MANILA, Philippines - Although Manny Pacquiao failed to win a single fight this year, there is no question he remains the symbol of Filipino pride and as he turns 34 today, the entire nation celebrates his remarkable life that has brought him from the depths of poverty in the streets of General Santos City to the pinnacle of success as one of the greatest fighters who ever lived.
If there is an athlete who personifies the heart of a champion, it is Pacquiao. Whether in victory or defeat, his humility is inspiring. He never gloated as he strung up 15 victories in a row over a six-year period, ascending to the top of the world’s pound-for-pound ladder. Along the way, Pacquiao victimized future Hall of Famers Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Oscar de la Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Sugar Shane Mosley and the unpredictable Juan Manuel Marquez. Forbes named Pacquiao the planet’s second highest-earning athlete from May 2011 to June 2012 after Floyd Mayweather Jr, but if the cut-off was made a month earlier, the Filipino would’ve been No. 1 in the list with $62 Million, outbanking stars like Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Roger Federer and Kobe Bryant.
In 2004, Pacquiao received a $650,000 paycheck for battling Marquez to a split draw. A week ago, he was guaranteed at least $25 Million for his fourth meeting with the Mexican. In eight years, Pacquiao has metamorphosed into a global icon. The conservative estimate is the fourth chapter of the fierce Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry raked in over a million pay-per-view buys, making Pacquiao a certified box office attraction. Ticket sales exceeded $10.5 Million and the pay-per-view gross had to be at least $60 Million with Pacquiao pocketing a share of about $5 Million to add to his minimum. Pacquiao has delivered over a million pay-per-view hits in six fights, at least once every year since 2008.
In defeat, Pacquiao has never made excuses. Last June, he was outpointed by Timothy Bradley on a split decision that was a clear case of highway robbery. An independent panel of five boxing experts was assembled to review the fight in a post-mortem and the conclusion was Pacquiao deserved to win. But Pacquiao refused to cry foul, taking the defeat in stride and offering it up to the Lord. When he was knocked out cold by Marquez last week, Pacquiao never accused the Mexican of taking performance-enhancing-drugs to explain his incredible bulk and astounding power. Instead, Pacquiao vowed to come back with a vengeance and prove himself in a fifth duel – sooner or later. Unlike Marquez who raised a howl in three previous fights where he never won, Pacquiao extended his hand to the Mexican and credited him for a job well done after the fourth episode of their unfolding telenovela.
Pacquiao’s loss to Marquez was incidental. It won’t in any way detract from his stature as a fighter destined for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame because his legacy has been cast in stone since his emergence as the only fighter ever to capture world titles in eight different weight categories. No loss, no matter how devastating, will ever take the luster of Pacquiao’s unprecedented achievements.
How Pacquiao lost to Marquez was a testament of the style that has enthralled boxing fans since he turned pro as a frail-looking lightflyweight in 1995. It’s what has endeared Pacquiao to the sport’s cognoscenti. He pulls no punches, gives and takes no quarter, attacks with reckless abandon and leaves everything in the ring. There is no dull moment in the squared circle with Pacquiao’s unbridled workrate. He’s a crowd pleaser who gives the fans their money’s worth.
“When you let your hands go, you leave yourself open,” said Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach, quoted by Thomas Hauser in his book “And The New … An Inside Look At Another Year In Boxing.” “When you exchange and throw punches like Manny does, you put yourself in harm’s way.”
The late Emanuel Steward, the Kronk Gym founder who gained a reputation as an astute TV boxing analyst, put it in perspective. “As good as Pacquiao is, he makes mistakes,” said Steward. “And he gambles in the ring. That means he’s more likely to do damage but he’s also more likely to get hit. And Marquez has the skills to take advantage of Pacquiao’s mistakes better than anyone that Pacquiao has ever fought. Marquez has great balance and great positioning. He can take that half-step to the side and make an opponent miss. He can change his style on the spur of the moment and alter the flow of a fight as seamlessly as any fighter I know.”
From the way both Roach and Steward analyzed the styles of Pacquiao and Marquez, it seemed inevitable that an outcome, such as what transpired a week ago, would happen in a series of fights if only because of the law of averages. With a second left in the sixth round, Pacquiao went in for the kill and got tagged with a counter right that ended the fight in a dramatic fashion. Pacquiao vowed to fight like he used to when in his 20s, he bowled over opponents like Lehlo Ledwaba, Morales and Barrera. But what he didn’t factor in the equation was Marquez’ new-found strength, developed by controversial conditioning coach Angel Hernandez who has a tainted history of dealing PEDs to athletes. In contrast, Marquez fought like a 39-year-old would, relying more on power than speed to level the playing field. Pacquiao paid the price for his bravado but in his mind, that was the only way he would lose – he went down swinging. If only for that reason, he won the admiration of even more fans.
Pacquiao’s rise to fame is a classic Cinderella rags-to-riches story where the clock will never strike midnight because his destiny is written in the stars. Today, as he turns 34, Pacquiao is faced with more daunting challenges, not only as a fighter but also as a public servant. He is seeking a second term as Congressman of Sarangani province and it is speculated that in 2016, he will run for Senator. Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, 81, said he hopes to live long enough to attend Pacquiao’s proclamation as president of the Philippines.
The issue of Pacquiao’s religiosity has been raised as a distraction in his boxing career. But for a man who is used to multi-tasking, it shouldn’t be a problem. Discipline is what separates the achievers from the failures. Pacquiao is a portrait of excellence in whatever he does – he is driven by a strong faith to do the best he can to honor the Lord. Whether a Catholic or born-again Christian, Pacquiao has dedicated himself to God, believing that “whatever happens after our life here in this world, I know where I’m going – I have eternal life.”