MANILA, Philippines - No Filipino athlete has made as much impact on a global scale as seven-time world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao in the history of sports. Today, he is hailed as the universal No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter – the most exciting warrior on the planet and the only man ever to capture seven world titles in seven weight divisions.
Pacquiao is the first Filipino sportsman to grace the cover of Time Magazine (Nov. 16, 2009), to be named in the top 10 list of most influential athletes by Forbes Magazine, to join the likes of Kobe Bryant, Maria Sharapova, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer in Nike’s star-studded cast of high profile endorsers and to earn at least $25 million from only two fights this year.
In choosing the top Filipino athlete achiever of 2009, Pacquiao is the consensus pick of The STAR because he alone has brought pride, glory and honor to the country to a level of recognition that is unprecedented.
As the year comes to a close, the ring icon remains on top of his game, at the peak of his storybook career. He has been called the Fighter of the Decade, outshining ageless Bernard Hopkins and two undefeated pretenders Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Joe Calzaghe in a cold-blooded assessment by renowned boxing writer Thomas Hauser.
Like the Pied Piper, Pacquiao is a magnet that generates almost a cult following as a result of his display of guts and skills in the ring. His fans come from all over the world. Everyone loves a winner and Pacquiao is a man driven to win. Filipinos are now joined by Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Englishmen in their hero worship – Pacquiao is a one-man United Nations. He is the ultimate people’s champion.
For Pacquiao, the accolades aren’t as important as his dedication to his fans. “The best thing for me about fighting is to make people happy,” he once said. And to his legions of Filipino fans, Pacquiao’s most significant contribution is the feeling of national pride he shares whenever he wins.
This year, Pacquiao fought only twice but both bouts were monumental. Last May, he poleaxed Ricky Hatton in two rounds to wrest the IBO lightwelterweight crown at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Pacquiao was guaranteed $12 million with a contracted purse of $7.4 million. The difference was covered by co-promoters Top Rank and Golden Boy from Pacquiao’s 52-50 share of the pay-per-view upside and ancillary revenues. The 52-50 deal was negotiated to give Pacquiao a two percent extra from the co-promoters’ share after a 50-50 split. Pay-per-view sales went beyond 800,000.
Then, last November, Pacquiao stopped Miguel Cotto in the 12th round to annex the WBO welterweight diadem, also at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. He was guaranteed $13 million with a contracted purse of $7.5 million. The sharing of income wasn’t disclosed but Pacquiao probably took a 60 percent cut and with 1.25 million pay-per-view buys, could’ve walked all the way to the bank with a total take of $23 million.
Pacquiao hasn’t lost since bowing to Erik Morales on points in 2005. He has now won 11 in a row to raise his record to 50-3-2, with 38 KOs.
The five factors that made Pacquiao the logical pick as Athlete of the Year are:
• History. Pacquiao has virtually installed himself in the Hall of Fame. He broke out of a tie with four others as the only fighters ever to win six world titles in different divisions. Now, Pacquiao is in a class of his own. Left behind were Oscar de la Hoya, Tommy Hearns, Hector (Macho) Camacho and James Toney.
What is remarkable about Pacquiao’s feat is his ascent from being the WBC flyweight champion in 1998 to gaining the WBO welterweight crown this year. His collection of titles consists of the WBC 112-pound flyweight, IBF 122-pound superbantamweight, Ring Magazine 126-pound featherweight, WBC 130-pound superfeatherweight, WBC 135-pound lightweight, IBO 140-pound lightwelterweight and WBO 147-pound welterweight crowns.
With his seven world championships, Pacquiao has eclipsed the record of six world titles bagged by bowler Paeng Nepomuceno who is a Hall of Famer in his sport.
“I’ve been around Muhammad Ali, Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Manny is the best fighter I’ve ever seen.”
• Gatekeeper. Pacquiao has opened the doors for other Filipino fighters to invade the lucrative US market. He has paved the way for his countrymen to earn their share of fame and fortune in the ring.
This year, there were 16 world title fights involving Filipinos who won nine, lost five and drew two. Six Filipinos reigned as world champions – Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire (IBF flyweight), Donnie Nietes (WBO minimumweight), Brian Viloria (IBF lightflyweight), Marvin Sonsona (WBO superflyweight) and Rodel Mayol (WBC lightflyweight). At the end of the year, four remained on their thrones – Pacquiao, Nietes, Viloria and Mayol.
Two Filipinos won world crowns on an “interim” basis. Donaire relinquished his IBF diadem and is now the interim WBA superflyweight titleholder while Johnriel Casimero claimed the interim WBO lightflyweight crown last Saturday.
• Inspiration. Pacquiao’s rise from rags to riches is almost like a fairy tale. He broke out of poverty by making a name for himself in professional boxing. Pacquiao proved that even if he finished only up to Grade 6, the world could still be his oyster. In fact, he has gone back to school, working to earn a degree in business.
“Pacquiao’s 12,000 square-foot estate, is not far from the streets where Manny, the second of four children, peddled rolls of bread at age 12,” wrote Pablo Torre in Sports Illustrated (Dec. 8, 2008). “Beyond the passel of bodyguards toting assault rifles is the port where Pacquiao boarded a ferry as a 14-year-old, stealing away to turn pro in Manila without his mother’s permission.”
In his pro debut, Pacquiao weighed 106 pounds, two under the lightflyweight limit. That was in 1995. Now, he is king of the welterweights and his trainer Freddie Roach said if WBA lightmiddleweight titlist Yuri Foreman is available, the Israeli might even be a future target.
Howard Chua-Edan and Ishaan Tharoor, writing in Time Magazine, called Pacquiao “the latest savior of boxing, a fighter with enough charisma, intelligence and back-story to help rescue a sport lost in the labyrinth of pay-per-view.” Pacquiao has revived global interest in boxing which used to rely on heavyweights as its biggest attractions.
• Unifier. The story goes that whenever Pacquiao fights, the national crime rate drops to zero because the entire population is mesmerized into a fanatical frenzy. To a large extent, Pacquiao is a symbol of Filipino unity. He brings together rival camps in politics, religion and business as a galvanizer. He makes every Filipino proud to be Filipino. He destroys the disease of crab mentality because who could ever imagine trying to put him down?
“Nobody whom I ever promoted was as popular as Ali but it wasn’t the same,” said Arum, quoted in Hauser’s book An Unforgiving Sport. “It wasn’t one country, almost as one person, rising up and making it such a national issue as they do for Manny. An entire nation of 90 million people is focusing on Manny’s every move. It’s the most important topic of conversation in the Philippines. Some of these stories in the newspapers about Manny and how much the Filipino people love him are so beautiful, they make you cry.”
Torre said, “Pacquiao overshadows just about everything, national security included – before his victorious superfeatherweight rematch against Juan Manuel Marquez, the Philippine military declared a seven-hour ceasefire in its war against communist insurgents – Beatlemania pales in comparison to Pacmania.”
• Example. As a role model, Pacquiao is living proof that anything is possible if you work hard to just do it. He made believers out of skeptics who thought De la Hoya, Hatton and Cotto were too big for the Filipino to handle. In the end, Pacquiao showed that if you’re determined, if you’re dedicated and if you’re disciplined, you can achieve what you set out to accomplish. He did the impossible, winning seven titles in seven divisions and in the process, mowing down future Hall of Famers like Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and De la Hoya.
Pacquiao, 31, has filed his candidacy for congressman in Sarangani and it’s a bid that he’s dedicating to his provincemates. His dream is to serve the people as a fighting congressman.
But before the May elections, Pacquiao is penciled to take on Mayweather Jr. in a fight that is tipped to surpass the pay-per-view record of 2.14 million subscriptions in the 2007 fight between De la Hoya and Pretty Boy. The March 13 showdown will stake Pacquiao’s WBO title in Las Vegas with the protagonists guaranteed a whopping $25 million apiece. It may or may not be Pacquiao’s swan song. But no matter if he decides to continue boxing or not, Pacquiao will forever be revered as the greatest Filipino fighter of all time.