LOS ANGELES – Manny Pacquiao is taking a beating in the center of this ring. He barely knows a word of this Bee Gees song, which is a bit too high and complicated for his singing skills, and he's struggling to read the lyrics off the cue cards — probably because he's wearing sunglasses in a dark studio.
Nobody at Thursday's rehearsal for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" is even slightly worried. The pure absurdity of boxing's pound-for-pound champion earnestly singing "How Deep Is Your Love" is great television, which is what the ABC talk show gets every time Pacquiao visits.
"Each time you've been here, you've won the fight," Kimmel says during their interview two hours later. "I feel like we're a team, really."
Pacquiao has made five appearances on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," promoting his pay-per-view bouts and winning over the Hollywood crowds with the same quiet charisma that helped put him in Congress in his native Philippines. After Kimmel prods and teases him through an interview, Pacquiao punctuates each appearance with a song — his duet with Will Ferrell got 1.5 million hits on YouTube the last time out.
Pacquiao has a singing career back home, and his duet on "Sometimes When We Touch" with songwriter Dan Hill made an improbable impact on the adult-contemporary charts earlier this year. The welterweight superstar has more enthusiasm than vocal talent, but that's not the point for the adoring fans who pack Kimmel's audience whenever the Pac-Man makes the short drive from his Wild Card Gym.
Pacquiao's small caravan of SUVs shows up at Kimmel's theater about two hours before taping. Pacquiao isn't driving his brand-new Ferrari because it wouldn't start this morning, and he spent part of the day hanging out with Kobe Bryant, who dropped in on the Wild Card on short notice to meet Pacquiao, his fellow Nike endorser.
Pacquiao is immediately ushered to rehearsal on Kimmel's tiny stage — all late-night talk shows are filmed in shockingly small areas. The producers want Pacquiao and Kimmel — bandleader Cleto Escobedo III is filling in — to stand back-to-back surrounded by '70s-style colored lights.
Never mind that Pacquiao had never heard "How Deep Is Your Love" before last night, when he got a copy after Bible study at his apartment. The show's staff had several other ideas for a song, including a version of "That's What Friends Are For" with Kimmel and fellow guest Eddie Murphy, or a duet on "Endless Love" with Diana Ross — but the labyrinthine process of clearing the legal rights to sing songs on a network broadcast scuttled all of those plans.
"I'm sorry, guys, because I just hear the song today," Pacquiao says to the band, which smiles and nods back at him in unison.
Pacquiao makes progress after a few run-throughs, but heads back to his dressing room to work on it some more. He passes through Kimmel's famed green room — a large cocktail party filled with beautiful people and their assistants — and retreats into a large side room filled with a pool table, video games, a pinball machine and a tub of drinks.
Pacquiao travels with the biggest entourage "Jimmy Kimmel Live" ever sees, according to the people who work there. His dressing room is immediately filled with strength-and-conditioning coach Alex Ariza, top adviser Michael Koncz and his wife, a large contingent of his Filipino friends, several representatives from companies he endorses — including the owners of the company distributing Pacquiao Produce, his branded broccoli — and a handful of camera crews, including his personal videographer.
With maybe 30 people milling about, Pacquiao retreats to a corner and tears into takeout dinner from Nat's, his favorite hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant downstairs from the Wild Card. He has barely finished eating when the crowd around him parts for Sammy Hagar and his wife. The Red Rocker is closing the show with his Chickenfoot supergroup, but he wants a handshake and a photo while comparing notes on their vocal skills.
"Don't make me look bad!" Hagar warns Pacquiao with a grin.
Pacquiao brought along his own vocal coach on his last trip to the show. This time he's getting tips from a couple of friends, including a Filipino actor with bleached-blond hair who talks him through the breaks as Pacquiao sings along to himself.
While Kimmel pre-tapes an interview for next week with "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart, Pacquiao gets a bit bored and starts playing billiards — another of his many passions. He lines up a trick shot involving 12 balls, and his entourage explodes in a roar when he sinks it.
The producers move Pacquiao into a smaller dressing room with only his inner circle of 10 people. He quietly watches Murphy's opening interview, smiling when Murphy implores Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. to fight.
When the producers come to fetch Pacquiao, an entourage member holds out his red jacket. Pacquiao then stands in front of the dressing-room mirror for about 30 seconds, patiently combing the front of his hair to exactly where he wants it.
He's a knockout guest, as usual. Pacquiao gets a huge laugh with a quip about his upcoming opponent, Juan Manuel Marquez, and he readily agrees to Kimmel's idea that he and Mayweather could get over all their differences by agreeing to a winner-take-all fight — an entertaining idea, but almost certainly illegal.
After a break, Kimmel and Pacquiao stand back-to-back on stage, doing glorified karaoke for a national audience. Pacquiao misses notes and starts too soon, but his plaintive falsetto delights the crowd clapping along to the beat.
When they finish, Kimmel puts his arm around Pacquiao and plugs Chickenfoot.