Following up on the review last week, it seemed like a good idea to interview Gary Andrew Poole about his new biography of Manny Pacquiao. So we chatted for about a half hour tonight, talking about how he came to do the book, Manny’s distractions in the camp for his upcoming bout with Antonio Margarito and the like.
The book’s doing pretty well, by the way — it’s been the top boxing book on Amazon for a couple weeks, and it’s picked up some nice word of mouth buzz. Here’s word from the mouth of the man himself.
(The interview answers are verbatim, except in the spots where there’s an ellipsis due to bad note-taking. My questions have been modified to make me sound less goofy, which is par for the course for the interview business, but it’s also just because I don’t remember my specific fumbling phrasings word-for-word.)
How did you come to be interested in doing a book on Pacquiao?
Well, I’ve been interested in boxing for a long time, and always enjoy writing about it, so I always wanted to do book about boxing. I was in the Wild Card gym with Freddie Roach one late afternoon talking to him about Oscar De La Hoya, but he kept coming back to Pacquiao, and so I guess my interest in Pacquiao started at that moment. I started following him. He’s a fascinating character not just because he’s an incredible boxer but for the other stuff — the politics, his story. It’s really compelling. That’s kind of why I wanted to do it.
When was that?
He was starting to get well-known, but not really in America’s consciousness. He wasn’t the biggest star. I knew who he was. Roach said, “This guys has the potential to be one of the best. Just see. Just watch him.” When Freddie tells me something, I listen, because he’s often right. I just started following him a little bit more than before. I was also interested just because as I got into it, first of all, I only knew a little bit and it was hard to find good information on him until I started going online and reading Filipino newspapers where he already was an established guy. In the mainstream press here he wasn’t really well known. It was fascinating as a writer to read to read that sports journalism, almost throwback writing. It was fun to read. I got into it and into his story as I studied him.
Why do the book now?
That’s a good question. He’s essentially only a third through his life. I could’ve waited, I guess, but he’s part of the zeitgeist right now. There’s a lot of interest him. I think people are fascinated by him. A lot of people know his story, the outlines of his story, but I wanted to dig deeper and tell it. My last book was about a guy who played in the 1920s in football. I wanted to write about somebody in a modern age. I just found him interesting. I’m sure if he fights Floyd Mayweather, we’ll add something to the end of the book and cover that. I felt there was an urgency to get his story out there right now, especially before he ends his boxing career. I don’t really think about this stuff, that he’s so popular, people will buy the book — that wasn’t the reasoning behind it. There was sort of an urgency to get the story out there at this point. I wanted to be the guy who did that first rough draft. And I could tell it from another perspective, because I’m not a Filipino.
And how did you go about it? I know you spent a lot of time around him.
I talked to — I needed access. I talked to some people that are close to Manny and I talked to Freddie and told him, “I want to write this book. What do I do? How do I do it?” Freddie said, “We’ll you let me hang out and observe… Come in and hang out, spend some time in the gym.” I spent a lot of time in the gym, and I was sort of able to interview him, so there was a little bit of trust level there. To write about his youth and life in the Philippines I obviously had to go there. I wanted to have my boots on the ground so to speak, to find out what his life was like and interview people over there and really get a sense of his life over there because that’s a big part of who he is. I went over there — went to General Santos, went over to watch him campaign, went to some other places, when to Manilla. It was basic profile reporting…
Did the autobiography they’re working on impact anything?
When I went in and talked to Freddie and told him I want to do book about Manny because he’s a compelling guy, yada yada yada, he said, “You and six other people are doing this.” He plumps this autobiography. It’s been in the works for a while, but I thought I could do it better than anybody else, not to be conceited. I thought I had the chops to do it.
Has there been any reaction from Pacquiao and his team to the book?
I’ve just heard though the grapevine; good things. All the people at Top Rank think it’s a really great book, and so I don’t think there’s been any negativity about it. I think they like it. He hasn’t said anything to me, but he’s not the kind of guy who would go, “Great book, Gary.” I’m not really expecting that. I haven’t heard anything negative. I was over there on media day, I was around, and everybody was cool. I think it’s kind of an honest account and balanced. I don’t think they would have many bones to pick.
There is some sensitive material, though, like the woman stuff.
I think if you look at the women thing, really I was just sort of reporting what people in the Philippines report about him. I didn’t really need to get into that, I didn’t feel. I handled it pretty intelligently and compassionately. I think they’ve seen worse in their own media, so I don’t think that’s too big of a concern for them.
How did you determine the veracity of people in the Philippines saying they knew Pacquiao?
It’s kind of interesting. Part of it — I don’t like to stereotype a culture, but it’s a cultural thing. They are connected. The family networks are really quite large, with the whole godfather part of the culture. You could be a godfather to a lot of different kids. People do kind of have six degrees of Manny Pacquiao thing. But it leads to some kind of hilarity. People are promising things; they say they know him but they don’t. I think a lot of people really do seen him up close and said “hi,” but they claim to know him. A lot of it also a thing where people really care about this guy. They almost feel like they do know him. He’s such a sort of spokesperson for Filipinos and for a lot of people they identify with him so much and feel like they know him.
You mention in the book that he has an image of himself as a gangster, which is weird given how everyone sees him as so humble and generous. Why do you think he sees himself like that?
There’s a paradox in the Philippines where — I hate this kind of cultural steroetopying — they see themselves — they are — a gentle, sweet, kind, generous people, but there’s also a violent culture there, too. There’s a gun culture there. And it can be a pretty violent place. I think he kinds of fits into that. He is an incredibly kind, sweet, generous guy, but there’s another side to him. I think he does. I saw several instances where he identifies that way. He has the gun collection at his house General Santos. He has a lot of guys around him that have guns for protection…
Any favorite moments in the book?
I had a lot of fun writing the book and reporting it. There were sort of these times at the Wild Card and he was working out and there weren’t that many people in there, and he was sort of seriously concentrating on his workout, and then when he would go into his shadowboxing part of his workout. It was really beautiful to watch and otherworldy in a lot of ways. Those are kind of my favorite moments, watching him work out and shadowbox. It’s beautiful to behold. I hope somebody films it someday, someone who’s really gifted with a camera. I enjoyed going to the Philippines, talking to people and discovering stuff about him and learning about him, seeing the love for this guy.
Any big takeaway from being around Pacquia that surprised you?
I hate to be almost cliché about Pacquiao, but it really was his humility that always strikes me. It didn’t strike me until maybe even recently, after seeing how much attention he gets in the Philippines, the money he makes, and he is still a humble guy who does a lot of stuff that’s very quiet. He doesn’t seek it out. The stuff I found out about him giving money to people in paying their medical costs — he really tries to kind of hide that stuff, because he sees it as his duty to help people. It’s not for political gain. He sees it as, God gave him this gift. He’s making a lot of money, so he should share that wealth. I had to kind of go and find it out and people would tell me about it. That generosity really impressed me.
How much stock do you put in Pacquiao’s camp distractions this time around?
I think he always has distractions. He seems to thrive on the distractions. I talk to a lot of different people in camp about the training camp in the Philippines. They didn’t think — he was in great shape, but they didn’t think he was in Manny shape. That’s a different standard in and of itself. The distractions come with the territory. The only thing I would be worried about is, how does he feel? He went the hospital for a week after his campaign, he had a bad ulcer, and I’m not sure if that’s under control. It seems like he’s had a little bit of a foot problem this camp, because of the shoes he has to wear in Congress, and that slowed him down. At media day he mentioned he was having some personal issues, but wouldn’t go into it. I’m thinking, wondering, if that might just be something to do with his health. The distractions are part of who Pacquiao is. I’m more worried about any health issues. He thrives on the chaos, likes the kind of chaos of it. He’s an easily bored guy, and he likes going and coaching the basketball game or staying up late playing darts and going to Vegas and being on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. I talked to [conditioning coach] Alex Ariza about it. He said it keeps him sharp when he has all this stuff going on. I tend to agree. There’s a lot of chaos around him, but he’s in a little bubble even when all this stuff is around… It cracked me up when I saw the film of him coming into LAX recently. He had hundreds of people waiting for him, and he was on his BlackBerry the whole time and didn’t really acknowledge anybody, then drove off. He’s in his own little world. It was classic Manny.