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In This Corner

By Salven L. Lagumbay

Notes from Sin City
04 Oct 2007

LAS VEGAS--Philippine Airlines flight PR 102 touched down at the Los Angeles International Airport at around 8PM Monday night, and although our flight was a virtual breeze, claiming our respective checked-in baggages was also virtually a 'baggage' in itself for the trip. (This is the time of year i remember taking the Manila-Las Vegas route would be heaven)

Prior to departure, I had the chance to meet up with some members of Team Pacquiao at the PAL Mabuhay Lounge at the NAIA. Rex 'Wakee' Salud, texting from Las Vegas, requested if I could accomodate Claire Fernandez, Buboy's wife to the lounge. My PAL Mabuhay Miles membership status allows me to bring in one companion to the lounge. The very popular Wakee must have realized I was travelling alone, hence the request.

Jinkee Pacquiao, lovely as always, told me they had a blast hours ago at the birthday bash for baby 'Princess' at a Makati hotel. "Lingaw kaayo mi. Daghan tawo," Jinkee told me, holding a plateful of fresh fruits. I had vegetable soup and of course, the ever-popular hot Arrozcaldo.

LA-based orthodontist Ed De la Vega fetched me at the airport, and sensing I was starving from the long trip, took me to a Japanese restaurant called Yoshinoya, just a few blocks away from the Wild Card Gym and home for the night, Vagabond Inn. Doc had shrimps and rice, and so did I. As usual, American food servings leave much room for wastage, and this time was no exception.

The guy at the counter told us Pacquiao and the team had left that day for Las Vegas, and was happy to see some late-arriving Filipino journalist about to make them yet another $125 happy.

As soon as I settled into my room at the Vagabond, I handed Dr De la Vega some shirts courtesy of Pacland owner Dong Secuya, who made sure LA friends get some of the souvenirs. The following morning, I also gave my friend Pex Aves two shirts for him and wife Marlen. I heard the shirts, which has the Cebu Training Camp caption and pictures of Pacquiao, Freddie Roach and Buboy Fernandez on it, have been getting high raves from boxing fans hereabouts.

I took an early breakfast at the Vagabond, then proceeded to nearby Wild Card Gym to check what it's like the day after the whole team had left for the big fight. Not surprisingly, the place looked deserted, with just a couple of lovely ladies sweating it out. But the pair of Pepper Roach and Dominic, now manning the counter, made the whole place just as boisterous while they were watching a replay of the Kelly Pavlic-Jermain Taylor.

"How are you?" Pepper asked me when i opened the closed door to the gym. Told Pepper i just flew in from Manila, and was planning to cover the fight.

"Wow, I love Manny in that fight. He will kick Barrera's ass!" said Pepper with a raised voice. Pepper then went on to describe his experiences in the Philippines, including visits to Davao, Kidapawan and Manila.

"Amazing! There was a crocodile in my hotel room! They say it was iguana. But geez, i just told them to get rid of that from my room," said Pepper, before laughing at himself for riding on a bus where a 14-year-old boy was driving and horns kept blaring. "Philippines! I just love it, baby!." he shouted.

Pex Aves, driving his 2007 Mercedes Benz SUV, picked me up at around 10AM, and after giving him a couple of the shirts, drove me to AC Wireless, where I bought some load for the T-Mobile sim I had. Faye, who manned the store early morning, was happy to see us again, and looked worried Bert Batawang's fight kept getting postponed. When told it's definitely happening according to the IBF, Faye seemed to calm down.

"Mabait yan si Batman," Aves, who has a name for just about everyone, referred to Batawang, to which Faye had a quick retort.

"Si Ninja yun, hindi si Batman," insisted Faye.

After a quick lunch at a Filipino restaurant, Pex brought me to the Greyhound Bus Station in Alameda, before i finally took off at 1PM for Vegas, where a five-hour travel was extended to six no thanks to an extra-careful bus driver.

Ferdinand Dalope, a Vegas-based businessman associated with my good friend Jun Laquindanum, picked me up at the Greyhound bus station, and brought me to the Marriott Courtyard, home until October 4, with North Cotabato Vice-Governor Emmanuel Pinol.

Pinol, who is doing the television commentary on Saturday with the highly-respected Quinito Henson and possibly Chino Trinidad, had arrived yesterday on another PAL flight that touched down at the McCarran International Airport via Vancouver.

Tomorrow, I need to transfer to Rio Hotel, themed after Rio De Janeiro, along with my Chicago-based friend Rolly Hiso. Pacland's Ninong Quatro-Katorse, as in the past, had offered us a room there, a welcome treat for a peripathetic journalist like us.

Today is expected to be a busy day, with the final press conference slated in the afternoon. I'll also try to find time to drop by Hard Rock Hotel, to catch a glimpse of the Bernabe Concepcion weigh-in.

MORE UPDATES...Even at more than 7,000 miles away, WBO minimumweight champion Donnie Nietes' fame has reached to this world's fight capital. Not a few friends have asked me some info on the newly-crowned champion, a virtual manifestation of the power of the internet (say it, how much is Manny Pacquiao spending for the travel of freeloaders and rah-rah boys? I don't have the figures as of yet, but it should be dizzying...Freddie Roach got his request approved when Tony Weeks was chosen to be the third man on the ring for the rematch. Initial victory for Team Pacman, it should be. Roach had been very vocal about the choice of refereee, based on initial interviews on him while he was still in Cebu.

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