Pacquiao once was not so righteous. He once was an all-night hound dog, taking his pleasure where he pleased, ignoring all advice to respect the sanctity of his marriage vows and determined to squeeze as much fun from life as was available to someone who was born into grinding poverty. Those were his hardcore inclinations until only a few years ago.
Here is a snapshot of that life, from the opening of Gary Andrew Poole’s excellent biography on him. “As Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao saunters out of the locker room at the Wild Card
Boxing Club in Hollywood, California, he holds out his hand, and a member of his entourage slaps a comb in it. Looking in one of the gym’s many grimy mirrors, Pacquiao combs his jet-black hair, brushes off his goatee and nods his head in self-approval. Someone slips on his watch – a gold Rolex Yacht Master – and then gives him his diamond stud earring, which he puts in his left ear.” Dressed to kill the ladies – long before he had that conversation with God.
The hair is still black. The goatee and the diamond stud are in place, too. The eyes are just as knowing, but he is profoundly a different man, more content, less restless. He is a congressman now, too, serving his people while dealing out pain in his other job. “People are surprised by the way I have changed my life,” he says. “All the running around. In that time and age, I knew I could do whatever I wanted. But I changed when I heard the voice of God, and I can testify that there is a God. I saw two angels, white, long, big wings. I saw Paradise. God showed me about the end of time. This all happened within the last three years. That’s how I changed my life.”
I do not have the feeling I am in the presence of a man who could put me in hospital with a practised flick of his fist,
who did exactly that inside two rounds in 2009 to Ricky Hatton, another fighter who did not stint on life’s pleasures, and is again struggling with those temptations. Pacquiao’s trainer of 13 years, Freddie Roach, is standing a few feet away. He has heard Manny’s story of redemption many times. “It’s more vital to him now than ever before,” Roach says. “He was born a Catholic, now he’s a born-again Christian. His mother [Dionesia] hates it. She’s always trying to force the Rosary on him. The only worry about it is that maybe it could hurt his political career, because 90% of the Philippines is Catholic and he’s a born-again Christian.”
Pacquiao trains at Pedro Antonio Acharon Sports Complex in the Philippines. Photograph: Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images
Roach continues: “There is this other side to him, though. He’s very different to a lot of boxers. He always is keeping busy, like playing basketball in the village and so forth, but he discusses the Bible when we’re flying somewhere, asking what does this really mean, what does that really mean. I listen. Sometimes it’s quite funny. Sometimes it makes sense. But sometimes it can be a long trip. There’s good and bad. Religion means a lot to him, but he has done stuff that’s not so religious, so …
“Some fighters turn to religion, because it’s a tough business. I’m not a religious person so it’s not a factor for me. I grew up a Catholic until the second grade. I got to my first Holy Communion, but I didn’t make it to Confirmation. They’d lost me by then. But it’s a tough life, boxing. Fighters are often looking for something they can hold on to. Maybe that’s why he’s done it – and more now than ever he needs it.
“He and his wife [Jinkee] are happier than ever. He doesn’t party any more, doesn’t drink anymore. He’s a clean liver, doesn’t fuck around with girls no more. And his wife is very happy about that. He’s a better family man. So there’s a lot of good that goes with it. He was a pretty wild guy, had the world by the balls. Everything was available.”
Right now, there is serious business to take care of. In the CotaiArena in the Venetian casino in Macao on 22 November, Pacquiao gives Chris Algieri, an unbeaten light-welterweight from Huntington, Long Island, a shot at his 10st 7lb title. Algieri, a smart boxer and even smarter individual – he has a BSc in health care management and a Masters in clinic nutrition – has come from nowhere at 30, with not much of a punch but bags of confidence and energy. He will give it his best shot. Pacquiao flew 27,000 miles with Algieri promoting the fight, from Beijing to Shanghai to Hong Kong to San Francisco to Las Vegas to New York. They get along.
“All my opponents they are friends outside the ring but, inside the ring, we have a job to do,” Pacquiao says. “I just learned about Algieri when the news broke that he wanted to fight me. I watched his fight with Ruslan Provodnikov [a split decision after 12 tough rounds in Brooklyn last June to win the WBO’s 10st title]. He showed he deserved this fight.”
Pacquiao during a training session. Photograph: Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images
On the road, they have had time to kill and have jousted over the pool table. “I lost to him at pool,” Pacquiao says, “but in the real game I am better than him. Being a Christian, I am giving him an advantage but, in a real fight, it’s going to be much different. Ha, ha!”
Few people in boxing laugh as much as Pacquiao. Some fighters dread their public performances. Others, such as David Haye and Floyd Mayweather and Gennady Golovkin, cannot wait to get in the ring. Pacquiao is one of that breed. “You can see in my face, boxing is my passion. Every time I walk to the ring, I am smiling because I am excited to fight.”
Since Juan Manuel Márquez shocked him and the rest of boxing nearly two years ago with
the most stunning one-punch knockout boxing had witnessed in years, Pacquiao has looked good – not quite back to his wrecking-ball best but way too good for Brandon Rios and vindicated in a rematch with Timothy Bradley. Algieri, in his disciplined, energetic way, produced a shock of his own by out-hustling Provodkinov, the Russian slugger who gave Bradley nightmares and bruises in one of the best fights of 2013.
“It’s not the first time I fight a guy like him – all action, from all angles,” Pacquiao says of Algieri. “It’s been a while since I fought a guy as tall as him [5ft 10in]. This is fun. My advantage is my experience. I have to use that. I believe he is the sort of opponent who will make a good fight.”
Algieri pays Pacquiao due respect, as would any grateful challenger pitched into the biggest payday of his career. “Manny, Floyd [Mayweather], the upper echelon, the elite of the sport is right there,” the well-spoken New Yorker says. “To get to them? First you gotta win a fight you’re not supposed to, and you’ve gotta fight someone who nobody wants to fight, a really strong character, and you’ve got to perform. That’s what I love about boxing. When you go on that stage, when you show up and you do what you’re supposed to do, you maybe do more than what’s expected and you get rewarded. I’m feeling great about this fight. When it came up, I thought it was a great opportunity, of course I did. I wanted to be champion; I did that, but I still want more – and there’s not much more than
So, did he think this was a good time to take him? “You know what? I guess we’ll find out on 22 November. I’m just preparing for the Manny Pacquiao I’ve been watching for years. I’m not preparing for half of that. I’m ready for the full guy. I’m here – another new face at the table. That’s what the sport needs. We need more guys getting shots and taking them. A lot of the guys don’t take the shots that they’re offered. They’re sitting on their record, sitting on their titles. I love this fight because you’ve got two fighters, myself and Manny, taking risks. Anyway you look at it, both corners of the ring, this is a big gamble. I respect Manny for that.”
The respect, no doubt, will be there at the end, mutually. These are gentleman fighters. They are not loudmouths or showmen. They represent the dignity in boxing, and that is a rare commodity these days. You might say it is a good fight for a man of God to be involved in.
Boxing gloves featuring Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao are seen during the Box Fan Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center last month. Photograph: Alex Menendez/Getty Images
Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao would be boxing’s biggest payday – but despite plenty of talk since 2009 the fighters have yet to walk the (ring)walk. It’s been another year of to and fro:
■ 20 January Fighthype.com publishes an interview with Mayweather in which he calls Pacquiao a “desperate dog”, that he is in need of a big payday to offset alleged tax problems. Pacquiao hits back, challenging Mayweather to a fight for charity and taunts the American: “Floyd, if you’re a real man, fight me. Let’s do it for the love of boxing and for the fans.”
■ 12 April Pacquiao beats Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas. Mayweather to follow? “The line is open 24 hours, seven days a week,” says Pacquiao. “If he wants to fight, the fight will be on.”
■ 13 September Mayweather defeats Marcos Maidana and says in the Las Vegas ring afterwards: “I’m going to talk to my team and if the Pacquiao fight presents itself, let’s make it happen.” But a couple of hours later he tells reporters: “I don’t really think about Pacquiao. I don’t really know him. I wish him all the best but I couldn’t care less about Manny Pacquiao. I am only focused on Floyd Mayweather. If it happens, it happens.” Leonard Ellerbe, chief executive at Mayweather Promotions, says: “Floyd is ready to fight anybody. Of course there is hope [of a Pacquiao fight next May]. It’s all about giving the fans what they want to see. Hopefully we can get it together and make it happen.”
■ 26 September Mayweather tweets a montage of images showing Pacquiao on the canvas, accompanied by: “Miss Pac Man is broke and desperate for a pay day. Your pay-per-view numbers are a joke.” Pacquiao says: “I’m not affected by it. I pity him and I pray that some day he would change his ways. He should fear God.” Then he quotes a passage from Matthew 16:26: “For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”