Almost two weeks have passed since Manny Pacquiao defeated Oscar De La Hoya in “The Dream Match.” The welterweight bout ended when De La Hoya’s corner decided to end the fight after the eighth round. As he approached the center of the ring, De La Hoya was greeted by an always humble Pacquiao.
“You’re still my idol,” the victor revealed to De La Hoya.
“No, you’re my idol,” replied the Golden Boy.
This changing of the guard has been a long time coming. Finally, the spotlight has shifted to the pride of the Philippines, Manny Pacquaio.
Las Vegas not only hosted the fight on Dec. 6th, it also housed a large contingent of Filipino Pacquiao fans. The neon lights of the strip did not emit as much energy as the fans that walked below them. That weekend, the air of debauchery was stifled by the excitement of boxing fans.
For many who made the pilgrimage to the city of sin, Pacquiao is seen as a national hero. I happened to stay at the same hotel as the fighter and the crowd of Filipino fans never left the hotel lobby. Each time I exited the elevator, faces of hope turned into faces of disappointment as the doors parted to reveal a Filipino woman, and not the man they’ve all been waiting for.
Lucky fans were treated to Pacquiao sightings, however. After my arrival, my companions and I decided to find something to eat before we soaked up the pre-fight atmosphere. Moments after we exited the elevator, the 5’6” southpaw appeared with his massive entourage in tow.
One would think the fighter would be the first to enter one of three awaiting limos, but he was the last one in. He made sure his people were all settled in their limo of choice, entered one, and was whisked away to the weigh-in.
Each tiny gesture contributes to why many Pacquiao fans feel a sort of kinship to a man they never met.
During pre-fight interviews, a group of female twenty-somethings glowed as they listened to him speak. The group explained that through his unaffected demeanor, they find his approachable and familiar.
“He’s just like my uncle,” explained one woman from the group.
When stats revealed Pacquiao was the tender age of 29 (now 30), the group laughed realizing he was much younger than he seemed.
Many fans see themselves when they look at Pacquiao. Each time he enters a packed stadium, a boyish grin creeps onto his face as if it was his first time headlining a major fight. The honesty in his expression is just one reason fans are charmed by the Filipino fighter. He is part of the people. He is a world class fighter without fear of looking like part of the hoi polloi.
In a time where a Filipino face is rare in mainstream media in the U.S., Filipino-Americans feel a sense of pride seeing a fellow Filipino take the boxing world by storm. He is not just a fighter in their eyes, he is a symbol of possibility.
Stay tuned for confirmation about the May 2 bout between Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton...