By: William Holmes
The Philippines has long been a fighting nation.
When Ferdinand Magellan landed in the Southern Philippine islands in March of 1521, he discovered that the natives were marred in warfare and conflict. He unwisely got involved in the internal affairs of the Filipinos and died in battle while supporting the losing side.
In the centuries that followed, the Filipinos fought against Spanish control, Japanese control, and even American control. The most popular form of Filipino martial arts, called Eskrima or Kali, was often used by the commoners of the Philippines to fight against their better equipped and more modern enemies.
During the Filipino-American war, Filipinos were armed with mainly bolo knives, bows and arrows, and spears while their counterparts were armed with rifles and firearms. They developed a reputation as ferocious and brave fighters but they stood no chance against the modern technology of the time.
Conflict in the Philippines still exists today, as the Filipino government battles the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Al-Quaeda linked Abu Sayyaf daily.
The MNFL and Abu Sayyaf’s base of operations is out of Mindanao, a southern island in the Philippines that Manny Pacquiao represents in the Philippine Congress.
With a history marked by conflict and struggle, it should be of no surprise that boxing is one of the most popular sports in the Philippines.
Filipinos have held world titles in boxing before the rise of Manny Pacquiao. Pinoy greats such as Pancho Villa, Flash Elorde, and Ceferino Garcia helped establish the Philippines as a boxing nation and paved the way for Manny Pacquiao to achieve worldwide success.
But no Filipino has ever had the support of the whole of the Philippines the way Manny Pacquiao does, and no other Filipino athlete has ever had to carry the burden that Pacquiao carries now.
When boxing historians discuss all-time greats, the names of Villa, Elorde, and Garcia do not come up in discussion. But Pacquiao’s name does come up in debate, and his career is not finished.
The Philippines is a nation that is looking for an icon, somebody that younger Filipinos can look up to. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a successful Filipino sports icon outside of Pacquiao. The ones you can name carry some kind of asterisk.
Tim Lincecum is half Filipino and the owner of several World Series titles, Cy Young awards, and All Star accolades. But he has publically admitted that he is not close to his Filipino mother and it’s rare to hear him talk about his heritage. Dave Batista is also Filipino, but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who considers the WWE to be a real sport. Brandon Vera and Mark Munoz are two Filipinos who have achieved some level of success in the MMA world, but neither of them has obtained a world title in the UFC and are considered by most to be gatekeepers.
Basketball is one of the Philippines’ most popular sports, so popular in fact that the Philippines have their own professional basketball league in which Manny Pacquiao is the owner of one team. But it appears unlikely we’ll see a superstar Filipino basketball player in the NBA. The average height of a male Fiipino is 5’4” and the average height of a professional basketball player is 6’7”.
Before Manny Pacquiao the most successful Filipino athlete or sports team was the 1992 Little League World Series team from Zamboanaga City.
Baseball was a popular sport in the Philippines, just as it is in several other countries that had a history of American military bases in their nation. Baseball has become popular in Asian nations such as South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan mainly due to the presence of baseball crazed military members being stationed in those countries. If you drive near the area of Subic Bay in the Philippines today, you’ll still find unused, old, and deteriorating baseball diamonds that young Filipino males used to play on that were built by American servicemen while they were stationed there.
When the Philippines won the Little League World Series Filipinos everywhere were celebrating that fact that their country had accomplished greatness in an international sport. Those celebrations were short-lived.
Baseball has basically taken a nosedive in the Philippines since the 1992 Little League World Series. The team from Zamboanaga City was found to have several players that were too old to play little league baseball and at least eight players that were from outside the area of Zamboanga City. They were stripped of their Little League World Series title and the Philippines have not made an appearance in Williamsport since then. This team went from being the pride of the Philippines to the shame of the Philippines.
Filipinos’ search of a universally recognized world champion or athlete has continued since that day.
Some may argue that Nonito Doniare and Manny Pacquiao are or were world champions, and that Pacquiao has achieved enough success for Filipinos to be proud of. This is true, but Nonito Donaire is not a household name and if you ask the casual sports fan about Manny Pacquiao, they will immediately ask about his comparison to Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Manny Pacquiao cannot be considered the best boxer in the world until he fights, and defeats, Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The Philippines struggle with third world poverty and the seemingly constant barrage of natural disasters ranging from typhoons to volcanoes is well documented. This is a nation that desperately needs an athlete that Filipinos can proudly say is the best in his sport. They need an athlete they can admire to help forget their problems back home. They need an athlete who can win and become a champion without resorting to cheating to accomplish it.
They need Manny Pacquiao to win.
Manny Pacquiao is the pride of the Philippines, but the burden that comes with it is heavy. He is carrying the burden of being the only Filipino athlete that is recognized worldwide with an opportunity to erase the shame of 1992.
It is a burden that Pacquiao has handled well so far. As he told Boxing Insider a little over a week ago, “I fight to win and to bring glory to the Philippines. It is an incentive, not pressure. My fellow Filipinos know that I carry their love and pride in my heart when I am in the ring.”
He went on further to state, “It is time for Floyd to lose.”
Nothing in the history of sports would make Filipinos prouder than for that very thing to happen.