By Christina Thomas
For the past 17 years, before he became Ang Pambansang Kamao (the Nation’s Fist), Manny Pacquiao has been on a collision course with fate. Ever since he fought and scratched for everything he’s earned, and then practiced relentlessly in order to fight and scratch better than everyone else, a crossroads began shaping itself for him in the distance. Destiny only rewards those with talent and a surpassing work ethic with the world stage, and Manny was born to dance.
Anyone with 8 ounces of sense would have felt that the Philippines could theoretically have produced a boxer of note on the world stage – but then, it takes a single look around the world to realize that common sense ain’t so common. Reality always glows brighter than the most inspiring theories, and when Emmanuel Pacquiao literally exploded (from the left, no less) onto the world scene to take over the WBC Flyweight title with a late knockout over some seasoned victim or other, few people could predict the special things to come.
He was well-known from Manila to Davao by then; the Pinoys would only truly unleash their secret to the world when the sub-featherweight fighter from Kibawe felled the pride of Mexico and an undisputed legend already, Marco Antonio Barrera. It’s one thing to beat the local talent; quite another to destroy a fighter from that hotbed of tremendous boxers. Manny would earn a nickname in addition to the Nation’s Fist – “the Mexicutioner” – as he would go on to accomplish the unlikely feat of besting the other two legends of the era in Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez – although the chapter has yet to close on the Marquez duel, with Manny leading 2-0-1 (or 1-1-1 depending on whom you ask!). Officially and most importantly, Manny is the cardholder, and Saturday Dec 8 will determine by just how much.
Of course, whether you’re a fan of either, in your most sober moments you know the purest reasons why we need Ang Pambansang Kamao to reach deep and show flashes of his fading glory – which he should still have in spades if he could just get healthy. It is not hyperbole to say that the near future of top-tier boxing may very well rest on Manny’s unreal calves. Pac-Man needs to beat Marquez so that the love-hate allure of a showdown with Mayweather still draws wistful nods of hope and anticipation – even in secret, from those who pretend they no longer care if the two fight. His fire, fearless comportment and unshakeable resilience are the perfect complements to Pretty Boy’s flash and technical mastery. His driving, ever-forward offense may be the perfect balance to Floyd’s feared defense. His unadulterated love of artful combat – which has captured the world’s heart – is the antithesis to Floyd’s self-admitted, almost mercenarial approach to the sweet science.
He is the Ali to Mayweather’s Foreman.
You see? On Saturday Manny faces his greatest foe – and yet he still cannot avoid Mayweather’s shadow. As writers, journalists and fans, it’s our fault; but it’s his too. No boxer in recent memory (though that depends on how good your memory is) has united a nation and inspired many nations besides as Pacquiao, with that fighting style that serves as the symbol for what most of us wish we could do to our enemies and fears – whether literal or figurative – meeting danger head-on, driving it back, and accepting its blows with that quick smile, nod and upraised clap of his gloved hands, before plowing back into the fray.
In the best sentimental boxing book I’ve ever read – Serenity: A Boxing Memoir, written by the late, great journalist Ralph Wiley – he writes of a quote attributed to heavyweight slugger Larry Holmes: “….a truly great fighter has gotta enjoy the ones he takes just like the ones he gives.” No one smiles after Manny’s left-hand touches them, but he always seems to respectfully acknowledge the ones that hit him, before plowing back into battle even more determined. It isn’t a quality that can be taught, or there would be schools erected to teach it. Here’s to hoping Manny’s legs return to him against his professional arch nemesis once again Saturday night – if only to keep our dreams alive.