World boxing champion Manny Pacquiao may be facing his toughest fight yet in or outside the ring: acceptance in Philippine high society.
Local and foreign sports news are awash with reports that Pacquiao - despite placing No 55 in Forbes Magazine's rich celebrity list with US$42 million - was recently 'blackballed' by two tony establishments - the Manila Polo Club and Manila Golf Club.
The term 'blackballed', one Polo Club member explained, refers to the club voting procedure: 'All it takes to disapprove an applicant is two black balls', anonymously cast by anyone in the nine-member board.
'Maybe they think that someone with Pacquiao's social beginnings should be cleaning their pool and manicuring their greens,' New York-based sports columnist Michael Marley said.
'Maybe he could even caddy for 18 holes. Maybe Manny can use the mental reminder, you're not one of them now and you will never be.'
Pacquiao recently bought wife Jinkee her long-cherished 1,500-square-metre dream mansion for 388 million pesos (HK$71 million) in the upmarket gated community of Forbes Park, where the two clubs are also located.
It's been a relatively quick journey out of poverty for Pacquiao, who at 32 recently lunched privately with US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle at the White House.
At age 14, Pacquiao dropped out of school and left the family shack in General Santos City in the south so his mother would have only five children to feed. In Manila, Pacquiao did odd jobs as he trained for boxing and waited for a lucky break.
Filipino veteran sports writer Recah Trinidad, who broke the news of the snub, told The Sunday Post it was Louie Reyes, an ardent supporter of golf in the Philippines, who informed him of the rejection.
Reyes, who is called 'the godfather of golf' in the Philippines, told Trinidad: 'Manila Golf Club and Manila Polo Club rejected the membership of Manny Pacquiao. Damned elitists. Manny earned his fortune without stealing from the Filipino and brought pride and glory for Pinoys (Filipinos). How many members of the clubs can claim the same?'
Four sources linked to the clubs denied that Pacquiao had formally applied for membership but they said he may have bought club shares which are openly traded.
'Definitely his name never came up to the membership committee,' said Lourdes Buenaventura, who chairs the committee. She has no idea if Pacquiao has bought a share.
But mere possession of shares, costing 26 million pesos each for the Manila Golf Club and 7.4 million pesos for the Manila Polo Club, is but the first step to joining either members-only venues. Share prices are based on the value of the land divided among 3,000 members.
Pacquiao did not return phone calls from the Post.
The Polo Club has twice turned down Pacquiao's best friend and political ally, Ilocos Sur governor Luis 'Chavit' Singson - whose son Ronald was jailed in Hong Kong earlier this year for drug possession. Luis Singson has also refused to comply with the club's ban on armed bodyguards entering the premises.
A former club official said he suspected the reports of Pacquiao's rejection could be coming from the boxer's camp as a way of putting pressure on the club to accept him.
Personally, he said, he has met Pacquiao and found him 'a nice guy', but he believes some members are 'concerned with his gambling buddies.'