A tale that stirs the soul
From rags to riches, Pacquiao's story has captivated the world
Twenty-one years after clambering through the ropes for his first professional fight, Manny Pacquiao will make the long walk to the ring for what could well be the final time tomorrow morning (Singapore time) in Las Vegas.
It will complete one of the most vivid rags-to-riches journeys in a sport that is famous for them, an odyssey which has taken him from a US$20 ($27) purse to a reported US$20 million payday for this weekend's finale against Timothy Bradley Jr.
A lot has changed for Pacquiao (right) since Jan 25 1995 when, as a skinny 16-year-old, he outpointed Edmund Enting Ignacio in a four-round bout before a few hundred spectators on the wild and rugged Philippine island of Mindoro.
Pacquiao travelled to that fight by ferry, buying his own ticket for the three-hour boat ride from Manila for a contest which earned him 1,000 pesos ($29).
"It was very small," Pacquiao recalled, as he prepared for his third and final meeting with Bradley.
"But it was my desire to box. At that time, I boxed because I wanted to help my mother and my family."
Boxing provided the eight-division world champion with an escape from crushing poverty.
"We had no money. I was the breadwinner. I helped send my brother to school, I worked at boxing," he said.
"I loved doing it because I was helping my family. When you have nothing, you don't care how hard the work is."
Since that meagre first purse, Pacquiao's fights have generated an estimated US$500m, swollen by his cut of US$150m from last year's money-spinning "Fight of the Century" against Floyd Mayweather Jr., which ended in defeat.
Pacquiao (57-6-2) will earn another US$20m for the final instalment of his trilogy with Bradley, who stunned the Filipino with a controversial split decision victory in 2012 before losing the rematch two years later.
Bob Arum, the legendary 84-year-old promoter, pinpoints Pacquiao's narrative arc as the source of the Filipino's enduring appeal.
"He has just a great story," Arum said.
"A rags-to-riches story. A kid from the streets of the Philippines, lived in a cardboard shack, worked his way up, comes to the United States... Becomes one of the biggest fighters of our time."
Yet, the final phase of Pacquiao's career has been overshadowed by an ugly controversy the devout fighter ignited in February when he asserted that homosexuals were "worse than animals".
Those comments triggered a wave of revulsion and have threatened to leave an indelible stain on Pacquiao's legacy.
Sponsors led by Nike swiftly cut their ties and Pacquiao was reminded of the deep anger caused by his comments earlier this week when he was verbally abused by a man outside a restaurant in Los Angeles.
He insists the controversy has not distracted him from the job in hand and he remains focused on Bradley, and his own burgeoning political career. Pacquiao's determination to help the poor in his homeland has been a central theme of his pursuit of public office.
Both Arum and Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach have expressed scepticism that the fighter will stay retired.
"If he wins this fight well, he's going to find a way to continue," said Arum.
"If you've been doing something and doing something well since you were seven or eight years old, it's a tough thing to give up." - AFP.