Pambansang Kamao: The Road to Greatness
Hello! I’m sure you’re up for an exciting chapter of our rich nation’s very colourful story. We have been talking about battles that happened many many years ago for the past hiStory-telling sessions, including the battle between the British and Spanish forces in Manila Bay and World War 2 with general MacArthur. This time, we’ll be focusing on something more recent… on a fight that changed the life of one Filipino and paved the way for renown and pride among us Filipinos around the world.
This person is someone every Filipino around the world knows. We have carefully watched every second of his moves on screen and we have screamed his name many times along with fellow kababayans. His fame has brought pride and joy to our nation, and we have fastened our hopes on every punch he delivers to his opponents.
He is the Fighter of the Decade, the best pound-for-pound boxer, the first and only eight-division world champion, Pacman, Ang Pambansang Kamao…
His name is Emmanuel Pacquiao — also known as Manny. This is the story of his first bout with greatness: Pacquiao versus Barrera I
I’m taking you to 15 November 2003 in San Antonio, Texas. Grab a chair and hold on tight!
Before we go to that fateful date in boxing that changed Manny’s career for good, let’s take a peek at the behind-the-scenes.
Manny was born on 17 December 1978 in Kibawe, Bukidnon. His parents separated when Manny was at sixth grade. The Pacquiaos were a family of seven: the matriarch Dionesia Pacquiao and her six children of which Manny is the fourth. Manny had to drop out of high school because of poverty and had to leave home at the age of 14 so as not to be a burden to her mother.
Manila served as home for the young and independent Manny. He soon joined the national amateur boxing team where his room and board were paid for by the government. His amateur record is said to be 60-4.
His first professional fight was in 1995 when he was 16. He won after four rounds in a unanimous decision. His boxing career gained traction in 1998 when he fought and won against Thai champion Chatchai Sasakul via an 8th round knockout.
Before his bout with Barrera, Manny won four titles from the Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation, the World Boxing Council (WBC) and the International Boxing Federation (IBF) in the light flyweight (108lb limit), flyweight (112lb limit) and junior featherweight (122lb limit) divisions.
Manny’s success in defending his titles and his reputation for knocking out his opponents propelled him to the elite boxing circle. His next fight was a make or break for his career. The fight in 15 November 2003 was a first in many ways for Manny. But more than anything else, that fight opened the poor boxer’s life to the path for greatness.
Pacquiao versus Barrera I
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the fight itself, let’s take a look at the other side of the ring.
Marco Antonio Barrera turned pro in 1989, well ahead of Manny. Actually, when Manny broke through the professional boxing ring in ’95, Barrera grabbed his first pro title as WBO super-bantamweight (junior featherweight) champion. Some of his greatest fights were against top boxers like Naseem Hamed and Erik Morales. Barrera, then considered the world’s best featherweight, was the clear favourite in this match against the newcomer.
Manny, on the other hand, was fighting in the featherweight (126lb limit) division for the first time. But like any other person who hungered for a bigger slice of the pie, he did not back down. He proved he was a tough match to many who played him down. Do you remember the highlights of that fight from 10 years ago? Manny fell on the first round, and I thought that was it! But as the match progressed, he slowly and surely dominated the ring.
Manny was very young, energetic and confident while the whole arena chanted Barrera’s name. But our main man chased the baby-faced boxer from one end of the ring to another, landing powerful punches on the Mexican’s face like a target practice. I won’t keep you waiting any longer… Here’s a video showing the highlights of that career-changing fight:
Manny won via an 11th round technical knockout, the only KO loss in Barrera’s career. The win made Manny the lineal champion in the division and garnered him The Ring magazine’s featherweight champion title. That fateful fight also made him the first Filipino and Asian to become a three-division world champion.
Meanwhile, the unexpected victory simply stunned Barrera’s camp, which was excusing their champion’s poor performance because of major events that happened before the fight. To finally settle the friction between the two world’s best boxers, another fight was set on 29 June 2007. But, like the first fight, Manny once again bested Barrera and spurred him to retirement after two years.
Pacquiao’s Career Highlights
Manny went on to fight other boxing greats through the years, including Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Shane Mosley and Timothy Bradley. A friend, who is also great fan of the Manny, made this short summary of the highlights of his career:
I believe Manny’s appeal as a boxer can’t solely be explained by his ability to send a flurry of blows to his opponents nor how consistently he throws powerful knockout punches in the ring. It’s rather that happy-go-lucky stance he has outside and inside the ring. Most boxers assume a cocky attitude or pass frightful looks to throw off their opponents ahead of a bout. Meanwhile, Manny simply is himself — generous with his smiles and peacefully hugging opponents after fights. Tell me, how many boxers do you know wear a huge grin during that long walk from backstage to ringside? How many acknowledge and shake hands with their fans along the way to the ropes? This genuineness is what makes Manny endearing, and why we will back his side no matter what anyone says. This is also what makes his every fall painful to watch live or on television.
Manny’s loss against Marquez was a great upset among Filipinos. For the first time, Manny was left stone cold in the ring via a knockout on the 6th round. I think the hearts of Filipinos all over the world skipped a beat while watching the bout… at least mine did.
While many said that the Bradley and Marquez fights in 2012 marked the end of Manny’s career, I was still behind our Pambansang Kamao. Were you, too? I didn’t believe for one second that it was the end of Manny’s career, although the long-term repercussions of Marquez’s hook to Manny’s jaw are still a mystery. But the recent fight on Sunday once again lifted my belief of our champ.
Pacquiao versus Rios, 2013
Last Sunday, Manny once again got back into the ring and fought for his honour against relative newcomer Brandon Rios in what was considered a stunning comeback. Yes, I punched the air, screamed Manny’s name and raised my fists whenever the boy Rios gave his cocky, taunting look… I know plenty of us felt that way during the 12 rounds!
During the first few rounds of the fight, I admit I was afraid Manny wouldn’t hold on his own, especially since Rios is almost 10 years younger than Manny. But our champ looked and acted differently on that ring… it was as if he grew younger in the 11 months he took off after his loss against Marquez. The fight was intense, but it was timely especially since the past few weeks had been a sad one in the Philippines.
Manny knew he was once again carrying the nation on his back during last Sunday’s fight. But he was also carrying an extra weight for typhoon Yolanda survivors who looked up to his fight as a ray of sunshine amid the devastation. Manny was aware that Filipinos counted on him to uplift the spirits of the battered country, and he took that responsibility by training hard for the Rios bout.
Seeing Manny in excellent fighting form was already a huge relief after his stunning and unforgettable loss against Marquez. But his victory was the sweet, delicious icing on the cake of his career today. It’s this perseverance to continue fighting that makes Manny one of a kind.
Through his own efforts and literally through blood, sweat and tears, Manny forged his way to the top of his career, allowing him to be a household name all over the world and allowing him to garner celebrity fans and friends in high places like hotel heiress Paris Hilton, singer Beyonce, actors Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, hip hop artist P Diddy Combs, NBA great Magic Johnson, football star David Beckham, boxing icon Muhammad Ali, boxing Hall of Famer Mike Tyson, comedian Will Ferrell and ‘Rocky’ star Sylvester Stallone.
Many say that Manny’s spot in the boxing Hall of Fame is assured. I say he’s already a Hall of Famer in every Filipino’s heart, and that’s what makes him great in my opinion.
That’s it for this hiStory-telling session. What’s your most memorable Manny Pacquiao fight ever? Have you had a close encounter with the People’s Champ? If you were given a chance to speak to him face to face, what would you say? Share your thoughts or a few words of support for our champ by commenting below!