HOLLYWOOD – Emil Romano could have been a big-time trainer by now had he opted to go with a budding Filipino boxer who was about to make his first ever sojourn to the rich American boxing market 15 years ago.
As fate would have it, he couldn’t just leave a number of boxers under his stable, especially two fighters who were then world-ranked.
Little did he know it would be the first step in Manny Pacquiao's journey to superstardom.
“Hindi ko talaga akalain na sisikat siya ng ganyan,” admitted Romano, 51, a former boxer who once fought for a world title and was Pacquiao’s trainer when his then manager, the late Rod Nazario, decided to bring the hard-punching lefty to the US in 2001.
“Ako ang sinasama ni Nazario kay Manny sa US. kaso hindi ko puwedeng pabayaan yung dalawang boxers ko na world rated (Abner Cordero and Zarlit Rodrigo), kasi sa akin talaga nagsimula ang mga yun.”
Instead, he referred Pacquiao’s childhood pal and buddy Buboy Fernandez to go together with the former world flyweight champion to America.
“Sigurado ka ha?” said Romano, recalling what Nazario told him then.
Pacquiao quickly made an impression in his first US fight by knocking out the heavily favored Lehlo Ledwaba in the sixth round to win the International Boxing Federation (IBF) super-bantamweight crown in the undercard of the Oscar De La Hoya-Javier Castillejo light middleweight title match.
The 37-year-old Filipino went on to establish himself as an eight-time world division champion and one of the greatest boxers of his era.
Romano admitted regretting his decision, but said he’s definitely happy and proud of what Pacquiao has achieved in his career.
“May konting hinayang pero balewala na rin sa akin kasi siya (Pacquiao) hindi nagsimula sa akin, hindi katulad nung dalawa (Cordero and Rodrigo) kaya hindi ko talaga maiwan,” he explained.
While their partnership only lasted two years, Romano was by the boxing superstar's side at the lowest point of his career.
Pacquiao just lost his World Boxing Council (WBC) flyweight title to Medgoen Singsurat after failing to make the weight when he found himself without a trainer late in 1999.
He was on a comeback trail then against Reynaldo Jamili when he decided to approach Romano and asked him to be his trainer.
“Ang sabi ko sa kanya, 'Basta susunod ka lang sa akin, magkakasundo tayo,'” said Romano, who is married to Abante sports editor Virgie Tia-Romano, with whom he has three kids.
Pacquiao knocked out Jamili in two rounds of a virtual brawl in his debut as a super-bantamweight.
He would score five more victories under Romano’s watch, including the controversial 10th-round stoppage of Nedal Hussein, until Nazario decided to take Pacquiao’s act to the US.
Through all these years, Romano is grateful Pacquiao hasn’t forgotten him.
“Pagtapos naman noon, hindi ako nakakalimutan ni Manny every fight niya,” said Romano, who finally made his first trip to the US to watch a Pacquiao fight - 15 years after declining to join that journey of a lifetime back in 2001.