Manny Pacquiao fighting to inspire devastated Philippines

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Manny Pacquiao takes part in a training session on October 9, 2013 in General Santos, Philippines. Pacquiao will fight against Brandon Rios on November 23rd. (Photo by Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images)
Manny Pacquiao takes part in a training session on October 9, 2013 in General Santos, Philippines. Pacquiao will fight against Brandon Rios on November 23rd. (Photo by Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images)

MACAU – Sports somehow have a way of helping to heal a nation that has been devastated by tragedy.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the return of Major League Baseball and the National Football League played a role in life getting back to normal for millions of very tense, uncertain Americans.

On Saturday (Sunday local time), that task will fall to Manny Pacquiao.

[Related: How to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan ]

Earlier this month, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines. More than 3,600 people died and around 2 million were rendered homeless when the storm hit land.

Pacquiao was training for his bout against Brandon Rios in General Santos City in the Philippines, which was not in the path of the typhoon. His first instinct was to break camp and head to the region to assess the damage, provide support and try to develop an aid plan.

"It's very difficult to stay away and not go visit the people who were affected by the typhoon," Pacquiao said Monday (Tuesday local time) after a brief workout. "It's terrible."

But as much as his presence on the scene would have helped, he made the proper decision in staying behind. His bout with Rios can serve as a rallying point for his countrymen.

Pacquiao is a congressman who represents Sarangani province in the Philippines. If he didn't have a fight scheduled in a few days, Pacquiao would have been leading the rescue effort and providing emotional support.

One of the high points of George W. Bush's presidency came a few days after the 9/11 attacks, when he visited the World Trade Center and grabbed a bullhorn to speak to the aid workers.

Someone in the crowd shouted that he was unable to hear the president speaking.

Bush responded by saying, "I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."

The crowd, of mostly rescue workers, roared in appreciation. That scene was one of the grand moments of Bush's presidency. His confidence helped rebuild morale. No doubt, Pacquiao would have had the same impact had he been able to make it to the affected areas.

Pacquiao is beloved in the Philippines, not simply because of his success as a fighter but because no matter how big he became, he never forgot that he was one of them. He is rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams, but he never forgot his early days as a pauper. He relates to the poor and needy and downtrodden as easily as he does to royalty.

Trainer Freddie Roach had to convince Pacquiao to stay in General Santos and finish camp.

"He told me he wanted to go down [the other day] but it's too close to the fight for him to take any time off and we talked about that," Roach said. "He is focused on the fight still, but obviously it is a big distraction because it killed all of those people. We do talk about it in the gym, about how many people got killed in the storm and how many more have been affected.

"He is concerned about it, yes, very much, but I think we have him pretty much on track on the fight. He knows it's a big fight and he knows it's a must-win situation and it's bigger than that because he has to win for the country also, not just his boxing career. He knows he has to win for the people and he told me that yesterday. They seem to be inspiring each other."

That's where sports come in. Pacquiao is a national hero in the Philippines and crime is essentially zero when he fights because the country comes to a standstill.

Though a boxing match won't help people rebuild their homes or feed their families, it can serve as an inspirational moment when Pacquiao steps into the ring.

It will, for however briefly, take the minds of his countrymen off the disaster and focus it on something the whole country is proud of.

Pacquiao will spend much of the rest of the year working to help the victims. He expressed thanks for the support from around the world, particularly the U.S.

"Being a congressman in Sarangani province in the Philippines, of course I'd first like to thank the government of the United States," Pacquiao told Yahoo Sports. "They sent a lot of troops there to help our people, and that's helped a lot. I really appreciate it. As a member of the house of representatives, we thank them for all their support, and to all the nations who have supported the Philippines."

The fight will, as sports often has a tendency to do, galvanize people of vastly different cultures and backgrounds and focus them on a common goal.

In this case, a Pacquiao victory will serve as a metaphor for a country that needs to fight back.

The Filipino people need to get over the shock and awe of the devastating storm and rebuild their country. Pacquiao is motivated by the strength they've shown and by wanting to be an example.

"Am I confident for my fight with Rios?" Pacquiao said. "I am more than confident. Rios is bigger than me. Remember Goliath was bigger than David and yet David needed just one stone to fell the giant.

"I enter this fight stronger than ever. I have the strength of my country and my people coursing through my body. I fight for them, not for me. I fight for their glory, not mine."