VANCOUVER (May 1) — Idolised by millions of Filipinos around the world and hailed as the new face of boxing by the pundits of pugilism, Manny Pacquiao will take to the ring in Las Vegas on May 2 at 3:30 P.M.
His opponent is the the Hitman from Manchester, Ricky Hatton.
But the championship belt and cash from the C$90milllion super fight at the MGM Grand is secondary for the Asian golden boy dubbed the “Pacman.”
The main prize for Pacquiao is Filipino pride.
From the streets of Manila, to the ships manned by Filipino sailors and in all the cities stocked by armies of Filipino migrant workers, the world will stop on Saturday.
Here in British Columbia, home to some 90,000 Filipinos, excitement is building for the hotly-anticipated Vegas bout.
Bobby Gangoso – past president and current sports director of Filipino community service group De La Salle Alumni Association of BC – says the “Manny & Ricky Show” will provide the backdrop to hundreds of house parties throughout the Metro Vancouver region Saturday.
He’s already got 25 friends headed to his home to catch the fight on the bigscreen, with more calling daily for an invite.
Describing himself as “Manny’s Number 1 fan,” Gangoso says he’s been following Pacquiao’s exploits since the flashy fighter took the IBF Super Bantamweight Title from Lehlohonolo “Hands of Stone” Ledwaba on June 23, 2001.
“I then saw him fight the first time when he knocked out Jorge Julio in the under card of the Tyson/Lewis fight in Memphis on June 8, 2002 . . . but I became his Number 1 fan when he TKO’d (Marco Antonio) Barrera in San Antonio on Nov. 15, 2003.
Gangoso says he, like most Filipinos overseas, has followed the Pacman’s career on Pay Per View television and even on YouTube, the popular Internet video portal.
“As much as I enjoy and admire his boxing skills and how he delivers a true performance every fight, the most amazing thing that makes me proud is his humbleness,” Gangoso said.
“From being a street kid to a worldwide phenom, I’ve not seen anyone remain as humble as Manny has. For that I am as proud of Manny as him being a Filipino.”
As Pacquiao prepared to go to war for the 53rd time in a career in which he has secured 47 wins, 35 by stoppage, losing three fights and drawing two, he told newspaper reporters that his homeless and penniless background has prepared him for the big fight.
In an interview with the Manila Times he said: “Before I got to Manila I worked as a baker back in Bukidnon. I was a child but it was the only way I could put bread on the table for my family. In Manila I was on my own and had to work to survive. I worked in construction, painted houses and sewed clothes in a factory and all the time I trained to be a fighter. Other people may forget this but I will never forget. This is what drives me to be the champion I am for my people.”
Pacquiao, 30, brought up a Catholic and still deeply religious, takes his faith and his position as a standard-bearer for his people seriously. Even strangers who turn up at his home in General Santos City in the south of The Philippines – which they do incessantly looking for money and food parcels – are never turned away from his door.
“God has given me a gift and it is my duty to share the fruits of this gift with my people,” he told the Times.
For Filipinos, the big fight comes as a welcome distraction from the political bickering, economic chaos and the vigilante killings that have rattled the southeast Asian nation.
Filipino media commentators, who have dubbed him “Pambansang Kamao” (Nation’s Fist), said Pacquiao has so thrilled millions of adoring fans that the crime rate goes drastically down every time he has a fight, because even criminals stop to watch his bouts.
It is also said that communist insurgents and Muslim secessionists lay down their arms and declare a self-imposed truce with the military during his bouts so they can watch him fight.
“A lot of people in The Philippines are willing me to win and praying for me. The guns are silent in the street every time I fight. There is no fighting, no crime. I would fight every day just for my people, if the guns will stay silent. These are the thoughts I carry to the ring and they are powerful thoughts. I am not trying to win this fight alone.”
In Las Vegas, where hundreds of thousands of Filipinos have settled and where tens of thousands more have come to watch their idol, the streets are abuzz with the heroics of the “Pacman.”
Vegas local Efren Veando, 53, described Pacquiao as a “down to earth person.”
“He started out selling cigarettes and now he’s our great champion. He understands where he started. He gives a lot of hope to the youth of The Philippines. . . I pray for him, you know,” he told the Las Vegas Sun.
The paper said Pacquiao always has a huge home-field advantage when he fights in Southern Nevada – where he’s 7-1-1 – since about 100,000 Filipinos have settled in the valley.
Like elsewhere, Pacquiao had been the talk of the Filipino community.
“He’s an icon,” said bartender Barbara Phay. “He comes from a poor family, so he’s a rags-to-riches story. He gives a lot of people hope. A lot of people look up to him.”
According to 34-year-old Phay, many Filipinos buy Pacquiao’s pay-per-view bouts and watch at home with family and friends. Filipino bars and restaurants are quiet, until after the fights.
Beryl Cahapay, a 34-year-old designer at the public relations and advertising agency R&R Partners, watches Pacquiao’s fights with family. Her mother gets especially animated.
“He’s like a national hero in The Philippines,” she said. “He’s the pride of The Philippines. We’re not known for being an athletic people, so Manny is just a really good representative of a lot of people.
“Many are behind him because of that.”
Cahapay’s sister, Belden, lives in Southern California and has watched Pacquiao’s sparring sessions. She had a picture taken with him and he signed a boxing glove for her.
“He’s a very big deal,” Cahapay said. “A celebrity.”
Pacquiao’s global fame zoomed to unimaginable proportions after his stunning upset of the great Oscar De La Hoya, a 10-time world champion in six different weight divisions, last December.
Win or lose on Saturday, he will always be the people’s champion in The Philippines. – Filipino Post