WHEN Manny Pacquiao stepped into history on Sunday as the only boxer ever to win seven titles in seven weight classifications, it wasn’t just Miguel Cotto he vanquished. He defied, as well, all superlatives, with even the best writers seemingly reduced to simply saying he is the greatest boxer of all time.
Here at home, he is known to have singlehandedly beaten crime, without having to pummel a single hoodlum with his famous southpaw, by the simple, sacred act of fighting so well and with so much faith, patriotism, artistry and chivalry as to stop an entire nation in its tracks—crooks and criminals included—and have them rush back to their homes and hovels, thence to movie houses, beer gardens, cocktail lounges and street-corner stores with TVs on, indeed, anywhere with televisions to watch him fight yet again and win.
But the biggest enemy that Manny Pacquiao defeated, and to which he must owe such unimagineable skill, stamina and stroke of luck, is Manny Pacquiao himself. Here is a man who endlessly wowed audiences around the world in the days leading up to his Sunday bout—had veteran CNN anchors eating out of their hands, a Hillary Clinton declaring in Manila she had no doubt Manny would win over Miguel and she was rooting for him—all because for all the obvious marks of a boxer who trained scientifically, determinedly and endured so much pain to himself, he was humble.
When he and Miguel stepped foot on the MGM Grand two days before the fight, sportswriters said this was one of those rare moments when a great boxer on the eve of a historic fight didn’t say he would beat the shit out of his opponent. Manny, bless him, said simply he would fight his best, as always, for God, country and Jinkee. The obligatory boasting was left to the trainers.
The humility is deep-seated, and seems to spring from his simple but strong faith, something that again startled the most grizzled sportswriters and analysts before. Remember, this was the man who, on the eve of his fight with Oscar de la Hoya, was asked what he prayed for when he made the sign of the cross before the fight. He said he prayed “for the both of us, that neither one would be so badly hurt.” He had done the same in all those previous fights, since his humble days as a struggling southpaw in GenSan, and later when he trained in Manila and no one noticed or cared, except the few friends he truly counted as such. To the safety net of character, add his abiding gratitude, which accounts for his calling Lito Atienza his second father.
It was just as well that the referee stopped the fight with a badly mauled Cotto on Sunday’s 12th round. Manny had knocked down Miguel on the second and fourth rounds, and by the time the fighters entered the ninth round, it seemed as if the Puerto Rican was standing and flailing just on his guts and strength of will. Like “battery drain.” He could barely swing his arms, much less land a punch. His face was cut, bruised and swollen; blood made pink with sweat drenched his shorts. No one talked about it openly, but the previous day’s shocking incident—when Pinoy pugilist Z Gorres, all of 27 years old, collapsed into a coma as he left the arena as the victor in a minor title fight in Vegas—must have spooked some people, especially with the sight of the blood gushing out of Cotto’s face wounds.
No one is supposed to die or suffer so much punishment, the gods of boxing say, but look at Muhammad Ali. Manny Pacquiao, whose love of country springs as naturally from his heart as if he were breathing it every second, knows what happens to boxers when they grow old. He is helping, has been helping several ex-greats deal with retirement and bankruptcy, when the medical bills start to pile up. He knows the fame is fleeting, the victory only as good as the next headline; so when he ran to his corner of the ring after being declared winner on Sunday, he knelt, and bowed his head, only to stand up because Cotto tapped him to congratulate him, Pacquiao tightly embraced the bloodied man and then made the sign of the cross again, as if he was more relieved he hadn’t stepped on the corpse of his opponent into history.
Manny keeps winning because he never stops studying. Manny keeps winning because he remains humble and faithful, and prays for the grace to stay his powerful fist so that it doesn’t do irreparable harm even as he prays for victory.
There have been boxing greats, and their stories retold a thousand times. Manny Pacquiao joins their ranks, but he has made his own unique record—as the only one who ever prayed never to hurt his foe in a sport meant to maim. There stands more than just the greatest boxer in history. Behold the man.
Monday, 16 November 2009