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Manny Pacquiao And All His Men

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By Peter Karl/Special to LAist

Roads were closed. Traffic was stopped. The routine morning hustle and bustle down Santa Monica Boulevard, for some reason, had come to a complete standstill.

“Aw damn,” I thought frantically, “What am I missing? Are they actually starting to build a rail system? No, never. Is it Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry’s? Nope, that was last week.”

As I marched ponderously toward the main artery of West LA from my parking spot nearly a half-mile from my workplace, I noted the helicopter overhead. Either another celebrity publicist had been shot at the doorstep of my office, or someone BIG was in town. Of course, it was the President. And All His Men.

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Crowds of people lined the streets to watch the presidential motorcade speed by. You think you have a posse? Funny. Somewhere in a sandwich of local police, secret service vehicles, press vans, and a counterassault team sat Barack Obama in his limo. THAT is rolling deep. No one in the world has a posse like the president, I thought.

Then I met Manny Pacquiao.

Pacquiao is the anointed ‘Boxer of the Decade”, the WBO welterweight titleholder, and the unprecedented champion of eight world championships in eight different weight classes. Of his 57 career bouts, Pacquiao has only lost 3 times. He is the best pound for pound boxer in the world.

Outside of the ring, the 32-year old is also a singer, an actor, and a military reservist for his home country, the Philippines, where he is also a member of Congress. He was tied with Alex Rodriguez as the world’s highest paid athlete in 2010, raking in $32 million from just two fights. That’s excluding endorsement deals with NIKE, McDonald’s, San Miguel Beer, and a recently announced global partnership with Hewlett-Packard, to name a few. All this for a man whose popularity is still on the rise. It’s a jumbo-trifecta of power, wealth, and fame crammed into the small 5 foot-6½ inch frame of man with a big smile.

And imagine how he rolls. A humble man from a small country acquires ultra-fame in a place that nurses celebrity and earns 18,000 times the per capita GDP of his home country. Such wealth attracts a “countless” number of benefactors. And from what it seems, Pacquiao has one crony to tie his left shoe, another for his right, and 10 others, each responsible for manicuring one of his finger nails.

In actuality, Pacquiao is just very openhanded. He may roll around Hollywood with more than 40 people at a time. But in fact, he has many more mouths to feed. Literally. Through an endorsement deal with State Street Produce, a San Antonio-based company that grows fruits and vegetables in Mexico and distributes to restaurants in the U.S., Manny, the parliamentary representative of the poverty-stricken district of Sarangani, provides his people with fresh, affordable produce. No wonder why TIME named him one of the most influential people in the world in 2009.

On the day I met Pacquiao, it was, like always, a media frenzy. I attended his press event out of curiosity and to see how the hell these things actually worked (and maybe just to catch a glimpse of the best boxer in the world). Earlier this year Pacquiao released his newest CD entitled “Sometimes When We Touch” - which includes seven, yes SEVEN, versions of the title track written by Dan Hill (but for the best Pacquiao listening I recommend his rendition of “Imagine” with Will Farrell on Jimmy Kimmel Live below.)

This event, however, was no album launch party or clothing line release. It wasn’t an ambassadorial event for the Philippines, or even a straightforward promotion for the fight. It was Manny’s newest extracurricular activity. This was the unveiling of Manny’s own fragrance: MP8 The Scent of a Champion. I laughed too. But honestly, when you are the equivalent of David Beckham to the non-white community in America, why not bottle your scent?

If you do care about the actual fragrance, think sangria. I confused periodic wafts of MP8 for an aromatic pitcher of red wine and citrus fruit. As I putzed through the Fred Segal clothing boutique in West Hollywood where the event was being held, I was thirsty for a spray. I asked a stunningly beautiful Filipino girl where I could find the men’s fragrance and not the perfume. She laughed.

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“It’s only a men’s fragrance,” she said. Embarrassed, I extended my wrist for a spritz. Instantly, I felt I’d sprouted high heels. This wasn’t the bouquet of boxer musk, sweat, blood, and Vaseline, I’d hoped it would be.

Press materials describe the $55 cologne in detail. “The Scent of a Champion has a top front punch of fresh bergamot, lemon, and citrus followed by combination punches of lavender, sage, vetiver, and a jab of nutmeg at the bottom."

Imagine what you will, but I was always a natural pheromone kind of guy.

The entourage was in full force for the release of this cologne. Members of Team Pacquiao buzzed around in their black MP8 t-shirts (emblematic of Manny’s 8 titles in 8 different weight classes). All of them appeared to be Filipino. But Manny was nowhere to be seen. Media and fans grew impatient outside the Ron Robinson / Fred Segal clothing boutique and café, the exclusive retailer of Manny’s cologne.

Palettes were kept quenched with stuffed olives, pink lemonade, and champagne. Cameo appearances by Star Wars’ own Lando Calrissian, excuse me, Billy Dee Williams, and the fragrance designer Rob Robinson kept cameras and eyes from going idle. Billy Dee spoke about his own fragrance from years back, but I never gathered why he was at the event in the first place.

Two hours after the scheduled 4 p.m. start, the crew of Showtime’s all-access show, Fight Camp 360: Pacquiao vs. Mosley turned up. Surely, the star was about to arrive. Punctuality is a renowned absence from Team Pacquiao’s priorities. It’s understandable when you keep more company than the President. Within minutes, around 6 p.m., the rest of the posse showed up. From the passenger seat of a black Mercedes coupe emerged an underwhelming Manny Pacquiao, looking tidy in a tucked in a suit and tie. I’m not taller than anyone, and I was taller than the best boxer on the planet. But despite this, I’d seen enough clips of his fights to know he could damn well put me in a coma with one right hook.

Manny posed and showed off his infectious smile for the many cameras surrounding him. After he’d spoke to BET News, VIBE, and KTLA, he began to take a few random questions from the crowd. A man who clearly knew much much more about boxing than I did got some deserved face-time with Manny.

“How are you gonna work Mosley, Manny? Are you gonna go right at him, or tire him out and take your time over the first few rounds?” he asked.

Manny stared at his mouth the entire time. Reading his lips. He really seems to have trouble understanding English.

“Yea, yea, we are going to work him slow, tire him out. We have good gameplan,” said Manny, listening to the imaginary trainer over his shoulder.

Soon enough people were blurting random questions from every corner. Manny was overwhelmed. Then, we made eye contact. As I stared into his eyes, the same way so many of his opponents have just before their thundering collapse to the canvas, I threw a courageous jab.

“So are you going to wear this fragrance in the ring on Saturday?” I blurted.

He stared at my lips. I began to smile, nervously, hoping he would catch my sarcasm like the giggling press around me had. To my relief, he burst out laughing. Camera’s snapped away as Manny smiled ear-to-ear as he departed the media chaos and entered the boutique to officially launch his perfume, I mean, cologne.