April 29 (Bloomberg) -- Manila cab driver Christopher Piolo plans to take his first Sunday off in four months this weekend. The reason: Manny Pacquiao is boxing.
“Whenever he fights, the whole country stops,” said Piolo, 32, who has driven every Sunday since the boxer, actor and singer known as Pac-Man last fought in December. “Nobody wants to go out on the streets. We’re all glued to the TV.”
Pacquiao will slug it out with Britain’s Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas on May 2 in his 54th fight and first since inflicting a final career defeat on 10-time world champion Oscar De La Hoya. The Philippines is set for a surge in power demand as millions tune in, while malls and churches are bracing for a quiet time as people stay home to watch the 30-year-old fighter.
“He’s a legend, an icon, a role model,” said Father Stephen Jantuah, a priest whose church in Manila’s business district empties whenever Pacquiao fights. “He represents the whole of the Philippines, someone fighting for our side.”
Saturday night bouts in Las Vegas are broadcast live from late Sunday morning in the Southeast Asian nation, meaning many businesses feel the pinch as much as places of worship. Stores get 30 percent fewer visitors before and during his bouts, said Steven Tan of SM Prime Holdings Inc., which operates 33 malls.
“Business goes down,” said Kenneth Yang, president of McDonald’s Corp.’s Philippines franchise. “But our delivery business picks up.”
Movie theaters, venues and restaurants screening the fight stand to benefit, as do power suppliers. SM Prime, which is showing the bout in 100 cinemas, has sold out of tickets.
“The malls are eerie when the fight is on because people are inside the cinema,” said SM Prime President Hans Sy.
Electricity demand in the nation of 96 million surges 2 percent when Pacquiao is in the ring, said Carlito Claudio, vice president for system operations of National Grid Corp. of the Philippines. About 1 million more people switch on televisions than on a regular Sunday morning.
“Sunday usually has the lowest load for the week,” Claudio said. “But that changes whenever there’s a Pacquiao fight.”
Pacquiao’s rise from poverty underscores his appeal in a nation where, according to the World Bank, a quarter of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Growing up in the southern province of South Cotabato, he sold cigarettes to help his mother, a fish-cracker vendor, feed the family and would often make do with one meal a day of rice.
His mother now lives beside Pacquiao’s home, which has a boxing glove-shaped pool and gold-tinged rocking chairs. Pacquiao’s profile and rags-to-riches rise have been celebrated in a biographical movie and a hit single about his feats.
The 5-foot-6 (1.68-meter) fighter has amassed a fortune during a 14-year career that’s brought him four world titles, 48 wins, three losses and two draws, setting him up for a paycheck of at least $12 million for the Hatton fight.
Pacquiao has endorsed products from socks to pain relievers, appearing in ads for Nike Inc. and McDonald’s, and the government uses him to urge people to pay taxes. That popularity hasn’t helped him get into politics.
Pacquiao lost his bid for a seat in the national Congress in his home town of General Santos City in 2007 and he aims to re-enter politics, possibly in next year’s elections.
“I’d like people to remember me as the fighter who lifted the spirits of the Filipinos and was able to inspire and unite them,” Pacquiao said in an interview. “When you go into politics, it’s the welfare of the people that you must think of. I already have money so my goal is to help.”
‘Magic of Pac-Man’
Pacquiao is aiming for a 37th knockout when he takes on Hatton in a non-title fight in the 140-pound (63.5-kilogram) junior welterweight division. Victory would deliver a feel-good factor to a nation struggling with its slowest economic growth in more than eight years, says Father Jantuah. Pacquiao winning is “like Obama becoming president,” says the Ghana-born priest.
“No matter how difficult your life is, how poor you are, you forget your problems for a while” when he fights, added taxi driver Piolo. “That’s the magic of Pac-Man.’’
Manila Police Chief Roberto Rosales is making the most of Pacquiao’s appeal. For just a few hours on Sunday, his force will be left chasing fewer criminals.
“It’s very peaceful, the crime rate is almost zero,” said Rosales. “There should be a Pacquiao fight every day.”
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