Manny Pacquiao plans to take care of two things before he heads back to the Philippines to be with his wife Jinkee for the birth of their fifth child later this month.
The first, of course, is to defeat Timothy Bradley Jr. in their rematch at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand on Saturday, and prove the judges called it wrong when they put Pacquiao on the losing end of a split decision the first time around (back in June of 2012).
The second is to hold a triumphant fundraiser in Los Angeles, tentatively scheduled for two days after the WBO welterweight title fight. There, Pacquiao hopes to renew awareness of how badly ravaged his homeland remains after getting pounded by Typhoon Haiyan’s 200-mph winds last November.
Pacquiao, in a phone interview with Bleacher Report last week, said keeping the world mindful of the devastation in the Philippines is more important than how much money he can raise.
“My goal is to help, to use my influence as a fighter, as a public figure, to not only get financial support, but to make people aware that we still need more help,” said Pacquiao, who has been a member of the Philippine House of Representatives since 2010.
“The problems don’t stop and the place is still a mess,” Pacquiao said. “We need people's help. Our people need emotional support. So the fundraiser is for awareness and the financial support is secondary.”
Haiyan is the deadliest natural disaster in Philippine history and killed at least 6,000 people. Some low-lying islands were completely flattened, and an estimated one million homes were lost.
If Pacquiao avenges his 2012 loss to the undefeated Bradley (31-0), his fundraising event figures to be a star-studded attraction. Despite being 35, he might even creep back into the debate over the greatest pound-for-pound fighter.
But a defeat would be the third in four fights over the last two years for Pacquiao, who’s 55-5-2 lifetime. It also would result in the fundraiser losing some of its luster, and leave many Filipino people depressed about the fate of their national hero.
Doesn’t that heap even more pressure on the 10-time champion, knowing that he carries the hopes of an entire nation?
“No, I don’t look at it as pressure,” Pacquiao said. “I think of it as motivation. It’s something that encourages me. It’s more opportunity than pressure.”
Pacquiao has used that as inspiration while training in Los Angeles for his first fight in the U.S. in 16 months.
“It’s something that’s very encouraging for me, something that gets me up for training and motivates me,” Pacquiao said of knowing the effect his wins have on his fellow Filipinos. “It’s something that I enjoy thinking about, because it makes people happy. It’s a simple boxing event, but it does so much for people.”
Pacquiao felt that national support more than ever after his last fight, a unanimous decision over Brandon Rios last November. That bout came just a couple of weeks after the typhoon hit, a juxtaposition that left Pacquiao seriously conflicted.
His first impulse was to take a break from his training in the southern part of the Philippines, which had escaped the worst of the typhoon, and head north. But his trainer, Freddie Roach, convinced Pacquiao it was best to stay on course and deliver a morale-boosting victory in the ring, and then dedicate himself to relief efforts afterward.
"I told him he couldn't go, he couldn't leave training camp," Roach told Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times. "It was too close to the fight. I made the call."
Roach’s decision was based on how Pacquiao had reacted a few years earlier after a mudslide killed people near the Philippine city of Baguio, where he had been training.
“He went and visited the victims, saw the devastation," Roach told the Times. "He wasn't the same for a while after that. He was depressed. The typhoon was just too close to fight night."
So Pacquiao stayed and focused on the Rios fight, and then toured afterward. Many stops were in towns where the population was still living in tents.
Pacquiao’s first visit was to the major city Tacloban, where the typhoon killed hundreds. Upon arriving, Pacquiao learned that even amid all the destruction, the city had managed to televise the Rios fight for thousands of citizens at a main plaza. It brought him to tears.
During the relief tour, Pacquiao said, “We went to all of the towns that were hit. We were showing support for the people emotionally, spiritually, financially.”
He plans to be back in those towns as soon as things settle down after the birth of his son, who will be named Israel in honor of the nation Pacquiao and his family have visited and enjoyed.
“We’ll continue to give as much help as we can for the Philippines, nonstop,” Pacquiao vowed. “My goal is to keep the public aware, so that we don’t forget this tragedy after a few weeks or months.”
Pacquiao said he’s received more than he’s given during his visits to typhoon victims.
“It’s the interaction with the people, the children especially,” Pacquiao said. “They look at me and say they were very sad they couldn’t watch my last fight, because they didn’t have power, but that they were happy when they heard about it. So it is very humbling to know that even while they’re going through the devastation they cared about me.”
Besides food and other supplies, Pacquiao also brought Bibles. He has been very open about his Christian faith, and told the typhoon victims they shouldn’t lose theirs because of the destruction wreaked by Haiyan.
“It’s very important, the relationship to God,” Pacquiao said. “Now it’s most important, because they really have to look to God and ask for his help, and know that we still have faith regardless of what has happened.”
Tom Weir covered numerous championship fights as a columnist for USA Today. All the quotes in this story were gathered firsthand, unless otherwise noted.