At Wild Card, there’s always someone waiting for Pacquiao
HOLLYWOOD—As a group of devout Christians performed gospel songs while one of them read out Bible verses like he was delivering a fire-and-brimstone speech from the pulpit, Rob Peters, a longtime security personnel of Wild Card gym, shook his head and smiled.
“Now I guess I can say I’ve seen it all,” he said Thursday afternoon.
In the convenience store of the strip mall that houses the famous gym at the corner of Vine Street and Sta. Monica Boulevard here, a middle-aged guy with a cap and a backpack walks up to the cashier and inspects a shelf of posters of the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight on May 2 in Las Vegas.
“How much for the posters?” the man asked.
“Three dollars,” the cashier replied in a thick foreign accent.
The man digs into his pocket and fishes out a wad of bills. He peels three dollars off the thin stack and hands them to the cashier. Another man in the cashier queue looks at him and said, “you ain’t getting those signed.”
“I can try,” the man replied.
Every day since Manny Pacquiao, the only eight-division champion in boxing history, began training for his megabuck fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. here at Wild Card, the crowd gathering at the parking lot fronting the boxing gym has grown bigger and bigger.
The people latch on to any form of celebrity who passes by, including those whose shine comes from merely being associated with Pacquiao. They talk to trainers, former boxers and even members of the boxer’s inner circle each time they emerge from the gym asking where the champ is and if he’s ever coming out. When Dionisia Pacquiao, the Sarangani representative’s mother, walks out of her car, she is mobbed by people who want to have a picture with her.
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The ultimate prize though is a moment in the sun with Pacquiao. A photo, an autograph. Anything.
Even the Christian group breaks out of hallelujahs and biblical passages to declare what they’re really here for: “We want to see Manny Pacquiao!”
They come in all shapes and sizes: Two young beauty queens fresh off their conquest oblige people for pictures as they wait their turn to meet the Pacman. People with cerebral palsy wait seven hours just to catch a glimpse of the Filipino ring icon. There are those who travel from faraway places—a friend of a friend of a friend who knows someone who has a friend inside Team Pacquiao might hook them up for a photograph or two.
Sometimes, they get lucky. Pacquiao will chat with them, sign a few memorabilia before speeding off.
Most days, Peters will have to shoo them off the parking lot with a respectful plea.
“Listen everyone,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I will need you to move out to the sidewalk because we have been receiving complaints from people that their businesses are being interrupted. So I need you to move from here, which is a private parking lot, to there in the sidewalk, which is a public place.”
“You’ve all been very good and I just need you to be better,” Peters said.
Almost every time, the crowd will follow. But a star may emerge from the inner parking lot of the area—on Thursday it was actor Mark Wahlberg—and the crowd will begin shuffling back into the private space again. And Peters will have to ask them to move again.
When Pacquiao emerges and slides into his black Mercedes Benz, the crowd blitzes toward him, all eager to get him to wave or say something. Pacquiao obliges as he drives slowly past the throng and off to Vine Street on his way home less than a mile and a half away. People get pushed, some hit the pavement and there are those who hold an unsigned three-dollar poster smiling ruefully at a missed opportunity.
“Maybe tomorrow,” the man said, adjusting his cap before walking off.
Maybe, maybe not. It doesn’t matter. Here in this nondescript parking lot, there’ll always be someone waiting for Manny Pacquiao to show up.