LOS ANGELES — He’s the guy who is often seen standing right next to Manny Pacquiao during numerous chats with reporters.
He is a jolly guy with an infectious laugh and a sharp wit.
His name? Fred Sternburg.
Since 2005, Sternburg, born in Washington, D.C., has been serving as Pacquiao’s publicist.
Whenever Pacquiao is getting ready to fight in the United States or elsewhere, Sternburg will be right in the thick of the action doing what he does best.
Through the years, the two have developed a strong bond.
“He has taught me incredible life lessons, too numerous to list. His loyalty and belief in me made me better at my job and gave me the confidence to expand beyond the boxing world in telling his story,” Sternburg told Daily Tribune.
Pacquiao brought Sternburg around the world and the Denver-based publicity guy swore he had fun every second of it albeit the topic of discussion revolved around politics.
Now that Pacquiao is at the crossroads, Sternburg could not help but remember the things that struck him the most.
“I’m going to miss the daily discussion of Philippine politics, his fervent desire to improve the quality of life for so many in his country who have never had someone like Manny champion their cause, and his passion to eradicate corruption in government,” he said.
During the last camp for the Yordenis Ugas fight, Sternburg camped out as well at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, taking notes from the sidelines while releasing catchy and fun press releases and advisories for the media.
“What I will miss most is interacting with a good friend. Manny and I saw each other five to six days every week from 5 July to 22 August during this past training camp. No one worked harder than he did just like in every training camp, and no one was more fun.”
Then already a marquee name in the world of boxing public relations and advertising, Sternburg recalled the time he got the call from Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum about 17 years ago.
“In late 2004, I received a call from (publicist) Lee Samuels at Top Rank. I had done some work for them in the past. Lee told me that Top Rank was co-promoting (Erik) Morales vs Pacquiao with Murad Muhammad, who was Manny’s promoter, and Bob Arum wanted to see if I would be interested in doing the public relations for Manny in the promotion.”
Sternburg said the first time he met Pacquiao was during the kickoff press conference for the first Morales fight.
They didn’t exactly hit it off right away.
“I believe the press conference announcing the fight took place at The Beverly Hills Hotel in December 2004 or January 2005. That was the first time Manny and I met. The fight took place on 19 March 2005. Doing the PR for Manny in that fight was a lot different than it is now. Manny’s grasp of the English language then was a work in progress, though, to his credit, he worked hard on becoming fluent.”
As their tandem enters its 17th year, things have changed dramatically.
With Sternburg’s expertise and reach, Pacquiao went on to grace the cover of Time magazine, got profiled on 60 Minutes and guested on Jimmy Kimmel Live nine times. Sternburg also made sure his most important client gets valuable space and airtime on major US dailies and television networks, respectively.
“Seeing Manny’s evolution from a left-handed powerhouse into a two-fisted wrecking machine was very impressive and brought a lot of fan and media attention as it progressed,” Sternburg said, citing the landmark win over Oscar De La Hoya in December 2008 was “the most fun.”
But while his association with the future Hall of Famer produced mostly momentous events, it also had its dark episodes.
The saddest and most shocking part was the fourth fight with (Juan Manuel) Marquez (in December 2012). Manny was literally seconds away from finishing off Marquez and then the unthinkable happened.
“After the post-fight press conference, I began the long walk back from MGM Grand to THE Hotel at Mandalay Bay. Walking past the Top Rank-HBO after party at MGM Grand and hearing everyone there having a good time only depressed me more. I called someone from Manny’s security team to check on Manny’s condition and he told me Manny had been released by the hospital and was already back in his suite. I was relieved to hear that.”
“As I walked into THE Hotel’s lobby, I bumped into (then adviser) Michael Koncz and asked him if it would be okay if I went up to Manny’s suite to say hello. Michael said no problem and up we went. The scene inside was not what I expected. Instead of the usual packed suite, every room was empty with the lights dimmed. Inside the master bedroom I found Manny, his mother and Jinkee sitting on a couch sharing a quiet, simple meal. All in good spirits.”
“Then Manny popped in the DVD of the fight and watched the entire fight. He wanted to know the mistakes he had made so he could work on them and improve for the next fight. Manny is always the student. He was happy. He asked me to issue a press release congratulating Marquez and letting everyone know he was fine and wishing everyone a joyous holiday season. After we discussed his quotes, I returned to my room, wrote the release and sent it out. I was amazed at his positive attitude and clarity.”
The Ugas defeat also left Sternburg deflated, too.
“In the recent Ugas fight, Manny said it best, ‘I fought my best but my best was not good enough tonight. No excuses.’ It was a disappointing result. But four months shy of 43, Manny had fought a very close and competitive fight,” said Sternburg, whose first work in boxing publicity was during the Sugar Ray Leonard vs Marvin Hagler fight in 1987.
Aside from his boxing-related works, Sternburg, who took up Political Science at Syracuse, also did PR work for the PGA Tour and LPGA as well as ATP and WTA events.
But obviously, his work with Pacquiao is something that will have a special place in Sternburg’s heart.
“What I will always remember Manny saying is this: ‘I could easily forgo politics, but not the opportunity to serve.’ That is the core of Manny Pacquiao to me.”
In the event Pacquiao retires and runs for the highest position in the land, there is just one thing Sternburg will regret not doing as he swears that the champion has a heart of gold.
“He wants to raise the morale of the Filipino people. That’s what inspires him every day. He wants to make the Philippines an example to the world that his nation can change for the better and improve the lot of its citizens; to make the Philippines prosperous.”
There is a tinge of sadness in Sternberg’s words that another chapter is about to close in anticipation of a new dawn.
“Manny’s boxing career may be near its end, but his real fight has really just begun. I will miss not being part of that fight.”
Take a bow, Fred Sternburg.