Wild Card Gym never the same without Pacman

By Abac Cordero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Oct 29 2013 04:53 PM | Updated as of Oct 30 2013 12:53 AM

LOS ANGELES – A couple of boxers, perhaps amateurs, were on the heavy bags, and another, who looked like a pro, sat on a wooden bench, wrapping his hands, legs spread, his back on the wall.

Others minded their own business. There must be a dozen boxers working out at the Wild Card Gym here on this sunny but cool Saturday afternoon. No one was inside the ring.

Somehow, the place looked empty.

The gym’s most famous client, Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, was 7,000 miles away, training for a Nov. 24 fight against Brandon Rios in Macau.

Trainer Freddie Roach, who owns the gym, is in the Philippines with Pacquiao.

Pepper Roach wasn’t around either, and Rob Peters, the security officer, was nowhere in sight as well as Freddie’s assistant, Marie Spivey. Alex Ariza is no longer part of the team.

There was none of the old, familiar faces.

Roger “Speedy” Gonzales, a 28-6-0 fighter, now mans the desk, and welcomes people in.

Pacquiao’s absence is strongly felt because this close to a fight, he should be there working out, packing the gym, drawing all the attention.

People used to line up the metal stairs just to get a glimpse of Pacquiao, and Peters, a Red Sox diehard, had to shoo them away, politely. He closes the doors on them.

Fans would crowd the parking lot, flashing placards, seeking autographs or photographs with Pacquiao. One time, the LAPD had to draw the yellow line.

Hollywood celebrities would come to watch Pacquiao train. One day, Kobe Bryant stopped by.

Not this time.

The Manny Pacquiao merchandise store on the front side of the gray-walled property is gone. The new tenant said they took over the place four months ago and turned it into a nail spa.

Pacquiao’s favorite restaurant, Nat’s Thai Food, was near empty. The owner of the place, Tina, jumped on this scribe, and immediately asked how Pacquiao is doing.

The Filipino superstar loves Thai food, and over the last seven years or so, he would spend a couple of hours inside the restaurant after training.

Business in this Thai restaurant, known for its spicy chicken, deep-fried fish and crab rice, bloomed with Pacquiao who would spend as much as $700 a day for everybody’s meals.

But Pacquiao’s hasn’t been around since December last year when he fought Juan Manuel Marquez. The place had seen better days.

“We really miss him,” said Tina, who would close shop for a couple of days and take her entire family to Las Vegas or even Dallas to watch Pacquiao’s fights.

They all had become friends with Pacquiao. The walls inside this Thai restaurant are adorned with Pacquiao posters and pictures.

Tina knows that Pacquiao is doing his next fight in Macau, and said they were all wishing him the best. It’s the first time since 2006 that Pacquiao is fighting outside the United States.

During a conference call last Thursday, Pacquiao said it’s up to his promoter, Bob Arum, whether he’d fight in the US once more. Well, actually, it’s up to him. If he beats Rios, then the possibility is there. Or it may be all gone.

“I really don’t know yet,” said Pacquiao.

A lot of people are hoping and praying for that possibility.

“We will pray that he wins. We hope he fights here again. We really miss Pacquiao. We love him,” said Tina before heading back to the kitchen.

She kept her tears from falling.