WAR, BABY, WAR: Why the World Loves Manny Pacquiao


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When Manny Pacquiao was introduced to the crowd prior to the Miguel Cotto-Joshua Clottey bout in Madison Square Garden last June, nearly 18,000 fans, most of them Puerto Ricans out to support Cotto, their native son, erupted in cheers. That so many boricuas in attendance applauded a Filipino fighter whom they knew might some day be an opponent for Cotto is testament to the popularity of an athlete who stands apart from his contemporaries the same way Man o’ War stood apart from a cotton mule in the Yazoo Delta.

Long before he became a household name by whipping Oscar De La Hoya in 2008, Manny Pacquiao was on his way to the Hall of Fame by virtue of his stellar record against topnotch competition. But his amazing cultural standing in the Philippines–reminiscent of the reverence Puerto Ricans accorded Wilfredo Gomez, Sixto Escobar, and Felix Trinidad, but on a much larger scale, of course–is amazing to the outsider. Films, television shows, music, websites, commercials, politics, post office stamps–name the Filipino medium and Pacquiao has a part in its message. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo even announced a national holiday after Pacquiao demolished Ricky Hatton last May.

The Philippines has a rich boxing history, one that includes such talents as Ceferino Garcia, Flash Elorde, Small Montana, Little Dado and the incomparable Pancho Villa, but Pacquiao may well be on his way to outstripping them all. If so, Pacquiao would add a further distinction to his legacy: as one of the rare contemporary boxers to actually surpass his predecessors.

In addition to the adoration of nearly 100 million Filipinos, Pacquiao has also begun infiltrating the often hermetic American consciousness. Not long ago, Pacquiao was named to the 2009 Time 100, a list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Needless to say, it is not often that a boxer makes it into Time Magazine, or any other mainstream American media outlet for that matter, and his inclusion is a sign of his much wider acceptance.

After all, his status as ”National Fist” is not the only reason Pacquiao has become a phenomenon. Despite his negligible English, Pacquiao has earned a following in the United States–where foreign boxers rarely break through into superstar status–partly because of a humble demeanor seemingly at odds with his ferocious ring style. This is in stark contrast to some of the high profile braggarts in the sport whose boasts are nearly always undermined by the notorious “Death of a Thousand Jabs” strategy come fight night. In the case of someone like Edison Miranda or Zab Judah, crowing is almost certainly a comical preamble to being knocked senseless in the ring. Pacquiao, similar to the gentlemanly Alexis Arguello, sees no need for the heckling routine. When Pacquiao left Ricky Hatton counting atoms in Las Vegas, he made sure to remind the world that bad taste is not in his DNA: “I was just doing my job in the ring and doing my best to make people happy,” he said.  ”Nothing personal–I am just doing my job.”

Even defeat could not undermine his class. After losing to Erik Morales in 2005, for example, Pacquiao simply shrugged and apologized. He did not blubber on about poisoned Vaseline; he did not claim that his allergies were acting up or that his dog collar was on too tight during the ring walk; he did not cry about the referee or the judges; he did not invoke the fantastic laws of some unknown parallel universe and pretend that he had actually won the fight despite losing clearly. No, he merely said he did his best and came back to knock out the hard-bitten Morales twice in succession. “All I’m trying to do,” he once said, “is make people satisfied with my performance, not only in the ring, but as a champion outside the ring.”

This attitude is so unusual today that it makes one wonder whether Pacquiao is in the right sport. In fact, one of the main reasons Pacquiao is so popular is that he stands as a symbolic counterpoint to all the wooden nickels currently weighing down a pursuit that threatens to sink alongside Jai Alai as a spectator sport in America. Where other fighters, many of them beneficiaries of the HBO ”Clash for Clunkers” program, seek the easiest fights possible and are somehow illogically lauded for it, Pacquiao has earned his fame by taking on one challenge after another. Pacquiao takes the dusty cliche of  ”I will fight anyone, anyplace, anytime,” and concretizes it. Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De la Hoya, and Ricky Hatton are only some of the names Pacquiao stepped through the ropes against. Instead of entering the ring routinely as a 7-1 favorite the way so many fighters do, Pacquiao has consistently fought only the biggest names possible.  Pacquiao is not in search of fighters two or three divisions below him–as is the norm for his slacker contemporaries–he is searching two or three divisions above him.

And when the bell rings? Well, when the bell rings, Pacquiao resembles a supernova. Elite fighters today rarely understand the value of entertainment or closing the show. Some, when facing outclassed competition, prefer to soliloquize to ringside television commentators during fights or mock their opponents, more or less acknowledging that the entire affair is a joke being played on the public. Others violate the “win today, look good tomorrow” clause by never bothering to fulfill the second half of the equation. Still others become “champions” and multimillionaires by abusing crash test dummies and full-time policemen in the ring. Sixty years ago, the kind of fight put on by Wladimir Klitschko and Sultan Ibragimov in New York City last year would have been stopped by an incensed referee somewhere around the seventh round and declared a “no contest.” Then a formal hearing to determine whether penalties should be handed down to the two stink-out artists involved would follow. These days, boxers work under long-term, guaranteed contracts and rarely extend themselves any more than necessary. Not Pacquiao, however, whose intensity in the ring is astonishing.

Unlike Klitschko, for instance, a good boxer but one who often gives the impression that his only objective is to remain vertical during a fight, Pacquiao understands that risk is a part of greatness and that coasting through fights is a poor way to earn the wide-eyed attention of the world. His wins over Barrera (in the rematch) and Jorge Solis were tame affairs in comparison to his torrid battles with Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez. But this is what an off-night for Pacquiao amounts to: knocking out Solis, 33-0-2, in the eighth round and outboxing a sureshot Hall of Famer in Barrera.  How often has the public been hijacked by “stars” who seemingly confuse boxing with ballroom dancing? Pacquiao, on the other hand, firmly believes that the public is entitled to excitement.

Perhaps Oscar De La Hoya was over-the-hill when he stepped into the ring against Pacquiao. If so, Pacquiao, as a professional thrill maker, knew exactly what to do: steamroll his opponent, look spectacular doing it, and avoid monotony at all costs.

Above all, it is his desire for war, yes war, in the ring that makes him special. A combat sport without combat is, after all, a pursuit not worth undertaking, and Pacquiao is hyper-aware of his art as performance, that is to say, a hazardous theater played out for an audience secretly waiting for those isolated instances when boxing overreaches itself and becomes something else: something to gaze at in wonder, something to turn away from in revulsion. When the tangible risk of boxing is heightened, as in a bullfight, by the rare athlete willing to bring himself closer to jeopardy in order to further dramatize the spectacle, then what you have is an uncommon prizefighter and a future myth.  Despite the fact that his last three fights have been complete washouts, Pacquiao is still breathtaking to watch because of this unusual desire to create unforgettable moments through risk.

So David Diaz hit the mat like a base jumper whose equipment malfunctioned. So poor Ricky Hatton was hearing the sound of xylophones before he even crashed to the canvas, stiffened, for the ten-count.  These images, even in memory, are disturbing, horrifying, and thrilling, flashpoint personifications of Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao and of boxing itself, its terrible beauty.

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This article originally appeared in 2009.

Topics: Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya, Pancho Villa, Ricky Hatton

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  • monty

    great article!!! i was knocked-out!!! more power!!!

  • xtedgie

    You are a good and stimulating writer… your article is worth amazing and worthy for PRAISES……. I rarely admire articles but this time your my man sir…. I Salute You. keep up the good work…. May God Bless You Always… Be humble of what you are doing.. many will appreciate good things in life…your article deserves the best appreciation…

  • KuPal

    Amen bruddha AMEN

  • GINES

    hi I am one of the pacman fever, I read your article today it was amazing, I finishded the whole story how pacman was good to everybody , remember when pacman had his bitrhday he invite his opponent even valero and purchased tickets for them so that they can attend his birthday that shows how pacman restpect his opponent not like MWJ who’s mouth is so big the same with his father. the show thier color and ignorance.

  • MANG RESTY

    This article is really refreshing!!!
    I am going to put a thread just for this article anyway I would like to invite Paclanders and Boxing fans alike to chat with fellow boxing fans to chat at http://www.pacfans-corner.com

  • pacpen1103

    CONGRATULATIONS MR.C. ACEVEDO. This a Wonderful and Fantastic article of creative writing about our only National Fist Manny Pacquiao..I do love boxing before PAC-MAN,and I have always watch all his live fights from Pacquiao/Marquez I till this last May 2, against Hatton, and I consider myself a Fanatic and # 1 Fan from New Jersey. I’d read articles on PACLAND, but the article you wrote today, blow me away. Good Job and God Bessed!!! I’ll be wating for your next piece…Thank You, see you in Vegas, Nov.14…

  • mars

    nice article, in short: Pacman is
    SIMPLY THE BEST!!!

  • nixter

    nice article, win or lose pacman will be in the list of the GREATEST BOXER of all time, pacman makes boxing interesting again…goodluck and may God bless you.

  • Onin

    Nice read indeed.

  • liquidgloves

    WOW!! Man, you’re AWESOME!! What an article!! Reading it gives me goosebumps!!

  • noypinga

    you are a boxing fan! nice article,

  • Vince

    A very great article..kudos to the writer..you’ve really shown how Manny strive to get where he is now.
    He fights the best competition that is available and doesn’t have any excuses when he lose. That really show you the character of a person he is.
    His legacy in boxing will be remembered for a very, very long time.
    I’m also fortunate to witness this kind of things because this might happen again after a long period of time.

  • jon

    its awesome.cant stop myself reading it again.very nice article..

  • richard

    It’s very inspiring! nice article

  • dell

    “When the tangible risk of boxing is heightened, as in a bullfight, by the rare athlete willing to bring himself closer to jeopardy in order to further dramatize the spectacle, then what you have is an uncommon prizefighter and a future myth.”
    -awesome!

  • Winston

    Great article! Keep ‘em coming!

  • al_ banderas

    nice article, i read it twice.

  • johncorbes

    this is the very first time that i post a comment
    WOW! nice article! its nice to read over and over !
    so inspiring,
    God Bless you CArlos Acevedo

  • Rigs 89C

    You are one helluva writer ! I cant help but look back again at the author’s name. I will look forward to your next article Mr.Acevedo. Well done!
    I didnt just enjoy reading the article i also enjoyed reading all 66 comments as well !
    We are lucky to live in the PacMan era, I admire the greatness of his boxing skill and I admire the personality of PacMan.
    Have a nice day everyone!

  • Batoy

    This is my first time to ever write a comment on an article about Pacman.
    But this is great read! Poetic in many parts

  • LA LAKERS

    WOW NICE ARTcle

  • Fidel Castro

    Now here is a one-punch knockout of a masterpiece by Mr. Acevedo! Most deserving of sports writers’ award if I may add! Shouldn’t this appear in all boxing websites and magazines? Oh, you should see some of the articles wasting space out there.
    You’ve managed to paint with colorful words a portrait of the very essence of Manny’s charisma and mystique. This article is a keeper for Manny Pacquiao fans. Unless you have the capacity to narrate a better story, share the wealth and forward a copy to everyone!
    MP is the epitome of a true sportsman, a great role model not just for the typical sports fan but for sports professionals as well. Want to earn people’s respect, admiration and adulation? Then reach for the stars but keep you feet planted to the ground.
    A cigar for Senor Acevedo; a toast for Manny!

  • mond@dbest

    Excellent article!!!!Pacman don’t fear anyone except God. That’s why God is always with him all his fights. ‘If God before him who can be against him’.
    Keep on writing man, you have an excellent analytical talent. More power to your column!!!

  • scorpios2

    great article
    well written.

  • bisdakinchicago

    Awesome & superbly written!!!keep it up!

  • bombom

    Dunno where you went to school but they sure made some good writers from wherever you came from…great!!great!!!great!!

  • Mayweather Jr.

    hell yah…. pacquiao is great…but not too great……. wahahahahaha

  • http://yahoo.com GEORGE

    you’re as good as Manny, he’s in boxing and you’re in writing. With this article, I scored you a perfect 10. I try to print it out as souvenir. thank you very much for this very inspiring article.

  • lucas

    good writing carlos…keep it up..more power

  • vince

    this is article is going to be a classic! keep em coming man…

  • jacolito

    kudos to the writer. you even put a smile to my wife while reading your article. great stuff.

  • Cez D.P.

    Nice to read, I’l keep your article in my hard drive to read and read your articles. Please write more, coz I’m now becoming your fan.

  • Brian James

    Like iconic Pac, your literary skills deserve a Diamond Belt! keep it up!

  • SuperHarbat

    Wow! Very very nice article!!!

  • JIM

    This is the article that I like to read….AWESOME..

  • mexicutioner

    woaaaaaahhhh. . . i’ll copy this! horayy to the king PacMan

  • Dale Nunez-Dagcutan

    Great article! Thanks, Mr. Acevedo for this great article for the PacMan. Keep it up, Man!!

  • Mark Victor Tanudtanud

    This is my first time to make a comment. What a good read. Keep on writing man. Salute to you!

  • reagan o. ammen

    i love ur article pacquiao is an example of a true pilipino, with gud character, God fearing and humble person…. Pacquiao is a living myth

  • china_boy

    AWESOME!!!

  • ClaireC

    nice read. my firts time to read articles about Pacquiao.My husband encouraged me to read ur article. Am so proud of him. Bravo for you.

  • rene

    All you said is true. Great article.

  • francis

    great article carlos. i love it. the article clearly depicted the humility of pacman. i do hope that you could write a similar article about pacman’s GENEROSITY- the way he helps his less fortunate countrymen, MERCIFULLNESS-the gesture he showed in trying to help david diaz stand up before rejoicing in his victory, KINDNESS-his inability to say NO to anyone. i would appreciate if you could dwell on these pacman’s other assets.

  • danilob19

    WHAT THE HECK!!!!!! WHY DID YOU MAKE YOUR ARTICLE TOO SHORT!! NEXT TIME WOULD YOU PLS. MAKE IT LONGER,IT’S KIND OF I WAS ENJOYING,READING THIS ARTICLE, AND THEN IT SUDDENLY STOPS RIGHT THERE. YOU’VE BETTER DO IT AGAIN OTHERWISE I’LL GONNA HUNT YOU DOWN BEFORE YOU EVEN STARTED TO MAKE ANOTHER ARTICLE,OH.. I’M SORRY I WAS JUST CARRIED AWAY BY THIS NICEST ARTICLE OF THE DAY. THANKS AND CONGRATS. PEACE!!!!

  • rommel valmores

    One great piece.. Well done sir..

  • EsGuerrero

    Great Article! thanks and congrats!

  • Pacland

    Manny is the perfect example of just doing your best and staying humble no matter the result may be. it isnt who won or who lost, its what you did which matters most. Manny definitely enjoys his job and excels in it, performance and entertainment. doing your best and hopefully the one up there grants you the yes, is the tool to his success. Manny is indeed the perfect example of how life should be, stay humble in glory and in defeat, reason why who and where he is today. He becomes a better person/fighter in both circumstances, win or lose.

  • johnly

    clearly i was touched by ur article sir…
    one of the greatest article i have read.
    keep it up and write more… pls….

  • Sammy Nang

    I seldom comment like this. But whether you are Pacnuts or not you are damn good writer in terms of coherence, logic and content. There is depth in analysis and full of balance. Yet the best part is the concise and flowing sytle of presentation.
    Do you write often?
    Good work!

  • JohnPaulFutbol

    Yeah CA!!! 100 comments and counting, uptown for you!