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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pacquiao's popularity puts even Hatton in the shade

Ricky Hatton will take an army of thousands out to Las Vegas again in the first week of May. But even he struggles to keep up with Manny Pacquiao in the popularity stakes.
Pac Man is already fortunate enough to be viewed, by most, as the best boxer in the world right now, although Juan Manuel Marquez and the rumoured-to-be-returning Floyd Mayweather Jnr might dispute that.

But at home in the Philippines, there is no argument. Pacquiao reigns supreme.
A national icon, he has made films, had a number one hit and is planning a career in politics once he has retired.

There seems every chance he will end up running the country, certainly if emergency elections were held tomorrow, Pacquiao would have a victory to savour long before the MGM Grand on May 2.

Hatton might be able to clear a small corner of Greater Manchester when he heads to Vegas. He will fill a few Hyde watering holes up when he is beamed back live on Sky Box Office and will take thousands across the Atlantic again.

He is, as CEO Richard Schaeffer admits, Golden Boy's box office blockbuster and even the notoriously unyielding American fight fans have taken him to their heart.
But Manny Pacquiao is a man that brings an entire nation to a standstill when he steps in the ring.

The streets of Manila, his hometown of General Santos City, the whole country will stop what it's doing. In fact that's not true, because everyone will have long planned be doing one thing - watching Pacquiao.

Even the criminal fraternity take time off. And in a country where a television, never mind pay-per-view, is not accessible to everyone, that often means a trip to the cinema.
Pacquiao's fights - which fall at around sunrise back home - are big, big business. So big that TV companies can name their price on air time during round breaks - and do. So big that after the first round, those commercials will run into minutes, not just the 60 seconds between bells.

And that in turn, sends a nation scurrying to big screens. The closed-circuit screenings carry no ads so in the Philippines, if you want to see the Pacquiao fight finish first, you pack the picture houses out.

The Pacquiao phenomenon is something even promoter Bob Arum struggles to come to terms with fully.

"This certainly has elements unlike any of the big fights I've promoted," he says of the Hatton fight.

"For example, I've done Hagler-Leonard, Hagler-Hearns, George Foreman fights, Oscar de la Hoya fights. But they've never had these implications because they've never been as popular as these two are in their own country."

"Yes we can!" continues Arum on the prospect of Pacquiao running for government, enthusiastically echoing the most high-profile politician to unite a nation.
The fighter himself reigns in the campaign manager-in-waiting, suggesting it will be another 10 years before he is ready to swap speedball for ballot box.

Until then, Pacquiao will do what he has done for the 10 years he has been a world champion. Represent his nation, fight for the people that follow his every move.
You only had to see him turn up in Manchester, Hatton's home, and be mobbed to realise his popularity.

It was the same again in Vegas when ex-pat Filipinos were on hand to greet their greatest export as he broke free from training to attend a red-carpet launch.
Freddie Roach was there too, by his man's side as always. He has experienced the Philippines phenomenon, from both sides. He has also seen the draw Pacquiao has with his people: although the Wild Card Gym is their training base from here on in, Pacquiao oftens starts his preparations training back home.

It has even caused rifts between the pair, Roach insisting the fighter is in Hollywood for the full duration of camp, focussed and firing and away from all the distractions that come from being the most famous face in your country.
Roach won that battle because Pacquiao knows what he means to his people. He knows when he beats Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Oscar de la Hoya, a nation celebrates.

He knows that being regarded as the best boxer on the planet makes sure the Philippines is mentioned in some despatches at least.

"I'm representing my country and I'm a very dedicated person," he says.
"All my fights are dedicated to the honour of the people of my country. And especially to people who love boxing."

For Pacquiao the Phllippines comes first. But for now at least, boxing is a very close second in the polls.


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