You have to wonder if the worldwide sensation of PacquiaoMania has even reached full force yet. But right now it might be as strong as anything boxing has ever witnessed before. Today, Manny Pacquiao is the most popular person in the Philippines, with the President ranked #2 and trainer Freddie Roach #3. At the age of 30, there has already been a film about his life. His face is on a stamp. As a singer, Pac-Man had a #1 single which was called ‘This Fight Is For You.’ Athletic footwear producer Nike is a proud sponsor. Filippinos call him their “Pambasang Kamao” which means “National Fist.”
But it’s not just his successful ring performances that have captivated the respect and reverence of people all over the globe, it’s his character, generosity, humility, charisma, the rags to riches story of his amazing life. Eating just one meal a day as a boy, Manny ran away at 14 and turned himself into one of the most spectacular champions of the century, a multi-millionaire many times over.
Bob Arum even went so far as to compare Pac-Man to The Greatest. “Pacquiao is Ali-like,” said the promoter on Tuesday in New York. “Because of the adulation and the persona they have – in dealing with vast numbers of people.”
I asked Arum when it first dawned on him that Pacquiao had the potential to become what he has become. “As soon as you went to the Philippines, when I went over to the Philippines it just blew me away. It’s become how…like almost something even transcending Ali. Every fight, Jesus Christ, I can’t go any place where there are Filippinos that…they’re everywhere.”
Arum says Pacquiao was somewhat introverted in handling media obligations in his first experiences boxing in the United States, but this changed after he learned to speak English. “He sure isn’t shy now. Although he’s still a very humble guy.”
Compared to braggarts like Mayweather, Jones, Toney, Arum feels worldwide boxing fans have embraced Pacquiao who represents more attractive and honorable qualities of an inspiring boxing champion. “I think they’re so sick of athletes who are so braggadocious, who flaunt their wealth. It’s really refreshing for anybody, whether they’re Filippino or not, to see somebody like Manny.”
“And he’s so…he was sitting next to me at the Cotto (vs. Clottey) fight – and we had security. And there was this kid that wanted an autograph. And the guard said, No, no. And Manny caught it out of the corner of his eye. And he said, No, one time (I will sign). And he goes out of his way to accommodate people. And not because of any ulterior motives. He’s that kind of person. Ali, when all the freeloaders came around, he would embrace them. This kid does the same.”
I asked Arum if Manny compared to Duran who is known to be ultra fan-friendly in his post career. “Duran’s a great guy, but he wasn’t like that.”
But Arum’s earlier comment was still ringing in my years. Pac-Mania “is like, almost something even transcending Ali.” At first it sounds kind of crazy. But when you really think about it, it might be true.
Muhammad Ali inspired and thrilled the world like no one. Manny Pacquiao has that special ability as well. “Now I fight for my country. I’m dedicated to the people of my country,” Pacquiao said earlier this year. “I want to show (people) that if Manny Pacquiao has gone from nothing to something so can they. If you work hard and pray to the Lord, you will have success.”
“I’m just a regular fighter. But I can beat good fighters. If you have the will to win and train hard, you can do very well.”