The Meaning and Mythos of Manny Pacquiao

His power and smarts have helped revive a sport and made him a hero in the Philippines. But as he thinks about politics, can Manny Pacquiao be more than the best boxer in the world?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Dewey Nicks for TIME

Manny Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao is going through his throwing motion at Yankee Stadium. With easy deliberation, he shows off the form he says he perfected playing elementary school baseball in the dirt-poor southern Philippines before boxing took him over completely. His shoulder slips back, his torso pitches smoothly forward, left hand and arm torquing an imaginary ball into the depths of the air-conditioned players' cafeteria, where he is waiting to take the field for an announcement. The diamond stud in his ear catches the light.

The baseball pose has a balletic grace at odds with the savage power that the best pound-for-pound professional boxer on earth exhibits in the ring. "Best pound-for-pound" is the mantra intoned with every story about Pacquiao. It sounds strange because he has never been bound by the laws of physics. In the past eight years, he has risen through six weight divisions to win just as many world championships. At the stadium, his promoters have arranged for the Filipino to make official his plan to fight Puerto Rico's Miguel Cotto for a seventh title, the welterweight, which has a maximum limit of 147 lb. (67 kg). That is a 40-lb. swing up from the 106 lb. Pacquiao weighed at the start of his career.

He carried increased poundage through his past two jaw-droppingly awesome victories: demolishing Oscar De La Hoya in December 2008 and knocking out Ricky Hatton in two rounds in May. This is how Pacquiao's coach Freddie Roach describes his skill: "He'll throw a combination at you. You'll think he's done, but then he'll keep pounding you. And there's not a dense hardness to his punch. It just jumps on you. It explodes." Roach, who has worked with boxing luminaries such as De La Hoya and Mike Tyson, offers a little poetry when he recalls the time in 2001 when Pacquiao first came into his gym. "I just did one round with mitts with him, and I thought, 'Man, can this motherf______ fight.'"

At Yankee Stadium on this September day, the Puerto Ricans who have come out to cheer Cotto are jeering Pacquiao, but for all that physics matters, the Filipino is the favorite for the Nov. 14 Las Vegas bout. His payday, it is said, will be about $18 million. Back in the Philippines, you can pun on Pacquiao with pakyaw — a verb, pronounced the same way, that means "to monopolize, to corner the market, to take everything at wholesale in order to maximize profit." Pacquiao knows he wants more than he has, more than boxing can give. At the stadium, he retails anecdotes from his life to a couple of Filipinos and repeats what seems to be both an assertion and a lesson learned. "'Di ako bobo," he says in Tagalog. "'Di ako bobo." "I'm not stupid."

A Face for the Selfless
Manny Pacquiao, now 30, is the latest savior of boxing, a fighter with enough charisma, intelligence and backstory to help rescue a sport lost in the labyrinth of pay-per-view. Global brands like Nike want him in their ads. He made the TIME 100 list this year. West Coast baseball teams invite him to throw out the first pitch in order to attract the Filipino-American community. He has even become an object of desire: ESPN the Magazine has his naked torso in its Body Issue, which explores the engineering of several athletic physiques.

In the Philippines, Pacquiao is a demigod. The claim goes that when his fights are broadcast live, the crime rate plummets because everyone in the country is glued to a screen. His private life as well as the ins and outs and ups and downs of his training regimen are tabloid fodder; his much brooded political ambitions are a dilemma many Filipinos feel as existentially as Hamlet's soliloquy: To be or not to be ... a Congressman?

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4