The streets of Metro Manila were eerily quiet like they would be at midnight. Millions of Filipinos were glued to their radio sets while the luckier ones watched the boxing fight live via pay-per-view cable TV in restaurants, stadiums, movie houses, and yes, public plazas where even typhoon victims in the Visayas region gathered to watch.
Filipino boxing champion Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao entered the Cotai Arena of the Venetian Casino in Macau under the most extraordinary circumstances. Thousands of typhoon victims in Eastern Visayas knew about his fight, and were banking on his victory. Homeless, penniless, and in various stages of mourning, these victims see hope in boxing gloves worn by someone familiar, someone who made it to the top despite all adversities. The fight between Pacquiao and Mexican boxer Brandon Rios was more than just a boxing match. It was a metaphor for their lives.
For typhoon victims in Tacloban City and Guian, Eastern Samar, the fight was symbolic of their own impending triumph against adversity. Some came prepared with placards expressing support for Pacquiao while others waved Philippine flags.
Pacquiao knew this. He acknowledged it early on with a public declaration that his fight was dedicated to the people of Tacloban City, and all other areas ravaged by Haiyan. He dazzled the crowd with his speed and accuracy. Every punch that landed was met with cheers from Macau to Manila, and throughout the archipelago. Pacquiao who turns 35 on Dec. 17 parried his opponent’s blows and quick-stepped his way to victory. Brandon Rios, 27, suffered a cut on his left eyebrow after a flurry of punches in the sixth round. The decision was unanimous in favor of Pacquiao.
“This is not about my comeback. My victory symbolizes my people’s comeback from a natural disaster and a national tragedy,” Pacquiao said. In media interviews, the boxing champ cheered, “Bangon, Pilipinas!” (“Rise, Philippines!”)
Pacquiao promised to visit Leyte as soon as possible to make up for his absence days after the typhoon struck. During that time, the boxer was training for the match.
Based on fight statistics, Pacquiao landed 281 out of 790 punches against his younger opponent’s 138 for a 36 percent compared to the 138 punches out of 502 thrown by Rios, for a 27 percent rate. The unanimous decision brought to life the Filipino’s boxing career, setting aside previous appeals for his retirement.
Once the fight was over, life stirred in Metro Manila as taxi drivers revved up their engines to make up for lost time in ferrying passengers, and a euphoric metropolis turn to Facebook and Twitter to announce Pacquiao’s victory.
It has become traditional that after every major victory, Pacquiao would receive a hero’s welcome including a motorcade around the city of Manila. This time, the boxing champion is expected to pay his respects to those devastated by the typhoon. It will be an emotional journey that would undoubtedly bring tears of joy to the victims, and hope as well.
Who would have thought that a pair of boxing gloves would signify hope? And yet, there it was. Had it been any other boxer, the euphoria would not have been as palpable. Pacquiao’s life is an open book to all his fans. The man grew up in a poor family, so poor that they couldn’t afford three meals a day. Today, the man lives a charmed life with every chapter of it — from his mother’s dancing shoes to his wife’s Hermes’ bags — known to Filipinos from all walks of life. When he became a congressman, critics thought that would be the end of his boxing career. Calls for his retirement came in December 2012 after Juan Manuel Marquez knocked him out.
Today, Pacquiao rises, and soon, so will Leyte, Eastern Samar, and Panay Island. Bangon, Pilipinas!
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