Nov. 13, 2009: In Pacquiao’s corner, an entire crazed nation


MORGAN CAMPBELL
SPORTS REPORTER

When Manny Pacquiao blasted Ricky Hatton in two rounds last May, Filipino President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a national holiday to celebrate the win.

Since then, his fame in the Philippines and beyond has only grown, and as he heads toward the toughest test of his career – Saturday’s showdown with Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto – it’s clear Pacquiao won’t enter the ring alone.

He’ll have a whole country behind him, and then some.

“He’s bigger than our president,” said Carlos Unas, Toronto-based publisher of the Filipino Bulletin. “Everyone knows his name and is proud of him. He put the Philippines on the map.”

Long popular among boxing aficionados and Filipino fight fans, Pacquiao rocketed to superstardom last December when he dismantled Oscar De La Hoya over eight bruising rounds.

Promoter Bob Arum says Pacquiao’s string of big wins has made him one of boxing’s most recognizable fighters, inflating his country’s self-esteem and rivalling legends like Muhammad Ali.

“I’ve never seen anything like the adulation he’s greeted (with) by Filipinos in the Philippines and all over the world,” Arum told a media conference call. “That’s something even Ali never had, that type of frenzy.”

Locally, 200 Pacquiao fans will cram into Rookie’s Social House, on Dufferin St. near Finch Ave. W., on fight night. Manager Beni Lopez says the music will stop when the main event starts, attention shifting to the club’s flat-screen TVs.

“Filipinos everywhere will stop whatever they’re doing to watch him,” Lopez said. “(We) are always looking for a hero. They can’t find that in politics, so they have Pacquiao.”

Meanwhile, Pacquiao’s mainstream profile continues to rise.

Last month, Nike unveiled a billboard in Hollywood emblazoned with Pacquiao’s image, and earlier this year Time magazine named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

Still, fame in the U.S. hasn’t weakened the bond between Pacquiao and the country where he turned pro as a 16-year-old flyweight, turning his meagre earnings over to his mother so she could buy food.

“His countrymen love him and he’s a great inspiration for his country,” trainer Freddie Roach said.

While he normally trains in Los Angeles, Pacquiao opened training for this fight in Baguio City in the northern Philippines, where admirers came to see him even as they dug out from deadly typhoons that had hit the area.

For week five, Pacquiao moved his camp to Manila, where he and his team learned that dedication can become a distraction. Local politicians would show up hoping to score meetings with the country’s most popular man and the routine wore Pacquiao down. As a result, his sparring suffered.

“Our last day of boxing there I was disappointed,” Roach said. “He didn’t really do that well. His mind was somewhere else.”

Roach knows Pacquiao’s mind needs to be in the ring to take down Cotto, his strongest opponent yet and a world champ in two divisions.

Not that Roach is worried.

“With the way he’s punching right now and the power he has at this weight, he’s going to knock Cotto out,” Roach said.

“I look forward to the win.”

A win against Cotto would give Pacquiao titles in a record seven weight classes, cementing his legacy as an all-time great.

It would also set him up for the one fight that could further enhance his stature – a showdown with Floyd Mayweather.

But Mayweather has been criticized for avoiding world-class opponents, and Pacquiao worries Mayweather might ignore him too.

“I don’t think it will happen, I’m sure he doesn’t want to fight,” Pacquiao told the Associated Press. “He doesn’t care if a fight is boring as long as … he gets (plenty of) money. I want people to be happy. You have a big responsibility as a boxer.”

Copyright 2009 Toronto Star

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