Nearly 14 years after Manny Pacquiao first entered the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, the 37-year-old returned to his local training home Monday to start preparing for the fight of the century, against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
"Finally, it's happening," Pacquiao told The Times as he wrapped his hands for the opening session in Hollywood with his trainer Freddie Roach.
Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 knockouts) will fight the unbeaten Mayweather (47-0, 26 KOs) on May 2 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, in a bout that is expected to shatter boxing records for pay-per-view and live-gate sales.
Many in boxing circles say this super-fight is five years too late. But Pacquiao objected, arguing neither he nor Mayweather, 38, has been diminished by time.
"It'll be as good of a fight as it would've been five years ago. The same," Pacquiao said. "Both of us are still at the top."
As he exited his black Mercedes in the gym's parking lot, Pacquiao said he thought back to that first visit to Wild Card and how simple his goals once were.
"Back then, I thought, 'I just want to have a good fight, to fight for a championship.' I thought of being hungry, excited to focus on training," he said.
Roach recalled that first session too, and how his decision to buy the gym was questioned by his former trainer, the legendary Eddie Futch. "Don't open a gym, it's a pain … you'll regret it the rest of your life," the late Futch told Roach.
"You never know when the next Mike Tyson's going to walk through your door," Roach answered. "Less than a month later, in walks Manny Pacquiao.
"I didn't know him at all, he spoke very little English, was very shy, but after he threw mitts that one round … I'd never seen such power and speed."
Pacquiao's first fight with Roach was a massive upset, as he broke the nose of super-bantamweight champion Lehlo Ledwaba in the first round and stopped him in the sixth.
Pacquiao has won titles in eight weight classes. Did Roach ever envision it would get to this, with Pacquiao seeking to hand Mayweather his first loss?
"No one ever thought about Mayweather," Roach said. "I never thought it'd get this far."
Yet, both fighter and trainer, as expected, love their chances, with Pacquiao claiming he's "100%" confident he'll win.
Roach has already retained five sparring partners who'll start mimicking Mayweather's style next week, after this opening week of conditioning and strategy sessions with Pacquiao.
When Pacquiao knocked down Chris Algieri six times in November in a unanimous-decision win, it was his 30th fight with Roach.
"What I want Manny to do — to make sure we're both on the same page," Roach said. "A lot of times, you show a guy something he's not comfortable with, they'll try it just to please you, but they won't ever do it in a fight. Manny and I have a friendship where he'll tell me if he will try it, or we'll just throw it out."
Pacquiao said he is "100% focused" on conditioning to ensure he can cut the ring off and land punches on the elusive Mayweather. Roach predicts Pacquiao will have more durable legs than Mayweather in the bout.
The current challenge, said Pacquiao, feels similar to how he felt when he conquered Mexican star Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003, stopped the heavily favored Oscar De La Hoya in 2008 and when he dominated against distinguished welterweight Miguel Cotto in 2009.
"It's a good thing to be an underdog," Pacquiao said. "It helps me a lot. You're more focused on training. I feel like I'm at the start again. I've always been an underdog."
Because of heavy betting action recently on Pacquiao, the MGM Resorts sports book has trimmed odds on the fight. The betting opened favoring Mayweather at a minus-240, but it's dropped to less than 2-1 odds, at minus-200.
"People are very wise," Pacquiao said. "It's good for them to believe in my ability."