Pacquiao Meets Margarito Feisty, Underweight

Freddie Roach has a game plan to make life in the ring easier for Manny Pacquiao. If Roach had his way, it would be in place Saturday night when Pacquiao moves up in weight once again to take on Antonio Margarito.

The problem is Roach will never get Pacquiao to follow it.

“He could box more and be a little smarter,” said Roach, who trains boxing’s biggest star. “But he likes to exchange punches and that’s what sells tickets. That’s what makes him exciting, and that’s what makes him who he is.”

Pacquiao doesn’t figure to change his style against Margarito, even though other things have changed since he last stepped into the ring at Cowboys Stadium in March. An explosive puncher at any weight, Pacquiao will fight in his usual frenzied fury as he tries to win an eighth title against a bigger but slower opponent.

Once again, he will carry the weight of an entire country on his shoulders in the scheduled 12-round bout. But this time he will do so both as the biggest sports hero the Philippines has ever seen and as the congressman representing Sarangani Province in his native land.

The unique fighter-politician combination got him a crossover spot on “60 Minutes,” an appearance on National Public Radio, and a lot of exposure in places fighters never get mentioned. It also has caused a lot of consternation among his fans, who worry that the duties of a congressman may have gotten in the way of Pacquiao’s training for the fight.

Not to worry, Pacquiao says. When it comes time to fight, he will fight.

“The focus is always there,” Pacquiao said. “I’m always hungry for a fight. There is no distraction.”

Pacquiao, who began fighting at 107 pounds, plans to enter the ring at his heaviest ever to take on the rugged Margarito, who is attempting to rebound from a hand-wrapping scandal that almost cost him his career. But Pacquiao will still be the much smaller fighter, giving up both weight and height in a fight that is for a 154-pound title even though the contract weight is 150 pounds.

Margarito weighed in at the 150-pound limit Friday, while Pacquiao was a surprisingly light 144.6.

That doesn’t concern Roach, who believes Margarito’s style is perfect for his fighter.

“Margarito’s defense is terrible, and he can’t throw a straight punch,” Roach said. “Manny will be down the middle all night. We’ve got a great, great game plan for him.”

Pacquiao (51-3-2, 38 knockouts) is guaranteed $15 million, his biggest payday ever, and could make up to $25 million if the fight sells as well on television ($55, HBO PPV) as promoters expect. A crowd of more than 50,000 is expected at Cowboys Stadium, where Pacquiao already has as many wins as the Dallas Cowboys this year.

While Pacquiao is the star, Margarito has done his share to sell the fight. If his notoriety as a disgraced fighter who remains banned from boxing in California and Nevada for trying to fight Shane Mosley with hard inserts under his hand wraps wasn’t enough, he fueled the flames this week in a video mocking Roach, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

Margarito (38-6-1, 27 knockouts) apologized for the video but he has made no apologies for the hand wraps, saying the inserts were put there by his former trainer and he had no idea they were there. Margarito went on to lose the fight to Mosley and has only a lackluster win over Roberto Garcia since then, but is a big enough name that he got the fight with Pacquiao anyway.

Now that he has it, Margarito intends to make the most of the opportunity of a lifetime. He is guaranteed $3 million, but could make $6 million if television sales are good.

“I couldn’t tell you anyone that comes close to his style or the way he fights,” Margarito. “I never fought anyone like that or anyone that comes close. I see his speed. I know he is a fast guy but he is a smaller guy also. I see some things there, but I would never consider it an easy fight or think I have big advantages over him because I don’t.”

Both fighters are known for aggressive styles and strong chins, making it likely that the fight could provide fans with the kind of action they want. Pacquiao is a heavy favorite, though, and most in boxing believe he will be able to get inside on Margarito and use his speed and sheer volume of punches to score a win.

“There’s no problem about size,” said Pacquiao, who is 4½ inches shorter than Margarito. “We practiced on it and we focused on it. The style of Margarito is easy, but when you fight him it’s not that easy. It’s hard.”

A Pacquiao win would keep alive the dream matchup of most boxing fans, a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. But Mayweather has twice backed away from fighting Pacquiao and is facing felony charges that could put him in prison for up to 34 years stemming from an incident in Las Vegas in which he allegedly hit his former girlfriend and threatened to beat their two children.

If that fight doesn’t happen soon, it likely won’t happen at all. Pacquiao turns 32 next month and doesn’t plan to fight much longer, preferring to concentrate on a political career that got off to a rousing start when he was elected to the Filipino congress shortly after his last fight with Joshua Clottey.

“If that fight happens, it happens,” Pacquiao said of Mayweather. “He needs me. I don’t need him.”