Manny Pacquiao trains in a Hollywood gym called the Wild Card Boxing Club, which sits above a laundromat and a Thai restaurant in a run-down strip mall. The Filipino boxer does early-morning runs in the Hollywood Hills and then goes to the Wild Card to plot and work on strategy with his trainer and the gym's owner, Freddie Roach. For the past several weeks, Pacquiao, who is also a Congressman and game-show host in his native Philippines, has been preparing for Saturday's megafight, his third meeting against Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez. Near the gym's speed bag is a photo of Marquez wearing a T-shirt that declares, "Marquez Beat Pacquiao Twice." Pacquiao sees that photo every day. It irritates him and gets him working.
The previous Pacquiao-Marquez bouts were controversial and close. Back in 2004, in their first meeting, the men were fighting for a featherweight (126-lb. limit) title. Pacquiao knocked down Marquez three times in the first round, but the Mexican slugger popped up off the canvas each time and fought on to salvage a come-from-behind draw. In 2008 they met again for a super-featherweight title (130-lb. limit). It was a back-and-forth thriller in which Pacquiao received a Round 2 left hook to the chin that teetered him, and Marquez went down in Round 3, but both men were able to fight until the end. Pacquiao won the fight in a controversial split decision.
Marquez has been bitter about the conclusion since, and has been begging for a rematch. The T-shirt is his version of history.
Everyone else's history has been kinder to the Filipino fighter. Pacquiao went on to fight and vanquish other boxers (including Oscar De La Hoya), win a congressional seat, visit President Barack Obama at the White House, get featured on a 60 Minutes segment, make a hit single ("Sometimes When We Touch"), introduce his own fragrance (Scent of the Champion), and sign lucrative endorsement deals with Nike, Hewlett-Packard and Hennessy. Under the tutelage of Roach, Pacquiao kept improving as a boxer. He says that since his last fight with Marquez, he has learned how to better combat counterpunching, the Mexican's specialty. Pacquiao, a southpaw, developed a devastating right hand and refined his already mesmerizingly quick footwork. (After studying film of Marquez's most recent fight, Pacquiao, who at 32 years old is six years younger than his opponent, concluded, "He is slower than before.")
To challenge fighters in heavier weight classes and create an even larger legacy, Pacquiao spent the intervening three years adding muscle weight to increase the force of his punches. He successfully fought larger men one victim outweighed him by 17 lb. at fight time. He has been able to increase his power while maintaining his rabbit-like speed, and this brutal combination of speed, power and boxing intellect has helped him win an unprecedented eight world titles in eight different weight classes (a swing of about 40 lb.), and earn the title of boxer of the decade. "I know Marquez has got off the canvas four times [from Pacquiao punches in the past], but I don't think he's going to be able to get up from the power Manny has now," says Roach.