The welterweight world champion has left his womanising ways behind him and he has refocused on boxing and religion
It is disconcerting to stand a foot away from Manny Pacquiao’s soft brown eyes – which are no more than a couple of feet from his hard brown fists – and hear him say, without any apparent duplicity, that God has spoken to him personally, how he has seen “the end of time”. It would be unsettling coming from anyone. From Manny, who has boxed for a living for nearly two decades, it is tempting to wonder if he has taken one punch too many. He is, after all, not a dreamer, does not claim to be a charismatic or a prophet, and it would be a major shock had he ingested any hallucinogenic substance. He lives a particularly corporeal existence.
Nor does he claim, as some fighters have, that God is on his side. God is just, well, not as far away as he once imagined, certainly not when he was cutting loose in any nightspot that would let him in, from Manila to Los Angeles. “I have a lot of dreams and visions,” the world welterweight champion says in a voice as unthreatening as a mother’s whisper. “I even heard the voice of God. When I heard the voice of God, I am trembling and melting. I feel I have died. It was an amazing, amazing experience.
“I’m happy because I found the right way, salvation, born again. We are required to be born again, all of us. Christ said unless we are born again we cannot enter the kingdom of God. So it’s very important to me. Jesus Christ said: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ There is no other way. The only way is through Jesus.”
Pacquiao once was not so righteous. He once was an all-night hound dog, taking his pleasure where he pleased, ignoring all advice to respect the sanctity of his marriage vows and determined to squeeze as much fun from life as was available to someone who was born into grinding poverty. Those were his hardcore inclinations until only a few years ago.
Here is a snapshot of that life, from the opening of Gary Andrew Poole’s excellent biography on him. “As Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao saunters out of the locker room at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California, he holds out his hand, and a member of his entourage slaps a comb in it. Looking in one of the gym’s many grimy mirrors, Pacquiao combs his jet-black hair, brushes off his goatee and nods his head in self-approval. Someone slips on his watch – a gold Rolex Yacht Master – and then gives him his diamond stud earring, which he puts in his left ear.” Dressed to kill the ladies – long before he had that conversation with God.
The hair is still black. The goatee and the diamond stud are in place, too. The eyes are just as knowing, but he is profoundly a different man, more content, less restless. He is a congressman now, too, serving his people while dealing out pain in his other job. “People are surprised by the way I have changed my life,” he says. “All the running around. In that time and age, I knew I could do whatever I wanted. But I changed when I heard the voice of God, and I can testify that there is a God. I saw two angels, white, long, big wings. I saw Paradise. God showed me about the end of time. This all happened within the last three years. That’s how I changed my life.”
I do not have the feeling I am in the presence of a man who could put me in hospital with a practised flick of his fist, who did exactly that inside two rounds in 2009 to Ricky Hatton, another fighter who did not stint on life’s pleasures, and is again struggling with those temptations. Pacquiao’s trainer of 13 years, Freddie Roach, is standing a few feet away. He has heard Manny’s story of redemption many times. “It’s more vital to him now than ever before,” Roach says. “He was born a Catholic, now he’s a born-again Christian. His mother [Dionesia] hates it. She’s always trying to force the Rosary on him. The only worry about it is that maybe it could hurt his political career, because 90% of the Philippines is Catholic and he’s a born-again Christian.”
Roach continues: “There is this other side to him, though. He’s very different to a lot of boxers. He always is keeping busy, like playing basketball in the village and so forth, but he discusses the Bible when we’re flying somewhere, asking what does this really mean, what does that really mean. I listen. Sometimes it’s quite funny. Sometimes it makes sense. But sometimes it can be a long trip. There’s good and bad. Religion means a lot to him, but he has done stuff that’s not so religious, so …
“Some fighters turn to religion, because it’s a tough business. I’m not a religious person so it’s not a factor for me. I grew up a Catholic until the second grade. I got to my first Holy Communion, but I didn’t make it to Confirmation. They’d lost me by then. But it’s a tough life, boxing. Fighters are often looking for something they can hold on to. Maybe that’s why he’s done it – and more now than ever he needs it.
“He and his wife [Jinkee] are happier than ever. He doesn’t party any more, doesn’t drink anymore. He’s a clean liver, doesn’t fuck around with girls no more. And his wife is very happy about that. He’s a better family man. So there’s a lot of good that goes with it. He was a pretty wild guy, had the world by the balls. Everything was available.”
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