LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao, the honorable Congressman representing Sarangani province in the Philippines, said the other day that as many 60 members of the Filipino congress had made the 7,500-mile trek to Las Vegas to be ringside for his welterweight title fight on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena against Juan Manuel Marquez.
"We could do a roll call," Pacquiao said, giggling.
I'm not sure what that proves, other than to suggest that the Filipino congressional delegation is as inept and incompetent as the U.S. Congress. Surely, the people's business doesn't include flying halfway around the world to watch a boxing match.
But it's clear that Pacquiao's brief time in Congress – he was sworn in about 16 months ago – has significantly changed him.
Pacquiao is now as commanding out of the ring is he is inside of it. He still spews clichés when discussing his fights, contending "I am more experienced now," "I just want to give a good fight and make the people happy," and "I think Marquez will fight me toe-to-toe."
But he's clearly more comfortable talking and promoting his fights than he's ever been. When he got to the dais at Wednesday's news conference, he followed suit by thanking just about anyone with a remote connection to Saturday's fight. But then he proceeded to pitch a movie about him, "Manny!" that is coming out next year. Then, he said, as he often does at these types of gatherings, that he would pray no one gets hurt.
"I'm always praying," he said, as he was concluding his remarks from the dais. "I'm not praying for myself, but I'm praying for all of the fighters who are going to fight on Saturday, especially my opponent, that nobody gets hurt."
He then paused for a second and it dawned on him the incongruity of what he said. He's selling a fight, where the object is to beat up and perhaps knock out the opponent. The more violent the fight promises to be, the greater the interest will be and the higher the pay-per-view revenues will be.
When the light went on in his brain about the contradiction, he made like the politician he is and began to backtrack and equivocate.
"Well," he said, grinning, "I mean hurt like badly hurt. Boxing is hitting each other, but what I mean is [I hope no one gets] badly hurt."
The place erupted as Pacquiao beamed. He had the room in the palm of his hand.
He's come a long way since his U.S. debut in 2001, when he unexpectedly destroyed Lehlohonolo Ledwaba in Las Vegas but spoke little English and had no confidence in front of crowds.
"One of the great things for me over the last 10 years has been to see how he's grown as a man," his trainer, and close friend, Freddie Roach said.
He addressed, as he almost always does whenever he appears in public, the possibility of a fight with the only man other than himself with a claim to being the best boxer in the world, Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Pacquiao said if the fight doesn't happen, "I'm happy with what I've done in my boxing career." However, he said he hopes it happens and said he had agreed fully to comply with Mayweather's demands for random Olympic-style drug testing.
He added a bit of insight to the story when he said he didn't think the holdup to making the match would be due to the drug-testing regimen.
"One of the reasons that fight is not happening is the sharing of the currency from the pay-per-view," he said. "That's a problem."
He then made a somewhat surprising admission when he said he wouldn't feel incomplete if he never got the opportunity to fight Mayweather. It was pointed out to him that legendary heavyweight champions Muhammad Ali and the late Joe Frazier fought three times, with two of them among the greatest bouts ever, and that each man is more revered for having competed in them.
But Pacquiao showed a self-awareness when he shrugged and pointed to his own achievements. He's billed as an eight-division world champion, though he didn't win a world championship belt at featherweight and super lightweight. He won sanctioning body world titles at flyweight, super bantamweight, super featherweight, lightweight, welterweight and super welterweight, and won the mythical linear championships at featherweight and super lightweight in which he beat the man who beat the man.
"To me, eight titles in the different weight divisions, it's hard," he said. "It's very hard to accomplish. How many … Look, I'm not comparing my achievements in boxing to any boxer, but if we look at the record, eight different divisions and how many he captured. But I'm not saying or comparing the achievements that we accomplished. For me, I'm happy that we're giving good fights and exciting fights to the fans. I want to maintain that, because that's what the fans want."
He's highly motivated to not only put on a good fight against Marquez, with whom he had a pair of sensational battles, in 2004 and in 2008, but to end any controversy. They fought to a split draw as featherweights in 2004 and Pacquiao won a razor-thin split decision four years later.
Pacquiao is intent on proving he's the better man, and he pointed out that he's hardly the same fighter he was when last they met.
"The problem before [against Marquez] is that I never studied the style of being a counter puncher," Pacquiao said. "I learned that after we fought two times. From then, I studied how to fight a good counter puncher like Marquez. I think I improved a lot. I'm ready to fight a counter-puncher boxer."
He went on to explain that he's increased his power and that he's more dangerous because he believes his right hand is now as effective of a weapon as his right.
He wants to use his fists, not his mouth, as a weapon and said, "I don't like trash talk. There should be respect."
As he got up to leave from a small gathering with reporters, he grinned broadly, leaned into the mic and said, "Session adjourned." Then, he joyfully clapped his hands and laughed.
This is a guy, who despite all his money, fame and celebrity, doesn't take himself too seriously.
He's an average guy who just so happens to one of the world's elite athletes and one of its richest men. He's guaranteed $22 million for Saturday's work and promoter Bob Arum said with pay-per-view upside figured in, he should make "well over" $30 million.
He's an entertainer, he said, and whether it's by fighting or singing or just shaking hands, he gets his motivation by seeing others smile.
"If the people are happy and they like what I'm doing, then I am happy," he said. "That's the most important thing."
A wiseacre said that the people who will be watching Saturday would be most happy if Pacquiao knocked Marquez cold. Pacquiao didn't miss a beat.
"Oh, I know," he said. "I know. And I'm going to try."
He always does.
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