I don't know how Manny Pacquiao will fare in his fight against Juan Manuel Marquez this weekend (I'm writing this well before it), but I'm willing to go out on a limb and say Pacquiao will win it handily. Or so logic and emotion tell me.
The logic says Pacquiao has overwhelmed in his last five fights and Marquez has underwhelmed in his turn since they last met.
Pacquiao's ascent has coincided with acquiring Freddie Roach as coach, which is really no coincidence. It's Roach who has instilled monumental discipline in Pacquiao, turning him not just into a more skillful fighter but into a brainier one.
The transformation is awesome: Before Roach, you had to drag Pacquiao from his favorite haunts and bring him to America to train before his fights. After Roach, he can't wait to train and keeps going the extra mile, quite literally, while at it.
It was Roach who early last year insisted that Pacquiao leave Baguio before a threatened storm fell on it after Pacquiao decided to wait for Manny Villar for a pre-election meeting. The guy does his job, and does it well, taking no bull from anyone. The results are spectacular. Three of Pacquiao's last opponents he sent to the hospital, Hatton into retirement afterward. You could understand why Shane Mosley kept dancing away: He didn't want to retire with his face rearranged like Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto.
The emotion says, well, I'm a Pinoy.
What's in store for Pacquiao after this?
This might very well be his last good fight. There's no other worthy foe in the horizon except for Floyd Mayweather, and that fight might never take place because Mayweather has a date with an even more formidable foe. That is the US justice system. Only one fighter has beaten it, who is Muhammad Ali, and that was because his cause was righteous. Mayweather's cause? They include robbery, grand larceny and coercion. And added to that last year's beating up of his ex-girlfriend after entering her house without permission and sending her kids scampering to safety in a nearby guard station.
With Pacquiao getting on in years, and with everyone around him, including his mother Dionisia, advising him to quit while he's ahead, or while he still hasn't begun to show the kinds of affliction that boxers tend to be visited with, the only real future he faces is outside the ring.
He could still fight not very notable fights, the way Ali did after "Thrilla"-one of which, with an obscure fighter named Chuck Wepner, which only inspired Sylvester Stallone to write "Rocky"- but they will be anticlimactic. The only thing sadder than a has-been trying to make a futile comeback is a brilliant fighter with no more opponents left to fight. When Alexander the Great came to the end of the world he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.
That leaves him with quite another ring to fight in with equal ferocity, one that's pretty scary. But not for him-for us. That is politics.
Only a few months ago, there was talk he was contemplating running for vice president. Which was quashed not by a protestation on his part but by a correction on the part of the lawyers. He cannot. He will only be 38 in 2016, well below the 40 required by the Constitution for both president and vice. But that doesn't preclude his gunning for it, or even the presidency itself, in 2022, however that seems a distant place from where we are.
He's popular enough to be tempted to do it. And he will not lack for hangers-on who can, and will, play the Biblical snake to perfection. Pacquiao is not just the biggest thing we've seen as a boxer, bigger than Flash Elorde, bigger than any Filipino fighter that has come before or probably after, he is also the stuff of which myths are made. And myths have played a huge part in elections.
Former president Joseph Estrada (Erap) is proof of it, President Aquino is proof of it, though their myths are of quite a different order. Erap's is closer to Pacquiao's even if it is a manufactured one, even if it is an illusory one. That is the myth of the poor boy who fights his way through adversity with fists of stone and a heart of gold. A myth Erap created for himself through his movies, which enabled the masa (masses) to identify with him heart and soul. And which Erap reinforced by sharing a simple repast with an urban poor dweller in his hovel, a thing he did with much spontaneity.
Pacquiao doesn't need to invent anything at all. He is that poor boy who has fought his way through adversity with fists of stone and a lot of heart, if not a heart of gold. He came from truly impoverished circumstances-in contrast to Erap who in fact came from a well-off one-not being able to reach high school out of penury and having to live off the streets of Manila for a while after he ventured into it before hitting it off as a fighter. And he got this far.
It's a gripping story, that kind that makes truth truly stranger than fiction. In fact, the one thing I've always been impressed with Pacquiao is not his conquest of his opponents but his conquest of fear, not the least of those being laughed at for not being able to speak English like a native. That's what makes him such a dominating figure.
I just wish he would resist the temptation to seek higher public office and use his stature to inspire his countrymen to reach for things seemingly beyond their grasp. He is better leading in spirit than in the flesh, by example than by execution. Public office is not the be-all and end-all of things, nor is it the acme of human aspiration. From Pacquiao's heights, it's a veritable demotion. His being a congressman now is certainly a fall from high to low, from the sublime to the paralytic. It diminishes him in more ways than fighting mediocre foes ever will.
Let's hope Roach has given him enough discipline to see that.
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