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Destined for greater things

Manny Pacquiao turns 39 today and for a man his age, he has accomplished so much that you’d probably think there’s little else left to do in his life. But Pacquiao is destined for greater things. He hasn’t hung up his gloves and when the time comes to retire from the ring, there will be a new challenge, a new battle to win, a new mission to accomplish.

Pacquiao was born in Kibawe, Bukidnon, and raised in General Santos City. His parents Rosalio and Dionisia separated when he was in sixth grade. As a kid, Pacquiao used to roam the streets of General Santos selling whatever from cigarettes to bread to iced water to doughnuts and even did laundry to help put food on the family table. He saw in boxing a way out of poverty and slugged his way to notice knocking out opponents in amateur bouts in town plazas. Pacquiao took the nom de guerre of Kid Kulafu.

When Pacquiao was 15, he took a slow boat to Manila after a Malabon businessman Polding Correa reached out to General Santos “talent scout” Yolanda Parcon to send over a bunch of young boys who could be developed into professional boxers. Pacquiao arrived in Manila without a centavo in his pocket and was whisked to the L&M Gym in Sampaloc where he lived. Pacquiao used to sleep side by side with his General Santos boatmates in the L&M ring where they worked out. They had no blankets, no pillows, no mattress. As they lay down to sleep, they smelled the sweat and blood that boxers left on the canvas. In the morning, Pacquiao jogged. During the day, he earned some money doing odd jobs in construction sites. And at night, it was back to gym work. On weekends, he would go to Baclaran and sell sampaguita. 

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One early morning, Pacquiao woke up in the ring and his townmate beside him Eddie Caldaso had died of bangungot. Later, another boatmate Eugene Barutag died from injuries sustained in a bout. Pacquiao persevered and knew going back to General Santos would mean an end to a dream of someday making it to the top of the boxing world. Eventually, Pacquiao’s determination paid off.

In 2001, Pacquiao went to the US with business manager Rod Nazario in search of greener pastures. He had run out of competition in Asia and now looked to conquer the rich American market. At first, no promoter cared to give him a second look until a San Francisco lawyer Sydney Hall with a Filipina secretary took interest and sought out promoter Murad Muhammad. Pacquiao’s first stop was San Francisco and when he couldn’t find an interested trainer, went to Los Angeles on a Greyhound bus to check out the Wild Card Gym where two Filipino fighters Ernesto Rubillar and Reynante Jamili trained. Pacquiao met Freddie Roach and they hit it off from the start. He got his first US date when Mexican challenger Enrique Sanchez was injured in training and IBF superbantamweight champion Lehlo Ledwaba needed a replacement in the undercard of a Las Vegas mainer featuring Oscar de la Hoya against Javier Castillejo. With less than three weeks notice, Pacquiao agreed to fight one of the world’s top pound-for-pound fighters. He went on to knock out Ledwaba in the sixth round.

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Through the years, Pacquiao has become a living legend and boxing icon. He’s the only man in ring history to win world titles in eight divisions, a feat that won’t likely ever be duplicated. He has compiled a record of 59-7-2, with 38 KOs. His list of victims reads like a who’s who in the sport, including Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, De la Hoya and Ricky Hatton. No doubt, Pacquiao will one day be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Pacquiao’s life is a lesson for all. He has reformed to become a God-fearing family man. He serves the people with integrity and fervor, now as a Senator. He puts his life on the line in the ring to bring honor, glory and pride to the Filipino nation. He touches the lives of millions with his generosity. He sets an example for everyone to follow in walking the straight path and living a Christian life. He teaches us not to despair when we stumble, to rise from adversity and overcome all odds.

We are fortunate that in our lifetime, someone like Pacquiao came along so we could experience his life’s lessons. On his birthday, my wish is for Pacquiao to continue to be blessed with good health, happiness, wisdom and love. Whatever he decides in his boxing career, every Filipino will be behind him to pray for his success. When he finally retires from the ring, he will be as revered and honored as before.

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