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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pacquiao special: A warrior's tale

BRILLIANT boxer, political flop, aspiring actor and one of the Philippines' richest men - Manny Pacquiao is a man of many faces.

But the warrior who will glare across the ring at Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas on Saturday night is the product of a classic rags-to-riches boxing story, the tale of a kid who lived rough on the streets before finding his fortune in his fists.

Legend has it that he fled his family home in tears as a 14-year-old when his father, in a drunken rage, killed, cooked and ate young Manny's pet dog.

He stowed away on a ship heading from his home town of General Santos City, heading for the capital Manila.

Once there, he lived rough in the streets, sleeping in a cardboard box and eking out a living selling penny doughnuts.

When the half-starved kid stumbled into a boxing gym, a whole new world was revealed to him, a world in which his inherent toughness and athletic ability could earn him a fortune.

It would also transform him from a ragged street urchin into a national hero - the only Filipino athlete to appear on one of the country's postage stamps.


Hatton is a popular figure in Britain, lauded by chat show hosts, friendly with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Noel Gallagher, and loved by his fans.

But Pacquiao transcends celebrity in his home country. When the 30-year-old came to the Trafford Centre to launch his block-busting fight, Filipinos from all over Europe were there.

Crime rates plummet and, it is said, Communist insurgents and Muslim secessionists in the Philippines declare unofficial truces in their civil wars, when his fights are televised.

Pacquiao is one of only nine boxers to have won major world titles at four different weight divisions.

Astonishingly, he won two of those titles in the space of just three months last year, before rounding off 2008 with a non-title demolition of Oscar de la Hoya at welterweight. In an era when making the weight is as much a worry for boxers as being punched, Pacquiao has defied logic.

He began his remarkable 2008 at 9st 4lbs, lifting the WBC's super-featherweight title with a disputed split decision victory over the gifted Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez.

Three months later he leapt to the nine-stone lightweight limit to knock out David Diaz in the ninth round for the WBC championship.

And within five months he went up two divisions to face the Golden Boy, Oscar de la Hoya, at the 10 st 7 lbs welterweight limit - and retired the American great for good.

Pacquiao appears able to surf through the weight divisions at will, although Hatton says his first appearance at the ten-stone light-welterweight limit will be his hardest. After Friday's weigh-in, Hatton will pile on over a stone through rehydration and carbohydrate-packed meals, which will make him even bigger than a weight-drained de la Hoya was on that fateful night in December.

Pacquiao began his career in 1995 as a 16-year-old light-flyweight, weighing just 7st 8lbs.


But he soon began making a name for himself, and before long his mum, brothers and sisters were making regular pilgrimages to their local television shop to watch him fight through the shop window.

A defeat in his 12th professional bout, by Rustico Torrecampo, saw the Pacman move up to flyweight, the division in which he won his first world title in 1998, with an eighth-round stoppage of Thailand's Chatchai Sasakul in his opponent's backyard.

He lost that belt in his second defence, struggling to make the weight as his body matured, and then took a bold, career-changing decision.

Like many young men seeking their fortune, Pacquiao headed to Hollywood, but he wasn't looking for movie stardom. He walked into the Wild Card gym of Freddie Roach, one of the world's most respected trainers, and was taken on after a brief workout.

Within six months, Pacquiao was given his opportunity, as a late replacement when South African ace Lehlohonolo Ledwaba's opponent for the IBF super-bantamweight title pulled out.

Pacquiao stepped in without hesitation to make his US debut at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and promptly stopped his opponent in the sixth round.

From there, his career was on a meteoric upward curve.


Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera was despatched in 2003, Pacquiao's first fight at featherweight, and a win which made the boxing world stand to attention.

He was then denied a win over another great Mexican fighter, Juan Manuel Marquez, by an error on a judge's scorecard, the bout ending in a draw.

A third legendary Mexican halted Pacquiao's charge to superstardom in 2005, Erik Morales claiming a unanimous decision - the last time the `Mexi-cutioner' lost a fight.

That defeat was avenged 10 months later with a tenth round KO, and in the rubber match of a thrilling trilogy, Morales was sparked in the third round, in 2006.

Buoyed by the love of his people, Pacquiao decided to move into politics, in a bid to give something back to the poverty-stricken populace from which he emerged.

The move backfired. The man dubbed Pambansang Kamao, or `National Fist' was worshipped as a boxer and the people felt he was sullying his name by dabbling in the murky world of Filipino government.

He stood twice for election to political posts, and lost heavily on both occasions - although he is expected to stand in the country's general election next year.

But his ambitions do not stop there. A movie of his life was released in 2006, and was a flop, but Pacquiao has gone on to appear in films and television himself in his native land.

And now he is planning to wow the other side of Hollywood, by teaming up with Sylvester Stallone in a forthcoming feature.


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