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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Manny Pacquiao: New icon of world boxing

The consensus best boxer in the world, pound-for-pound. The new face of boxing. A modern-day Henry Armstrong.

These are some of the flattering descriptions iconic Pinoy boxer Manny “PacMan”Pacquiao has earned for himself as he basks in the pinnacle of fistic success, opening doors to even greater wealth and fame for the former street hawker.

Pacquiao, PacMan to his legion of fans worldwide, is probably the most successful and most popular Filipino sportsman ever. Already considered a national hero in his country, 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.

His masterful domination of De La Hoya fortified Pacquiao’s hold as the No. 1 boxer in every mythical best pound-for-pound listing in the sport. And with the recent retirement of De La Hoya, Pacquiao inherits the mantle of leadership as the new face of boxing.

“Beating De La Hoya takes Manny’s boxing career to a whole new level,” Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach told this writer in an interview before the “Dream Match” in Las Vegas.

These words of the renowned American coach, who has trained 23 world champions, proved to be prophetic. He also proved the critics wrong, including some PacMan fans, who thought Pacquiao-De la Hoya to be a massive mismatch.

Boxing’s top draw

As boxing’s top draw, Pacquiao can now choose his fights and even dictate his purse. For his coming super fight with British star Ricky Hatton but, Pacquiao is guaranteed $12 million. This amount could go up at least several million dollars more, if the fight’s pay-per-view numbers turn out to be good as expected.

If popularity is a good measure of personal triumph, then the former street urchin-turned-international sports celebrity is certainly a huge success. PacMan is the only Filipino listed in the 2009 Time Magazine “Time 100,” a survey of the world’s most influential people. So far, Pacquiao has garnered 20.3 million votes, outstripping all sports stars in the list and assuring him a slot among the world’s top movers and shakers.

Among the sports personalities included in the elite list are National Basketball Association superstar Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, Brazilian soccer sensation Kaka, Racecar driver Danica Patrick of the US, New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriquez, billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and tennis superstar Rafael Nadal of Spain.

Modern-day Henry Armstrong

But what matters most for most die-hard boxing fans is perhaps the pundits’ putting Pacquiao in the same category as the peerless Henry “Homicide Hank” Armstrong, the late 1930s boxing legend.

Veteran boxing writer Jake Donovan of said Pac-quiao is one of the best boxers of his generation and is assured of his place among the elite boxing greats in history.

“Going into the [De La Hoya] fight, the assessment of Manny Pacquiao’s leap-frogging through weight classes conjured up memories of boxing’s most famous triple treat, Henry Armstrong,” Donovan said.

Donovan was referring to the “legendary human windmill” who became the only fighter in boxing history to simultaneously reign as lineal champion in three separate weight classes, ruling the roost at— in order—featherweight, welterweight and lightweight.

Pacquiao won the World Boxing Council junior lightweight crown by split decision from Mexican three-time world champion Juan Manuel Marquez on March 15, 2007, annexed the WBC lightweight crown three months later via a scintillating knockout of David Diaz in the 9th round.

And although no belt was at stake during his fight with De La Hoya, boxing pundits believe that beating the sport’s most famous fighter in such lopsided fashion was like winning another world crown.

“In fact, a new discussion begins. It doesn’t end with his referral as a modern-day Henry Armstrong,” Donovan said.

“It instead extends to where he belongs among the ranks of names like Armstrong, [Muhammad] Ali, [Joe] Louis, [Roberto] Duran and [Sugar Ray] Robinson after . . . scoring an upset of the ages after forcing Oscar De La Hoya to quit on his stool after eight shockingly one-sided rounds.”

‘Pambansang Kamao’

Dubbed as “Pambansang Kamao” (Nation’s Fist), 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 firearms and declare a self-imposed truce with the military during his bouts so they would be able to watch him fight.

Born on December 17, 1978, to a poor family, Pacquiao became a street hawker at a tender age, selling doughnuts to help support his family. It is in the city streets where he developed his toughness and a liking for boxing.

By his own accounts, Pacquiao had his first fight at the age of 12 during which he earned P50 (almost equivalent to a dollar). He promptly gave the money to his mother for her to buy rice.

Pacquiao started his professional boxing career at the age of 16 at light flyweight (106 lbs). His early fights were mostly four or six-round bouts in small local venues and were shown on Vintage Sports’ Blow by Blow, an evening boxing show.

Following his professional debut against Edmund “Enting” Ignacio on January 22, 1995, which Pacquiao won by decision, he quickly racked up 10 more wins, four of them by stoppage. He was so active he fought 11 times in less than 12 months.

Rebounding from defeat

His first loss was a third round knockout to Rustico Torrecampo, on February 9, 1996, after Pacquiao failed to make the weight. As a result, he was forced to use heavier gloves than Torrecampo, putting Pacquiao at a disadvantage.

Pacquiao moved up to flyweight (112 lbs) and earned his first world title shot on December 24, 1998, and knocked out World Boxing Council flyweight champ Chatchai Sasakul of Thailand.

After just one successful defense of his titl—a fourth round technical knockout or TKO—over Gabriel Mira of Mexico, Pacquiao lost his WBC flyweight title to Thai Medgeon Singsurat via a third round knockout at Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand. Technically Pacquiao lost the belt at the scales as he failed to make weight for the fight. He was drained of energy trying to make the weight, which explained his lackluster performance.

Moving up to super bantamweight (122 lbs), Pacquiao won the WBC International Super Bantamweight title via second round knockout of Filipino Reynante Jamili. He then defended his title five times by knockout.

Team up with Roach

Deciding to fight in the United States, Pacquiao in early 2001 walked into Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood and told Roach he was looking for a trainer. Roach immediately took Pacquiao in after seeing the Filipino shadow-box in the ring. Thus started the highly successful Pacquiao-Roach partnership.

Shortly thereafter, Pacquiao got a big break when he was picked as a last minute replacement to challenge International Boxing Federation Super Bantamweight champion Lehlohonolo Ledwaba on June 23, 2001, at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas.

Pacquiao scored a stunning upset, winning by TKO in the sixth round as the referee stopped the fight.

PacMan went on to defend his second world title five times before being held to a sixth-round technical draw by Agapito Sanchez on November 10, 2001, in San Francisco because of head butts. The Filipino sensation then successfully defended his title four more times by knockout.

Defining win

His defining moment came on November 15, 2003, when Pacquiao again moved up in weight to featherweight to fight Mexican three-division world champion Marco Antonio Barrera. Though a heavy underdog, Pacquiao stopped Barrera in the 11th round, inflicting the Mexican icon’s first ever knockout loss.

For stopping the legendary Barrera, The Ring magazine awarded Pacquiao the world featherweight title, which he held until relinquishing it in 2005.

About six months later, Pacquiao went on to challenge another respected Mexican champion, Juan Manuel Marquez, then holder of the World Boxing Association (WBA) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) Featherweight titles. That fight ended in a controversial draw after Pacquiao decked Marquez three times in the first round but lost most of the latter rounds. One of the judges later admitted making an error in the scorecards because he scored the first round as “10-7” in favor of Pacquiao instead of the standard “10-6” for a three-knockdown round.

On March 19, 2005, Pacquiao fought Mexican Erik Morales, another three-division world champion at the MGM Grand Arena in the first match of what is considered one of the most thrilling trilogies in modern boxing history. Morales won by unanimous decision over a bloodied Pacquiao—the result of a cut he suffered early in the fight.

The Filipino fighter would soon avenge his defeat in decisive fashion as he inflicted Morales’ first knockout loss in the 10th round in their rematch. Getting sharper with every fight, Pacquiao thoroughly dominated the iconic Mexican champion with a third round stoppage in their rubber match on November 18 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

‘The Mexicutioner’

On his way to the top of the world’s pound-for-pound rankings, Pac-quiao defeated 10 of the best Mexican prizefighters, including three future Hall of Famers: Barrera, Marquez and Morales. This accomplishment would earn him the nickname, “Mexicutioner.”

“I don’t like being called Mexi-cutioner because I respect the great Mexican fighters I have met in the ring, and I respect and love the Mexican people,” Pacquiao, ever the humble and gentleman, said in one of his stops in the Bay Area.

In his last two fights, the Filipino sports hero stopped David Diaz of Chicago and De La Hoya.

Pacquiao has gone a long way from the lanky street kid who got paid P50 for his first boxing match to the world’s highest paid professional boxer. His act will definitely be hard to match.


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