A YOUNG girl in pigtails weaves through a maze of punching bags hanging from the roof of the Wild Card gym, squealing with glee as she chases a diminutive, one-eyed gym hand.
After quite a run, she finally corners her prey and jumps into fight position. Left foot forward, fists raised.
“Gotcha!” she yells out, her voice barely audible amid the whup-whup-whup of gloves against bags and the tippity-taps of ropes being skipped. She is dressed in a peach shirt and matching shoes and sweat pants.
The gym hand obliges, opens his palms and thrusts them forward at the young girl—mock mitt-training.
She fires a jab at one palm then launches a right straight at the other. The girl retreats to the lap of her mother and giggles as the gym hand pretends to wince in pain and collapse to the ground.
The gym hand’s name is Shane Langford.
He is dressed in a green shirt that reads: “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”
Which may be true, except that with Shane, you never really know.
* * *
At around noon in the Philippines, Nick Giongco of the Manila Bulletin punches the digits of the Wild Card gym. It is 8 in the evening in Los Angeles and Nick is hoping that he might catch trainer Freddie Roach, who runs the sweat shop, just as he is closing up.
“Hello?” a voice says after a couple of rings.
“Hi, this is Nick, is Freddie in?”
“No. Whaddya need him for?”
“I was hoping to ask him a few questions about Manny Pacquiao.”
“Oh. He already left.”
“Oh, okay,” Nick says. “Who’s this?”
“I’m the janitor. You wanna talk to me?”
“No, it’s okay.”
“You can talk to me about cleaning. I know a lot about cleaning.”
Nick figures out who the voice on the other end of the line is. The two exchange greetings and pleasantries, share a few laughs and then bid each other goodbye.
Shane often cleans up after every gym rat leaves Wild Card. Freddie Roach often trusts him to close shop when the day is done. Shane isn’t a janitor. He fancies himself a trainer. Which he sometimes is, sometimes isn’t.
But like I said, with Shane, you never really know.
* * *
There’s a Shane in every gym. He’s the nutty gym hand; the one who people often tell you to just ignore when he gets in your face and tries to intimidate you. That’s what he tried to do the first time we first spoke.
I first saw him about four years ago, during my coverage of the trilogy-ending Pacquiao-Morales bout. I thought he was one of the former fighting Roach brothers; either Joey or Pepper.
His left eye was swollen shut, with a ripe shade of plum highlighted by streaks of purple coating it.
At least, I thought then that it was swollen shut. I thought that maybe a Pacman left straight had unfortunately found its mark on the poor chap’s eye.
Two years later, this time for Pacquiao-De La Hoya, the discoloration was gone, but the eye was still shut.
I was sitting on the corner of the ring, watching Manny Pacquiao work the double end when he approached me and glared at me with his good eye.
“Why are you leaning on the ropes, man?” he said. “You can’t be leaning on the ropes!”
I looked at him and motioned that I was actually leaning away from the ropes.
“I’m just foolin’ around,” he said. He then turned to the other gym hands who were looking at us and said, “I tried to intimidate him, but it didn’t work.”
Well, it did. That’s why I bothered to explain that I wasn’t leaning on the ropes. I just didn’t show how intimidated I was because I had pretty much known him by then and I couldn’t quite figure out right away if he was serious or not.
Because with Shane, you never really know.
* * *
Gerry Ramos of the People’s Journal steadies himself as he tries to take a snapshot of Manny Pacquiao’s sparring session.
Shane passes in front of him.
Without warning, he suddenly whirls around, shouts “hiyaa” and then tries to poke both Gerry’s eyes with his right pointer and middle fingers.
Gerry backs off in surprise.
“No man, you’re supposed to do this,” Shane says, putting an open hand sideways in the middle of his eyes—ala Three Stooges.
Everyone around him laughs.
Gerry now knows to be always aware when Shane’s around. Because with Shane, you never really know.
* * *
It is sunset in Hollywood.
Shane is hurriedly walking on Vine St., probably returning from an errand, when Gerry and Nick catch up on him.
“You going back to the gym?” one of them asks.
“Yup,” says Shane, his cadence unchanging.
Just as the group approaches the driveway leading to the Vagabond Inn—which comes just before the driveway leading to the Wild Card gym—Abac Cordero of the Star jumps out and yells, “give me your money!”
And Shane, caught by surprise, thrusts his hands into empty pockets and screams back “Aaah! I have no money!”
If honesty had a voice, it would be the sound of Shane screaming he has no money.
It isn’t his comical reaction that has the journalists in stitches. Rather, it’s the fact that Shane, who loves pulling off surprises, does get surprised, too. Who would’ve thought?
Then again, with Shane, you never really know.
* * *
Two days after the “Dream Match,” Shane was milling around the Wild Card gym, mingling among the people who were waiting for Manny Pacquiao to arrive.
Shane approached two women near the counter and talked to them.
“Hello there,” he said, extending a hand. One of the girls shook it.
“Hi, I’m Miranda, this is my sister, Christine,” she said.
“I’m Earl and I’m a farmer,” Shane answered.
At that point, I was desperately stifling a laugh.
“That’s cool,” Miranda commented.
“My brother’s a farmer, too. He has no legs,” Shane replied, before turning around and walking away.
Yup, with Shane, you never really know.
* * *
You never know.
He has calling cards stacked behind those of Freddie Roach and conditioning coach Alex Ariza on the Wild Card reception table.
The cards read: Shane. Trainer.
But you really don’t have to pick at the cards and read the name printed on it to figure out which is his.
The cards sit on a plate divided into several stacks. The thickest stack? Shane’s. Nobody ever picks his cards. They don’t seriously consider him a trainer.
But in between sweeping the gym floor or collecting unused mitts, head gears and speed balls, or when nobody’s ordering him to do anything, Shane silently sits in a ring corner, watches Freddie Roach train Pacquiao, other boxers and even MMA artists and takes down notes.
I’d give an arm and a leg to know what he scribbles on his little notes.
“Whatcha doing Shane?” I ask.
“I’m learning. I wanna be a trainer someday and people are going to ask me to train them,” he says. And just when you think he’s serious and opening up, he adds, “Then I’ll kick your ass.”
Will he be a trainer someday?
Already, a popular boxing blog has written a story about him. He has made an appearance in HBO’s 24/7 feature of the Pacquiao-Hatton bout. And people are starting to notice.
In the blog article, he tells the author about the difficulties he’s been through: Eating off charity, working odd jobs and losing fights and losing an eye.
But will he get to the level where he’ll be training world champions like Pacquiao, just as Roach, who he credits for rescuing him, is doing right now?
With Shane, you never really know.