Unless you’re from the Philippines, it's hard to comprehend just how popular WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao really is. Sure, everybody knows he’s one of the best, if not the best, pound-for-pound boxers on the planet, but he’s far more than a fighter in his homeland.
He’s a true national icon. Perhaps the closest comparison to Pacquiao’s popularity is that of Muhammad Ali in the United States.
But while Ali is a beloved figure these days, don't forget he had millions of detractors while in the prime of his career, mainly due to his controversial stance on the Vietnam War.
Pacquiao has never experienced anything close to that negativity at home. In fact, some people, including former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, compare Pacquiao’s influence on his nation to that of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
Pacquiao’s celebrity status goes way beyond the boxing ring -- he’s also known in the Philippines as an actor, singer and a newly elected politician whose serving in the country’s House of Representatives. His ring accomplishments are endless, and he’s had a tremendous influence on his fellow countrymen, not just on Filipino boxers. He’s also a reservist in the military, ranked as a Sergeant Major, and was the nation’s first athlete to be featured on a postal stamp.
It’s believed that when Pacquiao first ran for Congress in the Philippines a few years ago he lost because his countrymen didn't want him to retire from boxing if he won. But after being assured he’d keep on fighting, he won in a landslide in 2010.
Love him or not, there aren’t too many people out there who don’t like him as a person. When Pacquiao fights, his country comes to a standstill and Filipinos all over the world hold parties, no matter the time of the day or night, to watch their national hero in action. And what they’ve seen over the past 16 years in the ring is a fighter who has improved steadily until reaching the pinnacle of his sport, but also somebody who truly seems to care about his fellow man.
The 31-year-old boxer isn’t perfect. In fact, he’s been knocked out in two of his losses and dropped several times in his career. But, perhaps, the Philippines’ outpouring of love for Pacquiao is that he’s a fighter, and I don't mean just a physical sense. Pacquiao epitomizes the whole nation by picking himself up off of the deck after facing hardship, planting his feet and giving his all until the very end.
Pacquiao has definitely been a positive influence on up-and-coming Filipino boxers. There are several of them who could just end up following in his footsteps as they have age, skill, determination, and heart on their side. More and more youngsters in the Philippines are interested in emulating their idol and it’s shown over the past few years as the skill level and sheer numbers of Filipino boxers has risen at a steady rate.
There are dozens to choose from, but some of the best young boxers in the Philippines at the moment are: Lorenzo Villanueva (18-0, 17 KOs), Arthur Villanueva (10-0, 7 KOs), Milan Melindo (21-0, 6 KOs), Merlito Sabillo (11-0, 4 KOs), Janjan Guanzon (10-0, 1 KO), Juan Martin Elorde (10-0, 3 KOs), Jason Pagara (23-1, 12 KOs), and Ciso Morales (14-1, 8 KOs).
If any of these promising young men turn out to be half as good as Pacquiao has, the Philippines should have a few more world champions to cheer for over the next several years.
Pacquio will fight Antonio Margarito of Mexico on Nov. 13 and is favored with bettors at Bet365 as the odds of him winning are 1/7 with a Margarito win at 9/2. A draw is listed at 33/1.