Manny Pacquiao does the early morning jog with fans.]

LOS  ANGELES, DECEMBER 1, 2008 (STAR) By Abac Cordero - Manny Pacquiao is skipping the bus ride to Vegas.

Instead, he will take the customary four-hour drive to Sin City on board his 2005 Lincoln Navigator where he will be joined by his pregnant wife Jinkee and just a couple of relatives or friends.

Top Rank, under Bob Arum, has prepared a customized 30-seater bus, that in the original plan, should carry Team Pacquio, including the boxer himself, to Las Vegas on Monday.

However, there’s been a sudden change of plan.

“We will do what’s normal and what we’ve been doing in the past. I will drive my own car and he will ride in his Navigator,” said trainer Freddie Roach Saturday after Pacquiao’s training.

“Yes, we’re driving. He’s not taking the bus. You know Manny – he doesn’t want to change things. He’s superstitious. So why change it?” added Roach

Pacquiao has taken the Navigator to Vegas since he first fought Erik Morales in 2005, and all his fights in Sin City since then. Normally, he leads a convoy of around 12 to 15 vehicles, mostly SUVs.

In previous fights, there were plans for Pacquiao to skip the four-hour drive, and instead take the quicker and safer trip on board a private jet. But each time, Pacquiao has decided to take same old way.

The six-wheeler bus, custom-painted with huge, colorful images of Pacquiao, and announcements of the coming fight with Oscar dela Hoya, was seen parked at the back of the Wild Card Gym Saturday.

It was huge.

Jake Joson, who is part of the boxer’s management team, said it cost Top Rank $50,000 or almost P2.5 million to turn the bus into an official Pacquiao vehicle for this fight. Dela Hoya has his own.

Joson said Top Rank had offered Pacquiao the rights on the bus, and place any business ads on it as long as he pays for the $50,000. But they had problems finding sponsors, and so they took it as it is.

“Nobody in the Philippines wanted to sponsor the bus because they said it was to be used in the United States. They felt that they were to gain very limited mileage for their products in the Philippines,” he said.

“They didn’t know what they were missing,” he said.

Champ in jolly mood days before fight Updated December 01, 2008 12:00 AM

LOS ANGELES – Manny Pacquiao being in a playful mood the last couple of days only means he’s ready to fight.

“That should be a sign that he’s ready to fight and tired to train,” said his trainer Freddie Roach after Saturday’s workout at the Wild Card Gym.

Pacquiao sparred six rounds, three each with Rashad Holloway and Marvin Cordova, and Roach noticed that he turned serious only when he wanted to.

“It was not a heavy day just six rounds. He was playful in there. We’re just going through the motions right now,” the trainer said.

Even when he ran for 30 minutes at the Pan Pacific Park in La Brea, under the morning temperature of just 10-plus degrees, Pacquiao was in a jolly mood.

Pacquiao ran with just anybody who wanted to join him, his Jack Russell Terrier named “Pacman” right with him, and he smiled most of the time.

Later on, he said everything’s fine, and was happy to announce that the other day he was at 148 pounds without having to skip meals.

“One-forty-eight!” he said, then saying, “We just established that Oscar is having great difficulty against counterpunchers. So, when he throws that jab, bang-bang,” he said.

After his run, Pacquiao spent a few minutes of ribbing with team members and friends who visited him in the park. Then he worked on his abs, doing 1,300 crunches.

Pacquiao is on his ninth week of training for the Dec. 6 fight with Oscar dela Hoya, and has logged a total of 159 rounds of sparring.

Pacquiao has never trained so long, so hard for a fight, and his Pinoy handler, Buboy Fernandez, said they’ve never sparred as many rounds as before.

Roach said they’ve done everything in training.

“There’s nothing else we can do. We know the game plan. He’s in great shape. We’re just maintaining. The weight is no problem and we’re ready to go,” he said.

But it doesn’t really mean that Roach is calling things off. Pacquiao takes a rest Sunday, and closes out his sparring with four rounds on Monday.

In fact, he ordered the scheduled public send-off for Pacquiao on Monday when he leaves for Las Vegas along with his huge entourage.

Top Rank’s publicist Fred Sternburg sent out e-mails the other day calling on the Pacman Nation to be at the Wild Card parking lot for the send-off.

It would have drawn a throng of Pacquiao supporters, but Roach pulled the plug, saying “it’s (still) time to get down to business.”

“Monday is our last day of training camp and we have a lot to work on. We have discovered a new flaw in Oscar’s defense from a recent fight tape and we’re adding a new weapon to Manny’s repertoire.

“I don’t want any distractions from that and I don’t want Manny held up from a timely departure from the gym. Canceling Monday’s rally is totally my call. I’m sure Manny’s fans will understand,” said Roach in another e-mail from Sternburg.

Roach doesn't care what Hoya eats Updated December 01, 2008 12:00 AM

LOS ANGELES – While Manny Pacquiao gorged on chicken adobo, sweet and sour fish, beef bulalo, vegetable and rice during training, Oscar dela Hoya loved eating kangaroo meat which experts say is healthier than beef.

But trainer Freddie Roach doesn’t mind at all.

“I don’t care what he eats,” he said after briefing Pinoy scribes of Pacquiao’s condition which is perfectly normal at 148 pounds, just a pound off the weight limit of 147 pounds, with one week left before the big showdown.

“He came in at 148 pounds today. No problem,” said Roach.

Dela Hoya, if everything that’s been coming out is true, has been under the weight limit as early as a week ago. Roach said it may not be too good for Golden Boy to make the weight with still so many days to the fight.

Roach said he wants Pacquiao to tip the scales for Friday’s official weigh-in at 144 pounds and climb the ring at 150 where he feels that the Pinoy head-banger will keep the speed both in his hands and feet.

“A lot of weight gain is not a good thing,” he said, looking back at the Juan Manuel Marquez fight last March where Pacquiao, after weighing in at under 130 pounds, climbed the ring more or less at 145 pounds.

This made Pacquiao a little sluggish during the fight, and Roach said the same thing could happen to Dela Hoya, who must have starved himself to get to where he is right now.

“Sometimes when you starve yourself there’s a tendency to overeat. In the (Floyd) Mayweather fight (last year) he gained 10 pounds after the weigh-in. So, the more weight he puts on the happier,” he said.

“I have no doubt that food makes you sluggish,” Roach added.

He said Dela Hoya will allow himself to be weighed only during the official weigh-in, but not when he is about to climb the ring, which most boxers do.

“He won’t weigh in going into the ring. He will not and I know that for a fact. I was with him – he would not let them weigh him going into the ring,” said Roach.

Again, he doesn’t care. – Abac Cordero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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