Pacquiao on GQ, Vanity Fair
by Kiko Matsing
“About five hours before the fight, I asked him how he was feeling,” says Jayke Joson, who identifies himself as the chief of staff of Team Pacquiao, the fighter’s entourage. “I thought maybe he didn’t hear, because he didn’t say anything. But then he said, real quiet, ‘I want to feel my training.’ I said, ‘Okay, Manny, what do you mean?’ He just smiled and said, ‘I feel curious.’ ”
Only later that night, hours after the fight had ended, did he see how Pacquiao’s cryptic pronouncements explained the first two rounds. To those in Pacquiao’s corner, they were terrifying rounds. To their surprise, Cotto was moving beautifully, cutting off his lighter, faster opponent, steering him into a retreating posture and into the ropes. Having turned Pacquiao into a nonmoving target, Cotto unleashed everything he had— and connected. To the ribs, the gut, the head. Big undiluted punches, bigger than any Pacquiao had ever endured, the kind of hits experts claimed he could never withstand, the kind his own promoter had deemed so “ludicrous” that he’d never subject his fighter to them. From the corner, Pacquiao’s longtime trainer, Freddie Roach, screamed, “Son! Son! Son! Don’t play with him! Stop it!”
And then, early in the third round, quite abruptly, he did. And how: In the slo-mo hi-def replays of Pacquiao’s most vicious flurries in that round and those that followed, the dislocation and snapback of Cotto’s face wasn’t just “ludicrous.” It was horrific. Here was Cotto, a world-class welterweight, every square inch of him taut. Yet Pacquiao’s punches kept shifting Cotto’s whole face off its foundation—almost an inch, it looked like—creating a fractional second during which a fun-house Silly Putty version of the man’s unmoored visage jiggled and warped before reafixing itself to his skull. It was impossible to keep the thought at bay: If Pacquiao doesn’t stop, he’s going to hit Cotto’s face off.
Hours after Pacquiao’s twelfth-round win by technical knockout, Joson recalled Pacquiao’s words. Manny was curious. So curious, Joson realized, that even with his place in boxing history and tens of millions of dollars in the balance, Pacquiao decided to violate Roach’s fight plan.
“I wanted to feel his power,” Pacquiao tells me on the plane ride. The question seems to discomfit him. Too private? His answer, spoken with lowered eyes, feels less an explanation than an admission. “I just needed to know. For myself.”
Consider that—a boxer attempting to join his spectators in watching himself in real time, and with the same question: Is there a limit to this man’s ability?
“Do you know what Manny Pacquiao does in between rounds at the MGM Grand, where they have the big screens up?” Roach says. “He watches himself. I have to slap him in the face and say, ‘Manny, look at me!’ ”
Is it vanity? Or only vanity? It may be worth noting that in the hours leading up to a fight, Manny Pacquiao does not feel nervous. Nor does he harden his face into a warrior’s mask. He sings. Rousingly (“La Bamba”). Tenderly (“Sometimes When We Touch”). He stops singing only when the priest arrives to conduct Mass. During the prayers, Manny does not petition for a victory— only for a good fight, and for the safety of his opponent and himself.
“Manny has never needed to hate his opponents,” says Miles Roces, a former Philippine congressman and current member of Team Pacquiao. “There’s no chip on his shoulder. He just wants to play.”
Once the priest departs, the singing resumes. He sings his way out of the dressing room and into the arena, and the music doesn’t stop until he’s in the ring and the mouth guard goes in.
“Manny Pacquiao likes to be happy,” Roach explains. “And when Manny Pacquiao is happy, that motherfucker can fight.”
Great GQ piece on Manny Pacquiao. I like the way Andrew Corsello captured the cultic appeal of Pacquiao among Filipinos, to whom he (unwittingly) channels the charisma of millenarian leaders or holy fools of the past (c.f., Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution). Kudos to Corsello for unflinchingly pointing out the unsavory sycophants that hover around Pacquiao’s fortunes, esp. former Gov. Chavit Singson. Ugh! What a creepy mobster!
In the west, Pacquiao will likely never attain the mass-marketability of an Oscar De La Hoya, but hopefully he can comfort himself with being known merely as the greatest fighter in the world. Unlike the Golden Boy, Pacquiao is still struggling with English. At times, he will give enigmatic responses to questions that he seems not to have fully understood. (In an unaired segment from a televised interview last month, Pacquiao was asked, “You love the Philippines as much as the Philippines loves you?” He paused, replying, “Maybe.”) A king in his native country, he sometimes appears an innocent abroad here. Although we have done several interviews, when Pacquiao was reading about his own dietary habits in this series, he asked who had written the article. “Peter,” the champion was informed by a friend. Pacquiao was confused, “Who’s Peter?” The member of the entourage explained, “You know, the guy who’s always here.” Pacquiao replied, “He’s a writer? I thought he just liked to hang out.”