The way up from a seller of

donuts to a national hero –

The punching legend  

Manny Pacquiao


Thus, fairy tales begin. Manny Pacquiao, born in 1978, was not favoured very much by luck when he grows up together with five brothers and sisters in a shabby hut of General Santos City. In this town in the southeast of Mindanao there are many town quarters without economic prospects and rampant poverty. Here criminal gangs do their mischief and some radical separatists activate their bombs. The father of little Manny leaves his family very early.  The mother tries to hold the family with casual work on the existence level. Even the neighbours have pity on the poor family. Today, however, "Pac-man“ (the most common nickname for Pacquiao) is the outstanding national hero in the Philippines after an impressive row of wins. Almost the whole country admires him.

Rapid career

The young Manny attends only the primary school, but there he is an intelligent student. The mother dreams, that her son becomes a priest. But he breaks up the school attendance because he wants to contribute to the family maintenance by work of his own. He sells breads and donuts and he helps his mother at her laundry for other people. Already with eleven years he goes in his leisure time to a nearby gymnasium to practice boxing trainings. A carton filled with textiles functions as a sandbag.

With fourteen years he boards as a blind passenger on a ship going to Manila. There he is left to his own devices. First he works as a building worker but he never forgets his goal to become one of the best in boxing. In amateur boxing schools he arrests more and more attention. The saying goes that Manny fights like a “mad dog” for peanuts. He is considered as a wild, undisciplined young fellow – also outside the ring. He is not averse to alcohol and he visits now and then casinos to play poker there. In between he even resigns from the Catholic Church.

In 1995 the only 1.69 meters small southpaw (*) begins his first professional fights in the flyweight. In all following fights he comes out as winner.  Gradually he gets into higher weight classes and he takes up the financially more attractive challenges of the international competition. In a fight against the South African Ledwaba he wins the IBF title in the super bantamweight. The international box career begins. The American trainer Freddie Roach becomes aware of him and he takes Manny under his wings. Now in 2012 Pacquiao can look back on 60 professional fights. He won 54 fights (38 with KO), the number of losses is 3 and he has 2 draws. In June 2012 he lost against Timothy Bradley. The crucial vote was very controversial. Pacquiao is the first fist fighter who won ten world belts in eight weight classes starting from the flyweight up to the light middleweight.

Live in and for the public

Whenever Pacquiao, “the pitiless fist fighter”, climbs into the ring, the main roads of Manila get empty. Peacefully friend and enemy sit before the television sets and long feverishly for the win of her idol. Then the TV ratings reach nearly 100 percent and the criminal rate trends for a short time nearly to zero. His boxing contests are a national affair. After victorious fights he often brings up the arms and he shouts loudly: “Para Sat. bayan ang laban kong ito! “(This fight is for my country!).

Back in Manila, mostly a victory parade with hundred thousand fans welcomes him and his motorcade. Now, the crises-prone country can honor the long expected hero, who could polish up the damaged images of the country, at least partially. Radio and TV stations scrap for an interview and politicians court his favour.

In 2004, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo welcomed him and awarded to him an order of merit. Still in the same year he receives a medal of honor from the senate. In 2006 Mrs. Arroyo appreciates him in an address as a „modern hero“. And Manny thanks courteously. In 2004 he supported the president in the election campaign and acclaimed politics. Now Manny is in the limelight. Journalists pursue him and they report about each of his steps – such as casino or nightclub visits at late hour, his contacts with women or his commencing studies of business administration.  

His life becomes subject of an epic picture. In the hastily produced film “Lisensyadong Kamao” (The licensed fist) from 2005 he plays himself. More than one million dollars are invested in the next picture with the title “Pacquiao - The Movie“. The „completely average film shows the rise of Manny and celebrates him as a God-fearing, loving and patriotic person“(Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8/5/2010). The eager karaoke singer Pacquiao also markets his voice. His song "Sometimes when we touch" becomes very well known. Manny achieves substantial additional incomes, for example as prominent advertising promoter for Knorr soup cubes, Magnolia ice-cream and the beer Ginebra San Miguel.

And the string of honors does not break off. In 2008 the House of Representatives honors him in a special resolution. In the same year he carries the Philippine flag on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Peking. However, he does not take part in the fights. His portrait appears on a stamp and the South Western University (Cebu) honors him with a doctorate honoris causa. Politicians want to sunbath in his glory. It is told that there are politicians who stay hard on his heels and see all his fights live.

Political ambitions

The popular press carefully watches his private escapades. But his following political activities in 2007 released undoubtedly more irritations. Pacquiao decides to run in his home province South Cotabato for a seat in the congress. He is not candidate of the party of the president, but of a liberal party grouping. Many warn him about this step. He, the politically inexperienced, should avoid the „dirty business“ of politics, instead he should concentrate on his boxing career. "Philippine politics will eat him alive", is a comment of the boxing export Nat Gottlieb.

Manny sticks to his political plans and invests more than 100 million pesos in his election campaign. He distributes bags with rice to his voters and he promises regional development projects. He wants to help in particular the poor people in his district. However, Pacquiao loses the electoral show-down in May, 2007. Nonetheless, many of his fans are happy with the defeat; Manny should be absolutely preserved to the boxing. Finally, his trainer Freddie Roach might also have been glad about the political defeat. He complained before, the politics would distract Manny too much. However, Pacquiao does not leave from the politics.

His political program is more or less simply knitted. But he is eloquent and means it obviously seriously. „I want to help the poor people and I want to be a good office-bearer” (Worldwide Post, 3/10/2010) he announces. In 2010 he undertakes a new approach to win a seat for the province of Sarangani in the House of Representatives. Now he joins of the Nationalista Party under Manny Villar. Sudden changes of party membership are nothing unusual, but part of the political "business" in the Philippines. This time he prepares more thoroughly and he invests round about one million US$ in his election campaign. More than thirty bodyguards belong to his escort. T-shirts with the portrait of the boxer and the label "For God and Country" are generously distributed. Now, finally, he achieves an electoral victory against the wealthy Roy Chiongbian. Before the seat has been a kind of entailed estate for the clan of Chiongbian.

Manny does a 10-days preparation course for his new job as member of the House of Representatives. With a declared fortune of more than one billion pesos he belongs to the group of very rich congressmen. Nevertheless, in his first speech he criticizes the dreadful poverty in his province and he demands higher public expenditures in the sectors of living, education and health. As a representative Pacquiao receives yearly substantial allowances within the scope of „pork barrel fund”. But this sum of money corresponds only the equivalent of 32 US$ per head in his province Sarangani (abs-cbn, 5/19/2010).

Pacquiao engaged in favour for a stronger Olympia's support and he attacked illegal mining. He is convinced that he could combine successfully politics and sport. On meeting days he trains in close vicinity of the Congress building. However, he has already signaled that he is not sop content with law-making. Therefore, he considers to become in 2013 a governor of his home province; this office is in his opinion more "action packed" (Philippine Times, 9/20/2011).

Live in luxury 

The broadcasting of many fights in American television brought into the coffers of Pacquiao a lot of money. The purse was about 20 million US $ in the last fights. So it is not surprising that he - with an estimated annual income of 40 million US$ - was placed in 2008/2009 on rank 7 in a listing of the magazine Forbes of the best earning athlete in the world.

Now Pacquiao has surely earned over hundred million dollar and has come into fortune and glory. He owns not only villas in General Santos City or in Davao; he has also homes in Beverly Hills and Hollywood. His “royal" residence in General Santos City is protected by a strong security staff, because in the past there have been threads of kidnapping of the children. Even a robbery was registered.

Today shopping centers and office buildings, as well as a gamecock breeding farm with more than 1,000 cocks belong to the multi-enterpriser. He acquired also a basketball team.

He registered also a wondrous increase of the number of relatives. Earlier, he thought, he would have only round about thirty relatives. Today the number amounts to more than 200 people. Almost daily impecunious people are gathering in front of his door waiting for a small contribution. Real and supposed friends circle the generous Pacquiao like satellites. A lot of money Pacquiao has spent in casinos, cockfighting arenas and pool rooms. Sometimes friends have to dampen his passion for bets and gambling. They say, that he should be now also a moral authority.

In the Bible something is written about the conversion of fierce Saul to Paul the apostle on his way to Damascus. We do not know weather Pacquiao made a similar experience. But nowadays he is more engaged in the propagation of his Catholic faith. Looking back on his former life, he said in an interview: „To Me it became clear that I was earlier a weak person. If I had died at that time, my soul would probably have landed in the hell … Though I was religious, however, I did things which were directed against the will of God” (The Manila, 2/10/2012). At the request of the Catholic Church he has now become even "a Bible ambassador. As a consequence he sold his nightclub and casino shares. He donated 100,000 pesos for the protection of the Philippine eagles on Mindanao. His foundation supports boxer and their schooling.

The hope remains, that the wealth does not distract Pacquiao too much from and that Manny will still be a longer time an outstanding sportsman. Referring to a boxer of his hometown, he knows how quickly poverty could come back. This colleague wasted his talent and squandered his small property. He was sent to prison because of a rape and was very grateful when Manny slipped him a few hundred dollars.

Optimistic outlook

Even if one day the lively box genius Pacquiao should end his sporting career, the Filipinos do not need to be worried about the future and the international reputation of their country in the boxing. They have just in the lighter weight classes of boxing other excellent boxers. To discover and to promote such talents is an important job for all those persons and institutions which are responsible for the sport culture in the country.

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(*) Southpaw is the normal stance for a left-handed boxer. It is a boxing term that designates the stance where the boxer has his right hand and right foot forward, leading with right jabs, and following with a left cross right hook.

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Continuing reading & links

Gary Andrew Poole (2010): PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao - The Greatest Pound-For-Pound Fighter in the World. Cambridge.

Manny Pacquiao biography, in:

Manny Pacquiao Biography, news, and Boxing updates, in:


© Wolfgang Bethge, 2012