Senator and boxing champion Manny Pacquiao stretches during his training inside the Elorde gym in Pasay City, metro Manila, Philippines September 28, 2016 in preparation for his upcoming bout with Jessie Vargas in Las Vegas. Picture taken September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Senator and boxing champion Manny Pacquiao stretches during a training session. Photo: Reuters

When it comes to dodging verbal volleys in the Philippines Senate, Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao has a few subtle tricks up his couture sleeve. After all, sleight of hand has made him one of the greatest fighters of his generation, and a bona fide philanthropist and hero.

During an amazing career that has spanned more than 20 years, Manny has dragged himself up from the gutters of Kibawe on Mindanao’s Bukidnon province to win eight world boxing titles at various weights. “Only in death will I relinquish my titles,” he was once quoted as saying with Shakespearean pathos.

Always the showman, he has reveled in playing the audacious actor searching for the ultimate stage. And he found it, of course. A glance at the list of fallen resembles a Who’s Who of the most brutal yet beautiful sport on the planet. Marco Anonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito have all felt the power of his bone-crunching blows.

But that was before he decided to tangle with Floyd Mayweather Jr at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on May 2, 2015. It was ferocious. It was fabulous. It also proved that Mayweather was the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world after his decisive victory.

At times during this epic brawl, Pacquiao looked like a middle-aged man trying to find the missing ingredient of greatness deep inside the inner recesses of his soul. At 37, he showed glimpses of that grandeur when he destroyed Timothy Bradley Jr in his grand farewell last April.
Time to retire gracefully, the critics said. Time to concentrate on his Senate campaign. With more than 16 million votes, he became one of 12 new members of the Upper House of Congress in May. Another unanimous points decision.

“I can focus and discipline myself, the way I did in boxing to help the nation,” Pacquiao, a former Congressman, told reporters. “With or without a salary, there’s no problem with me. The important thing is honest public service. What I would like to see is free education at all levels.

Money, it appears, is not a problem. Why should it be? According to Forbes, he has earned US$500 million during his career from purses, pay-per-view and endorsements. Lucrative marketing deals have followed with Nike, Foot Locker, Hewlett-Packard and Nestle. But he walked into a self-inflicted sucker punch earlier this year when he compared gay people to animals. “I’m sorry for everyone who got hurt due to my comparison of gay people (homosexuals) to animals,” he later apologized in a bid to shore up his shattered commercial image.

So why has Pacquiao decided to come out of retirement? On November 5, he will fight World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Jessie Vargas, who is in his prime at 27, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. “I’ve always been the underdog,” Vargas told TWC News San Antonio. “They always wanted to take me down. They never believed in me and look at me now, two-time world champion . . . and I will beat Manny because of all of that.”

Fighting talk, but words have never scared Pacquiao. In fact, he is probably already working out where to stash his multimillion dollar cut even if it does lack the zeroes of his record-breaking US$125 million payday he received for the Mayweather super fight. Still, the rumors persist that he needs the money to solve tax problems after giving away millions to family members, friends and charities. Suggestions he laughs at. “I’ve been fighting for the past 21 years and I’ll tell you, this joke that I’m broke is the funniest and most annoying thing I have heard,” Pacquiao told “Me, broke? Come on. Last year [2015], as a member of the Lower House, I was adjudged to be the richest congressman based on SALN [Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth] when I filed.”

His net worth was approximately 4 billion Philippine pesos or US$86m. But according to his SALN report filed with the Philippines government, the numbers were more like 3.27 billion pesos or about US$70 million. Forbes came up with a different set of figures but this time for its 2016 list of highest-paid athletes. He was ranked 63rd on US$24m.
Whatever the numbers, in the end, it could all revolve around the adrenaline rush and the cheers of the crowd. Like the old performer he is, Pacquiao probably misses the smell of the grease paint.

“When I hung up my gloves, I realized I felt lonely when I was thinking about the sport I love,” he said at a press conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles recently. “Boxing loves me and I love boxing. So why should I stop my boxing career? That’s why I changed my mind. So I decided to continue my journey as a boxer.”

There is no disputing the fact that Pacquiao is a formidable fighter. He has always had faith in his ability and an overriding belief in his faith. A committed Christian, he has never lost sight of who he is, the boy from the slums who slugged it out with squalor and won.

“I’m just appreciative of everything that has happened in my life. I’m overwhelmed, sometimes, by this,” Pacquaio has been quoted as saying. “When I see where I grew up and the places I’ve been, it puts a smile on my face because of all the people there I can help. I give them food; I give them money; I try to provide them with a good lifestyle, and do the best I can because that’s where I came from. Those are my people.”

Boxing promoter Bob Arum said of Pacquiao before his showdown with De La Hoya back in 2008: “God touches certain people. And when he touches those people and gives them great ability they then feel that in response they have to give something back. And the only way they can give back is to their fellow human beings. I know Manny feels that way and I think he is blessed. The great Muhammad Ali was a very generous man. Yet Muhammad Ali never had to want for material things because God provided. Manny is the same.”

But just like The Greatest, Pacquiao will eventually lose the ultimate war against his greatest enemy — time. The late poet laureate of the fight game did more than the Ali shuffle when he composed the final verses of Truth.

Life of truth is eternal,
Immortal is its past,
Power of truth will endure,
Truth shall hold to the last.

Words of inspiration or intimidation? For Pacquiao, the truth is out there and probably in Vegas.

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