Man who helped start it all sits quietly behind Pacquiao
LAS VEGAS—Emil Romano is a constant presence in just about every training camp of Manny Pacquiao.
It’s easy to ignore him as he just stands in one corner of Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles—watching how far his former ward has gone.
But he knows his place in the megastar’s career, because back in the dark, little-known pre-Freddie Roach era, he helped transform Pacquiao, the budding KO artist, into boxing’s only eight-division champion.
Romano laid down the building blocks of what would eventually become a monumental career no one has even seen before.
“When I enter the gym nowadays, he would ask how I am. He answers my texts,” Romano, referring to his relationship with Pacquiao now, said in Filipino. “He’s very good person, he never forgets.”
How would anybody forget a person like Romano, who helped Pacquiao just when his fledgling career was struggling?
“He (Pacquiao) approached me asking me if I could train him,” said Romano, who is now based in Carson, California, of the time Pacquiao just lost via knockout to Thai slugger Boonsai Sangsurat in September of 1999.
“I said why not? As long as he learns how to follow his trainer,” Romano recalled. “He used to be hard-headed, that’s why no one wanted to take him on.”
The first order of the day for Romano is for Pacquiao to get to super bantamweight. “He’s big. He’d be 135 pounds even when training hard.”
That started a partnership that resulted in four straight knockout victories, against Reynante Jamili, Arnel Barotillo, Korean Seung Kon-chae and then-unbeaten Australian Nedal Hussein.
“We were together for just a year, but we won all four fights,” said Romano. “Because he has it even back then.”
Romano said he watched Pacquiao rein in all his talent and mature into a phenomenal force of nature.
“Back then, he would just slug it out from the opening bell,” he said.
Romano also knows the one thing that never changed for Pacquiao: His kindness to people.
“He still respects me even though I am no longer his trainer,” said Romano, who is married to Filipino sportswriter Virgie Romano. “Every time he fights here, I make it a point to visit him and watch him train.”
Against Yordenis Ugas on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), Romano predicts a TKO win. “He’s (Ugas) flat-footed. Manny will beat him up for sure.
“But he can’t let his guard down because Ugas has the ability to keep up in the exchanges. Manny has the edge in throwing punches,” he added.
That’s coming from somebody who has watched him in silence, and has remained so even through the noise of an extraordinary career he helped build.