Nearly a decade ago Manny Pacquiao was warned that, when it was time to finally take the gloves off forever, he would be told before it was too late.
“I told him a long time ago: ‘When you are done, I will tell you’,” Freddie Roach, his trainer for most of the past 20 years, says to Sky Sports.
“That day hasn’t come yet. He isn’t done yet.”
No fighter ever defeats Father Time, so they say, but Pacquiao is giving him a really tough scrap. Now aged 42, his fight with Yordenis Ugas on Sunday morning at 2am, live on Sky Sports, is his first in two years.
It might also be his last.
He is set to run for the presidency of the Philippines so how has the extraordinary ‘Pacman’ balanced a burgeoning career in politics while refusing to wind down his boxing?
This is the story.
Things are different in the Wild Card gym these days, particularly on a Wednesday. In years gone by Pacquiao would be just mid-way through a gruelling week but now he is forced into taking a second day of rest.
“I am different now because, when you prepare for a fight by working hard every day, it is not enough to recover your body overnight,” the great man tells Sky Sports.
“When I was young and I pushed my body by working hard, I could easily recover overnight. The next day I could work hard again. This time, sometimes my body doesn’t respond. I need rest. I need to give more time for my body to recover.
“This is the difference.”
Roach, who first met a scrawny twentysomething Pacquiao two decades ago before they became one of boxing’s greatest odd couples, is also not the same. He has Parkinson’s disease. In 2017 he parted ways with Pacquaio, concerned that boxing and politics did not mix. They reconciled, two legendary veterans forever intertwined.
“It is still my passion,” Pacquiao smiles. “I have fire in training. I did 30-33 rounds last week.
“What I did 20 years ago, to now? It is the same.”
Pacquiao and Roach can’t train at the same hellfire speed as they once did. Neither man can do it. But two years ago, aged 40, Pacquaio floored and defeated the previously-unbeaten welterweight champion Keith Thurman.
“There is a big difference, of course,” Roach says when asked about the younger Pacquiao who, alongside his dog ‘Pacman’, would lead lung-busting runs through the Hollywood Hills that would force other hardened boxers to quit mid-way.
“But his work ethic is still great. He still throws combinations, he has speed and power.
“He will do at least one or two more fights.”
Pacquiao says: “We worked hard in training camp. Sacrifices and hard work are there every day. I am well-prepared mentally, physically and spiritually.”
Ask yourself how many truly great boxers in their 40s would sign up to fight a young, undefeated, pound-for-pound feted world champion? That’s what Pacquiao did when he agreed to face Errol Spence Jr.
Ask again – how many would willingly accept a right-handed replacement when southpaw Spence Jr withdrew at 10 days’ notice?
“It is not that hard for me,” Pacquiao says with his boyish grin on display.
“We totally changed our strategy and technique. I worked hard for this fight but it happened this way. So we have totally changed.
“Ugas is a former bronze medalist in the Olympics. He is a good fighter.”
Cuba’s Ugas will defend the WBA welterweight title that Pacquiao won in his previous fight but had stripped from him.
He grits his teeth a bit: “He took my belt. We will settle it in the ring. To win this fight increases my legacy, my accomplishments.”
Ugas’ trainer bit back: “Pacquiao, for a long time, has not KO’d anyone. He has been dropping people. But never KO, not for a long time.”
There is truth to that allegations – in more than a decade Pacquiao has won just one of 16 fights inside the distance.
But how to accurately measure the brilliance of a fighter who debuted nine weight divisions lighter in 1995?
The raw numbers; he is the only man ever to be an eight-division champion, has won 62 of 71 fights including against a roll-call of Hall of Fame rivals.
He is the only boxer in history to be a world champion in four different decades.
His knockout of Ricky Hatton, his sensational quartet of fights with Juan Manuel Marquez and his pulverising of Oscar De La Hoya live long in the memory.
Even his seven defeats add to this unique lore – he was KO’d horrendously by Marquez, he lost controversially on the scorecards to Jeff Horn in Australia. Pacquiao had been knocked out twice before anyone had ever heard of him. The first man to beat him, Rustico Torrecampo, became a fugitive wanted for murder whose whereabouts is unknown but the latest details around him were documented by Sky Sports last year.
But Floyd Mayweather is the yardstick to which Pacquiao may always be judged.
For a generation they built towards the richest fight of all time, which Mayweather won. To some, it was proof that Mayweather was always the better fighter. To others, it is more nuanced.
“Floyd was able to frustrate Manny. But Manny’s overall body of work, especially if he wins on Saturday night, blows away what Mayweather accomplished by picking and choosing opponents,” argues Sean Gibbons, president of MP Promotions, to Sky Sports.
“Manny never picked and chose. He won some, lost some. He fought guys in their primes. He won the welterweight title aged 40.
“Floyd can keep his premium ’50-0′. He never fought Manny at Manny’s prime.
“When Manny signed to fight Spence Jr. That alone proves what kind of guy he is.”
Mayweather, aged 44, battled YouTuber Logan Paul in an exhibition recently. It is a stark contrast and proves that this debate will out-live either man’s in-ring career.
A journey which began for Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao in abject poverty in General Santos City, so desperate his father killed and ate his pet dog, could continue as President of the Philippines.
He is currently a Senator but is expected to target the May 2022 elections.
“I see Manny running for the presidency of his country,” Roach says. “I see, in my mind, ‘Manny, the President of the Philippines’ against his next opponent.
“He wants to help poor people because he was a poor kid growing up. He does all that he can. Will he run for President? Possibly but he will never tell me!”
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who worked with Pacquiao until 2017, joked to Sky Sports: “Freddie Roach is a great trainer but he doesn’t read the newspaper!
“Pacquiao, after the fight with [Ugas], won’t be available to fight Josh Taylor or anybody else because he will run to be President of the Philippines!”
Sean Gibbons says: “People gravitate to be around Manny. That’s why he’s a successful politician and will hopefully become the President.”
His political career has not been without controversies. His views on gay rights and the death penalty have been criticized.
Pacquaio tells Sky Sports about his aspirations: “I am a politician so everything is possible. Let’s talk about politics after the fight. Sport is one side, politics is another side which is different to sport.
“It is really difficult for time-management and emotional management, to control yourself, because there are dirty tactics in politics!”
He has been a national hero since his career exploded into life in the US in the early-2000s.
“When the fight starts there is no crime in the Philippines,” Gibbons says. “Nobody is on the streets. Everybody is in front of a TV. The country comes to a standstill, it screeches to a halt, when the Senator is fighting.”
Sky Sports have heard the wild stories of Pacquiao’s 30th birthday party, a raucous night at a fashionable Los Angeles hotspot where the tequila slammers flowed.
It was a very different time in his life. But now?
“He is calmer and more peaceful. He has God back in his life,” Gibbons explains.
“He has 100 things going on but can focus. Why? Because he has God again. It’s where his power comes from.”
Pacquiao had briefly lost his faith but rediscovered it before it was too late.
“When you go from nothing to everything, temptations are difficult. He went through a period of drinking and gambling but, in 2013, he sunk to his knees and asked God to help him.
“He didn’t know if he wanted to end his own life. God brought him back.
“If he didn’t go back to God, it could have been a very ugly ending.”
His generosity in the Philippines is legendary. People will crowd the doors to his gym in hope that he will give away cash. His poor upbringing and brush with destruction makes Pacquiao empathetic and relatable which extends his legend.
“This will be his greatest accomplishment – helping the people of the Philippines,” says Gibbons. “He has touched so many people along the way. He has given away so much money, he has helped to build houses.
“What has Mayweather done after boxing? De La Hoya? This guy is looking to lead a country and help people around the world.
“Helping people and changing lives is what it’s all about.”
Roach is bullish about this fight. He claims Pacquiao has been flattening sparring partners in preparation for Ugas.
“I did hear that,” says Maurice Lee, one of his hired helpers, to Sky Sports. “Guys rang me to ask: ‘Did he drop you?’ I said no.
“But he did drop other guys. Those rumors are true.
“He looked phenomenal. I was surprised with his speed, angles, and how elusive he is. I could not time him.
“He was moving like he was 28-years-old and in his prime.”
Hall of Fame trainer Roach is a Boston Red Sox fan. He has cited Ted Williams scoring a home run in his final game, also aged 42.
“I am happy what I have accomplished in boxing,” Pacquiao smiles. “I am passionate. I still love boxing, that’s why I am still here. I keep on fighting.
“I am at the top so a lot of fighters want to fight with me. It gives me encouragement and inspiration.”
Gibbons says about Pacquiao: “It’s winding down. Let’s hope Saturday is not the finale and he has time for one more. But this is the end of an era. He’s been doing this for 26 years.
“It is sad to see your sports hero ending. But Manny? He’s just beginning.”
Watch Manny Pacquiao vs Yordenis Ugas in Las Vegas, from 2am on Sunday morning, live on Sky Sports.