Nobody knows what the future holds for Manny Pacquiao after his upset loss last weekend to welterweight champion Yordenis Ugas.
There are calls for him to retire. The Filipino senator may announce his run for the presidency of the country. And there are reports of, at the age of 42, a possible rematch.
Pacquiao‘s epic journey, still ongoing, has been of the great stories in sports for decades, and one of the architects of the tale has been Fred Sternburg, a favorite son of the District who learned from one of the masters, Charlie Brotman.
Sternburg was with Pacquiao (62-8-2, 39 knockouts) in this last training camp, like he has been in so many others. In a business often filled with imperfection, Sternburg and Pacquiao have enjoyed a perfect pairing. The great publicist and the great fighter — the only eight-division world champion in boxing history.
Regular appearances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Profiles on “60 Minutes.” Crowds as far as the eye could see for personal appearances — a remarkable path that began in the Philippines with a poor street kid who couldn’t speak English.
And it was Sternburg, 63, who paved the way, with creative, colorful promotions right out of a Hollywood movie.
“If he is not the goods, I am stuck,” Sternburg said. “You need the material and he was the material.
“I go back to what Charlie (Brotman) had with Sugar Ray Leonard, and this was my Sugar Ray Leonard,” Sternburg said, referring to the legendary Washington publicist and his work with Leonard. “You dream of this kind of opportunity. I think I took it to the next level with Manny. It comes down to what the guy will allow you to do and the trust the two of you had.”
It’s a long way from sending postcards and faxes nearly every day to every boxing writer in America about a talented but obscure District welterweight.
Derrell “Too Sweet” Coley was a terrific fighter. But back in the 1990s, the District was filled with terrific fighters. Everyone knew about this one, though, because Sternburg, as his publicist, swamped the media with stories and promotions that could not be ignored.
Coley became a welterweight contender and would land a main event bout against Oscar De La Hoya at Madison Square Garden in February 2000. Coley would lose, stopped in the seventh round, but it was a big fight for the Washington fighter — a fight he never lands without Sternburg.
Sternburg would build up a reputation as a top publicist in the game, so when promoter Bob Arum needed someone to help publicize a relatively unknown Filipino boxer, he called Sternburg. For Pacquiao’s first fight, against Erik Morales, “Manila Ice” was born.
“That was the secret weapon [Pacquiao] was going to use,” Sternburg said. “We needed a hook, and this was something to give him an identity in this whole thing.
“I am at the weigh-in, and we are seeing T-shirts everywhere with ‘Manila Ice’ on them, and all the Filipinos are there. I barely knew about this guy before I got him as a client. I thought it would be a one-time thing. Larry Merchant pulled me aside and asked, “Tell me what Manila Ice is.” I said, “I’ve been sworn to secrecy, I’ve seen it, it’s unbelievable. If he gets the chance, this guy is getting iced.” It took on a life of its own.”
The relationship grew with each fight. There was the time he came up with using the “Curse of the Billy Goat” against Pacquiao’s opponent, a Chicago lightweight named David Diaz in June 2008.
“They were doing a press conference, and we find a goat that is the great, great, great-grandson of the goat who put the curse on the Chicago Cubs,” Sternburg said. “Bob (Arum) goes through this whole spiel about how we found the ancestors to the goat. Diaz looks at this goat, turns pale and runs away. He said one thing we don’t joke about in Chicago is the Curse of the Billy Goat.” Manny pets the goat and says ‘I’d like him for dinner.’”
Then came Pacquiao’s remarkable upset win over De La Hoya in December 2008 and everything changed. “We were off to the races after he won that fight,” Sternburg said.
“All this last camp I was thinking how lucky I was to be associated with this guy, and the loyalty he has had to me.”
They were fortunate to find each other.
You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.