Manny Pacquiao (54-5-2) is set to fight Brandon Rios (31-1-1) Nov. 23, and what will be at stake that night will be a lot more than a boxing match; it might just be the pride of an entire nation.
You may know Pacquiao simply as a boxer, but in the eyes of many Filipinos, it’s a miracle that you know of him at all. It might be hard to imagine living in the U.S. and our hegemony of world influence, but having a global icon from the Philippines is something radically new for Filipinos.
The Philippines’ history of colonialism, poverty and corruption has left it with little to latch on to in the way of national pride. However, Pacquiao’s story is almost transcendentally good, and it’s a story that reverberates across the entire nation and beyond.
Pacquiao came from an upbringing of absolute poverty — dropping out of school and, at 14 years of age, leaving his broken home in the slums of General Santos City, Philippines. Having absolutely nothing to his name, he built an empire literally with his two hands, and he did so without compromising his integrity or ideals.
It’s not just an inspirational story for people around the world, it has an almost myth-like status for millions of Filipinos who are in as dire of situations as one can possibly conceive.
Were it not for Pacquiao, the notion that one can overcome such a massive amount of adversity to not only survive, but to flourish into a global icon would be insane to believe for most Filipinos. It’s literally the stuff of folklore — the sort of thing you read to your kids at night.
Other people may see him merely as a boxer, but Filipinos see him as an actor, musician, philanthropist and politician. People of other nationalities see him as merely an athlete, but Filipinos see him as a paragon.
Pacquiao’s word is sacrosanct in the Philippines, and he has a cult-of-personality that is absolutely beyond reproach. It’s not hyperbole.
These are the stakes with the Nov. 23 match. Pacquiao can prolong the dreams of millions of Filipinos for one more day, or Rios can send it all crashing down with a single punch. What’s terrifying to me is that the end of the dream is closer than it has ever been. Pacquiao has lost his last two fights, and he has looked less and less dominant even in the matches he has won.
He’s 34, and while that might seem young to some, boxers have a notoriously short shelf life, and that’s especially true for someone who has been boxing professionally since the age of 15.
Some boxing experts have called for Pacquiao to retire, and the result of the upcoming match may tilt the needle one way or the other. There are more and more reasons for Pacquiao to walk away.
However, should he lose and opt to retire, it would truly spell the end of an era for the Philippines — an era of hope, optimism and inspiration.
The dreams of millions of people hinge on whether or not Pacquiao’s story has a happy ending. And the more I think about it, the more I believe it won’t.
About the author
Julian Paredes is a multimedia journalist for The Collegian. He studies multimedia and English literature.