MANILA, MAY 14, 2008
(STAR) By Abac Cordero - Manny Pacquiao played chess with an old, dear friend Monday evening just a couple of hours before taking a 12-hour flight to Los Angeles.

And the first thing he did after stepping in and settling down in his posh apartment unit at the La Brea area was play darts with some friends.

Yes, he may look too cool and too relaxed, but the world-famous boxer promised to buckle down to work, hard work, as soon as possible.

“No problem. I’m ready,” said Pacquiao as he left Sheraton Hotel just 90 minutes before the 10 p.m.flight that took him and his trainers Buboy Fernandez and Nonoy Neri to LA.

Pacquiao flew in quietly, in a striped shirt, dark pants and leather shoes, and was welcomed at the airport by his LA-based entourage.

Monday evening Pacquiao graced an exclusive dinner at the hotel’s fancy Japanese restaurant, one that was hosted by his close friend, sportsman Hermie Esguerra.

His wife, Jinkee, was around, and their kids, too. So were his closest friends, Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, Ilocos Sur bigwig Chavit Singson and boxing people Rod Nazario, Moy Lainez and Gerry Garcia.

Even 14-year-old Jasmine Villegas, the Fil-American lass who sang the US National Anthem during the Pacquiao fight against Juan Manuel Marquez last March, was there. She’s in the country pursuing some major career opportunities.

Pacquiao played three games of chess with Nazario, his former business manager. The old man won the battle of wits, forcing Pacquiao to resign in the third and last match for a 2-1 win.

“Pinag-bigyan lang kita (I just let you win),” blurted Pacquiao as he rose from chair and started to bid goodbye to those who joined him in the dinner.

But before he stepped out of the hotel, Pacquiao gave a couple of scribes a few thoughts on his June 28 showdown with reigning WBC lightweight champion David Diaz in Las Vegas.

Pacquiao did not give any guarantee that he’ll win, clinch his fourth world title in different weight classes, and become only the first Filipino to win the world’s 135 lb title.

“Sisikapin natin manalo (We will try our best to win),” he said, adding that anytime he sets foot in LA he’ll be ready to hit the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood and begin the tough grind in training.

“Nag-ensayo naman din ako dito (I also trained here),” he said when told that his chief trainer, Freddie Roach, will give him hell right on their first day of training, either Tuesday or Wednesday (LA time).

Pacquiao said Diaz will have nothing much to worry if he trains hard.

“May dapat ba siya ikatakot? Ikatakot lang niya kung hindi siya mag-ensayo ng mabuti (Does he have anything to fear? Only if he doesn’t train well),” he said.

“Ako ganun din. Basta mag-ensayo din ako ng mabuti (The same goes for me. I have to train hard),” said Pacquiao who now has less than seven weeks to turn himself into the dreaded “Mexican killer.”

Time starts now.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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