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Bob Dylan Watched Boxer Manny Pacquiao Spar At a Los Angeles Gym

"It was like seeing one of the apostles," says a spokesperson for the boxer

Bob Dylan performs onstage during the AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Michael Douglas at Sony Pictures Studiosin Culver City, California.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
March 14, 2014 4:40 PM ET

Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao was training at Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles on Thursday, prepping for his highly anticipated upcoming rematch with WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley, when he was visited by a special guest: Bob Dylan. "He called ahead and showed up with a friend," says Fred Sternburg, a spokesperson for Pacquiao. "I've never seen the place take an aura like this, and I've been going to that gym for nearly a decade. We were all awestruck."

See Where Bob Dylan Ranks on Our 100 Greatest Artists of All Time

The gym - run by boxing great Freddie Roach - was closed off to the public at the time and only about 20 people were inside. "Manny sparred eight different rounds with two different fighters while Dylan was there," says Sternburg. "He stayed for an hour and sat on a bench that you'd use to lift weights. Before and after the sparring, Dylan posed for photographs with anyone that asked and signed autographs. Some of the other fighters took selfies with him. He accommodated everybody and smiled the whole time. But, my God, it was Bob Dylan. It was like seeing one of the apostles."

Pacquiao tweeted a picture with the musical icon, with both men clenching their fists at the camera. "After BOB DYLAN watched me train today," Pacquiao wrote. "Freddie Roach said, 'I think a hard rain's a-gonna fall on Timothy Bradley.'" Bradley, perhaps unaware of the Dylan song reference, replied, "I will be ready for a hard rain. You better be ready for a Desert Storm!"

Dylan has been boxing as a form of exercise for many years. "I was told that he used to work with Bruce 'The Mouse" Strauss," says Sternburg. "He's a huge boxing fan from what I hear." In a 2000 conversation with Interview magazine, Gina Gershon revealed that she sparred with Dylan while filming 1996's Bound. "One time he gave me a little jab in the face, and since I'd told him not to do that, of course I went insane and hit him really hard," Gershon said. "He did go down, and I almost started to cry, thinking, 'Oh my God, I'm the jerk who broke Bob Dylan's jaw.'"

It turned out that Dylan was uninjured. "He just said, 'Oh no, I need a good woman to kick my ass every now and then,'" said Gershon. "He's a real boxer. We have the same trainer in Los Angeles." 

On a 2008 tour stop in Mexico City, Dylan stopped by the Nuevo Jordan Gym and impressed trainer Rodolfo "Guerco" Rodriguez, who didn't recognize the singer. "I said, 'These old guys are going to give each other heart attacks!'" Rodriguez told the El Universal newspaper. “Dylan boxed with all his friends and he did well; you can tell he’s practiced for awhile because he landed some good shots and brought his own professional [equipment]. He knows what pugilism is and enjoys it.”

Dylan's love of boxing stretches at least back to 1963, when he wrote "Who Killed Davey Moore" about a boxer who died that year after getting horrifically injured in a fight against Sugar Ramos. Twelve years later, he wrote "Hurricane" about wrongly imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and toured the country on the Rolling Thunder Revue passionately advocating for his release.

Manny Pacquiao fights Timothy Bradley on April 12th at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas during Dylan's extensive Japanese tour.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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