He's the biggest and best-loved celebrity in his homeland of the Philippines, and he'll earn $1.75 million for fighting Erik Morales on Saturday night.
Yet when he's ready to go to sleep tonight in his posh suite in the MGM Grand, he won't climb into bed.
No, Manny Pacquiao will curl up on the floor.
It's not so much that he espouses a Spartan lifestyle, his trainer, Freddie Roach, said.
It's just that old habits die hard.
Pacquiao grew up in poverty in the Philippines, working the rice and corn fields until he ran away from home to become a boxer when he was about 13.
Beds were a luxury -- and they still are, Roach said, in Pacquiao's hometown of General Santos City.
Roach spent 4 1/2 weeks in the Philippines with Pacquiao late last year, training in Davao and spending time in nearby General Santos. Both cities are by the coast in the southern part of the archipelago.
"There were 18 of us in a three-bedroom house," Roach said Thursday at the MGM. "Five guys would be sleeping in one room. I was the only guy with a bed, because I was the guest.
"I said, Manny, you take the bed. You've got a big fight coming up. He said, no, Coach -- he always calls me Coach -- you take it. He's always slept on the floor. He sleeps on the floor here, too."
This is a guy who has hit it big in his native land, who comes from humble roots but owns several houses, an elaborate chicken farm designed to raise hundreds of prized fighting roosters, and a level of celebrity almost unimaginable in America.
Roach was asked if Pacquiao's fame in the Philippines rivals, say, Babe Ruth's in his prime.
"Oh, he's much bigger than that," Roach said. "He's huge over there. He's like a movie star."
In fact, Pacquiao has played himself, or at least a character who's a skilled fighter named Manny Pacquiao, in three Filipino motion pictures.
"Everywhere we'd go, he'd attract huge crowds," Roach said. "No matter where we were or what we were doing, people would come up to us. Many of the people are very poor, but every time, Manny would put a smile on every face.
"People would come up and ask for my autograph, just because I was close to Manny. I took this girl to the movies in the Philippines, and there was a (newspaper) headline: 'Roach Falls in Love.' "
Pacquiao (39-2-2, 30 knockouts) never allowed the trappings of fame to distract him while he was preparing to fight Morales, Roach said.
Morales (47-2, 34 KOs) will also earn $1.75 million, plus another $750,000 for his management team, for Saturday night's fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Though no title belt is at stake, the fight is being billed as the unofficial world super featherweight championship. The scheduled 12-rounder will be available on HBO Pay-Per-View ($44.95 suggested retail price).
"Hey, Manny's a well-known 26-year-old guy and I'm sure he takes advantage of it," Roach said. "He's not an angel.
"But in training camp, he's very disciplined."
The rudimentary surroundings in Davao probably helped keep Pacquiao focused.
"We flew into Manila, but people from Manila don't go to Davao," Roach said. "It's dangerous; it's different. People told me I'd get killed or kidnapped if I went there."
The southern Philippines are plagued by violence and unrest linked to Muslim rebels, some believed to be backed by al-Qaida.
"I had two bodyguards with me at all times, and each one had a machine gun in plain sight," Roach said.
Pacquiao, a practicing Catholic who pulled a rosary from his pocket and displayed it briefly earlier this week at the MGM, has never been threatened directly by the Muslim militants despite his great celebrity, Roach said.
His close relationship with Pacquiao probably aided Roach's cause, he said.
"The mayor of Davao -- this is a guy who's famous for (allegedly supporting the idea of) public executions -- he came to me and said, you're safe in my province. No one will harm you," Roach said.
The raw human violence was just one element of the culture shock Roach experienced, he said.
There was also the time he went to the cockfights, a popular pastime in the Philippines.
Pacquiao had four birds fighting that night -- they went 2-2 collectively, and Roach lost 5,000 pesos (about $100) betting on the matches.
Roosters are outfitted with small boxing-type gloves in training, but with razor blades in the actual fights. In American cockfights, 2-inch blades are standard, but Filipinos use 4-inch blades.
"It's brutal," Roach said. "The fights usually only last about 15 or 20 seconds. After the birds are killed, they hang 'em up and the people buy them for food.
"I've seen it once, and that's enough. When I was younger, I might've been more into it. Now, I don't want to see two animals kill each other."
Bob Arum, the lead promoter of Saturday's fight, was in the Philippines for the "Thrilla in Manila," the rubber match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975. Arum returned for a visit in 1976 but has not been back since, he said.
He understands that nation's devotion to Pacquiao, though, and said it's reflected in the intense interest boxing fans are showing in the fight.
"Something about this fight has really captured everyone's imagination," Arum said. "Obviously, as a promoter I'm hoping the fight's close, that it lives up to its expectations and that it leaves everyone screaming for a rematch."
Seating capacity at the arena is being expanded to 15,000 from 14,500, Arum said Thursday, in anticipation of a sellout. The fight's pay-per-view numbers are projected to exceed last November's battle between
Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera, Arum said. That fight generated 325,000 pay-per-view purchases.
Saturday's bout will likely be remembered as one of the most pivotal in each fighter's career. Both 130-pounders are ranked among the top 10 boxers, pound for pound, in the sport.
"It's such a major fight for each of them that looking ahead at all would be ridiculous," Arum said. "Each man is looking down, not up, at this point, because they are at the pinnacle of their careers."
The fight will air on free television, with a slight tape-delay, in the Philippines, where much of the nation's business has grinded to a halt in anticipation of the showdown.
"If Pacquiao loses the fight, there will be a national mourning," Nick Giongco of the Manila Bulletin said
Thursday at the MGM.
Pacquiao comes across in interviews as friendly, pleasant and gentle, if a little low-key.
He speaks mostly of the spectacular show he and Morales will stage in the ring Saturday, promising an action-filled fight and expressing a deep attachment to his heritage.
"I have a lot of support from the Filipino people, and I'd be proud to win the fight for them," he said.
It's a modest sentiment, one that somehow befits a national icon who sleeps curled up on the floor.
Las Vegas Sun, March 18, 2005