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HP Veer commercial featuring superstar boxer Manny Pacquiao.


MANILA — In sifting through the records of the last 25 years, no Filipino athlete stands out as glaringly as Manny Pacquiao in terms of achievement, international recognition and impact on the nation.

There isn’t anyone from any sport close to even duplicating what Pacquiao has done in and out of the ring to bring honor and glory to the country.

In 1986, Pacquiao was only eight years old, a wide-eyed student at the Labangal Elementary School in General Santos City.

He finished only up to Grade 6 then made a living as a bakery boy selling bread in the streets.

Pacquiao grew up in a vegetable farm in the mountains with sister Sidra and two younger brothers Bobby and Rogelio.

His mother Dionisia had two children, Lisa and Domingo, from a broken family and was abandoned twice over.

Pacquiao’s father Rosalio took off when he was barely in his teens.
 
With little food on the table, Pacquiao saw boxing as his ticket out of poverty as it was for townmate Rolando Navarrete, the former world junior lightweight boxing champion.

Pacquiao racked up a 60-4 amateur record and caught the eye of local promoters Rey Golingan and Fabian Javier.

He was called Kid Kulafu by fans and gained a large following because of his daredevil style.

In 1994, Malabon businessman Polding Correa phoned a General Santos City “talent scout” Yolanda Parcon to send to Manila a bunch of young and promising fighters and promised to make champions out of those with potential.

So in a slow boat to Manila rode Pacquiao — without his mother’s knowledge — and nine other aspiring simonpures with visions of fame and fortune in the big city.

Pacquiao was only 14 when he landed in Port Area without a single centavo in his pockets.

The left-hander was brought to the steamy L&M sweathouse in Sampaloc where he trained and lived.

He slept inside the ring close to the door-less shower room, without pillows or a blanket, the stench of sweat and blood billowing from the canvas.

Who would’ve imagined that less than 20 years later, the same gym now stands proudly on Paquita Street as a monument to Pacquiao’s ascendancy.

Pacquiao has bought the gym and rebuilt it into the seven-storey MP Towers with modern training facilities, new equipment, a dormitory, a canteen, a recreational area, office space and a rooftop.

Over the last 25 years, Pacquiao has become an international phenomenon, the only fighter in history to capture eight world championships in eight divisions.

Four other world champions claimed titles in six weight classes — Hector (Macho) Camacho, Tommy Hearns, James Toney and Oscar De La Hoya — but none has collected seven.

Pacquiao is in a class of his own.

He’s the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter — a distinction no Filipino has ever received, not any of the legends who preceded him, including Pancho Villa, Ceferino Garcia, Flash Elorde and Luisito Espinosa.

It was in 1998 when Pacquiao won his first world crown, coming from behind to knock out Thai hero Chatchai Sasakul for the WBC flyweight diadem in Bangkok.

In 2001, he ventured to the U.S. and wrested the IBF 122-pound superbantamweight crown from South Africa’s Lehlo Ledwaba as a substitute challenger who took the fight on two weeks’ notice.

Two years later, Pacquiao halted Mexican icon Marco Antonio Barrera to gain recognition as the lineal world featherweight king.

Then, he annexed the WBC superfeatherweight title at Juan Manuel Marquez’s expense, added the WBC lightweight belt by stopping David Diaz, took the IBO lightwelterweight crown via a second round demolition of Ricky Hatton, gained the WBO welterweight diadem with a 12th round disposal of Miguel Cotto and claimed the WBC superwelterweight championship on a decision over Antonio Margarito.

What is astounding in Pacquiao’s rise to the top is his almost superhuman ability to transcend weight classes without compromising his speed and power.

With Top Rank chairman Bob Arum at his side, Pacquiao has masterfully negotiated terms to even the fighting field by introducing “catchweight” limits in battling Cotto and Margarito, both naturally bigger.

He did the same in luring De La Hoya to a showdown in 2008.
 
In terms of boxing technique, trainer Freddie Roach takes credit for molding Pacquiao into a fighting machine.

Strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza is responsible for guiding Pacquiao from one weight category to another without skipping a beat, using scientific methods to build up fast-twitch muscle fiber and eliminating the rise of body fat.

But beyond the contributions of those who make up his team, Pacquiao stands alone in his drive for excellence.

It’s his heart that ultimately makes the difference between winning or losing.

It’s his dedication to hard work that takes him to a level where most fighters find difficult to climb.

Pacquiao, 32, hasn’t lost since yielding a decision to Erik Morales in 2005.

It’s been six years since he tasted his third career defeat and he’s won 14 in a row up to his latest victory over Sugar Shane Mosley.

Dating back to 1991, professional boxing has registered 17 pay-per-view events in the U.S. with over a million buys.

Pacquiao figured in four of the million sellers when he fought De La Hoya (1.25 million), Cotto (1.25 million), Margarito (1.15 million) and Mosley (1.3 million).

Last year, ESPN-The Magazine reported that Pacquiao was the No. 1 dollar earner in boxing with a gross income of $32 million, putting him on top of the global ladder with baseball’s Alex Rodriguez.

The figure was the sum of Pacquiao’s guaranteed purses excluding his share in pay-per-view sales and endorsement income.

ESPN noted that Pacquiao’s income was a far cry from the Philippines’ per capita gross domestic product of $1,747.

Pacquiao’s recent fight against Mosley drew over 1,600 accredited media from around the world to a venue that was sold out three days after tickets went on sale.

Because of his stature, Pacquiao is easily the most credible endorser in the business.

In the U.S., he pitches for the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino near Los Angeles and was paid $1 million to appear in a 30-seconder for Hewlett Packard’s HP Veer 4G smartphone.

Pacquiao is a Nike global icon like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Maria Sharapova, Tiger Woods and Rafael Nadal.

Since signing up with Nike in 2006, the world’s largest sports footwear and apparel company has put out a fresh line of shoes and shirts to commemorate each of his fights.

The merchandise almost always sells out in a matter of hours, no matter the cost.

In the Philippines, Pacquiao endorses a slew of products from beer to ice cream to fuel oil to car batteries to coffee to motorcycles to deodorants to pain killers to just about anything on the shelves.

That’s how influential he is.

Recently acclaimed as Boxer of the Decade by the Boxing Writers Association of America, Pacquiao even has his own commemorative eight world championship ring in two editions crafted by celebrated American jeweler Howard Kaplan.

The first version retails for $5,300 and is a 14-karat white gold hand-crafted ring with more than 1 1/2 ounces of white gold and over .80 carat of genuine white diamonds which are bezel set.

Kaplan has produced rings to commemorate titles won by the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants.

He also manufactured six personalized rings for Michael Jordan to immortalize his six NBA titles and the Muhammad Ali “Athlete of the Century” ring in 2000.

There are several books on Pacquiao in the market but the top sellers are “Pacman — My Story of Hope, Resilience and Never-Say-Never Determination” by Pacquiao and Timothy James and “Pacman — Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao, the Greatest Pound-for-Pound Fighter in the World” by Gary Andrew Poole.

BBC World Service has produced a two-part audio documentary on Pacquiao’s life and Academy Award winning director Leon Gast is in the process of completing a film on the Filipino icon for theatrical release next year.

The legacy that Pacquiao will leave behind when he finally hangs up his gloves won’t be as much about boxing as his own philosophy in life.

In the Margarito fight, he showed compassion in allowing the battered Mexican to finish the distance on his feet.

Asked why he let Margarito off the hook, Pacquiao replied, “Boxing isn’t killing each other.”

That brief explanation reverberated throughout the world as Pacquiao humanized the “cruel” sport with his reminder that it is after all an art and science, not a display of brutality.

Pacquiao recently gave an inkling of how he wants to be remembered when he said, “All my life, I’ve had to fight...as a child, I had to fight just to eat — and now when I fight, Filipinos call me a hero, I believe the biggest fight of my life is not in boxing...the biggest fight in my life is how to end poverty in my country.”

It’s the motivation that pushed Pacquiao into winning a congressional seat in his second attempt last year.

He’s also in the history books as the only active fighter ever to become an elected public official.

No doubt, Pacquiao isn’t just a Filipino idol, he’s a global hero.

He has captivated the universe with his charisma, skills and courage.

He is hailed by an adoring army of fans.

His record of 53-3-2, with 38 KOs, is a testament to his prowess as a fighter.

Whether Pacquiao will go down in history as the greatest fighter who ever lived remains to be seen.

Arum said he could be the greatest of all time.

“I’m limited to the fighters I’ve seen because I’ve never seen Ray Robinson, I never saw Joe Louis, I never saw Benny Leonard,” he said.

“So of the fighters I’ve seen, I would rank him as the best.”

A fighter whom Arum has seen up close is Ali.

Roach said he’s never come across an athlete as tireless, determined and unpredictable.

“He trains, trains and trains and then afterwards, goes and sings for two hours,” said Roach.

“I’m waiting for Manny to show me a sign he is slowing down. He is better now and works harder than he has ever in his life. Manny asked me the other day, ‘if I start to slow down, will you tell me?’ I said, ‘I will be the first to tell you and then you and me can both go look for new jobs.’”

Roach said it’s difficult to compare Pacquiao with Roberto Duran or Robinson.

“It’s hard for me to say he’s better than Duran or Sugar Ray,” said Roach.

“I wouldn’t say that but I would say he’s the best fighter of his era.”

Arum said Pacquiao is at the peak of his ring career and he hasn’t noticed signs of slippage yet.

He estimated at least two more years of active fighting.

Within that time frame, perhaps Pacquiao could face Floyd Mayweather Jr. and set a new record for pay-per-view buys.

It’s the fight that’s waiting to happen if only Mayweather steps up to the plate.

Both fighters could easily bankroll $50 million apiece — more than enough to cushion a comfortable retirement.

Boxing has never known a fighter with a soul quite like Pacquiao’s.

His boxing record speaks for itself.

His accomplishments are unprecedented.

But Pacquiao’s show of heart is his ticket to immortality.

There is no question he is the greatest Filipino athlete in the last 25 years.