Punching above his weight

MercatorNet's not trying to promote boxing, but someday this man could be the most popular president since Barack Obama.

"You're going to be the greatest fighter who ever lived," boxing promoter Bob Arum told Manny Pacquiao after his two-round knockout of Englishman Ricky Hatton on Saturday in Las Vegas. That’s a big call for a guy who is only 5-foot, 6½ inches tall, but the experts all call him the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. It’s a brutal business, boxing, but Pacman, as he is called by his admirers, seems to have stayed uncorrupted by the adulation and power of the ring. (Here’s a video of a training session.)

At home, Manny is Pambansang Kamao, "the national fist" – and is probably the most popular person in the Philippines. Given Filipino political history, there is a chance that his fans might make him President someday. And he is inspired by the thought of fighting for his country: "I go out there to do my best so that our people can be proud to be Filipino, so they can be happy and united". And Filipinos respond. The House of Representatives in Manila was unable to gather a quorum last week because so many Congressman had flown to Las Vegas for the fight. 

After he sent Mexican-American Oscar de la Hoya into retirement last December, no one could ignore Pacquiao. But the southpaw’s dismissal of "Hitman" Hatton was both spectacular and clinical. He was in better shape – he landed 73 of his 127 punches and Hatton connected with only 18 of 78 punches. He had also done his homework. Realising that Hatton had a habit of pumping his arms before he threw a punch, Pacquiao practiced for a devastating right hook which stretched Hatton out flat in the second round of a 12-round fight.

His record now places him among boxing's all-time greats. He has added the junior welterweight crown to past world titles at lightweight, super featherweight, junior featherweight, featherweight and flyweight.

Boxing is a sport which often brutalises its practitioners. But Manny is different and that’s part of the reason why Filipinos love him. First of all, he is pious, even disconcertingly so. He has no qualms about wearing a rosary around his neck before and after a match or of making a sign of the cross at the start of a round. He entrusts himself and his professional work to God. He started Saturday off by attending Mass and at the end of the fight you could see a member of Team Pacquiao pointing down to the corner, reminding him to kneel down and give thanks before acknowledging the cheers of the ecstatic crowd. And when Arum praised him for his phenomenal performance. Manny responded, "Don’t forget God."

Afterwards Manny was quick to give credit where it was due. "Everything comes from God. I owe everything to God. He gives me strength. With God on your side, anything is possible. You can do things you thought you could only dream about." But the self-deprecating boxer also deserves some of the credit. His training regime is incredibly demanding.

Pacquiao also regards his 90 million countrymen and his fans as part of his team. He’s not into the air-pumping egoism of some sportmen. "Manny Pacquiao as a person is a very dedicated person," he said in a pre-bout interview. "My fight, I’ve always dedicated to the people, especially my countrymen, and to all the people who love boxing,"

He also seems to be a genuine family man devoted to his wife and four children. His wife Jinkee watched the fight in Las Vegas. His mother came also as well. "It’s great to have her here," says Manny. " It gives me more inspiration to do my best and try my best to win." But during the clash, she stayed in her hotel room praying rosaries.

Finally, he’s not into boxing to humiliate and destroy his opponent. He always spoke respectfully of Hatton. "I was never afraid of him. But I knew I had to be careful because he’s a great champion." As soon as Hatton staggered to his feet, Manny extended a helping hand. He even expressed gratitude. "I thanked Ricky for giving me the opportunity to fight him because he put his championship at stake. I told him it’s nothing personal, that I just had to do my job, like he has to do his. I’m only a boxer so this is my job."

Future challenges? Manny replies: "Let them challenge me. I’m ready for anyone." "I'm just a fighter, doing my job, training and keeping at 100 percent."

Zen Udani is Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Macau.


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