the big hits.
You slept on the streets of Manila before you started boxing with the national team. Do you think hardship gives you the confidence to overcome opponents?
I don’t know if I would look at it like that, but my childhood got me into boxing. I was tired of having nothing and I wanted to provide for myself and my family. Boxing allowed me to do that.
Most fighters look moody on the way to the ring, but you smile. Are you psyching your opponent out?
Not at all. I smile because I am relaxed and in a good mood. I know I am fully prepared. I have a great family, great fans cheering me, and a great career. God has given me a lot to smile about.
What motivates you now?
I want to fight the best out there. It is easy to win a title and then take on fighters you know you can beat. But it is not only down to me to make that happen. My 11-year-old son said to me, “Daddy, I want you to retire so you can spend more time with us, but before you do I want you to do one thing.” I asked, “Sure, what is it?” He replied, “Fight and beat Floyd Mayweather.”
What is the issue that has stopped you fighting Mayweather?
I want the fight. We have agreed to the drug testing and to his financial terms. At the moment, it looks like he doesn’t want to fight. That is his choice – it’s his title on the line and he clearly wants to keep it. If the fight doesn’t happen you will need to ask him why.
Part of your training involves you being hit in the abdomen with a 1in-thick wooden stick – is that normal for a boxer?
It is a bamboo stick, and it is normal for a fighter to train to take hits. I do this at the end of training when I am most tired. It is important to train yourself to be hit when your body is exhausted.
What other extreme measures do you go to?
I don’t look at anything as extreme – maybe people outside look in and think what I do is extreme, but for me it is normal. When I am doing crunches and have guys hitting me with bamboo sticks in the abdomen and the arms, I just think, “This is what I need to do if I want to stay the best.”
Who’s your sporting idol?
I have been interviewed on TV by George Foreman, Evander Holyfield and Sugar Ray Leonard. I grew up watching these fighters and wanted to be a champion like them. To think I became a champion and they are interviewing me is an honour.
What did you make of Ricky Hatton’s unsuccessful comeback and latest retirement?
What matters is that [training for the Vyacheslav Senchenko fight put him] in a good place. It made me sad to see the troubles he was going through. Everybody in the boxing world knows what a great fighter Ricky was.
Your entourage has more than 30 people. What do they all do?
It is because of them I am able to do what I do. I have my team that makes me the best I can be in the ring, and I have the team outside the ring who look after my business interests.
You used to give your sparring partners $1,000 if they knocked you down – how much cash did you lose?
It was my trainer Freddie Roach who said that – not me. I can tell you that he didn’t lose any money.
Pacquiao vs Marquez is live on Primetime via Sky, Virgin or online on 8 December from 2am, £14.99; primetimeboxing.co.uk
(Image: Rex Features)