No one could have written a more dramatic series of events before the Pacquiao Rios bout. Just a few weeks the most powerful typhoon to ever hit land in recorded history decimated the homes of an estimated 10 million people. The extremely conservative total number of lives lost from YOLANDA as counted by the NDRRMC is already at 5,240 (November 26, 13). The original screaming headlines of 10,000 lives lost is not an exaggeration as there are still towns that have not been reached by help or assistance.
Reality it seems truly is wilder than fiction. As a sports fan, as a writer no one could conceive of someone like Pacquiao. He was wandering the streets of Manila as a homeless street child, when he was lucky enough to be part of Mayor Lito Atenza’s youth program for boxing. In a very recent interview in HBO’s 24/7 he said, “My family would not always have something to eat. That’s what happened to us.”
Who could believe that anyone could rise from that win titles in 8 different weight divisions and be considered as the Greatest Of All Time? Pacquiao has beaten 4 fighters destined for the Hall of fame: Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Oscar Dela Hoya and Juan Manuel Marquez. NBA Commissioner David Stern in a recent interview with Anthony Suntay had no doubt in his mind Pacquiao is the Greatest boxer of all time. Stern is himself considered as the most accomplished Executive in all of sports.
If there was anyone who knows the suffering of his people its Manny. And for the first time since training at the now legendary WILD CARD Gym in L.A. he decided to train in his hometown of General Santos City. Was it providential? In the days after the disaster Coach Freddie Roach had to stop Manny from going to the devastated areas. So he could still be in ‘fight mode’. There’s no telling how Pacquiao would be affected mentally. This was the same man who openly wept when his province mates were affected by typhoon PABLO just a year ago. Instead of thinking of himself and nursing his injuries he insisted on celebrating his birthday with the typhoon victims and distributing relief goods after Juan Manuel Marquez knocked him out. Even in his lowest of lows. His thoughts were for his people.
Rivalry Captured 24/7
The conflict between Freddie Roach and fitness guru Alex Ariza was confirmed when Ariza was kicked out and became part of the Rios camp. Ariza was rumored to have been overstepping his fitness role and mapping out strategy and boxing wanting to push out Roach. The relationship between Freddie and Manny has become more than just trainer and boxer which is closer to father and son. During training camp, Freddie Roach was awarded as an official ‘Son of General Santos City.’ The 24/7 crew was able to capture Roach being hounded by fans all over the city prompting Roach to say, “this would be a great place to retire.”
The sound byte was telling, in nearly all other interviews, in other networks it would be very difficult to discern what he’s saying. But the production quality is such that 24/7 was able to capture his speech clearly through the difficulties of Parkinson’s disease. HBO’s 24/7 has been the envy of the UFC. The cinematic style of the documentary creates a more complete picture of the fighter’s lives a week leading into the main event.
And because the cameras are on 24/7 it was able to capture a real incident between Ariza and Roach. When Roach approached the Rios’ trainer Robert Garcia that it was their turn to use the gym, Alex Ariza kicked Roach in the chest and was aping the stuttering of Roach. Although ABS CBN cameras captured it they edited out the portion where Ariza was making fun of Roach’s disease. For me, its derogatory not to Roach but more for Ariza. He has revealed himself to be the true villain by physically attacking someone afflicted with Parkinson’s and then taunting him for it. NO matter what Roach supposedly said to antagonize them, there’s no way you can justify their actions.
Over the years, 16 to be exact Roach has slowly morphed into Mickey the trainer in ROCKY I who first trained him and tries to get a second chance. Burgess Meredith played the role of the small old Irish actor who has taken too many punches as a fighter and is now a trainer. Sylvester Stallone has a new film with another icon, Robert Deniro in a boxing film/comedy GRUDGE MATCH. Comedian Kevin Hart is a manager trying to revive an old rivalry between two retired boxers. Alan Arkin and Kim Basinger are also in the cast.
By November 24th day of the fight, American Idol finalist Jessica Sanchez literally set the tone singing both the Star Spangled Banner and Lupang Hinirang. Putting a regal twist at the ends of both national anthems that only she could. Filipinos filled the Cotai Arena in Macau and were visibly moved by Jessica’s rendition of their national anthem at this time of crisis.
Too Fast and Furious
Pacquiao’s strengths fell into place as the perfect weapons to Rios weaknesses. Immediately from the early rounds Pacquiao’s quick footwork and hand speed overwhelmed his opponent. Rios is described as ‘plodding’ by a number of U.S. boxing analysts. The damage was soon apparent on Rios’ face. By the 5th round his right eye was swelling, by the 6th his left eye was cut.
It was more a question of will Manny put him down. Larry Merchant said of Rios, “He came, he saw, he is being conquered.” And for some it wasn’t a question of ability to knock him out but rather his willingness. Legendary Filipino Sports columnist Quinito Henson quoted a famous confidant of the fighter of the decade awardee: Gov. Luis (Chavit) Singson said Pacquiao may be losing his killer’s instinct. “Rios was beaten up and I think Manny didn’t want to hurt him any more,” he said. “It probably has something to do with his Christian beliefs. But that doesn’t mean it won’t come back. If ever he fights (Floyd) Mayweather, that’s a different story. I think he’ll need that killer’s instinct to beat him.”
So the fight went the whole 12 rounds with a dominant unanimous decision by Pacquiao. Henson also has an analysis of why certain judges scored the bout in the same article. In an another column Henson was able to reveal the new secret weapon of the Pacquiao camp: Gavin McMillan a new conditioning consultant. The departure of Alex Ariza as strength and conditioning coach was also beneficial as Pacquiao no longer has cramps and back pains as in previous fights. McMillan on the other hand has also increased Manny’s athleticism.
Pacquiao even before the fight was already planning his relief efforts to Samar, Palawan, Cebu and Tacloban. On the surface its just one boxing match one brilliant performance in admittedly a brutal but also physically and mentally challenging sport. Look deeper, look at the eyes of the dispossessed, the poorest of the poor in the farthest reaches of the Philippine archipelago, it means so much more.
He rose from the mire of poverty to become one of the greatest of all time. His story is one that gives hope. His loss is our loss his victory is our victory. He’s not indestructible suffering recent loss from Bradley then Marquez. But just as he suffered he has also proven to overcome against Rios, just as we will as a nation. As Filipinos we’ll look back at this time and say yes I was alive when he was fighting and winning for us.