x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Manny Pacquiao is a man unchanged by fame and fortune

The Filipino boxer has risen from poverty to great wealth and stardom, but even ahead of the Shane Mosley bout, nothing has altered his relaxed and friendly nature.

Manny Pacquiao has risen from poverty to great wealth and stardom, but nothing has altered his relaxed and friendly nature. Article by Chuck Culpepper, photos by Mike Young.
Manny Pacquiao has risen from poverty to great wealth and stardom, but nothing has altered his relaxed and friendly nature. Article by Chuck Culpepper, photos by Mike Young.
After several days in Mannyland, you might begin to pinpoint why the experience feels so unusual and refreshing, and you might happen upon a thought that strays beyond boxing into someplace broader.
Surely nobody else lives great fame quite this breezily.
Nobody else sits around Starbucks for four hours on a Sunday to alleviate boredom and greet intermittent waves of approaching fans. Nobody else keeps his coterie so close by and so perpetually that old friends often sleep at the foot of his bed. Nobody else lets the public lurk three metres away during training. Nobody else has this rapport with fellow citizens.
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The Manny Pacquiao Story
Part 1: Inside Manny Pacquiao's training camp
Part 2: A man unchanged by fame and fortune
Part 3: Supporting cast: Buboy, Nonoy and people who like people
Part 4: A bittersweet farewell to Mannyland

Video:
.  Man(ny)'s best friend
.  The culture of Manny
.  The road and the ring
Pacquiao v Mayweather: latest stories and pictures
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Asked one day in March why he comes all the way to the far-flung northern Philippines from Los Angeles to train for fights, Manny looks a mite incredulous.
"This is my country," he says.
Manny Pacquiao grew up only vaguely aware of the existence of refrigerators as machines in other people's houses, dreamt while asleep of tables of food, suffered the vacant look of hunger in his mother and three younger siblings. He learned the brutal strategies of hunger management such as avoiding eating while starving so as not to deepen famishment hours on.
He ends up living global fame at 32 as you might hope you would live it.
You would pay the medical bills of people who queued up in your hometown. You would rescue troubled friends. You would bond with those who have suffered similarly. Mostly, you would stay unperturbed, even grateful, even with the media.
At 51 and realistic, the trainer Freddie Roach speaks with a tranquil bluntness. He knows Pacquiao's imperfections. He readily tells you while waiting for Manny to come downstairs for training that nobody in the group wants to wake Manny from naps because nobody wants to incur the bad mood. He tells of Manny's stubbornness when told he cannot do something. He bristles at prospective injuries from Manny's basketball obsession - "I won't go watch a game, because I don't condone it" - so that the two have cut a deal to quit the basketball four weeks from fights.
"He'll play up to that last night, 11.50pm," Roach says.
But Roach also says this: "A really nice kid. So he's such a giving person that I'm afraid he's going to give it all away someday. That's my biggest worry. Because he's a generous, generous person." And: "He does like people."
He's the kind of guy who'll quickly give a cheque for US$9,000 (Dh33,000) to his sparring partner for a house down payment, but never does Manny's legendary generosity ring any truer than in the case of Buboy Fernandez, childhood friend, assistant trainer and cornerman alongside Roach during fights.
Eyeball Buboy's big life at 36. Here he is with a laptop, playing a video that shows him winning at motocross outside Baguio before onlookers perched in trees. Here he is, regaling listeners with his impressions of Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
There he was back in December 1997, on a street in General Santos, the city where he first met a nine-year-old Pacquiao, who eventually stowed away at 15 on an 800km boat ride to Manila in 1994, slept in parks, scratched out moderate boxing success, sent money to his mother, returned south for a fight. Now he encountered both Fernandez and heartache at his friend's dirty clothes, unkempt hair and wretched cigarettes.
He insisted Fernandez join him in Manila, and he did swoop up a life. More than supporting Fernandez, he employed him, such that by now Fernandez accepts training awards in posh hotels, as he did in Manila last month.
"Buboy, he's very close to Manny, he has a good rapport with Manny," Roach said. "If Manny has a cramp somewhere, Buboy knows exactly where that cramp usually occurs. Usually it's in the calf area because his calves are so big. If he gets tight in a fight, Buboy knows where to repair."
He also has sobbed in the corner both from fret when Manny disobeys orders and amazement at Manny's life trajectory.
"He's wanted to learn very badly," Roach said. "He would watch me very closely. Now it's at the point where he usually repeats what I say to Manny in the corner in Visayan" (their dialect). "But he says a lot more than I say. I know that." Roach sometimes says: "What'd you tell him extra?" And: "Consult me, let me know because I might disagree."
Says Roach: "I haven't seen Manny in a bad mood lately but I have seen it a few times and Buboy will get the brunt of that, also. He doesn't have an easy job. When things go wrong, you vent at somebody."
Some guys who Pacquiao has met along the trail have joined the world's most affable security team - no black jackets and self-importance here. Most wear shorts. One wears fatigues and croons songs blaring from his motorcycle radio. Many have backgrounds in military or police but not necessarily in guarding celebrities. Pacquiao reportedly overpays them. Wouldn't you, if you could?
Filipinos understand all this in an intricate way others cannot, just as they understand why Fernandez and Nonoy Neri and others have slept in Manny's room through the years.
"He struggled," says Anna Palogan, a fan who joined her groom Domingo Rigor for a honeymoon side venture of Manny-watching. "Manny Pacquiao, himself, struggled. I think he knows where he belongs. Look where he started in this life. That's the best thing. You're not too much boasting."
Says Rigor: "Just imagine, Denzel Washington to watch and then embrace Manny Pacquiao after the [Ricky] Hatton fight! Even the actor [Daniel Radcliffe] who played Harry Potter! Even Sylvester Stallone offered him a script!"
Philip Pacle, a Baguio graphic designer who often jogs with Pacquiao, says the bygone poverty makes Manny "very human".
"He wants to mingle with the crowds because of his stature before. Because he was poor," says Pacle.
Abide the crowds he does, in a manner that startles the senses these days. He draws more audience to his abdominal crunches than some people do to their weddings. After a morning zip around the lake, Manny mounts a pad on the pavement beside his black Cadillac Escalade, and a five-deep crowd makes a circular blob.
Children sit on concrete, transfixed. Adults stare as Neri holds down Manny's feet for crunches. This transpires almost daily without so much as a grimace from "Pambansang Kamao" - "National Fist", in English.
On a sidewalk outside Starbucks, a 26-year-old food technologist from Manila, Maria Lugo, speaks of Pacquiao less from boxing fandom than from sheer citizenry.
"Because he fights for his people," she says. "And even up to now, I still consider him being so humble. He still represents us as being Filipino. We fight in many ways and we're good in many ways and he is one of us. There are so many stories about us in the world, and yet, we are really strong because of all the things that have happened to us and to our country, if you look back at our history" - meaning wars, occupations, despots, corruption, poverty.
Many Filipinos bemoan Pacquiao's election to Congress in 2010 because they either find him educationally overmatched or deem government intractably slimy. In March after a run when he told reporters he would vote "no" to impeaching the national ombudsman, he took flak on Twitter and deleted his account.
Meanwhile, after Lugo speaks, Pacquiao exits the Starbucks, floats up a mall escalator and high-fives the shoppers descending opposite, just as you would do if this famous.
Even if sometimes tardy, as Manny can be, and even if you did not crave interviews, you would endure them with polite aplomb, yes you would. One day Manny does one in Tagalog on a mountain road, one in Tagalog at ringside in the gym, another in English by the wall getting his hands taped. Up walks a producer from the major American network CBS, which plans a preview special on the Pacquiao-Shane Mosley fight in May.
"CBS, huh?" Manny says, grinning easily but then spotting Ryan Moore beside the producer.
"Advance happy birthday," Manny calls out to Moore, a Filipino-American producing a Pacquiao feature documentary for director Leon Gast, whose When We Were Kings about Muhammad Ali and George Foreman's infamous "Rumble in the Jungle" in 1974 won an Academy Award.
What?
"Advance happy birthday, on the 27th," Manny repeats.
How did you .?
"Manny knows," he says, attending to his tape and grinning.
Rodney Hunt, the CBS producer, asks about balancing boxing and Congress. "Not hard," Manny says. "Time management."
Hunt notes that he once saw Pacquiao and buddies on a par-3 golf course in the unassuming Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. Replies Manny: "We play there because we don't want to hit somebody."
Everybody laughs.
One-to-one then, days later, Pacquiao proves less chatty. He answers questions patiently and politely as he preps for a workout but seems cautious with the English as if not wanting to err.
He refers to his 61-year-old mother, Dionisia, who always smiled when he prayed during his childhood, as the source of his determination. "She taught us how to grow and how to live and how to be fair to people," he says.
He has grand plans to combat poverty in the Philippines, noting the "big challenge" and providing no details but saying, "For me it's not hard helping.
"If you really love helping people, giving to people, it's not hard . Not all of the time I can help, but I feel like when I'm helping it's like, I mean, it's like you are winning, like you are winning a boxing match."
And the person at the centre of this becoming little culture in the mountains, the person from whom the tone emanates, agrees that, yes, he does like people: "It's something natural to me. That's me. That's my life. That's how I treat people."
cculpepper@thenational.ae
About this series
Sport columnist Chuck Culpepper and sport photo editor Mike Young spent six days at Manny Pacquiao's training camp in the Philippines, meeting the world champion and the getting to know the people, places and culture that shaped him.
This is the second of their four-part report, which will continue until Tuesday.
Culpepper is an award-winning writer from the US who spent several years in London, researching and writing an acclaimed book about Portsmouth football club. He has been with The National since September.
Young has a passion for photography of sports events and the people involved. He joined The National in 2008 after working in newspapers and television in the US as a photographer, editor and producer.
Other stories in the series
Part 1: In Mannyland: inside Manny Pacquiao's training camp
Part 2: A man unchanged by fame and fortune
Part 3: Supporting cast: Buboy, Nonoy and people who like people
Part 4: A bittersweet farewell to Mannyland