Manny Pacquiao met his toughest fight yet last Saturday night in Macau, China, in a unanimous decision loss to Floyd Mayweather that kept him out of the ring for a year and a half. The fight itself was a sight to behold, with its beauty, trash-talking, and controversial points. But, the fight also brought forth some interesting questions that could be the beginning of a trend, like: Will Pacquiao ever fight again? Will Mayweather retire? Will we ever see a rematch?
This week, Manny Pacquiao will fight in his first bout since his extremely controversial victory over Timothy Bradley. The Filipino boxing star will challenge Australian Jeff Horn for the WBO welterweight title. After the fight, the 48-year-old Pacquiao will likely retire, but he may not be done fighting. Pacquiao has been rumored to be facing Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in the near future. Reports have said Floyd is keen to face Pacquiao, in his prime, in a fight that could break the all-time PPV record.
The new Manny Pacquiao
HE IS A QUIET MAN who is happy to watch, and his demeanor has a mysterious quality about it. Manny Pacquiao stays stationary, like a stone in the middle of a torrent, while everything around him moves swiftly and exclusively for his advantage. Men and women operate grills, carry dishes, and care to the line of rice cookers in the backyard of his opulent and very crowded Los Angeles house. Inside, a guy in a T-shirt and loose basketball shorts, Team Pacquiao’s uniform, stands next to the boss, using a pair of kitchen scissors to chop a grilled chicken breast and an exceptionally well-done porterhouse.
He hasn’t been in the ring in almost two years, but the machine has started up exactly where he left off. The chefs, cleaners, and assistants, fondly referred to as “The Boys,” reunited in Los Angeles to cook, clean, and assist. They wash laundry, chauffeur, and stand guard in the weeks leading up to Pacquiao’s bout against Yordenis Ugas, which he is claiming may be his last fight. Some come early in the morning in the Griffith Park Observatory parking lot to rope off two areas: one for agility practice and the other for ab work in the shade. Others run with Pacquiao for more than 6 miles, carrying a massive Philippine flag and a portable speaker that always seems to be blasting “Eye of the Tiger” from the bottom of the hill to the parking lot, up the fire road to the top near the Hollywood sign, then back down to the parking lot, a total distance of more than 6 miles. (“You want to become rich?” exasperatedly asks a member of his staff.) “Propose a Team Pacquiao reality program. The Kardashians would go out of business as a result “(
Pacquiao lowers his head, shuts his eyes, and offers a quiet prayer after his morning exercise, while the steak, chicken, and rice are put in front of him. A quiet buzz of activity surrounds him, as it usually does: people in the kitchen cleaning up, people in the backyard standing over grills preparing to prepare the next meal, someone out front ensuring sure no one illegal enters the property.
Pacquiao raises his head and his eyes open. Sean Gibbons, his manager, inquires, “Senator, what do you have planned for breakfast? What about chicken and rice?” Pacquiao grins and raises and lowers his brows like butterfly wings. Gibbons chuckles. It’s a running joke between them: Pacquiao eats the same meal every day, and Gibbons asks the same question every day. “Do you have any idea what he eats on cheat days?” Gibbons inquires. “It’s a banana,” says the narrator.
Pacquiao’s battle against Yordenis Ugas on Saturday will most likely mark the conclusion of his boxing career and the start of a new one for the 42-year-old. MP Promotions/Wendell Alinea
Pacquiao’s aura has taken on a ceremonial aspect as he prepares for Saturday’s bout against Ugas, a stand-in for Errol Spence Jr. More people than ever crammed the Griffith parking lot to film the exercises on their phones and queue for autographs. More people than ever gathered outside Hollywood’s Wild Card gym to see him arrive and leave. Pacquiao’s entourage is also gearing up for the next chapter of his career. The swirl of doubt and discomfort has intensified, as has the jockeying for position within the Pacquiao hierarchy, which has always been fierce.
The stakes are enormous, if not deadly, and they extend beyond what will happen in the ring. As Pacquiao, a member of the Philippine Senate and a potential presidential candidate, delves deeper into the country’s politics, with its history of patronage and shaky alliances, he finds himself in a position no one could have predicted just a few years ago: at odds with President Rodrigo Duterte. As Pacquiao’s emphasis has shifted from boxing to politics, Duterte’s threats, both explicit and implicit, have become more serious. A fearful undercurrent flows under the surface; everyone around Pacquiao, regardless of position, is on the front lines alongside him.
A lady approaches Pacquiao’s table after he finishes his meal and talks to him softly in Tagalog. Pacquiao nods, and the lady walks up to him and introduces him to a young Filipino guy. The guy is fidgety and seems to be overwhelmed by the situation. Pacquiao gives him a nod, indicating that he has the floor, and the guy starts babbling like a hungry man, spouting a barrage of rehearsed phrases.
He replies, “You’re a terrific boxer, but you’re a better person.” “I believe you are best for the Philippines because you could do so much to assist that no one else could, and God will always reward you for it, and you should be the next president. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.”
“Thank you,” Pacquiao replies as he nods once more. As if fleeing from a ghost, the guy steps back, his hands clasped at his waist.
This guy’s life is in jeopardy. Man. A succession of minor miracles have occurred. He’s a national figure and a senator who has all but confirmed his intention to run for president in the May election. Every bout offers a doorway into all that came before as he winds down a boxing career that may never be duplicated. Abject poverty paved the way for unimaginable success, which in turn paved the way for self-destruction, remorse, and a spectacular second act. Every training camp, every battle, it all comes back. Opponents have always been little more than blank boxes on a paper he has to complete. But now it’s very certainly the end of his career in the ring, and at 42, the start of a new battle. This is one he didn’t see coming, up against an opponent who, unlike the 72 who came before him, follows only his own set of rules.
Pacquiao was an enthusiastic and unquestioning supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte during the first five years of his six-year tenure as a Philippine senator. He supported the strongman’s most autocratic measures, including as the drug war, which has resulted in the extrajudicial execution of thousands of Filipinos, the majority of whom are among the poorest in the nation. The backing seemed to be politically advantageous: Duterte, who is adored and hated in equal measure in the Philippines, has backed Pacquiao’s candidacy to succeed him.
Pacquiao, who had never appeared to embrace any philosophy other than Duterte’s, started to distance himself from his buddy and president in June. He accused Duterte’s administration of corruption. He chastised the president for being soft on China on trade problems in the South China Sea, which is a significant source of worry in the Philippines. Manny Pacquiao, in a surprising move, launched a one-man revolt.
Pacquiao now adds, “This is nothing new.” “Since I took office, I’ve been investigating corruption. I believe the president despises corruption as well, and I’m attempting to assist him.”
When Pacquiao initially broke ranks and accused the administration of corruption last month, Duterte’s answer was straightforward: “Prove it.”
Within days, Pacquiao appeared in front of cameras in a fitted suit, holding up documents he claimed showed the government had misappropriated more than $200 million in COVID relief funds meant for the needy. He said, “This is only one of the things I’ve found.” “It’s only been three days since I accepted your challenge to provide evidence,” says the narrator.
Few opponents of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte have been as outspoken as Pacquiao this summer in accusing his erstwhile friend of corruption. ESPN’s Cheryl Diaz Meyer
The allegations are nothing new for Duterte, who has faced many allegations of corruption. His tenure expires in June, but he has developed a Byzantine scheme to keep his position as the country’s shadow leader: He has supported his oldest daughter, Sara, for president and has stated his desire to run for vice president (the Philippines has a separate election), in part to benefit from the protection granted to the vice president by the country’s constitution. (While there is debate among Philippine constitutional experts over whether the vice president has immunity, a president cooperating with Duterte, such as his daughter, may offer de facto protection by discouraging inquiries.)
Few detractors, though, have been as outspoken as Pacquiao has been this summer. The presidential palace has retaliated with a series of tirades and threats as a result of his outspokenness. Pacquiao is “punch-drunk,” according to Duterte, and lacks the mental ability to be president. During a press conference, he labeled him a “s—-.” Instead of traveling to the United States to prepare for a bout that would earn him millions, he recommended Pacquiao remain in the nation and investigate. This final charge was seen as a gift to Pacquiao, whose bouts have a special place in Philippine history as one of the rare occasions when people from all walks of life can share national pleasure and pride. With most of the country under tight COVID lockdown and poor vaccination rates, Duterte’s assault on Pacquiao’s boxing career seems politically irresponsible at best and desperate at worst.
Even the battle against Ugas, a disappointing opponent following Spence’s withdrawal due to a torn retina, is a matter of national significance in the Philippines. Unless a bout with Spence can be organized during the campaign season before the election in May, Pacquiao’s boxing career is likely to come to an end. When Pacquiao isn’t there, the Boys, at least those outside the inner circle, will go back to doing whatever it is they do.
“No, it is not permitted under the constitution,” Pacquiao replies when I ask whether he’d consider continuing his boxing career as president. He grins, anticipating the inevitable follow-up question: Why?
“You can’t strike the president,” he claims. Everyone at the breakfast table is taken aback, and Pacquiao exclaims, “That is correct. Nobody can strike the president, according to the constitution. The presidential guard may even murder someone who attacks the president, according to the constitution.” When I tell Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s longtime trainer, this knowledge, he replies, “Oh, you’re serious? That was new to me. So, I suppose that’s all there is to it.”
THIS TIME, IN ADDITION TO THE CELEBRATION that always precedes a Pacquiao bout, there is a sense of uneasiness. Uncertainty over the future of his boxing career, as well as the safety of those who associate with someone who openly accuses Duterte’s administration of corruption. When his supporters show worry about Pacquiao’s health, the health of his family, or their own, Pacquiao responds, “Act as if you’re a balloon. Allow stones to bounce off you when they are thrown at you. Assume everything is OK.” (It’s an odd metaphor; after all, balloons burst when they come into contact with sharp edges.) According to many who know him, this usually upbeat reaction is only another evidence of his relentless discipline. He refuses to be affected by Duterte’s assaults in the same way he avoids cold drinks and processed sweets. “You will never achieve your goal if you stop and hurl rocks at every dog that barks,” he writes on a blackboard at the Wild Card gym, where he practices before each bout, credited to Winston Churchill.
“How can I explain the Philippines’ corruption?” he inquires. “It’s seriously polluted and unfathomable. I believe the money we authorized for the pandemic provides more than enough resources to manage and respond to the situation. I’m not suggesting everyone is crooked, but certain organizations have mishandled money, and individuals have suffered as a result. People are starving to death. It’s easy to say, ‘Oh — lock down,’ when dealing with a crisis like the epidemic. ‘It’s all hands on deck.’ But you have to make sure people can eat, or else there will be greater and bigger issues than the epidemic,” he says, clapping his fists.”
Politics in the Philippines, particularly under Duterte, is intensely personal, and Pacquiao is quick to distinguish between what he’s doing — criticizing Duterte’s employees, such as Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, whom he told, “If I were the president, I would replace you” — and directly criticizing Duterte.
Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carlos Conde, based in Manila, adds, “Pacquiao has been very circumspect in his words in order to avoid offending Duterte directly. He’s been very circumspect in his criticism.”
It’s a thin line in terms of semantics, and one that Duterte doesn’t seem to be interested in parsing. Pacquiao’s leadership position in the PDP-Laban party was taken from him, a move he claims he is contesting in court. Duterte’s criticisms have a flip side, according to Pacquiao’s aides: proof that the boxer is now a genuine political competitor. Pacquiao has until early October to announce his candidacy for president, but he claims he will make his choice by September — “It’s the worst-kept secret in the world,” a member of his staff said. “Why not, if the people want me to be their leader, their president?” Pacquiao says this with his usual laid-back demeanor. “I will serve with integrity and do what is right.”
Nearly 20% of the Philippine population lives below the poverty line of $3.20 per person per day, and Pacquiao’s supporters believe that his appeal lies in his ability to relate to the struggles of the country’s permanently downtrodden, in addition to being the country’s most famous and beloved citizen.
“He is not immersed in the foul sauce of Philippine politics,” Conde adds, comparing him to conventional politicians. “He remembers where he came from, and he is well aware of poverty. It all relies on how he responds to those problems and how he fights them. His global celebrity is unquestionably beneficial, but the issue is how he will put it to use.”
Pacquiao, in his Senate office in 2019, hasn’t formally declared his presidential bid, but one member of his team claims it’s “the worst-kept secret in the world.” ESPN’s Cheryl Diaz Meyer
Pacquiao has been chastised by human rights activists, including Conde, for his support of the drug war, especially for his reluctance to recognize, much alone condemn, extrajudicial murders of drug addicts. Pacquiao’s views on gay rights, which included calling gays “worse than animals” when running for the Senate in 2016, elicited a rare apology from him, which he followed up with the statement that he was unconcerned by the criticism since “Jesus lives in me, therefore I’m always joyful.”
“He’s standing up to the task of being a lawmaker, even if I don’t really like him from a human rights standpoint,” Conde adds. “That is something for which he should be commended. He attempted to compensate for his lack of education by attending public policy classes and forming connections with individuals who are familiar with Philippine politics. He realizes that everything in this town is based on personalities, which explains why he’s handing out money during local fiestas. He’s taking part in the game. He seems to be aware of the situation.”
Pacquiao is ranked fifth among 15 candidates in a Pulse Asia survey of 2,400 potential voters published in early July, with 8% naming him as their first pick. He is behind Sara Duterte (the only contender with a polling percentage of more than 25%), Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and a fellow senator, Grace Poe — all well-known politicians, some of whom have already ran for president. But it is Pacquiao who has received the brunt of Duterte’s wrath. According to a Pacquiao aide who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from political opponents, “Manny is disliked by many in Duterte’s circle. They are adamant that he does not flee. They’re targeting him because he’s the only one they perceive as a danger.”
Pacquiao adds, “It is not my goal to criticize the president.” “This is something I don’t comprehend. I’m not slamming him; I’m just exposing his government’s wrongdoing.”
His smooth, melodic voice conceals neither passion nor uncertainty. When asked about boxing, many provide repetitive, uninformative responses. Politics questions are far more welcome. Pacquiao shrugs when asked about the president’s challenge. “I’ll take the task.”
I inquire whether he is concerned for his own safety, as well as the protection of his family and others around him.
He casts his gaze across the breakfast table to a distant wall. Seconds fly by. The quiet around the table is becoming unbearable. Finally, his gaze returns to the subject at hand.
He replies quietly, “No.” “I, too, am a fighter.”
FEAR IS ALWAYS ON THE VERGE OF EXPLODING. Pacquiao’s entourage is aware of it. They are afraid of not just physical violence, but also the prospect of government power being used against them. They have it on their minds and in their phones. Several aides expressed worry for Pacquiao’s and his family’s safety, and I was shown several text messages that were vaguely hostile but stopped short of threatening violence. Some in the camp are hesitant to return home after the battle, questioning if they and their families should remain in the United States until after the election in May. At the very least, plans are in the works to expand a security force that already seems like a private army.
If it weren’t for the Philippines’ history of political violence, the concerns might appear excessive. In August 1983, supporters of President Ferdinand Marcos murdered former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. as he came down the steps of a China Airlines aircraft returning him from exile in the United States. In 2009, the wife and sister of a political candidate, as well as at least 30 journalists, were among 58 people kidnapped, shot, and buried while attempting to file a certification for Esmael Mangudadatu’s gubernatorial candidacy on the island of Mindanao, which includes Pacquiao’s hometown of General Santos City.
In 2013, 30 years after Aquino’s assassination, the mayor of a southern Philippine town was shot and murdered, along with his wife, niece, and an 18-month-old infant who happened to be in the line of fire, at the same airport (now known as the Ninoy Aquino International Airport). “Given the history of violence in Philippine politics,” adds Human Rights Watch researcher Conde, “I think the concerns are justified.” “It’s a really worrying situation if he goes all out against the president and exposes Duterte even more. Given his stature, I don’t believe Pacquiao will be targeted for violence, although it’s difficult to tell in the Philippines. That is something for which he should be prepared. It would be very simple to target one of his aides. That would send a strong message to Pacquiao and his entourage.”
Those close to Pacquiao are concerned that Duterte may personalize their political feud. Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch said, “That would send a very strong signal to Pacquiao and his followers.” ESPN’s Cheryl Diaz Meyer
Ruel Pacquiao, Manny’s brother and a Philippine politician, stands against the rear wall of the Wild Card gym in Hollywood, watching his brother work out amid the cramped mugginess. The moment encapsulates the contemporary Pacquiao experience: the man himself in the ring, focused and confident while the currents whirl around him. But it must be exhausting: preparing for a big fight, coping with the worry that has engulfed his life, and keeping up with Senate business on Zoom calls from Los Angeles at midnight, just before Manila’s latest COVID lockdown terminated the Senate session.
When I question Ruel about his brother’s connection with Duterte, he says flatly, “There are no lasting friends in politics.”
Pacquiao’s respect for his opponents has been a constant throughout his 26-year professional career, a rare trait in the sport. He’ll fight in Las Vegas on Saturday night, perhaps for the last bout, under the 154-year-old rules of boxing. The rules vanish after that, and those close to him dread the uncertainty of the future.
One of Manny’s aides is sitting in the locker room, the door locked, while the noises of Manny’s fists striking the mitts reverberate off the gym walls.
“You don’t usually strike the principal; you usually target the people surrounding them,” the assistant explains. “The Philippine method is to go to those individuals if you truly want to influence them.” Manny, for example, has been hitting [secretaries and cabinet members] surrounding Duterte, which has shaken the cage. But we’re going about it the correct way, since it’s peaceful and anti-corruption.
“When individuals acquire a taste of power, they’ll go to any length to maintain it. Especially if the alternative is incarceration.”
He comes to a halt, raises his head, inhales deeply, and motions to the closed door and the ring on the other side, where Pacquiao is already into the second hour of his afternoon session. “Manny is simply on another level,” he explains. “He’ll be able to handle it all. But there are moments when it makes me weep. It has an effect on you.”
He attempts to calm himself by shaking his head. Tears start to pour down his cheeks.
He exclaims, “Oh, man.” “This is Manny’s most difficult battle.”
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Manny Pacquiao strong hand?
Manny Pacquiao is a retired professional boxer from the Philippines. He is known for his punching power and has won world titles in eight different weight classes.
How long does Manny Pacquiao practice daily to prepare for a fight?
Manny Pacquiao practices for about two hours daily.
What happened to Margarito after Pacquiao fight?
Margarito was knocked out in the 8th round by Manny Pacquiao.
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