x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A nation's hopes rest on Pacquiao

Inside the Garden Arena at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas tomorrow, Manny Pacquiao will walk through a wall of sound before entering the ring to face Oscar De La Hoya.

Inside the Garden Arena at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas tomorrow, Manny Pacquiao will walk through a wall of sound before entering the ring to face Oscar De La Hoya. Outside, in the still of the night, the silent prayers of an entire nation will drift through the arid air of this neon-lit Nevada city. Prayers of hope will be offered for a boxing hero who has become a national inspiration in his native Philippines, and a symbol of pride for his country's poor and dispossessed. "This is going to be the hardest fight in my career," Pacquiao said. "I know this guy is a legend, but then it's an honour to fight a legend like Oscar. I will do my best to win this fight and make people happy."

During a bruising 13-year career, winning has become a habit for the 29-year-old Filipino fighter, while making "people happy" has become an obsession. In Mindanao's General Santos City, where he grew up, Pacquiao has given away millions of Philippine pesos to the mahirap or poor. "I have a big responsibility," he said. "All the things I have right now are from God, and I have to give them back to the people that need help, the poor."

Pacquiao has earned his estimated US$60 million (Dh220m) fortune the hard way. He has traded bone-crunching punches with the best in the world and humbled such little, big men as future Hall of Fame stars, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Juan Manuel Marquez. Since fighting his way out of poverty at the age of 16, Pacquiao has won three world titles at three different weights. Just before his 20th birthday, he lifted the WBC flyweight crown in 1998. Three years later, he moved up to super bantamweight and added the IBF belt to his collection before taking the WBC super featherweight title in March. Tough could be his middle name. Smart could be his last as there is a sharp brain behind the finely-tuned brawn. When he finally retires, there has been talk he will run for the Philippines senate. Judging from his ring exploits, he would make a tenacious opponent.

Already a formidable fighter, Pacquiao has 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 before conquering the world of boxing. "God touches certain people," boxing promoter Bob Arum said of Pacquiao. "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.

"Muhammad Ali was a very generous man and all the writers said, 'Oh he's giving away all his money'. But Muhammad Ali never had to want for material things because God provided. And today Muhammad Ali has material wealth and still gives to people. Manny is the same." In the ring, Pacquiao is not quite so generous. De La Hoya would be wise to remember that. gwatts@thenational.ae