Pacquiao fighting for his people

Boxer's showdown with Rios in Macau will help keep the spotlight on the victims of the Philippines typhoon disaster

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 8:44pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 8:44pm

While his country is reeling from the fallout of another natural disaster, his compatriots in Hong Kong are reeling from the fallout of a sickening populist political agenda. And yet there has probably never been a better time for Manny Pacquiao to make his debut in the Pearl River Delta.

Right now we need the most accomplished and high-profile Filipino of the last 25 years more than ever around here.

Only a few years removed from his title as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Pacquiao rolls into Macau to fight Brandon Rios next weekend at the Venetian and much like his country, he is staggering as well. His last two fights ended in losses, one to Timothy Bradley in a very controversial split decision and the other a little less than one year ago in a thunderous knockout against Juan Manuel Marquez that may still have Manny's ears ringing. He's 34 now; his best is clearly behind him. He knows it and so does everyone else in boxing. But this is Manny Pacquiao and this is his return to Asia after more than seven years. The prodigal son, dinged and dented, is back. Since he beat Oscar Larios in Manila in 2006, Manny has been a fixture on big cards in Las Vegas and even headlined a few times at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas. He became the most recognisable boxer in the world, which only served to heighten the slavish devotion towards him in the Philippines.

And now with his much-anticipated return to Asia imminent, a devastating typhoon has blown through the middle of his country leaving thousands dead and many more homeless and hungry. Congressman Pacquiao would like to be on the scene but boxer Pacquiao cannot because of his training commitments. When he arrives tomorrow in Macau and brings a media circus the likes of which Asian boxing, in fact Asian sports, has not seen in years, Pacquiao will be a walking and talking constant reminder of the disaster in the Philippines.

And that's a good thing, a very good thing because he is without a doubt the face of the Philippines and seeing him and listening to him will keep relief efforts front row centre. Manny knows what kind of disastrous shape his country was in before the typhoon. He has been around enough to be acutely aware that the Philippines has been on an endless cycle of corruption and inefficiency for most of his life. It's almost like the rest of the world has disaster fatigue with the Philippines and is largely numb to the endless suffering in the country because their antiquated and decrepit infrastructure is never properly equipped to handle another natural disaster.

Manny knows this, and he also seems to know that he has to use his celebrity to keep the world aware that this kind of suffering is not acceptable. And despite his exalted status and the burden of elevating his country, he still has to be a boxer. At least for one more fight.

It's no secret that he covets President Benigno Aquino's job and I most certainly would not bet against him getting it. Maybe then he can come calling on Chief Executive C.Y. Leung and personally ask him what will happen when the deadline Leung has given Aquino for delivering a formal apology as well as more money in compensation for families and victims from the tragic killing of eight Hong Kongers on a tour bus in Manila three years ago expires in three weeks.

This issue has polarised sentiment, once again, towards the 160,000 Filipinas working as domestic servants in Hong Kong. It's theatre of the absurd where some Hong Kongers are asking their Filipino helpers to take good care of the precious children while they go out to the anti-Philippines rally. Vapid ideologues masquerading as politicians are exploiting the grieving families in hopes of creating a populist distraction from their other largely unpopular policies. They have no shame and sadly you can't shame the shameless. But you think perhaps President Pacquiao could beat some sense into them? Well, he may be the only eight-division champion in the history of boxing, but he ain't that good.

By the time next Sunday rolls around, we should have a pretty good idea of Pacquiao's future. Rios is the type of boxer Manny could and should beat in his sleep. If he struggles against him there is a very good chance this will be his last fight. However, the battle could well be just beginning for the people's champion.