LAS VEGAS – Eight months after Floyd Mayweather Jr. broadsided him with a vile, racist, homophobic attack, Manny Pacquiao had the means, the motive and the opportunity on Tuesday to return the favor.
Just five days before he defends his World Boxing Organization welterweight belt in Saturday’s main event of a pay-per-view card against Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Pacquiao was sitting with a small group of reporters when, as always occurs in these types of gatherings, someone mentioned Mayweather.
A fight between Pacquiao and Mayweather would be the biggest in boxing history. Mayweather, though, hasn't fought in a year and has shown no inclination to get into the ring with Pacquiao. The closest he has come to a confrontation with Pacquiao has been through his webcam, when he posted a video on uStream.com in September in which, among other things, he referred to Pacquiao as "a yellow chump" and a "midget."
Mayweather's rant on uStream was one of the most galling, offensive things any well-known professional athlete has ever said publicly.
And this came on the heels of Mayweather essentially leading a whisper campaign that alleged Pacquiao is a steroids user.
Pacquiao had every right to be angry at Mayweather and to blast him publicly. Given the chance on Tuesday, however, Pacquiao showed why he is one of the most beloved athletes in the world.
He responded to repeated queries about Mayweather's prolonged absence from the sport with grace, humility and style. He didn't take a cheap shot when no one would have blamed him if he had.
"You know what? I don't want to talk about Floyd Mayweather's issues, or anything like that," Pacquiao said. "I'm the kind of person who doesn't want to talk about someone behind his back. He did his best in boxing. He contributed to the history of boxing. Let's talk about the fight on Saturday."
That was it. Simple, honest, classy and sincere. He's arguably the most revered athlete in the world, and no longer is it just Filipinos who worship him.
He's rich and famous beyond all measure. He began to box as a teenager, when he knew his mother couldn't afford to pay for his education, so that he could earn money for his family. He spent many nights on the street and would often wonder if he'd make it to the sunrise. He awakened hungry on many an occasion.
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But as he began to earn a professional paycheck, he didn't see it as an opportunity to buy fancy cars and acquire material possessions. He looked around him and saw others who are in worse shape than he was. He was hardly worldly, but it bothered him to see others suffering and he desperately wanted to try to help.
As an adult, he ran for office in the Philippines and was elected as a congressman representing the Sarangani province, but his desire to help his countrymen began long before anyone beyond the shores of the Philippine Islands knew who he was.
"When I started fighting in the ring and began fighting professionally, every day when I saw the poor people sleeping in the street, you know, I kind of began thinking that someday, I hope I could help them, give them food," he said. "I wanted to help them, but I wasn't thinking about going into politics then. My dream was that I hoped I could help them and give them food and housing.
"I was 16 years old. I was just thinking and I was imagining how I wished I could help them. I felt what they were feeling, sleeping in the street, because I had been there."
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This was a guy without anything to his name, yet his thought was far beyond himself. Never did he expect to be rich. Never did he expect to be endorsing computers and vegetables and sneakers and cologne. Never did he expect to have won six sanctioning body titles and beaten the linear champion in two other divisions.
It was all beyond comprehension for a guy looking just to survive, to help his family and maybe to have enough left over to help someone even less fortunate than himself.
He's now one of the richest men in the Philippines and an idol of millions. But should he lose it all, he would be fine.
"If that's God's way, I will accept that," he said simply. "That's life. For me, my boss, my overall boss, is God."
The guy who grew up watching tapes on his clunky old Betamax VCR of Julio Cesar Chavez, Roy Jones, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya has moved into the same stratospheric level where his idols once resided. And, as much as he's accomplished, the future has rarely been brighter. He's guaranteed a purse of $20 million for Saturday's fight with Mosley and will get a share of the pay-per-view proceeds. Early indicators are strong and it would hardly be a surprise were the final sales figures to soar well beyond 1.5 million and set a personal career high.
There's a likely match in the fall with his long-time nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez, and it's not totally out of the question that Mayweather will finally come to his senses and take the fight.
Fight, and defeat, Mayweather and Pacquiao may wind up bigger than anyone ever to step into the ring with the possible exception of Muhammad Ali. But Pacquiao knows that fame is fleeting and success is often short-lived. His boxing career will be over soon and there will be a time when the crowds thin and the ovations die.
His goal, he says, is "to give a good fight and make the people happy." But he's well aware that one day the fight will be out of him. He will no longer be able to throw his fists blindingly fast and slip past punches designed to knock him out.
He's begged his trainer, Freddie Roach, to be honest with him and tell him if he sees him decline.
And when Roach says it, Pacquiao insists he'll quit. Roach is more than just a trainer to him. He is a friend, a father, a brother, a confidant and Pacquiao trusts him to advise him properly on the hardest decision facing any boxer.
And when that time comes, Pacquiao will leave the game with no regrets, proud of his accomplishments and hopeful he'll be able to continue to serve others.
"When I decide to retire from boxing, I have to understand that things will pass," he said. "Time will pass. I'm not young any more. I am happy and satisfied with what I have done in boxing. It's good that I'm part of the history of boxing and I contributed to the record of boxing."
He's contributed mightily to boxing. But he's contributed far more to the world. And when he's gone, it's going to be the simple grace, humility and style with which he's always carried himself that people will remember.
He and Mayweather are each great boxers. That, however, is where the similarities between them end.