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Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 09:37 UK

Pacquiao - a Philippine Goliath

Venue: MGM Grand, Las Vegas, USA
Date: Sunday 3 May
Start: Approx: 0400 BST Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live

Manny Pacquiao

By Ben Dirs

Ricky Hatton makes much of his humble roots but he might want to think twice before playing the salt-of-the-earth card in front of Manny Pacquiao, for Hatton's dad was never so poor that he had serve the family dog for dinner.

While Hatton grew up comfortable, above a council estate pub in Hattersley, Pacquiao fled home and lived in a cardboard shack, buying and selling doughnuts on the streets to survive.

Sadly, the brutality of Pacquiao's early years, Dickensian to most western eyes, is far from unusual in his home country of the Philippines, where nearly 6% of children are orphaned and 40% of its 90 million people wallow in abject poverty.

Those statistics explain why Pacquiao, who faces Hatton in Las Vegas in the early hours of Sunday morning, is more than a just a sporting hero. If Hatton loses at the MGM Grand Casino, many thousands will sigh. If Pacquiao loses, a nation's heart will break.

Born: 17 December 1978, Bukidnon, Philippines
Lives: General Santos City, Philippines
Record: 53 fights (36KOs), 48 wins, three losses, two draws
World titles: WBC flyweight, IBF super-bantamweight, WBC super-featherweight, WBC lightweight
Defining fights: v Marco Antonio Barrera (WON TKO11) 15/11/03; v Juan Manuel Marquez (DRAW) 8/5/04; v Erik Morales (LOST PTS) 19/3/05; Erik Morales (WON TKO10) 21/1/06; v Marquez (WON PTS) 15/3/08; v Oscar de la Hoya (WON RTD 8) 6/12/08

"He has taken on the ambitions and dreams of the Filipino people and when he's in the ring he's not just fighting for himself, but for the Filipino people and the country as a whole," Gene Alcantara, a journalist, writer and representative of the Filipino community in London, told BBC Sport.

"They see in Manny something to aspire to, in terms of great riches, because they come from the same background. People put themselves into Manny's shoes."

When Pacquiao fights, the Philippine Army calls truces with both the communist New People's Army and Muslim insurgents in the south, while crime almost ceases in the towns and cities.

"Whenever he's got a championship fight, the whole of the Philippines grinds to a halt," adds Alcantara. "Rebels put down their guns, everything stops in the towns and cities as people gather round TVs, radios and in movie houses.

"It's the same in London: whenever there's a Manny fight, Filipinos gather in the early evening and spend a sleepless night waiting for him to enter the ring. What Manny means to people is pride."

Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach told BBC Sport: "I went to Manny's birthday party. The president of the Philippines [Gloria Arroyo] was there, there were 5,000 people in the venue and 10,000 outside who couldn't get in. He's an icon, because he represents the hopes of so many people."

Pacquiao fans in Manila
Pacquiao fans in Manila celebrate their hero's win over Oscar de la Hoya

Pacquiao's promoter Bob Arum believes his fighter is a "symbol of his country". He is particularly popular with politicians and army generals, who shower Pacquiao with medals and adulation but have been accused of cynical exploitation.

"Politicians and the army know he's got the attention of the masses and he's a good person to be associated with," said Alcantara. "At the end of the day, party politics is about name recognition."

Pacquiao, a former world champion at four different weights, has been feted by Arroyo at the Malacanang Palace and made a reservist master sergeant in the Philippine army.

A beleaguered Arroyo, whose presidency has been beset by scandal, said after Pacquiao's victory over Oscar de la Hoya last December that he was "truly one of our nation's heroes who can unite us even in times of divisiveness".

With the great and good of the 12th most populous country falling over themselves to accommodate him, it is little wonder he was recently named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine.

But once Pacquiao has done his business between the ropes, the real fighting, done with grenades and guns, begins again in earnest and millions return to desperate lives.

"A nation of servants" is how one Hong Kong journalist described Pacquiao's compatriots earlier this month, sparking uproar in the Philippines, as well as much debate in the Philippine media as to their country's standing in the world.

It would be no surprise if he became president. Manny Pacquiao reminds me of the popularity I witnessed when I promoted Muhammad Ali

Bob Arum

One Philippine columnist, writing in the The Philippine Star, was moved to call his own people "this dismal miasma". No wonder that when a comet like Pacquiao burns overhead, his countrymen and women want to grab hold of the tail.

"People from other countries have a low view of the Philippines and what the Filipino people are," said Alcantara. "And as someone who's been struggling in the United Kingdom to make people believe we're more than what they think we are, I'm proud to be associated with Manny Pacquiao."

Once Pacquiao has called a halt to his glittering ring career, he is widely expected to eschew the world of entertainment (he has appeared in films and recorded hit singles) and move into politics instead. Many are touting him as a future president, and Alcantara believes he can be "a great unifying force" for his country.

Arum agrees, saying: "It would be no surprise if he became president. Manny Pacquiao reminds me of the popularity I witnessed when I promoted Muhammad Ali. He's an exceptional human being. He has hauled himself out of poverty to be the hero of a nation."

Nigel Collins, editor-in-chief of The Ring, presented Pacquiao with his magazine's featherweight belt at the presidential palace in 2004 and believes he is unique in the history of sport.

"Even Muhammad Ali, at the height of his popularity, wasn't as huge as Manny is in the Philippines right now," said Collins.

Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, once wrote of battling a "double-faced Goliath", in the form of bad government and corrupt clergy. Pacquiao has his own double-faced Goliath to slay, in Ricky Hatton and a nation's tattered self-esteem.

"All I'm trying to do is give happiness and enjoyment to the people," says Pacquiao.

"The Filipino people are the real source of my strength. My utmost intention is to unite the Filipino people through my efforts in boxing."

At 5ft 7in and weighing just shy of 150lb, Pacquiao's shoulders don't look broad enough. But as far as 90 million Filipinos are concerned, it's Hatton, not Pacquiao, who will be facing Goliath.

see also
Philippines country profile
19 Oct 11 |  Country profiles
Profile: Gloria Arroyo
24 Feb 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Beasts from the East
24 Apr 09 |  Boxing
Hatton slams Pacquiao credentials
21 Apr 09 |  Boxing
Mayweather Sr to stay with Hatton
27 Mar 09 |  Boxing
Hatton relishes Pacquiao showdown
29 Jan 09 |  Boxing
Hatton's Pacquiao fight confirmed
26 Jan 09 |  Boxing
Pacquiao stops 'empty' De la Hoya
07 Dec 08 |  Boxing
Slick Hatton defeats Malignaggi
23 Nov 08 |  Boxing
Pacquiao claims lightweight title
29 Jun 08 |  Boxing

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