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For Men

Sundays with Manny

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson -

We’ll cherish it for decades, of course, the way March 16, 1960 was forever etched in our hearts and minds when Gabriel “Flash” Elorde drew a collective whoop from the confines of the Big Dome, to resound all over Cubao and well beyond, when he knocked out junior lightweight titlist Harold Gomes in the seventh round to give us a world champion.  

Nearly half a century later, 10 days before he would turn 30 and 18 days before Christmas Day, Manny Pacquiao advanced the holiday cheer by carving out a masterful underdog triumph over a boxing legend.

December 7, 2008 will now go down in history as the greatest day thus far for Pinoy boxing, and surely as one of the most memorable upsets recorded in the annals of the sweet science. One might say in the sheer wildness of the moment that its unexpected quality was Pearl Harbor and the Immaculate Conception rolled into one.

It was a good day, and we should all thank the fellow who first offered up the notion of the Dream Match, much as it turned out to be a nightmare for “Golden Boy” Oscar de la Hoya. Was it really Larry Merchant, WBO honcho and TV commentator, or someone else in Oscar’s camp who whispered in his ear, and the bulb lit up to foretell of untold millions in gate and pay-per-view receipts?

And when the fab idea reached promoter Bob Arum and trainer Freddie Roach, why, yes, they said, the improbable duel could be staged, and Freddie must’ve burned the wires to GenSan: “Hey, Manny, easy pickings, he can’t pull the trigger anymore, I should know, you can take him and take him out.”

Most pundits considered it as simply another of those aberrations common to the sport, yet another kowtow to greed: matching two popular fighters in disparate weight classes, fighting for no belt but bragging rights, and cashing in on the expected bonanza, however much of a mismatch it could become.

No one, not even Roach, imagined however that the “no-match” would end up in a “No mas!” from the much bigger, more celebrated Latino American fighter. The odds were prohibitively against our Pacman, much as the favorite, the poster boy of Vegas ringcraft who continued to lord it over the sport by way of turning into a blockbuster promoter himself, was obviously declining in fighting form in the past half decade.

Oscar de la Hoya’s Olympic gold from Barcelona of 1992 had been parlayed into global icon-hood attended by great wealth, as the Latino good looks and charm honed in East LA, coupled with superb boxing skills, served the sport in good stead.

Surely, though well past his prime, his height and weight advantage would imperil the future of the acknowledged pound-for-pound best fighter in the world — because our Pambansang Kamao or National Fist of a hero would be giving away too much in a contest often ruled by small numbers: the difference of a few pounds, the centimeters that told of vertical disparity, the infinitesimal degrees that spelled better learning curves and angles of opportunity when throwing a hook, cross or uppercut.

The height, or should we say nadir, of fellow-Pinoy concern over Pacman’s derring-do in signing up for the megabucks encounter was clearly that false gambit pulled off by a politician, a legislator from the South, who threatened to ask local boxing officials to strip Manny P. of his license if only to abort the fight.

What’s he saying now? Or did he lose tens of thousands betting against our Platinum Boy? Me, I’m proud to say I won a thou worth of a gift certificate at a hair and beauty salon, of all things, against a patriotic pledge of a quarter of that amount in cash. Did I really think Manny Pacquiao could win? Yes, as he was younger, faster, in the pink, and he’d be carrying the prayers and aspirations of an entire nation perennially short of redemption — even from those who were betting their heads against a happy outcome. 

Sunday, December 7 started out as an eminently fine day — deliquescent sunshine pouring all over, and yet only accentuating the balmy air. It was a little chilly, in fact, until high noon drew near.

A son and I struggled to rise relatively early for coffee, a bit of a struggle after a “Sabado night” that fairly brimmed with the traffic of sosyalan all over town. Then we walked 300 meters to exit our village and cross Julia Vargas Avenue close to C5, to Silver City on Frontera Drive, flanked by the obligatory Starbucks and McDonald’s outlets.

Solar Sports had handed out tickets through common connections, and the venue was the Decagon on Silver City’s second floor, a showroom for motor vehicles but which hasn’t been functioning much as such since it opened last year. Its architecture helps make the area pleasant, however, with a strip of restos and bars fronting SM Hypermarket and the landmark Tiendesitas. 

I didn’t think I’d use the free tickets that otherwise sold for P500 apiece. For the past year, my son and I have enjoyed our Sundays with Manny Pacquiao in the comfort of my younger bro’s TV lounge. At 52 inches, his wide flatscreen could keep a crowd enthralled. He took care of the pay-per-view fees, and couldn’t help but offer a post-Pacquiao lunch the last two times our hero fought this year.

I scored the earlier 2008 fight as a points loss for Manny, but then we all got lucky in the scorecards, leaving Juan Manuel Marquez justifiably wailing for justice. But David Diaz was slow and lumbering, and Manny clearly proved he could step up even more in weight class.

Those Sundays, we all gained weight, too, as it was bonding time for siblings, cousins and nephews, and we owed it to Manny for getting us together when it wasn’t Christmas.

This time, however, at the last minute I learned that Solar had placed residential pay-per-view on hold. My bro regretfully passed on the rumor that Henry Sy had gotten a lock on the Dream Match’s live coverage in public venues. But Solar’s head honcho Wilson Tieng belied that, right on the eve of the fight when he formally co-launched Global Destiny Cable’s GNN Channel 3. It had something to do with rampant abuse of residential pay-per-view rights the last time out, he said.

I figured he meant commercialization and piracy, and left it at that. A colleague had also issued an invite to watch the fight at Nuvo City on C5, where he said there’d even be a buffet breakfast and leggy promo girls. Now, those could only be a distraction, I said, offering him my third ticket instead.    

The undercard went on and on despite some early stoppages. Thankfully, Silver City offered a large terrace for smokers to catch some great sun and pleasant views. Time enough to get a Starbucks cappuccino and warmed-up spinach pie.

It was a fiesta of keening, hopeful spirits up in the Octagon, where over a thousand gathered on white monobloc chairs, with Wilson Tieng himself making the rounds, busy on his cellphone. Sen. Dick Gordon smiled at everyone on his way to the loo. He had reason to be happy, as Ateneo had made it to the collegiate championship finals, a one-point turn of fate that had upended NCCA three-peat champ San Beda, alas and aiee! Solar’s Jude Turquato and fun actors Leo Martinez and Noel Trinidad were in the crowd, too, among a number of hefty six-footers who were obviously athletes in some sport or other. 

Why, this was modern-day Philippines in Christmas of 2008, reaching out across the ocean of shared sporting destiny, tuned in globally to Fight Night at high noon, awaiting a great gift that was thought to be barely possible.

The anticipation reached fever pitch as Round One unfolded. And just like that, we all recognized that speed and technique were more than a match against a heavier, taller, but aging legend. And as the pattern continued, magnificently woven by the smaller fighter, our fighter, fighting his best fight ever, just right and in time for his greatest challenge, the jubilation rose to a crescendo well before the white flag was offered. 

Came the signal and the delirious whoop echoed and re-echoed through our cities and around our islands, all over the world, in fact, from the MGM Grand to our Mideast Netizens and through SMS on roam.

We got the unexpected gift. This Sunday with Manny will live on in grateful memory.

BIG DOME

BOB ARUM

BUT DAVID DIAZ

BUT SOLAR

DREAM MATCH

MANNY

SILVER CITY

WILSON TIENG

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