In 2009, Manny Pacquiao came into AT&T Park like a rock star to throw out the
first pitch at a Giants game. It had to be San Francisco’s first all-Filipino
battery with Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, himself half-Filipino, behind the
plate. When I had the chance to talk to Pacquiao afterwards, I was surprised to
be slightly taller than the boxing champ. And then I started wondering if I
might last a round or two with this guy.
That’s what Pacquiao does. He inspires hopes and dreams.
It’s probably the reason Timothy Bradley, Jr. thinks he has a chance against
Pacquiao this weekend.
Bradley does have a bit of a chance. He’s undefeated, younger, and maybe as
quick as the 33-year-old Pacquiao. But as Bradley stalks and comes in close
leading with his jab and leaning with his head, he may not have the power to
knock out Pacquiao. The head is what people talk about with Bradley. They say
he’s prone to a head-butt or two. Not quite legal, but a crafty boxer can get
away with it. Bradley will jab with his left. Pacquiao, a southpaw, will jab
with his right. Their heads will be on the same side of the axis.
Expect to see Bradley’s stalking shaved head stealthily deployed. But count on
Pacquiao, known for his motion to go sideways instead of head-to-head, creating
the kind of unorthodox angles that result in Pacquiao knockouts. Think of how
Pacquiao quickly dispatched the Brit Ricky Hatton in 2009.
That could happen again this weekend. Or maybe not.
Whatever happens, I’m hoping it’s Pacquiao’s last fight.
Even Pacquiao’s manager Freddie Roach says Pacquiao should quit, “if he looks
I don’t think he’ll look bad.
But I’m worried about his passion.
SHOULD PACMAN QUIT?
Not since Lapu Lapu killed the colonizer Magellan (April 27, 1521) has there
ever been a Filipino fighter like Pacquiao.
Pound-for-pound, at 5 feet 6 inches, 145 pounds, he’s the best boxer in the
He’s got money and fame. He should stop while he still has his wits.
I’ve been saying this since 2010 after Pacquiao beat Joshua Clottey. To quote
Country Joe and the Fish, “What are we fighting for?”
In boxing it’s all about matchups. But the matchup everyone wants, the fantasy
fight against Floyd Mayweather, Jr., remains elusive. There’s a better chance
that a unicorn will win the Belmont this weekend.
Besides, Mayweather has shown he’s on the decline. If he wasn’t enthusiastic
about fighting Pacquiao before the Bradley fight, he surely won’t fight him
afterwards if Pacquiao wins. And the money won’t be there if Pacquiao loses.
As the biological boxing clock ticks away, Pacquiao has nothing left to prove.
More importantly, Pacquiao doesn’t need to fight.
And that need, or lack of it, is the source of any doubts people have about
Pacquiao this weekend.
He’s no longer the kid fighting his way out of the barrio. He’s a 33-year-old
trying to figure out the next stage in life for his charm and talents, and Manny
has many options.
PACQUIAO, OBAMA, AND GOD
When Pacquiao became a congressman in the Philippines, there was talk of
politics as his next path. It was plausible. He won in his home district, at the
same time another charismatic figure was drawing rock star crowds around the
world at political rallies.
That politician was candidate Barack Obama, and at the time, I saw some real
similarities between the two of them.
If you think times are tough in America, visit the Philippines sometimes to get
a reality check. In many ways, the people there need someone like a Pacquiao, a
true Filipino populist, a self-made man who literally fought his way to the top
and now wants to help. He could be the Philippines’ answer to Barack Obama. He
may not have gone to Harvard Law, but he’s someone who can inspire real hope,
change, and a belief in the future. And he has the charm and guts to lead.
At that time, I thought no one else in the Philippines could do that for its
But politics is wonky stuff. And Pacquiao is no wonk.
Being a congressman in the Philippines is a lot of service work. It’s about
making policies and laws, fixing potholes, avoiding corruption.
Being president is even tougher.
Politics isn’t about knocking someone out, then going out for a night of
Coincidentally, this week finds the president of the Philippines Benigno Aquino
III in Washington to meet with President Obama. Currently, the Philippines and
China are involved in a territorial dispute over some oil rich areas in the
South China Sea. The Philippines wants the U.S. to speak boldly about defending
its former colony.
It’s a delicate dance. The Philippines has an antiquated hand-me-down military.
It needs the U.S. to stand up to China. It wants people to remember the colonial
connection without implying a return of “little brown brother” politics. The
Philippines did put on its big-boy pants when it kicked out the military bases
in 1992. At the same time, the U.S. wants a presence in the Pacific and needs an
ally like the Philippines.
Somehow I have a hard time seeing Manny Pacquiao dealing with these issues in
People have lost a lot of money underestimating Pacquiao. But all you need to do
is see him interviewed to know politics may not really be his calling.
Granted, he’s likely more fluent in Tagalog, but English is still the language
of politics and commerce in the Philippines. Pacquiao’s rhetorical skill
actually makes his singing seem better than it is.
Add to it the recent gaffe on his anti-gay marriage stand (which is mostly to
blame on a reporter’s misquote), and it’s clear Pacquiao has veered from
politics to a new path: religious leader.
The biggest revelation on the HBO 24-7 series is how Pacquiao has incorporated
the Bible into his life. He always knelt down and said a prayer before and after
his fights. But the Bible study and the change of his ways out of the ring are
Religion is actually a better fit for Pacquiao’s talents. More faith than fact,
more emotional than rational, the arena gives Pacquiao all the clout spiritually
and materially, with a ready-made flock.
Pacquiao has talked about getting a message from God to leave the ring. As long
as he’s more Dr. King than Pat Robertson, I say religion should be fine. There’s
even room for singing.
Boxing? For Pacquiao’s sake, who needs it?