In 2001, Freddie Roach had already established himself as one of the finest trainers in boxing. A disciple of Eddie Futch, the greatest trainer of them all, Roach was a staple at the high-end of boxing as the 21st century unfolded.
All of the best managers knew how to reach him and Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler, who in a few years would be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, was already singing his praises.
Roach had a much bigger name in the industry than Manny Pacquiao had when the then-22-year-old Filipino walked through the door of the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood and asked Roach if he could work out while he was visiting the area.
Roach agreed and the unexpected result is one of the most successful boxer/trainer tandems in history. Roach was named Trainer of the Year six times and secured a spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Pacquiao succeeded at an almost unimaginable level, becoming regarded for a time as the best fighter in the world, winning championships in seven more weight classes and earning monstrous sums of fame and money.
Roach laughs when a reporter begins a sentence, "Did you," during a discussion of 2001, and answers the question before it is fully asked.
"Never had a clue," Roach said. "Never expected this. Never. Not in my wildest dreams."
When Pacquiao climbs between the ropes on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas to face the unbeaten Timothy Bradley in a rematch for Bradley's WBO welterweight title, Pacquiao will tie Oscar De La Hoya for the most pay-per-view appearances ever and will become only the second fighter ever to generate a minimum of $700 million in pay-per-view revenue.
He's become one of the five greatest figures in pay-per-view history, along with, in alphabetical order, De La Hoya, Evander Holyfield, Mayweather and Mike Tyson.
It is Pacquiao's placement in the top five that is the most puzzling. Going into Saturday's bout, he is ranked fifth all-time with 12.2 million pay-per-view sales and is third all-time with $661 million in pay-per-view revenue.
Promoters are confident the bout will hit one million. With 890,000 buys, the same as he did for his controversial first match with Bradley in 2012, Pacquiao will move to third in total sales with 12.8 million buys and will move into second past De La Hoya and behind only Mayweather with $700 million in PPV revenues.
Mayweather, whose bouts against Canelo Alvarez in 2013 and De La Hoya in 2007 are 1-2 all-time in revenue and 2-1 in sales, has generated $756.5 million in pay-per-view revenues.
Pacquiao is the only non-American in the top five and would be one of only two in the top 10, along with Lennox Lewis. However, Lewis spoke English and Pacquiao spoke very little when he arrived in the U.S.
"Manny Pacquiao broke the mold and blazed a very unique trail for the following reasons," said Mark Taffet, the senior vice president of PPV at HBO Sports. "He's not a heavyweight. He wasn't an Olympian. He's not from the very vibrant Latino or African-American demographic segments. He's not American. He's the only top non-American in that top five.
"But what he is, is a young man from the Philippines who is as humble outside the ring as he is courageous and electrifying inside of it."
Nobody on Earth understands the factors which lead to pay-per-view success in boxing quite like Taffet, who was around at the beginning of the PPV Era in 1991.
And yet even Taffet has difficulty pinpointing the reasons for Pacquiao's appeal.
Pacquiao has been an extraordinarily exciting fighter, but the late Arturo Gatti fought while Pacquiao was active and Gatti is considered one of the greatest action fighters of all-time. Yet, Gatti fought just twice on PPV and didn't cross over to become a pay-per-view star.
Being exciting is part of it, but not all of it. Mayweather is the greatest pay-per-view performer of all-time in terms of sales and money, but he has only registered three knockouts in his 11 pay-per-view fights.
One of the common traits of the vast majority of pay-per-view stars is their willingness to promote their fight and themselves. Few current boxers work as hard outside the ring as both Mayweather and Pacquiao do in hawking their bouts.
At Pacquiao's media day in Los Angeles, Pacquiao stayed and did interviews with every one of the hundreds of reporters who arrived. He never turns down an interview request.
"The big pay-per-view stars understand the significant time commitment they must make, not only on press tours but also by making appearances on key television shows, radio shows, and on the phone or sitting down with writers," Taffet said.
The passion Filipino fans have for Pacquiao is extraordinary and is unmatched anywhere in the world. Fans have literally trembled and gone speechless just meeting him.
That passion clearly intrigued members of the America media, who shared the story with their audiences. And the audiences ate it up. Reporters routinely noticed their web site traffic go up dramatically whenever Pacquiao fought, and that prompted them to cover him more regularly and more closely than perhaps they would have otherwise.
Taffet also said the thrilling series of fights Pacquiao engaged in with Mexican and Mexican-American boxers also helped him become a sales star.
He fought Juan Marquez four times, three of them on pay-per-view. He fought Erik Morales three times on PPV and met Marco Antonio Barrera twice, once on HBO and once on PPV.
Marquez, Morales and Barrera had massive and devoted fan bases among Mexican and Mexican-American fans, and many of those become regularly Pacquiao customers after getting so familiar with him.
When he fought De La Hoya in 2008, it certified him as one of the biggest names in the industry.
"Most people are aware of the great passion that Latino fan base has for boxing, and how strongly they felt about Oscar and Morales and Barrera and Marquez," Taffet said. "Manny established himself as a mythical character almost in those fights. He fought the style they loved to see and he always gave them a show."
He's coming off a fight where he didn't do as well, however. He sold just 475,000 pay-per-views for his November win over Brandon Rios, the lowest total since he sold 206,000 in 2008 for a win over David Diaz.
He exceeded 700,000 in every fight after Diaz and until Rios, a total of nine fights, and he surpassed 1 million against De La Hoya (1.25 million); Miguel Cotto (1.2 million); Antonio Margarito (1.15 million); Shane Mosley (1.2 million) and Marquez III (1.25 million).
A big reason for the dip in sales against Rios was because the fight happened in China. For some reason, fights held outside of North America traditionally underperform compared to what they would have done had they been in the U.S.
Still, the 475,000 figure was the third-highest pay-per-view total for a boxing match in 2013, trailing only Mayweather's two bouts.
Bradley said he's confident the rematch will do a massive number.
"You know, this is Manny Pacquiao we're talking about," Bradley said, chuckling. "People love the guy, they really do. Everywhere I go, it's 'Manny. Manny. Manny.' He's a legitimately good guy and he's a great fighter, no question about it, and people love him."
There have been few like him in boxing history. And when he retires, it will likely be a long time before another like him comes along.
"He got to where he is because he has great ability and because he worked so hard to get everything out of his ability," Roach said. "[In 2001], who could have seen this coming? What he has done is amazing. He's meant so much to boxing, I don't think people really will fully understand that until he's done and not around any more."
- Sports & Recreation
- Manny Pacquiao
- Freddie Roach
- Oscar De La Hoya
- Timothy Bradley