Whatever Happened to Manny Pacquiao?
It used to be a regular miracle: being able to reach Quezon City from Alabang in just 45 minutes, five more to get to Antipolo. When that happens, people would know the miracle worker behind the clearing of the streets.
But now, on this Sunday, despite the standard press tours, the billboards, banners and ads, it came as no surprise to hear people say, “The Pacquiao fight was today?” or "May laban pala si Manny ngayon ?” and even "Akala ko retired na siya?”
Something has changed in the way we regard Manny Pacquiao as a sports icon and a person. We’ve gone from a nation of borderline worshippers—it was as if the man could do no wrong, after pulling off one of the greatest runs by a Filipino (or anybody at all, for that matter) in the world of boxing.
Until he slipped. Initially it was him falling face first on the canvas via the hands of Mexican nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012. And then he opened his mouth outside of the boxing ring into the political arena. That was when we stopped paying attention, started praying for him to go away.
His alleged womanizing and gambling ways got out in the open, though, to be fair, the man owned up to his mistakes. But with a string of humiliating losses, mediocre wins, and the flop of a megafight with archrival Floyd Mayweather Jr., Pacquiao’s reputation took a dive, like one of his opponents getting decked with his flurry of haymakers.
The knockout barrage started in February 2015, with Pacquiao’s ill-worded stand against same-sex marriage, costing him several lucrative endorsements and ties with pay-per-view (PPV) partner HBO and sports brand Nike. Then came his so-called farewell fight last April which they had hoped would salvage his dwindling appeal and bring back public sympathy. He vowed to focus on his Senate post after, to make up for his dismal attendance record as a congressman.
The inevitable comeback followed after his seven-month retirement that nobody bought in the first place (history shows that greats like Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan don’t know when to quit). When he did show up at the Senate, he would deliver confounding privilege speeches, riddled with Biblical quotes and mixed with misplaced machismo. The man who gained worldwide adulation through his fists has lost much respect with his mouth.
The PNP-NCRPO reported the usual zero percent crime rate in the metropolis on this Pacquiao-fight Sunday, though cinemas and sports bars hosting PPV events were only half-filled. Even Mayweather sat ringside to watch Pacquiao school the younger, bigger Jessie Vargas (perhaps planting the seeds of another megafight between the two titans in the future).
But Pacquiao’s own countrymen didn’t seem to care about his return to the ring, or even of a potential Pac-Floyd rematch, for that matter. It’s unfortunate, if you ask me, because Pacquiao put on quite a show, bringing back flashes of the Manny of old, the boxer we used to universally adore.
Allow me to come clean: I’m a Pacquiao fan. I’m a Pacnut, as fanatics of the Pacman were once derisively called in online forums. I’d like to believe I had a special connection knowing that I, too, walked the same streets Pacquiao used to tread while he was peddling sugar donuts, cigarettes, and other merchandise to feed his siblings, before he escaped to Manila to forge boxing history. See, when I was a teenager, you had to travel an hour to GenSan to get a taste of Jollibee (a simple pleasure for a probinsyano on the southern edge of Mindanao), and I would save my allowance, walk kilometers from the bus terminal to the mall and back.
It’s that imagined affinity, and the fact that someone from our part of the archipelago can capture the world’s respect, that had me cling to my Pacquiao fandom, and save some extra money to buy the latest Nike Pacman shirt to wear for an equally expensive PPV live viewing.
But the last time I did that was five years ago. All that’s left now, after watching the man reclaim lost glory (on the smartphone screen, via Facebook live streaming, on some shady fan page) is grudging admiration for Pacquiao the boxer. There is still that. But, on the whole, this former Pacnut would rather count the holes on a cracker than spend time paying any more attention to what he does or says outside the ring.