Boxing star-power graces TF Duke, again
October 31, 2011
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- It isn't often that a group of Soldiers in Afghanistan are afforded the opportunity to talk to a major celebrity. The odds are even less that the same group of Soldiers would get a second chance to do just that.
When Soldiers from Task Force Duke, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Knox, Ky, received word that Manny Pacquiao, the only professional boxer to receive a world title in eight weight classes, wanted to talk with them via a specially arranged Skype session on the morning of Oct. 29 (evening of Oct. 28 for Paqcuiao), they jumped at the chance to speak with a superstar fighter for the second time during their deployment.
Pacquiao, who boasts a win-loss-draw record of 53-3-2, including 38 knock-outs, is scheduled to fight Juan Marquez Nov. 12 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In what seems to be a new, pre-fight boxing ritual among fighters that started with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. before his victory over Victor Ortiz in September, Pacquiao eagerly fielded questions from the Soldiers, covering everything from his training regimen to his new career in the Filipino Congress.
"We are training hard for the fight… we study a lot of techniques and the way he moves so we can use that in the fight… and be ready Nov. 12," replied Pacquiao to a question from U.S. Army Spc. John Martinez of Headquarters, Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment.
"What are the differences you see in the Marquez that you faced twice before and the Marquez you'll be facing [this time]," asked Martinez, an information operations specialist from Austin, Texas, referencing the fact that Pacquiao has already had both a draw (2004) and a win (2008) against his Nov. 12 opponent.
"This Marquez now, he's put on a lot of muscle, it looks like he's going to try and bang out and exchange with us… he looks bulky… which I think will slow him down a little bit," replied Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer and former professional boxer who was also on hand for the session.
After explaining his typical training schedule leading up the fight, Pacquiao fielded some non-fight related questions.
"I know you love Karaoke," said U.S. Army Capt. Steve DeJesus, a field artillery officer and Las Vegas native from Battery A, 1st Bn., 6th FA Regt., "What's your favorite song to sing?"
"La Bamba," said Pacquiao almost without pause, garnering laughter among the group.
For some Soldiers in the group, the event was extra-special.
"I told my friends, my best friend, my family, everyone," said U.S. Army Cpl. Bernadette Ramos, the armorer for Company A, 201st Brigade Support Battalion from Davau, Phillipines, who said she makes it a point to watch all Pacquiao's fights whenever possible. "He's an inspiration."
Ramos, who spoke to Pacquiao in a combination of Tagalog and Visayan, languages common to the Filipino people, explained what she told him.
"I said I was so proud of him because every time he wins a fight…I also feel like a winner because everyone around me congratulates me," said Ramos, beaming with Filipino pride. "I'll look forward to watching his fight [from Afghanistan]," she said.
Boxing opponents, who as a rule seem to almost always be mutually nasty towards each other leading up to title fights, prompted one Soldier to ask how Pacquiao handles that type of situation.
"How do you overcome the negativity from the other side leading up to fights like this one coming up?" asked U.S. Army Sgt. Noland Camaro, a combat medic from Houston, Texas assigned to Company C, 201st BSB.
Pacquiao, who was recently promoted to the rank of Colonel in the Filipino Army Reserves, did not hesitate in his reply.
Don't listen to the negativity, he said, "just focus [on training] and, you know, have fun," he said.
U.S. Army Spc. Carlos Rodriguez, Tulsa, Okla. native and field artillery specialist from Btry B, 1st Bn., 6th FA Regt., said the opportunity to talk to Pacquiao was a welcome break from the day-to-day demands of a war-zone.
"I found that it actually gave us a sense of normalcy in an otherwise stressful environment," said Rodriguez, who went on to say it would be great if more superstar athletes would do similar types of engagements with deployed Soldiers.
Staff Sgt. Greg Dunbar, a computer systems repairman from Arlington, Va., had a special offer for the champion boxer.
"We have unit t-shirts that [we can wear] out here," said Dunbar."If we were to send you a unit shirt, would you wear it during your training?"
The satellite connection appeared to make it difficult for Pacquiao to initially understand the question, so Roach helped explain it to him.
"He says no problem," replied Roach, pausing briefly as if in thought.
"And I want one too!" he said causing laughter amongst the Soldiers.
"We'll send you one also Freddie, we'll definitely send you one," promised Dunbar.