GRACE IN THE LAST ROUND
The first sign that something special was about to happen came during the traditional touching of gloves before the last round. Pacquiao touched them up, but went a step further giving a deep nod to Margarito – a salute, and then, as if to make sure the sal-ute was understood, he touched his right glove one more time to Margarito’s, stepped back, crossed himself, and began to “fight”. But not quite.
For the first 30-seconds of the round Pacquiao, who had been throwing power punches at a rate of one every 5-seconds of the entire fight, threw only two tentative punches that wouldn’t even hurt a fly, circling Margarito instead of engaging him with flurries.
Pacquiao threw his third and last punch – another inconsequential jab, 40-seconds into the round. Three half-hearted harmless punches a quarter of the way through the final round, when by simple “average” punch count Pacquaio would by then have normally thrown at least 25 solid and painful punches to the head or body. Something was up. Everyone in the arena noticed something was amiss as did millions of others who watched the fight worldwide on TV.
This wasn’t the normal Pacquiao the fearless warrior and a senior ringside commentator realized what was happening and immediately commented on it: “Folks, I honestly wonder whether Pacquiao has no more stomach for the punishment he’s lashed out in all the previous rounds. He doesn’t seem eager to punish Margarito anymore. It looks like he’s carrying Margarito to the end right now.”
THE BADGE OF GREATNESS
Only a few of the greatest fighters in boxing history have ever done this gesture and none within recent memory. Bob Arum, the business-savvy boxing promoter of the 1980s and still a driving force behind the sport who defended Margarito when he lost his boxing license in the US state of California on charges of illegal hand wraps, was interviewed after the bout by 60 Min-utes USA and had this to say: “Pacquiao is the greatest boxing champion of all time, greater than Muhammad Ali ever was and that’s because I’ve never seen any professional fighter use both his hands with such devastating effect. But more than that, Manny has that rare quality of having a heart inside the ring.”
There was no question that Pacquiao was pulling his punches now. He was not following through and committing the way he always does for the usual ‘kill’. It was a nod to Mar-garito’s guts and courage. Pacquaio’s heart was going to let him finish this fight with dig-nity. This was not Manny Pacquaio the ultimate warrior, this was Manny Pacquiao – the quintessential Filipino shining through and through for the entire world to see.
DOWN COME THE CURTAINS
The final bell rang and as the fight ended Pacquaio immediately knelt in his corner in prayer as is his custom. I’ve watched Pac-quiao do this time and again without fail and each time I’m struck by his body language as he prays – the intensity with which he clutches his gloves to his head, blocking out the noise of the cheering crowd, the arena, the chaos around him creating what clearly must be a profound moment of heartfelt religious communion – pleading for forgiveness for any harm he may have done but also raising a praise of thanks to his Maker for his victory.
After the fight the same commentator from ringside interviewed Manny and asked, “What were you asking the referee to do when you looked toward him in the 11th round pre-sumably imploring him to stop the fight? Pacquiao answered: “You know, I felt pity. His eyes, his bloody face. All of you watching the fight could see that too. For me, boxing is not about killing each other.”
What was on display that day when Pacquiao carried Margarito to the finish line essentially reflects deeply-ingrained Filipino va-lues that typify the elusive best of a unique country whose peo-ple’s humble and gentle virtues are not particularly well under-stood abroad.
This is after all a world where for example, some cultures have adopted the term “filipina” to be a derogatory slang word for “housekeeper”. The truth is, it’s easy for uninformed westerners to underestimate and misinterpret the gentle, gracious nature of the Filipino character even as history contains numerous anecdotes about their courage under fire during conflict and their indomitable will to survive the most trying of times and circumstances with a smile.
Yet somehow, Manny Pacquaio is single-handedly changing all that, teaching the world and reminding the Filipinos living in over 129 countries across the world that humility, grace, compassion, and empathy can coexist even within the heart of a Filipino, be he a warrior or otherwise.
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SOME CLOSING NOTES
Pacquiao has been included by Time Magazine as one of the world’s most influential people for the year 2009, for his exploits in boxing and his influence among the Filipino people. Pacquiao was also included by Forbes Magazine in its annual Celebrity 100 list for the year 2009, joining Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie and fellow athletes Tiger Woods and Bryant. Forbes also listed Pacquiao as world’s 6th highest-paid athlete, with a total of $40 million from second half of 2008 to first half of 2009.
Pacquiao was born in Kibawe, Bukidnon, Mindanao under extremely impoverished circumstances. He currently resides in his home town General Santos City, South Cotabato, Philippines. He is married to Jinkee Pacquiao and they have four children.